CD Reviews

Ma Rainey – Mother of the Blues

Ma RaineyMa Rainey – Mother of the Blues is definitely a title that no fan of vintage blues should be without. The ledgendary Rainey recorded over 100 songs between 1923 to 1928 for Paramount, a company notorious for using very poor recording techniques.? In addition to the low quality materials used in the pressings, playback devices of the era wore out the discs quickly. Today it’s almost impossible to find a Rainey record that is in playable condition, and no metal masters survive. This release by JSP records pulls together Rainey’s entire cataloge (including alternates) from the best surviving pressings they could find. The restorations are quite good considering the source material and although some hiss and surface noise remains, I can appreciate the hard work that went into making these records listenable.

Some Ma Rainey from…


Published: November 15, 2008

Adrian’s CD Reviews

Hello vintage audio lovers….special greetings. Here are some reviews of new and not so new releases of vintage music on compact disc and DVD.

Arthur Nikisch Conducts BeethovenDutton Laboratories (compact disc)
Arthur Nikisch Conducts Beethoven
CDBP 9784

Dutton Laboratories (2008).

There’s a new kid on block! ‘CEDAR’, a stunning British-designed computer software that has made listening to vintage audio on CD a new and startling experience, has introduced changes. This ‘new kid’ is called, ‘CEDAR Cambridge’. It’s been to used to special effect on a new compact disc reissue of Arthur Nikisch’s truly astonishing recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 recorded in 1913. Not just the Beethoven but Nikisch’s other acoustic discs as well…..shorter works by Beethoven, music by Weber, Mozart and Liszt. I initially heard the Beethoven symphony on a 1982 LP release. Next followed the first issue on CD. This was on Symposium Records in 1991. EMI offered the recording again in 2002 and in slightly better sound. Now in 2008 this ‘new kid’ has been tried out. There are marginal improvements and it’s these marginal improvements that make this CD worth the price of owning. What comes through is magical and with a special majesty. Nikisch’s performance has structure and architecture. He shapes and urges the work on beautifully. There is a curious drawback. You can actually hear the software at work…like a gate opening and then closing. The result are curious digital artifacts and these may be a necessary evil. Obviously the ‘new kid’ has to handled with great caution but this CD is worth the effort of further exploration.


Henry Burr AnthologyArcheophone Records (compact disc)
HENRY BURR ANTHOLOGY: The Original King of Pop
ARCH 5502 (2005)

This is another landmark release by a record company that definitely knows what it’s doing. This present CD is no exception. Archeophone let’s the recordings speak for themselves. They’re restorations never attract attention to themselves. This is important. Herein is a superb reissue of some this vocalist’s recordings from as early as 1903 and stretching into the late 1920’s. Burr is a Canadian. But Henry Burr is a pseudonym. His real name is Harry McClaskey. Oddly you’ll see recordings that feature Henry Burr or Harry McClaskey…on other record labels he uses curious inventions of this combination of names. The first thing that attracts anyone to any Archeophone CD is the research that produces superb programme notes. These are exceptional. McClaskey sang in quartets, in trios, in duos but most notably he was a tenor whose voice recorded beautifully all by itself. The reward for McClaskey was stunning sales figures for his recordings. Figures that made him a true recording star by the time his career came to a close in 1928. I swear you can even hear some of the tears falling from his cheeks when he records those songs that made listeners hearts pause. Listen to track 26. It’s his 1927 recording of, “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. Was it this recording that Gladys Presley had in mind when she asked her son, superstar, Elvis Presley to record more than 30 years later? Here’s an impressive fact; his earliest recordings were in 1903…..his final recordings were made in 1928….over that 25 year span he cut more than 5000 discs. WOW!!!!!


Billy Murray AnthologyArcheophone Records (compact disc)
BILLY MURRAY ANTHOLOGY: The Denver Nightingale
Recordings, 1903 – 1940
ARCH 5501 (2002)

American-born vocalist, Billy Murray was another HUGE recording star in the pre-radio, pre-electrical recording era. One does not compare Billy Murry to Henry Burr…there was simply no point…they were both fabulous performers in their own right. Fabulous even in spite of the fact that they recorded virtually the same repertoire. They brought their own flair to bear on the songs they made. This Archeophone CD celebrates Murray’s amazing legacy. But just one CD won’t do it. This just scratches…pardon the pun…the surface in a manner of speaking. 30 tracks contained herein. Recordings from 1903 to 1940….commercial material and some private recordings are included. Again, so typical of the ‘Archeophone’ philosophy, the restorations of these tracks don’t intrude. You get period sound with all of the benefit but without excess noise.


Raymond ScottAcrobat Music (compact disc)
ACMCD 4233

(Acrobat 2007).

In 1958 an obscure, at least to me, American record company called, “Everest Records” issued a LP in versions for monophonic record players and the then newly introduced stereophonic players that featured recorded music by one of the legends of audio, Raymond Scott. In 2007 this LP has been issued with both mono and stereo versions of the music that tried to mix a rock and roll sensibility with late 40’s and 50’s pop tunes. Raymond Scott was very much a man of the future. Go to: for more information about Scott. This CD features his arrangements of popular tunes of the late 1930’s and 1940’s. This was a curious experiment and a great deal of success came from Scott’s musical innovations featured on this LP. I get the impression that the record was not a great hit but that the innovations that Scott introduced where heralded in other ways. This CD is clearly an audio curiosity. For anyone interested in early stereo on LP records this issue is right up your alley. Rock and roll for the entire family? Well….not quite!! The stereo versions of these tunes sounded better than the mono version.


Jeff Healey - Mess of BluesStony Plain Records (compact disc)
Jeff Healey – vocals
SPCD 1333

(Stony Plain 2008)

A Canadian jazz musician has died. Jeff Healey would have loved being called a ‘jazz musician’. Jazz was, after all, at the very heart of his very soul and being. In addition to his astonishing accomplishments as a musician and vocalist, Jeff Healey was also a devoted record collector. Last count he had more than 30,000 jazz recordings covering dates from the teens to the late 40’s and 50’s. He also nursed a quiet, unspoken passion for dance bands of the same period. Jeff’s last CD, ‘Mess Of Blues’, released in April of 2008, in so many ways embodies so many of things he learned from listening to old recordings. Original to the end and who of us would not to love crawl inside of Jeff’s mind and know the ideas he was using that he’d heard on shellac. He was the consummate collector and Jeff knew his stuff. In fact his talents as the collector surfaced in 1996 when he compiled Disc 1 of a 4 disc set devoted to jazz recorded by Victor. The set was called, “Body and Soul: 80 Years of RCA Victor Jazz”. Jeff focused on his special interest…early jazz. Five of the 22 tracks carry the moniker ‘never before released on CD’. He also researched and wrote the ‘album’ notes that accompany Volume 1. Surf the ‘net’ to find this set. Jeff’s contribution to the set is worth owning. Jeff Healey….gone but far from forgotten.

Volume 1 compiled by Jeff Healey
BMG Music Canada (1996) (Out of Print, Check you’re local used CD shop for copies)


The Bristol Session Vol 1RCA/BMG Heritage (compact disc)
RCA/BMG Heritage 07893 65131 2

(BMG Heritage 2003)

The Victor Talking Machine company, before it was swallowed up by RCA in 1929, was exploring new territory when it released a series of discs featuring ‘Southern’ music. There were ethic-based, folk tunes largely passed down orally from generation-to-generation. This new territory included a new recording technology licensed from “Western Electric”… some circles it had the towney description of “Orthophonic” (sounds like a treatment for sore muscles!!!!!)……and music new to the Victor catalogue. It was 1927. It was all amazingly simple; a recording crew set up shop in a converted shoe factory. What resulted was 76 recordings by 19 performers. New stars were born. This first CD captures these early instrumentalists and vocalist. Firsts for the Carter Family, first for Jimmie Rogers and other musicians eager to explore what life was like on records. Many were not disappointed. What compelled me to own this CD was the bare-faced honesty of everyone involved. There is no arrogance but raw, unabashed talent. I’m waiting for Volume 2 of the Sessions to be released. What turned my crank? Track 12. A tune called, “Narrow Gauge Blues”. Harmonica playing like I’ve never heard before. You could smell the steam, hear the locomotive’s whistle and feel the lurch of the coaches. I want more!!!!!


Discovering CinemaFlicker Alley Productions (DVD)
2-DVD set
FA – 0005 (2008)

This 2-DVD set features documentaries dealing with aspects of vintage motion pictures. “Movies Dream in Colour” and for my purposes here at ‘Dawn of Sound’, “Learning to Talk”. Both are chock full of carefully and beautifully restored vintage film clips and vintage sound clips that feature early explorations in the development of colour for film and audio for film. Where sound recording was concerned I was absolutely captured by the efforts to make synchronized sound feasible. If you like the recent “Jazz Singer” that Peter Nagy reviewed this set is a ‘must see’. All of the early sound pioneers are featured including the work done to perfect an early amplifier using pressurized air called the ‘Auxetophone’. I was intrigued to learn that early sound-on-film technology was pioneered as early as 1916. This set is a ‘must own’ for anyone wanting to ‘hear’ and ‘see’ what early cinema pioneers were involved with AND where these early investigations eventually took us.

Special thanks for giving these reviews considering. I’ll be back in the fall.
All the best.
Adrian Shuman.


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Published: April 26, 2008

Adrian’s CD reviews

Greetings and hello! It’s really wonderful working with Peter Nagy and making this contribution to ‘Dawn of Sound’. This is an opportunity to share my world of vintage audio on CD with like minds or should I say like ears!! In my mind an old recording, a vintage recording, is a portal. It’s a doorway to an experience that I can never have myself. It goes without saying that I’m grateful to audio restorers and conservators who take the time, have the initiative and understand the technologies to make this valuable and timeless material available today.

Let’s begin with a new round of releases of music on vintage recording on compact disc:

Archeophone Records
Arch 5008 (2004)
Buy from
This is a collection of mainly Columbia, Victor and Emerson acoustic recordings issued originally between 1911 and 1920. Typical of the work that ‘Archeophone Records’ compiles, there are some added items that were never issued but available here for the first time. To appreciate this disc you have to love the saxophone. The appeal of this colleciton of sax players comes initially from the novelty factor….no one else had dared to present five saxophones and later six in the same company….ever! Through frequent appearances and clever musical adaptions and compositions the brothers became a hit. The music making is clever, sophistocated and today all we can do is marvel at the instrumental acrobatics. The successful restorations should endeavour to convey their unique sense artistry and the astonishing amount of fun listening to their music gave (and gives today) listeners. 24 tracks of recordings from 1911 until 1920 and the ‘cream’ is some material never before available including what researchers estimate to be the soundtrack from an early talkie….a Vitaphone movie featuring the Browns in performance….I wonder if anyone has found the Vitaphone images? Restoration quality is directly tied to the quality of the original pressings available and these vary from moderate to approaching excellent. In addition to stellar restorations the amount and quality of accompanying research is excellent. A quality production.

Archeophone Records

Arthur Pryor and His Band
Arc0h 5008

2006 This is a window into a different time period. Communities all over North America sported locally organized bands. These were bands of mainly brass and woodwind instruments. The best of these, in fact one of the legendary bands of all time, was directed by one of the truly great instrumentalists of all time, a musician by the name of Arthur Pryor. Pryor’s speciality was the trombone, cornet and trumpet. Legend tells us that he could make audiences weep……..his playing was so moving. Arthur Pryor was a star! He dazzled listeners with his own stellar playing. and was a master bandleader as well. Here is a collection of vintage recordings from 1903 to 1911 that feature both Pryor’s direction of “His Band” and his performing. Remember….many of these recordings are now more than 100 years old. This source material has stood up well….Archeophone must have access to near pristine copies of these discs. Restorations are astonishing, the booklet supplied affords a look into a world that has now gone and I can only hope that Archeophone issues more of this material. Bravo!!

Naxos Historical
Symphony Orchestras

Naxos Historical 8.111048
2006 Two composers leading orchestras recording their own works. Gustav Holst’s quasi-ballet score, “The Planets” directed by him and Symphony No. 4 written by Ralph Vaughan Williams and conducted by him as well. First to the Holst. This was the second and last time Holst would record ‘The Planets’. There were a set of acoustic Columbia recordings made in 1923. When the electrical era dawned Columbia hurriedly converted to the new system and Holst was hustled into the recording studio to record anew this cycle of symphonic movements. The 1923 recordings are available on a ‘Pearl’ CD (GEMM CD 9417). In the three years from 1923 until 1926 (when these recordings were originally made) a lot may have changed in Holst mind. Debate for yourself which is more successful at capturing the essence of this music. This Naxos reissue of these electrical recordings is excellent. The success of these reissues in very large measure goes to the restoration skills of Mark Obert-Thorn. I get tingles every time I see this man’s name on a CD restoration. Same with the Vaughn Williams from 1937. Amazingly quiet surfaces to the point where you can easily forget that you’re listening to a set of 78’s from pre-World War 2.

Take Two Records

Various performers
Take Two TT 511 CD This is an impressive package! 40 tracks contained over 2 CD’s. Recordings from 1926 to 1940. Theatre organists and the instruments they played upon from the United States and Britain….it probably doesn’t get much better than this. Theatre organs are heaven sent! While this collection comes pretty close to the majesty of hearing one live, a theatre organ in the flesh is an awesome spectacle to behold. Get ready for some impressive music making. The forty tracks feature the kind of repertoire for which these musicians became famous. In practically all cases the organists themselves have supplied the clever arrangements that abound on these CD’s. The quality of the transfers depends completely on the quality of the supplied recordings. For the most part these are good to excellent. This set will not disappoint. Highly recommended.

Naxos Historical
CHOPIN/SCHUMANN: Piano Concertos
Alfred Cortot -piano Symphony Orchestras conducted by
Landon Ronald/John Barbirolli

Naxos Historical 8.110612

Buy from

I purchased this CD for the piano concerto by Robet Schumann. The Swiss-born/French pianist, Alfred Cortot must have loved this concerto. This is the second of three recordings he made of this music. The first was an acoustic recording made in 1923, this recording herein dates from 1934 and there is a recording from 1927. In each case British conductor, Landon Ronald directed the orchestras that Cortot performed with. The acoustic recording remains unavailable. The 1927 effect has been issued on an Andromeda CD and now this Naxos effort. I’ve heard Cortot’s 1927 recording….his recorded performance on CD is marred by ineffective and careless transfers (we’ll revisit this in the future!). This just leaves this Naxos Historical issue which is superb. Behind this effort is the near legendary Mark Obert-Thorn and yes I’ve had the accompaning tingles again. Cortot’s playing leaves some folks cold. I venture to say that some people say that Cortot is careless even clumsy but his playing absolutely fascinates me. Anyone loving the concerto by Robert Schumann will not be disappointed with Cortot’s approach.

These CD’s reviewed by Adrian Shuman. January 2007.


Published: January 13, 2007