Top 20 Demo CDs Page 2

321top20.getz Stan Getz/João Gilberto
Verve 521 414-2
This is one of those rare jazz albums that seduced the general public, like Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue or Dave Brubeck's Time Out. Sublimely recorded and of its era – bossa nova was hot in 1963 – this album was aided by the inclusion of one very special track, the massive hit that was 'The Girl From Ipanema'. A deserved Grammy winner, the sound here is lush, natural and airy, while Astrud Gilberto's vocals rival those on 'Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus' when it comes to pure sexiness.


Elton John
Elton John
Mercury Japan UIGY15034 SHM-SACD
Elton John's eponymous album from 1970 arrived just as the whole concept of the introspective singer-songwriter was exploding. Elton didn't quite qualify for that tag, as he had Bernie Taupin as lyricist, but the vibe was the same. Sublimely produced and sounding simply breathtaking, it is best-known for 'Your Song', and contains at least three of his signature tunes. This SHM-SACD release is the best digital version I've heard, well worth the effort of acquiring it.


Keb' Mo'
Peace… Back By Popular Demand
Okeh/Epic EK92687
This 2004 collection of Keb' Mo' is one of the warmest albums I have ever heard, sonically and in terms of its content. The sound is magnificent, especially the guitar- and piano-only renditions, while the songs recreate an era: 'Imagine', 'Get Together' and others of that calibre, with the opener, his version of one of my all-time favourite songs, 'For What It's Worth', setting the bar so high that you wonder if it can be sustained. Utterly magnificent.


Albert King
Born Under A Bad Sign
Stax Remasters 0888072343344
This remains one of those blues albums that transcends the genre. This is a favourite because of King's gruff vocals and cutting guitar leads, two contrasting textures to tax your system, while the material is superlative – not just the magnificent title track, but also his cover of Ray Noble's 'The Very Thought of You.' Along with B B King's cover of Duke Ellington [see p29], it begs the question: why didn't he, and or that matter B B, record the Great American Songbook?


Sony SRCL 4671
OK, so this is a no-brainer woofer-wrecker, the standing joke being that drum solos exist in rock music so the rest of the band can nip out for a cigarette. That said, I will never forget the first time I heard a Kodō CD, the bass so extended and yet so taut and airy that it made bass guitar, synth bass and just about every other bottom-octave-feeder seem wussy by comparison. Perhaps one needs to be born in Japan to fully 'get it', but that could be said about any indigenous music form. I say, just sit back and get ready for the foundations to shake. And shake they will, because this is acoustic bass at its zenith.

Julie London
Julie Is Her Name Volume II
Analogue Productions CAPP 7100 SA SACD
Yes, the sound is phenomenal, but this is here for purely selfish reasons: I worship Julie London and this early release of hers is one of the finest albums of Great American Songbook classics that I can name. Ms London delivers the breathiest, slinkiest interpretations of songs heard a bazillion times. Backed only by piano and bass, it's 'in the room' when the system is up to it. Wait 'til you hear her versions of 'Goody Goody' and 'Blue Moon'.


Sophie Madeleine
The Rhythm You Started
Xtra Mile Recordings Ltd XMR045CD
This 2011 release breaks my heart, because – apparently – the young Ms Madeleine has retired from music. Trust me, it's a terrible loss. I discovered her while trawling YouTube for ukulele lessons, and up popped her series of clips covering everything from The Bee Gees to The Andrews Sisters to The Chordettes. A voice so heavenly and enticing I found myself scouring Amazon for her discs. Check out her 'Mr Sandman' online, then tell me you weren't charmed into submission.


Lou Rawls
At Last
Blue Note CDP 7 91937 2/Japanese Cat. No. CJ32-5050 SACD
Arguably the finest vocal album of all time (don't even try debating with me), this 1989 release finds Rawls, who even wowed Sinatra, backed by deities like Richard Tee, Cornell Dupree and Stanley Turrentine. He filled it with blues numbers, standards, material from Lyle Lovett and Percy Mayfield… and a take on the title track that ranks with Etta James' classic, thanks to the duet with Dianne Reeves. The sound is sublime, but it's Rawls' (and Reeves') vocals which make this my go-to demo CD. And I have never reviewed a product in the last 31 years without playing it. Go on: risk 99p and download the title track from Amazon.


Breakfast In America
Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2189
I had to include at least one audiophile-approved blockbuster, just so I could gamble that all of you have at least one of the 20 in your collections. It was this, Hotel California or anything by Steely Dan, but I love those too much and needed at least one selection about which I could be dispassionate. This is clinical, studio-born stuff, not something which speaks to me, but, hot damn! It dazzles, throwing all manner of sounds at you. And it's catchy too.


Mickey Thomas
Gigatone GCD303
Another CD that's all about the vocals. Mickey Thomas is the peerless belter who sang the phenomenal 'Fooled Around And Fell In Love' with the Elvin Bishop Band. I can't name a rock singer who matches him for intensity. Here he covers 16 gems from The Beatles, Peter Gabriel, The Stones and – for my money – one of the best takes of Squeeze's 'Tempted' this side of Joe Cocker's version. Sound is slick, indicative of the norm in 2011, but that's not why I love it. Oh, that voice…


All-Time Greats!
Hi-Fi News/Ace Records ACE1
Older readers will have this CD, which was a freebie from HFN in 1994. Its inclusion is inevitable because all 22 tracks were chosen for sound quality, and it's filled with killers, the best being B B King's cover of Duke Ellington's 'Don't Get Around Much Anymore' and Isaac Hayes' 'Theme From Shaft'. I still can't believe what we were able to include in this collection: The Standells, Mel & Tim, Johnnie Taylor, The Damned, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dexter Gordon, and others…

Now That Sounds Kosher
Shout Factory DK30336
Lastly is a totally self-indulgent selection, but for the most part, the sound quality is ridiculously good. This is a set of 18 parodies of hit songs but with a Yiddish twist. They date back to the 1950s, with comedians such as Mickey Katz (in mono), through Tom Lehrer, Mel Brooks, Allan Sherman, Kinky Friedman and 'Weird Al' Yankovic. If the jokes elude you, don't worry about it. The sound will knock you out, especially the party sounds on the Allan Sherman track. L'chaim!