Thursday, January 08, 2009

Street Legal remasters: how good are they? Encore #1

Thanks to Tiernan Henry:

“I’m sure you’ve had plenty of responses to your question so I’ll just join in too.

“Some background: “Street Legal” was the first Dylan album I bought on release. I already had a couple by 1978, and had “acquired” a couple of others from my brother and sister’s collections.

“A common theme I’ve found among Bob listeners is the warmth with which we all regard our first Dylan album. “Hard Rain” remains the favourite of a friend of mine as it is the one that introduced him to Bob all the way back in the late ‘70s. Likewise I have more than a passing regard for “Street Legal”. I was 15 when it came out; the perfect age to listen and listen and listen to an LP. I still know the album inside out, so deeply did it get lodged in my brain back then.

“I bought a CD version sometime in the late ‘80s and found it almost totally unlistenable: it was muddy, dull and damp. In that first flush of CD releases the record companies were obviously not bothering about source tapes and were just getting back catalogues out there on sale. Though the album remained a firm favourite and though I would return to it on occasion I found that I would listen to the LP more than the CD (and in the car I had a tape I’d made from the LP).

“The 1999 remaster was and is a revelation. There are a number of reasons: they worked from the original tapes; it was obviously a work of love; and it sounds astounding. Though there is still bleed into the various mikes – remember that this was essentially an album that was recorded live – the separation has improved immensely. It is louder, though not simply as a result of levels being jacked up, and not in a way that causes loss of definition or detail. It has a really full, rounded and live feel to it.

“To my ears it sounds better than the LP. One other unexpected bonus was that “Changing of the Guards” is a full minute longer than on the LP (and earlier CDs) – there is an extended coda that really allows the band to kick the verse and chorus into high gear.

“I didn’t get the subsequent redone version because I didn’t think that they could improve it anymore.

“Though I listen to most of the albums over the course of the year “Street Legal” remains the one I probably listen to most, on CD and on my iPod.

“I hope that helps and I hope that a fresh listen to one of the newer versions opens up the album for you. It is worth listening – if you can – to the old CD and then sticking on the ‘99 remaster immediately after. Think Paul and road to Damascus!”