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Essential Tracks

This section focuses on great music, providing:

A selection of ESSENTIAL TRACKS chosen to give your system a workout, some of which are seminal recorded performances.
DOWNLOADS of superlative quality recordings in a range of high resolution formats.
Our ALBUM OF THE MONTH and some words on why we chose it.
Invited COMMENT from dCS and leading members of the hi-fi world – although in most cases we offer these anonymously!



Abdullah Ibrahim – Imam

There’s a bass guitar riff which underpins this piece while the other musicians take a relaxed approach to timing. On the right system this is clearly intentional and skilfully done, and the piece hangs together beautifully. On the wrong system the timing is just vague; loose but not deliberately so; disconnected and slightly raucous.

Alicia Keys – As I Am (Intro) & Go Ahead

The intro is in the style of a Romantic piano sonata. It might not be Beethoven but it’s rather better than the self-indulgent noodling that some systems make of it. On ‘Go Ahead’, on the right system, it’s clear that she is playing fast and loose with the rhythm, lesser systems just make it sound like she can’t keep up.

American Beauty Original Film Score – Dead Already

Very little melodic interest here; it’s all about the rhythm which should be insistent and propulsive and the harmony which is subtle. If the timing and tunefulness of the performance is compromised it loses the quality which holds your attention and makes it so compelling.

Ariel Ramirez. Misa Criolla – Kyrie

There is a wonderful sense of intimacy and yet vast space within this piece. It’s a contradiction which goes to the heart of the music. The solo should be expansive, not simply loud. If there is no sense of rhythmic intent (despite the South American origins of the music) or the harmony is bland and indistinct or the chorus sounds bored (probably because it has been shoved into the background), you might well dismiss this as not worth your attention. We think that would be a great shame.

David Rees Williams Trio – When I Am Laid In Earth

Two things stand out on this track – the immense power and sonority of the piano and the subterranean depth of the bass guitar giving voice to Purcell’s famous ground bass. The problem being that, on the wrong system, neither is particularly connected to the other. It’s as though the musicians played their individual parts without hearing the others. Then the bass drags the piece down and the piano plods without the momentum or passion which is so evident when your system is really working well.

Diana Krall – Deed I Do

It is clear that Diana Krall is working here with some very fine musicians who play with real commitment, confident that they can rely on each other. It makes for a propulsive, energetic and memorable performance. But the timing is subtle and exacting. Some systems smear, for example, piano and percussion which can sound disconnected as if, once again, the performers are not paying proper attention. It’s the difference between an unforgettable night out or a so-so one, the sort where you might not want your money back but you won’t be talking about the gig for years afterwards.

Frank Sinatra – One For My Baby

A wonderfully understated performance from Sinatra. His exquisite sense of timing, the way he plays with rhythm but never loses the sense of forward motion, is a large part of his greatness. In a well set up system he works intimately with the piano and the orchestra’s involvement is surprisingly subtle. On other systems the piano noodles away to itself unconnected to the music, the orchestra swamps the rest when it plays and Sinatra’s timing isn’t exquisite, just listless.

Hugh Masekela – Stimela (The Coal Train)

A familiar sound at hi-fi shows, this one, and with good reason. There is real anger and emphatic playing in this track but on the wrong system it simply fails to come across. It opens with a percussion crescendo which can seem merely to get louder but to no good effect. On the right system the percussion builds with a real sense of increasing energy and urgency. Also the vocals (it’s spoken rather than sung) and playing are suffused with anger and awareness of great injustice, whereas some systems can make it sound like Masekela is simply reading from a list.

Jacques Loussier – Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring

On the right system the build up to the entry of the main theme is skilfully and subtly crafted, the bass and piano are exquisitely timed and there is a real sense of jazz rhythm informed by enormous respect and understanding of Bach’s music. The instruments have proper mass and there’s a real sense of swing to the rhythm changes. If there’s little sense of note or tunefulness to the bass, and bass and piano feel disconnected, it becomes adequately, but not memorably, played.

L Arpeggiata – Folia

This can sound tight and energetic, vigorous dance-making music which is hard to ignore – and why would you want to? Or it can sound disconnected, as if the musicians are not paying enough attention to each other.

Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares Svatba (The Wedding) and Kalimankou Denkou (The Evening Gathering)

In the wrong system the distinctive vocal style of these women and their a cappella songs will sound merely shouty, overwrought and tiresome. A well set up system, though, will reveal the remarkable depth of feeling and control that these singers bring to what is, in effect, tuneful yelling. One piece is fast and dynamic, the other lyrical. Both are extraordinary.

Orchestra Beobab – Papa Ndiaye

This is fairly typical of Senegalese popular music. It can sound plodding: the bass can dominate, but tunelessly, and the backing group can sound a bit bored. If it’s your introduction to world music, and you don’t see what people find in it, that might be why. On a good system everything gains life and vitality, the bass is less dominant and more tuneful and the vocals, including the backing group, are much more engaging and interesting to listen to.

Roberto Fonseca – Lo Que Me Hace Vivir

Fonseca’s piano technique combines liquid phrasing with an emphatic, attacking and percussive style. It’s an interesting combination of opposites, complimented wonderfully by subtle and skilful percussion well-placed in an acoustic space. Some systems fail to convey any real sense of control or musicianship: the playing lacks finesse, the timing is off, and there’s an odd disconnect between the right and left hands. Oh, and the percussion ceases to have any real connection to the music.

Rosanne Cash – Child of Steel

Fragile vulnerability in the vocal, delivering heartbreaking lyrics. This song has real emotional impact elevating Rosanne Cash to one of the greats. If it’s nothing special, just another so-so torch song – pretty, but not memorable – then your system is depriving you of a real treat.

Ry Cooder – I, Flathead

This Nonesuch CD, originally released in 2008, features Cooder spinning an epic yarn of a semi-fictitious America between the mid-’50s and the mid-’60s and completes the musical journey started with Chavez Revine and My Name is Buddy. This record is chock full of tasty percussion licks, environmental sounds and twangy guitar riffs. Those who loved the Little Village collaboration with John Hiatt, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner will notice some familiar charts here…and Keltner is back on drums.The soundstage is huge, the acoustic instruments sound right and Cooder’s playing (and clever sense of humour) have never been better. The disc illustrates just how good 16/44.1 can be if done right.

Schubert. Complete Songs – The Final Year Der Doppelgänger

A deceptively simple piece, the vocal part gives a powerful portrayal of menace and foreboding over an elegantly poised and measured piano accompaniment. Some systems fail to get any real feeling of dread across; there is no sense of purpose, a lack of tension between the parts. Loud sections are loud for no obvious reason becoming shouty and histrionic and the ending is just a wrap-up of the piece dissipating any sense of mystery or intrigue.



Shelby Lynne – Just a Little Lovin’

‘Inspired by Dusty Springfield’ says the cover and, indeed, the majority of the tracks on this album were originally made famous by the enigmatic Dusty. However, such is the unique quality of Ms Lynne’s voice that she easily makes each track her own. She has a deliciously sexy voice that, with excellent support from a small group of fine musicians, enables her to create the illusion that we are sharing some very intimate moments in her love life. The overall effect is mesmerising. The sound is demonstration class throughout. Originally recorded, at Ms Lynne’s request, by Phil Ramone on a high quality reel-to-reel tape recorder, the songs were then digitally mastered. The end result is magical both musically and sonically.

Solveig Slettahjell and the Slow Motion Quintet – Second Time Around

More significant liberties with the timing taken here. The clue is in the name – The Slow Motion Quintet. These are first class performers who know exactly how difficult it can be to play so slowly. Languid and luxurious or under-rehearsed and disjointed? If it sounds as though the musicians keep losing their place, then this piece will lose much of its charm.

The Beatles – Come Together

This, one of the more psychedelic Beatles tracks, is tight, insistent and relentless but the vocal is never overwhelmed by the other parts. It drives along despite some pretty loose middle sections. On systems which can’t keep their heads with complex music the timing is vague, instrumental placement indistinct and the whole thing, especially the bridge section, becomes rather pointless and self-indulgent.

The Chieftains – The Fiddling Ladies

This is a tuneful, lilting track with a strong rhythmic sense. It’s long, but it should be capable of holding your attention and it ought, by rights, to make you want to dance. If the percussion seems at odds with the playing, or if it just sounds like any of the dozens of ‘Oirish’ bands in any of the dozens of tourist-trap bars in Dublin, don’t blame the performers or the recording. We did, for ages, and we were wrong.