Hi, Years ago, probably not long after it came out, an acquaintance gave me a CD of Bob Dylan's "Oh Mercy," which came out in 1989. Not being a Dylan fan, I never played it until a few weeks ago, when I noticed in another thread here that someone recommended it as a recording with an impressive sound stage. I was blown away by the sonics of this recording. While clearly a big, multi-tracked studio effort, the sonics and sense of spaciousness are extraordinary, and this is just the garden variety CD. Now, being that 1989 was hardly a golden age of pop music recording, it got me wondering: How did this record end up sounding so amazing? I mean that two ways: 1) Technically, what techniques did the engineers and producer use to get it to sound that way? Miking? Artificial phase manipulations? I don't know anything about studio recording so I'm just guessing here. 2) How, in an era of crappy sounding, compressed recordings, was such a feat pulled off (because it leaves you wondering why more records of that era didn't sound so good)? Thoughts?
Same for me, I am absolutely not mad for Dylan, but "Oh Mercy" is outstanding from sonics and voicing (the vinyl for example is unbelievable good), sometimes they guys in the Studio were able to do an outstanding job. The other one is The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.
Oh Mercy and Under The Red Sky imo. On another note, equally impressive are the last Roger Waters albums of the eighties; Radio K.A.O.S and Pros Cons Of Hitchhiking, also my favorites. But Radio K.A.O.S. really blew me away on vinyl, seriously emotive. The last vestiges of vinyl were accompanied by the best recordings possible.
Oh Mercy is a fantastic recording and is a Dylan favorite of mine, but in terms of the music itself, Dylan's releases starting with "Time Out Of Mind" are way more interesting to me these days than his older material. As a whole, they are very adventurous musically, bringing in a variety of American roots music styles regularly to embellish a strong base in the blues. His bands and musical sensibilities these days are adventurous yet still largely impeccable IMHO. Dylan's unique vocals are probably more hit or miss for many, but a hit for me. They just fit right into the fray and make things even more interesting and engaging. And he is able to deliver lyrics that keep me interested to hear what he will say next. HE has honed his skills in incorporating irony and humor into his poetry over the years. Still often profound, sometimes just silly, but also clever, fun and engaging, infused seemingly with new insights gained with age over the years, and usually something I am able to relate to. I really admire the fact that Dylan is still producing interesting and great sounding recordings and not just resting on his laurels or doing more of the same. He has been a true chameleon over the years and has achieved a musical peak in his later years, in addition to all his other older accolades. HE is truly a musical giant! We are all fortunate that he able to continue on. No telling what he might do next. HE has been way more consistently interesting than Neil Young, another of my favorite old timers, for example over the same time period, though NEil has come up with some standout stuff as well on occasion over the years.
One of the things that I found really fascinating about that video (link earlier in this thread) interview with Daniel Lanois is that "Oh Mercy" was recorded in a way that Dylan wasn't used to working. He just sat with Dylan and recorded him playing and singing the songs solo until he and Dylan got a version of each one that they were completely happy with the take. He would then talk to Dylan about "what kind of picture frame he wanted to put around the song," i.e., what musicians should they bring in to complement what had already been recorded. This means that the album is a thoroughly modern creation: created by layering and overdubbing in the studio. And yet, its sense of spaciousness and "air" is extraordinary. This is why I wish somebody that knew a lot more about the recording process than I do could explain how somebody gets a sound like that of a multitracked, studio recording, when so many other recordings made in a similar way sound so lousy.
Reb, I I think it boils down to having a vision and desire the realize it, along with a good focus on detail and quality. Getting all that together is unfortunately usually the exception and not the rule.
"everything is broken" just came on as i was writing this. Great tune and awesome sound!
Rebbi, I think a lot of it is a matter of placing instruments in the mix, left to right. Sometimes when you're mixing things can sound cluttered or distorted, then you move one or more parts a bit and the sound can suddenly "breathe." With all the processing equipment and techniques available it can get complicated, but it always comes back to trial and error (and having a good ear for this). Just as with the composition and the performance, each mix needs whatever works best for the material at hand. You can't get great art from a cookie-cutter approach.
Tostadosunidos, This is the kind of thing I was curious about. I also wonder what Lanois did to achieve the kind of wide, soundstage "spread" that the record manifests... instruments seem to come from way beyond the outer limits of the speakers, and this is surely a deliberate effect.
Well, I'm not hearing it on your system, but he definitely has some instruments panned totally (or nearly so) to one side or the other. That would make those instruments seem a good deal to the left or the right of the ones which are panned more to the center. If anything would seem beyond the usual soundstage limits I would think it would be those instruments. Some of the guitars have pulsing, tremelo-like effects applied to them, and those could possibly move back and forth somewhat on the image, contributing to the illusion of space or spaciousness.
Some guys mix a lot towards the middle and not much toward the side. The earlier Beatles stereo mixes feature very hard pans, so much so that an instrument or voice pretty much comes out of one channel only. It doesn't start to maximize the potential of stereo, but at least there's some feeling of "space."IMO. I usually prefer it to the mono mix, but many listeners do not. Then again, some folks just hear the music and don't notice these things. I'm not sure if it's a curse or a blessing.
FWIW there's an interview with Daniel Lanois about the album here:
I have been around the music space for 33 years and am a HUGE fan of Daniel. My other album I use with my live rigs is his production on Willie Nelson's Teatro. I highly recommend his first solo album too.