Posts Tagged ‘Come to Me High’

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Last night, I listened anew to one of my all-time favorite albums – the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was just released with a “3-D mono” mix orchestrated by the son of the late George Martin, Giles Martin. I first heard it in…late 1978, I imagine, though I can’t say for sure, and have returned to it hundreds, if not thousands, of times through the decades.

But is it, as the marketing campaign for this reissue claims, the greatest album of all time? According to numerous critic polls, the answer is yes – but some say no. Pet Sounds has edged it a time or two, I believe, as has – if my memory is correct – the Beatles’ own Revolver. It’s what happens when you solicit opinions from dozens or hundreds of people, as few of us are totally in sync on any matter, let alone music. And, too, there’s this: I honestly don’t know where it falls in the pantheon of my top picks. Aside from the not-so-arduous process I employ for my annual Album of the Year exercise, I’ve never contemplated all that long on where an album (or single, for that matter) falls in the scheme of things. Is it better than What’s Going On? Pet Sounds? Abbey Road? Dusty in Memphis, Late for the Sky or Born to Run? Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere? Bridge Over Troubled Water? Blue? Seasons of My Soul? How can one judge such things?

And even with the jeweled trophies I dole out to the winner and runners-up at my year-end Album of the Year fete, which is now in its 39th year (!), the reality – as I explain in the intro to my running tally – is that the honorees are as much a reflection of my mindset as anything. Which, really, is what makes a great album great: It speaks to and for us in ways that, often, we aren’t aware we want or need.

Such is the case with Seasons of My Soul, the 2010 debut album from British singer-songwriter and pop chanteuse Rumer, which would easily rank among my Top 10 Albums of All Time – if I had such a list, that is. It’s my most played album of the past seven years, easy; and likely one of my most played albums, ever. As I wrote in my first blog post (which first appeared on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch in February 2012), it’s “an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics and melodies that wrap themselves around the heart, to say nothing of Rumer’s emotive, pitch-perfect vocals. It echoes the classic pop of Burt Bacharach and the Carpenters, yet moves past those inspirations by tackling themes not always associated with pop music. ‘On My Way Home,’ for example, is about the grieving process, and several other songs echo loss of one sort or another. ‘Come to Me High,’ on the other hand, is a lush, romantic ode, as is ‘Slow.’ The intoxicating ‘Take Me As I Am’ is about pushing people away when you need them the most. Add in … ‘Aretha’ and such songs as ‘Thankful’ and ‘Blackbird’ and, to my mind, the album is a must for everyone’s collection.”

Here she is in 2011 performing “On My Way Home” in Philadelphia:

I’ve written about the album here, as well, and elsewhere on this blog. To my ears, it’s a timeless song cycle that captures the nuances of life and love in a way that’s both personal and universal. It’s my definition of “essential,” in other words.

Here’s a YouTube playlist I created of the album as nature intended, aka in the order of the original British release. It features several of the original videos plus official and unofficial uploads of individual tracks:

The songs:

  1. Am I Forgiven?
  2. Come to Me High
  3. Slow
  4. Take Me As I Am
  5. Aretha
  6. Saving Grace
  7. Thankful
  8. Healer
  9. Blackbird
  10. On My Way Home
  11. Goodbye Girl

(Warner Bros. saw fit to re-arrange the order of the tracks for its download-only version when they released it in the U.S. in 2012. The songs remain brilliant, of course, but the album’s ebb-and-flow is dammed, at times.)

My Pono Player has become an important cog in my enjoyment of music. Everything sounds better on it, which in my case means either lossless (ALAC or FLAC) rips of CDs, some of which I’ve owned for 30 years, or high-resolution files that capture every note and nuance found on the master tapes. Oh, I know, some folks will tell you that the difference between high-resolution and standard-def (or even well-encoded MP3s) isn’t audible – but they’re wrong.

Mind you, when first listening to high-resolution music, it’s not an immediate difference. But, as your ears become acclimated, the sound becomes deeper and more robust, and most noticeable when you shift back to standard-def or MP3s/AACs. That said, standard-def still sounds great – the Staves’ If I Was is an excellent example. Listening in my car, as I often do, volume up high, the sisters’ voices swoop in and out, and harmonize, as if they’re singing to me from the backseat. It’s remarkable, actually. Rumer’s Seasons of My Soul is another set of songs that, though only available in 16/44.1, sounds wondrous, with the gradient shades of her honey-smooth voice wafting from the speakers like bubbles in the wind.

Rumer’s second album, Boys Don’t Cry, is available in 24/88.2. The gradient shades of her delivery are richer as a result, with a velvety texture added that’s near-impossible to describe. You feel like you’re in the studio with her.

But I’m no sound snob. Anyone of a certain age grew up on radio and, to my ears, MP3 and AAC files are basically akin to FM radio – no one ever claimed that FM sounds as good as the traditional turntable setup of yore, but most folks enjoyed it nonetheless, often spending an afternoon or evening listening to their favorite station(s). The diminished sound quality didn’t preclude one from enjoying the music. In similar fashion, the iTunes download of the U.S. version of Seasons of My Soul possesses the same magic as the CD; the true crime there isn’t the reduced quality of the sonics, but the change in song order – the gentle push-and-pull pace of the original, with each song acting as a perfect lead-in to the next, was lost. Yes, of course, some of the gradient shades I referenced above are missing; that goes without saying. The emotional quotient remains the same, however, and it’s the emotional quotient that, for my money, is the most important ingredient in music.

Which leads to this: A few weeks back, I signed us up for the free three-month trial of Apple Music. If we decide to keep it, and we likely will, we’ll pay $15/month for access to 30-million tracks, all streamed as 256kbps AAC files (which are on a par with 320kbps MP3 files). In a sense, it’s akin to trading an antenna-equipped 55-inch HDTV for a 10-inch standard-def set that’s plugged into the cable ecosystem; the visual quality you’ve become accustomed to is gone, but you have access to most of the premium channels under the sun.

I have no intention of giving up my Pono Player or of no longer buying high-res albums, be they catalog items or brand-new titles. Just this morning, for example, I cashed in part of an HDTracks gift certificate (a Christmas gift) on Glady Knight & the Pips’ Imagination album. That’s the one with “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” two songs that I absolutely love. The soundscape is immense; and Gladys’ vocals…

The charm of Apple Music (and Spotify and other streaming services, for that matter) is that I can listen to what I want whenever I want. Coupled with T-Mobile’s Music Freedom program, which allows you to stream music without it counting against your data cap, well, what’s to lose, right? The other week, while stuck in traffic, I had a hankering for hearing the Bangles’ A Different Light – a longtime favorite that I haven’t listened to, in full, for eons. No, their creamy backing vocals weren’t as creamy as on CD or (one day, as it’s not available as of yet) in high-resolution, but it still brought a smile to my face. Likewise, after spotlighting it in a recent Top 5, I played Jane Wiedlin’s self-titled solo debut from start to finish; and followed it up with a Belinda Carlisle best-of. The result? I arrived at work in a good mood. To hear them on my Pono Player I’d have to, 1) find the CDs, which is easier said than done; 2) encode said CDs as FLAC or ALAC files; and, 3), load the tracks onto the player. I.e., plan ahead; and, too, have an endless supply of micro-SD cards.

No, the sound quality isn’t what I’m used to, but sometimes “good enough” is, indeed, good enough. All in all, and I was just saying this to Diane last night, I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoy the service.

I should add, I haven’t loaded Apple Music onto my computer, just my iPhone, due to the issues that, from what I’ve read, it has with many existing libraries, especially large ones like mine. I.e., matching songs to wrong albums and displaying the wrong cover art. Plus, I’d rather be able to choose what to make available. The Unsurpassed Masters bootleg series of Beatles’ outtakes, for instance, isn’t something I need on every device 24/7; I just don’t. The same goes for some albums that are basically Diane’s – and vice versa. I doubt she’d want my ONJ catalog littering her library.

(Apple needs to give the user the ability to decide which tracks, albums and artists to make available on all devices instead of assuming we want everything.)