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Because The Wonderful Sounds of Female Vocals is a sampler, some music lovers may turn up their noses at the thought of mixing Ella Fitzgerald and Joan Baez on the same disc. For others who may not want to buy all the full-length albums (many double-LP sets) represented here, the compilation functions as a godsend. Analogue Productions owner Chad Kassem did a remarkable job of selecting the collection’s 22 excellent tracks, which range from classic performances to those that are merely pretty damn good. Kassem is no dummy, and I’m sure he thought that once buyers sample the bait here, the hook will be set for the sale of lots of reissue copies of the original albums—most mastered and released by Analogue Productions.
Ella Fitzgerald’s “Black Coffee,” Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Nina Simone’s “Plain Gold Ring,” Julie London’s “Cry Me a River,” and Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust serve as transcendent examples of female vocals. Most of the other selections fall a little short of such prestige, but none stray from the high-level mark. These tunes—from Phoebe Snow, Shelby Lynne, Rickie Lee Jones, Holly Cole, Janis Ian, Myra Taylor, Patricia Barber, Nancy Bryan, Joan Armatrading, Judy Collins, Jennifer Warnes, and Diana Krall—cover a broad spectrum of styles and talent.
The record’s main intention is not to showcase the “best” female vocals ever recorded, but to package two LPs of the greatest sounding of the cream of the crop offered by Analogue Productions—and a few other labels. In doing so, The Wonderful Sounds of Female Vocals triumphs. All the selections also stem from already published LPs cut by mastering engineer Kevin Gray for Analogue Productions (or titles remastered by Gray for other labels). The compilation was assembled from digital high-resolution files produced from the all-analog tapes (when available). Gray has few peers and the two-LP set is as sharp a calling card as exists for experiencing how good older recordings can be made to sound when the care and skill of an exceptional mastering engineer is at the helm. If this album doesn’t make your stereo sound fantastic, don’t blame it on the LPs!
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