Loudness War

Did you every wonder why contemporary pop music sound so harsh, makes you tired and despite its loudness seems sapless? And why is most commercial music lacking dynamics? Loudness War gives the explanation.

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Jazz Label MPS Reissues

MPS Record Label

Some productions of the legendary German jazz label MPS are available now on CD or as download. The webpage of the German jazz magazine JazzEcho gives a good overview of the MPS reissues series and provides plenty of hearing samples.

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Why I Hate Music Downloads

Skull on Computer Window

It’s not the downloading of music itself that I hate. What I hate about it is the missing booklet. When I buy music – especially reissues – I’d like to have some information about it. I want as much credits as possible: musicians, songwriters, arrangers, producers, time and place of recording and so on. And I don’t mind a short biography of the artists and some nice photos.

iTunes for example won’t give you any of these credits. Although theoretically it would be possible. Every iTunes file comes with an “Info” tab where you can edit information about the file such as the artist’s name, album title, name of the songwriter, year of production and there’s also a comment box. Usually they only give you the name of the artist and the album title. That’s it. Sometimes they add the year of production. But if it’s a reissue the year of production often refers to the reissue and not to the original production date.

So you really only get the music and nothing else when you download. No added value. If you buy a CD you have a booklet with at least some information. It’s true, some downloads at iTunes come with a virtual booklet. But it’s a kind of hassle. Either you store it somewhere on your hard drive where you probably will never find it again or you write a CD, print the booklet, take scissors, cut it out and stuff it into a tiny jewel case. So much for the digital age …

Yes, it’s great to have immediate access to music. But it’s not enough for music lovers. Here’s my hint for record labels: allocating well researched background information that comes with a well designed booklet is a market niche for CDs.

Why Did They Make CD Graphics So Ugly?

Back Cover Abbey Road CD

When the first CDs came on the market in the nineteen-eighties, most music lovers were happy. The time of noisy and scratched vinyl LPs was over for good.

And the record companies were happy, too. Very happy. Because they could reissue their back catalogs at low costs and sell them on the then very expensive CDs. It was the last time that record companies made big money before music went on line and the downloading started.

What always troubled me, was the bad art work of the CDs. I’m not talking about the front cover. I’m talking about the back cover. Usually they reprinted the original vinyl art work. But on the back cover and on the CD itself they used ugly small square boxes in order to number the songs.

All companies used these ugly square boxes. Maybe the wanted to express with these boxes, that this sound carrier was digital indeed. Probably the square boxes were used as a symbol for digital, and should have indicated that this new thing is well organized, clean and modern. I don’t know. Over time the ugly boxes started disappearing. But you still can find them on a lot of CDs.

I also wonder why they came up with the ugly plastic cases. But that’s another story.

Remembering Sammi Smith: A Great Country Voice

Sammi Smith

Sammi Smith

“If winters were just three days long
And all the rest were springs
I might feel up to writing songs
As sweet as Sammi sings.”

I said that.

Kris Kristofferson*

Three years ago, on February 12th, the great country singer Sammi Smith died. Her songs are filled with melancholy and sophisticated grit. She had the unique talent to make you listen to the lyrics. Like with all great singers, you first don’t notice how great a singer she is. Because she puts the song first, not herself.

She makes sure that the listener takes the point of view of the song’s protagonist. In her first and biggest hit, the Kris Kristofferson penned “Help Me Make It Through The Night” (1970), Sammi Smith literally draws you into the mind and skin of a woman who longs for tenderness:

I don’t care what’s right or wrong, I won’t try to understand
Let the devil take tomorrow, cause tonight I need a friend

“He’s Everywhere” is a song about the emptiness and longing after the breakup; “For The Kids” tells the story of a divorce. Both songs manage to handle their topics without being sentimental. Sammi Smith gives you real feelings, there aren’t any ersatz feelings.

She delivers another great version of a Kris Kristofferson song with “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”. Someone stumbles into Sunday morning with a hangover and suddenly is overwhelmed with sadness and loneliness:

Then I crossed the empty street
And caught the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken
And it took me back to somethin’
That I’d lost somehow somewhere along the way

Sammi Smith was born on August 5th 1943 in Orange County, California and started singing in clubs when she was eleven years old. She married early and had several children; one of her children is country singer and actor Waylon Payne. Her career didn’t take off until she signed with the newly founded independent label “Mega” in 1970. She stayed with the Mega label until it shut down in 1976. Then she stayed with Elektra for a while and later signed with several smaller labels.

The only recommendable CD that’s around is “The Best of Sammi Smith” (Varése-Sarabande). Unfortunately there are only 16 songs, but the sound quality is good and it comes with a informative booklet. You can buy it on Amazon.

There’s another CD called “Help Me Make It Through The Night – The Memorial Album” with 25 songs (Acrobat Music). But the sound quality is awful, and so is the booklet with its blurred pictures. Let’s hope that some reissue label puts out a Sammi Smith CD-box soon. She deserves it.

Obituary: Girl Hero Sammi Smith


*Kris Kristofferson’s quote and the Sammi Smith picture are from the back cover of the LP “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (Mega M31-1000) Continue reading