While I have been fortunate to travel often to Colorado, where I have many friends, I do not get to go much as I would like. The state has vast amounts of outdoor space and an environment extremely different than that of the bustling city here in Chicago. I remember my first road trip there as a teenager, passing Denver, approaching the Rockies, and being in awe at the scope of the mountain ranges ahead. Beautiful.
Despite all of my travels to the state, I had never seen a show at Red Rocks, which had always been on my bucket list. Many people my age first learned about Red Rocks from the U2 video for "Sunday Bloody Sunday." I once snuck into the venue in the middle of the night on a camping trip just to check it out.
Last year, I was discussing my desire to experience a concert at Red Rocks with my friend, Andy. He decided to remedy the situation and purchased four tickets for a show featuring two of my favorite bands. The Punch Brothers were opening for the transformational duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. As the date approached, my excitement built at a feverish pace.
To say that sitting in the venue proved unforgettable would be an understatement. You sit in an amphitheater seemly designed by higher powers. Rock formations on the left and right, with the stage in a natural stone pit. I've been in some amazing outdoor venues, but nothing as spectacular as Red Rocks. And the show was fantastic. I sat there in a daze, transported to acoustic heaven by the renowned musicians and stunning surroundings.
This brings me to a column from today's guest writer, Shane Buettner. Shane is an old friend who has written for The Absolute Sound, served as the editor of Home Theater, and worked for Vandersteen and AudioQuest. He's a lifelong audiophile and a music and film lover. Shane even created a reissue label, Intervention Records, releasing great-sounding titles by Joe Jackson, Judy Sill, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Stealers Wheel, Billy Squier, and others.
Today, he discusses how a great soundtrack can further immerse you into the story line of a film and bring you closer to that chosen music.
Notes From Someone's Listening Room
By Shane Buettner, Experienced Audiophile/Extreme Vinyl Collector/Film Buff
Having been a longtime AV equipment reviewer and Editor-In-Chief of Home Theater magazine in a previous life, I'm equal parts movie enthusiast and hi-fi nut. I have a serious front-projection 4.1-channel surround sound system built around a no-holds-barred hi-fi. I also have two sons at home, and we watch a lot of movies together. A frequent "music flow" in our house happens when we hear a terrific song on a movie soundtrack, and then I, the old man, says, "Hey, I have that on vinyl, let's spin it after the movie."
One such recent experience is Guy Ritchie's latest punch to the cinematic solar plexus, The Gentlemen. The music bed under the mesmerizing opening montage is "Cumberland Gap," from David Rawlings' Poor David's Almanack. Even on the lossless Atmos Surround track, the song sounds richly textured and full of life. It wonderfully establishes the intrigue and densely atmosphere before things start flying off the rails.
As extraordinary as the song is in the movie, pulling out the all-analog Acony Records vinyl pressing becomes a next-level experience: full but detailed bass, and amazing breath and air around the instruments and vocals. The backing vocals from Rawlings' music and life partner, Gillian Welch, occupy space on vinyl in a way that surround sound can't match. The entire LP is simply tremendous, and there's no chance you can get in and out in one song. I played the whole damned thing.
Rawlings and Welch exclusively record to analog tape and go to great pains to keep their work completely in the analog domain. When they decided to do vinyl releases of the Acony catalog, they didn't just crank the records out (as many labels do). They bought, rebuilt, and restored their own cutting lathe. Needless to say, such behavior is atypical – and so are the results. The sonics aren't the only area of fanatical attention to detail, either. Poor David's Almanack comes housed in a beautifully textured jacket that proves a tactile experience in itself.
Poor David's Almanack isn't the only jewel in the Acony catalog. Every vinyl release from Rawlings, Welch, and Acony are given the kind of treatment usually only lavished on LPs from bespoke third-party reissue labels.