@mcondo, I don’t know your age, so am not going to assume you know about the album and the group of musicians who made it that are largely credited with being a primary source of inspiration and guidance in all things Americana; the one, the only, The Band and their 2nd, self-titled album, also known as the brown album. Absolutely essential listening!
The original Capitol pressing (look for the mastering engineer’s initials---RL, for Robert Ludwig---scratched into the run-out by the LP’s label) is good, as is the newest version (2013) on Mobile Fidelity LP (MFSL 1-419) and SACD (UDSACD 2129).
At least as good is their debut, Music From Big Pink. Original LP’s are plentiful (though finding a Mint or Mint- copy is not easy), and again there is a newish (2008) Mobile Fidelity pressing available on LP (MFSL 1-346) and SACD (UDSACD 2044). This past September Capitol Records did a 50th Anniversary reissue of MFBP on both LP and CD, and in a deluxe boxset. The boxset is more than all but the obsessed really need, but I'm hoping they do the same for The Band's second album this year!
You might check out Meg Baird, particularly her work with the band "Espers" out of Philly. It’s more psych-folk than Americana but it is based on American folk music, with a twist. Esper’s "The Weed Tree" is a good start. Baird is pretty prolific and is associated with a number of other acts if you decide you like her.
I did a brief write up of a band out of Brooklyn called The National Reserve, whose album, Motel La Grange, reminded me a little of Bob Seger, Little Feat and The Band. The thing I liked about the record is that it sounded like a real band playing in a bar rather than a studio confection.
As I’m wont to say almost every time the topic comes up, get thee to see the great David Lindley if he is out on tour anywhere near you. Not a ’new’ talent, but so formidable, makes you appreciate why he was the go-to guy on so many albums out of LA in the ’70s.
Good one whart! David Lindley is a monster lap steel player, with a style employing, unlike most steel players, lots of sustain and over-driven tube distortion. He's great live, and his first two solo albums (he was in the late-60's band Kaleidoscope, and on many L.A. recordings of Jackson Browne and other singer/songwriters) are not just musically excellent, but also unusually good sounding for Rock 'n' Roll records. I have long used the first (which includes David's fantastic version of "Mercury Blues") for hi-fi evaluations.
Listening to "by the way, I forgive you" on vinyl right now. Musically, I really like the album. However, it does suffer from SQ issues, probably compression. Too bad, as it is really good. Makes me wonder how much more I might enjoy it if it was recorded differently.
Question for those who understand recorded music production: "Who is responsible for the amount of compression used? Is it the recording engineer, producer, mastering technician, etc.? Who makes the decision about the amount of compression used?
@bdp24 - you and i have gotten to the point where we can just say something in code and we both go on a roll- remember the old joke about telling jokes using numbers?
I think El-Rayo-X is being remastered on vinyl by one of the audiophile reissue labels. I have an early copy somewhere here, i’ll have to pull it out and play it.
Here it is: http://www.speakerscornerrecords.com/products/details/524/david-lindley-el-rayo-x?sort=release-date%7Cdesc&display=grid
Jim Lauderdale's "Wait Til Spring" was backed by the group Donna the Buffalo, who also have some good stuff, including "Rockin In the Weary Land".
2018 folk/americana/country albums I like (some of the below might be a stretch but is in the wheelhouse, no comment on SQ)
Jeff Tweedy - WarmAlela Diane - CuspKacey Musgraves - Golden HourWillie Nelson - Last Man StandingStephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Sparkle HardNeko Case - Hell-OnNatalia Lafourcade & Los Macorinos - MusasMount Eerie - After (Live)Low Cut Connie - Dirty Pictures (Part 2)2019The Delines - The Imperials
I’m not even real sure what constitutes Americana per se and not sure where R&B fits within that genre. Below is a list of bands/musicians who I think are very talented and at least somewhat retro and whose music I enjoy but whose CDs/LPs and hi res file are compressed to the point that they are nearly ruined in my opinion. With some of them you can get better quality on the LP or the hi-res file, but this is an exception rather than a rule and the improvement seems to be marginal.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
The Teskey Brothers (Australian)
Chris Stapleton (Traveller CD not too bad but not good in terms of SQ)
Gary Clark, Jr.
The Struts (not American or Americana but retro)
I think all of these are great bands with great music but horrible production quality....all related to compression/loudness. It makes me sick. I still listen to them but will admit that I typically futz with them with the computer equalizer. Pathetic. I know. But otherwise hard to listen to.
Contrast this with Mark Knopfler’s latest album, which I’m not crazy about but whose production quality is very good (10 and up on the DR database) and better on the LP.
The point is, it can be done. And I don’t think it requires much additional effort.
As a side not I was watching a YouTube video of a guy who puts together affordable vintage systems and one system had a built in equalizer with dB meters. When he went to test it he couldn’t understand why the needles on the meters were pegged in the red until he realized he was playing a contemporary, highly compressed artist. He changed to a better quality source and his meter was working just fine.
It makes me wonder that if every system had meters that allowed people to see how crappy a production was, maybe it would deter these idiot engineers from over compressing.
N80 - you have expanded on my original post re: compression on today's Americana. I have listened to several of the cd's on your list and concur - why trash your sound and smash your musical arrangements. Doesn't make sense for an artist that is not going to sell tons of records. Where is the pride in your art? I would add Arcade Fire to the list as an egregious example of an excellent live band that sounds absolutely terrible on recordings. I still make a lot of mixes and once in a while I insert a modern recording I love ( lets say the Decembrists w/Gillian Welch) into a mix with an older recording ( say Led Zep Gallows Pole) - the difference in volume is huge!
I have to add a correction. I just got Vintage Trouble's The Bomb Shelter Sessions on CD (2011) and it does not seem as compressed as many of the other's I listed.
The DR database lists the album at 8-9 but it references a lossy medium with no other data so it was probably low-res streaming that was tested.
Anyway, I'm not saying it is Steely Dan level production quality but a good bit better than most of what we're getting these days. Kudos to the band for that.
Here's a current article in the NYT's about the loudness wars. It even has charts, including Brandi Carlile's grammy nominated song I was bitching about.
That piece in the Times is actually pretty thoughtful and well written.
I don't listen using ear buds but occasionally listen to something over my laptop simply to hear it, not for any serious listening-- and I'm surprised at how much difference you can hear despite the file compression (e.g. MP3, not dynamic compression). This would tell me that the fad of loudness wars isn't to compensate for inadequacies of the playback device--much like dynamic compression of TV commercials, it is used to grab attention. But, how much long term enjoyment from something that is always at "11"?
I know I'm preaching to the converted here....
As to "Americana," i don't know that it is a very definite genre- it seems to be an amalgam of folk, (old) country (as distinguished from 'new' country which is really '70s soft rock), and a few other genres-bluegrass, for example, thrown in the mix. It is probably a catch-all for other things that don't clearly fit into another pigeonhole; I'm surprised Gary Clark, Jr. is labelled as Americana, since I considered him more a blues guy-- but, just like everything else, genre labels are not very instructive. They are probably even less apt when applied to someone who is innovating and doesn't fit neatly under a category that is already well-worn by predecessors.
I don't have an answer other than that, like most things in the pursuit of music that is fidelous, you are going to go through a lot of material and forced to be selective.
Sarah Jarosz is recorded by one the best engineers in the business. Follow him for great records, Gary Pacozsa. His records are ridiculously good. "Follow Me Down" (her #2 album) and Build Me Up from Bones (#3) both got Grammy noms. Her latest Undercurrent was nominated for Best American Roots performance, Best Folk Album and Best Engineered Album. He did Alison Krauss "Windy City" and "Deep Waters" from The Lone Heartstring Band. "Forever Words" Johnny Cash and "Cover Stories, 10 years", Brandi Carlile. Find his records on
Lone Mountain Audio
The DR measurements on Sarah Jarosz's albums seem to hover around 8, which I consider marginal but darn good compared to some of the albums mentioned above. There are folks here at Audiogon who consider anything less than 10 to be poor. So whoever her engineer is, either he is part of the problem or someone else is compressing the work after he's done with it.
Some Steely Dan albums up up around 16. Mark Knopfler, until recently, was typically in the 12-14 range. Pete Townshend's White City averages 12.