Creedence Clearwater Revival Absolute Originals
his carefully compiled, finely presented boxed set collects the output of Creedence Clearwater Revival, still one of America's most original-sounding rock bands approaching 50 years after their recordings were made. When you hear the combination of gritty blues, rockabilly and swampified boogie that CCR perfected, it's surprising to learn that the band formed in Northern California, far closer to Haight-Ashbury than Highway 61. Collected here is every studio-recorded album the band made -- all within a four-year period -- along with a bonus 45rpm disc that features special mixes of a couple of songs. Included are liner notes written by former Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres and period photos from Baron Wolman and Didi Zill, who documented CCR during the band's heyday. Each record comes in a glossy fold-over sleeve constructed of heavy stock, everything fitting into an attractive box.
This is, in fact, Analogue Productions' second time re-releasing this material, and these records come from the same mastering as the initial set, which first appeared in 2004. But there are two differences this time around: the LPs were pressed at Quality Record Pressings in Kansas, not at RTI in California, and the LPs are 200 grams instead of 180. While this raises the obvious question of which set is better, the more important one, given that owners of the highly praised first edition are unlikely to buy the whole thing again, is how these carefully wrought and pressed reissues compare to original LPs and the various audiophile alternatives.
I have original copies of almost all of these LPs, in addition to a couple of repressings by Fantasy Records. I also own the Mobile Fidelity version of Cosmo's Factory [Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-037] and a Japanese pressing of Green River [Victor VIP5056]. During a few round-robin listening sessions, what I heard was definitive and completely in the favor of the Analogue Productions reissues, which came as no great surprise to me. While a couple of decades ago it was common knowledge that original pressings were generally better-sounding than reissues, that's no longer the case, as the equipment used for remastering, not to mention the artistry of the people using it, has improved greatly in the new millennium. Now, if the analog master tape is used as the source and one of the big names is behind the controls (as Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray were here), the finished product reveals more of the recording's personality than ever before.
The Analogue Productions LPs sound a little to vastly different and considerably better than any of the copies I had on hand. In general, they are more focused and visceral, which greatly enhances this music. In some cases, the remastering corrects important flaws. For example, "Up Around the Bend," from the original pressing of Cosmo's Factory, skews slightly to the right, shifting the entire soundstage in that direction. The Mobile Fidelity pressing corrects this and sounds considerably brighter, which isn't necessarily a bad thing with some systems. The Analogue Productions version also corrects the right-leaning soundstage along with better delineating the bass, improving the drive of the track. It presents a more physical -- and emphatic -- view of the music.
With the title cut from Green River, the Japanese pressing sounds too discrete, overemphasizing the space between the guitar and vocals. The bass is prominent, but also congealed and wooly. The original LP achieves much better top-to-bottom balance, but it also has a more distant perspective. Again the Analogue Productions LP corrects these issues along with displaying a vastly more realistic tonal balance and better-integrated bass. It's clearly the best of the three.
Similar, though by no means identical, improvements are just as obvious with the five other officially released titles in the set. Listeners used to the sound of original pressings will be regularly stunned by what these LPs reveal, enhanced by the ultra-quiet backgrounds of the pressings.
The eighth LP is particularly interesting. It collects five songs, including alternate "wide stereo mix" versions of two of them, and is cut at 45rpm. The mastering across all of the LPs is so vivid that the 45rpm disc doesn't have much room for improvement. There is a bit more steely sheen here, a tad more air there, although, once again, the differences from original pressings are immense, as only a few seconds of comparison will prove. Some of the LPs are more musically necessary than others, and Analogue Productions has cannily released each (except the 45rpm disc) separately, so you can save yourself some money by cherry-picking your favorites.
A boxed set such as this -- which aims to be both comprehensive and definitive, and hits the mark -- is destined to become a collector's item à la the Mobile Fidelity Beatles and Rolling Stones sets, so singular is the music and opulent is the presentation. Mobile Fidelity pressed 25,000 Beatles sets; Analogue Productions has limited this run of Absolute Originals to 2500. If you value this music, buy now (or add to your Christmas list) or regret it later.
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