The Challenge LP from Lyn Stanley is, as far as I can tell, the concluding chapter to this Julie London project–although I have noticed that Lyn’s been shooting a video with performances of these songs. Maybe she’ll do a few more, who knows. I don’t think you can possibly do too much in the service of Julie London advocacy, and it’s been a fun ride evaluating all these CDs and LPs over the last few months. Heck, I even got to meet the singer and she took me to Ocean Way to talk with Allen Sides and then Bernie Grundman Mastering and even Capitol Frigging Records in Hollywood to see where everything happened. So of course this is going to be another rave review, right?
Hah! That’s where I got you. I’m not going to rave about the music because I’ve done it already. The Challenge LP consists of three cuts from the sessions for London With a Twist: Live at Bernie’s so you know I really enjoyed the album and its stunning sound quality and that I recommend it and all that. The Challenge LP, therefore, isn’t something to be reviewed, it’s something that requires your active participation. Here’s the deal: on Side A, those three tracks–“Goody Goody,” “Love Letters” and “Bye Bye Blackbird”–were recorded tape-to-disc, and Side B is the same three songs but direct-to-disc. To make things more interesting (and difficult, from an A/B perspective) is that these are two consecutive takes that happened minutes apart. Until we okay human cloning, this is the closest we can come. Or is it?
I lurked on a couple audio discussion forums to see what everyone else thought–you know, because I wanted to pick the side most people like. (Kidding.) Okay, so it was a horror show with everyone arguing about whether you could do an accurate A/B comparison this way, and pretty soon my head started to ache. I suddenly remembered why I haven’t been on a forum in a long time.
Anyway, I decided to sit down and listen to The Challenge LP and do the comparison immediately. Myself. Like I’m supposed to. Here’s another funny part–I’m breaking in a new pair of speakers this week. It’s a secret speaker. I’m not supposed to say I have them. They call this a moratorium. I’ve never had to do this before. It’s kind of cool. But here’s the thing–speakers brand new, still breaking in. Most speakers get about 90% of the way there after 48 hours on break-in, and that last ten percent can take days or years, depending upon how much wood is in your enclosure. In other words, I’m starting off poorly in my attempt to make a proper sonic comparison.
Here’s what happened with The Challenge LP. I listened to one side, and liked the sound. Then I flipped to the other side, and liked it better. I thought I heard a little more detail the second time around. So I flipped the LP again and THIS side now sounded better. I heard firmer, deeper bass and the soundstage opened up. Then I flipped it once more and Lyn Stanley’s voice sounded more centered and focused, and I could hear more of her humorous inflections. Yeah, I know–these are all things that happen when you’re breaking in a new pair of speakers. It just keeps getting better and better, and sometimes suddenly.
But I’ll make one half-assed explanation as to why I tried my best to come up with a preference for tape-to-disc or direct-to-disc and failed. This album, of course, sounds spectacular. So as I tried to make sonic comparisons, the sound quality of this recording kept pulling me into the present. I feel like it wiped out my memory of the last side. So maybe at this point of my life, I no longer care about bearing down and conducting a strict A/B comparison. I just want to enjoy music. I’m still listening to The Challenge LP from Lyn Stanley, flipping the LP over and over every few minutes, and I keep thinking “this’ll be the one.” Until that happens, let me know what you think.