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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!



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.

Tom Waits – Step Right Up

The sleeve notes famously invite the listener to send in for a copy of the lyrics to this track. Allegedly gleaned from the small ads at the back of a magazine, a well set-up system not only makes the words entirely intelligible but somehow it’s funnier too. Something to do with making a better connection to the musicians. Probably.

Yo Yo Ma Piazzolla: Tango Sensations: FEAR

Yet another piece where, if the system doesn’t get the basics absolutely right, the performers sound like they are sight-reading their parts for the first time. In fact, the duet of Ma’s cello and the bandoneon should sound tight, tuneful and full of emphasis and drama with a strong sense of interaction between the performers.

Youssou N’Dour – Chimes of Freedom

A cover of a Bob Dylan song but thoroughly ‘Senegalised’ into N’Dour’s characteristic style. Distinctive wood-block percussion clicks can sound vague and ill-defined where they should be a crucial part of the piece. Also the afrobeat rhythm which runs through most of the track can, oddly, seem sluggish and drag the piece down rather than driving it along as it clearly does on a properly set up system. Listen right to the end for the real payoff!