Judy Garland: Four Classic Albums Plus. Avid Easy, AMSC 1228 (2 CDs).
The good news about this collection of four Judy Garland (1922-1969) LPs – A Star Is Born (Columbia Records, 1954), Miss Show Business (Capitol Records, 1955), Judy (Capitol Records, 1966), and Alone (Capitol Records, 1957), plus her four 1953 Columbia singles – is the splendid audio restoration by the renowned remasterer, Nick Dellow, who, in an email, writes “I hope I have been respectful to the original sound – I have tried to be.” These public domain discs are “needle drops,” or transfers from the original LPs. Dellow points out that “Source recordings were the original Capitol LPs, and, in the case of A Star Is Born, the original Columbia box set (BL 1201).” The attentive listener will not find outtakes, such as the recently discovered complete “Lose That Long Face” from A Star Is Born, “I’m Old Fashioned” from Judy, and “Then You’ve Never Been Blue” from Alone, because they are still in-copyright, even though released in the past few years by JSP Records and Capitol. As a bonus which concludes the set, Avid Easy has included the four 1953 singles – “Send My Baby Back to Me,” Heartbroken,” “Without a Memory,” and “Go Home, Joe” – Garland recorded for Columbia just prior to the A Star Is Born sessions, all of which have been deftly restored by Dellow.
Compiled by Colin Davey, the set is a delight for those interested in hearing back-to-back recordings that are among Garland’s best in the 1950s. Although not sourced from the master tapes, these transfers and restorations more often than not jump at you by their vibrancy. Dellow writes that “No compression was used except for some de-essing of the sibilances, which were sometimes quite pronounced. In addition, the mid-range of some of these mono LPs was a little on the harsh side (I realize that such things can be rather subjective!) – a very gentle re-equalization around 1-2.5 kHz helped to slightly “soften” this, when necessary. Apart from that, I carried out declicking and decrackling using iZotope RX software. As the LPs were all near mint, the declicking and decrackling was a comparatively simple and straightforward job. De-hissing was also carried out using a simple low-pass filter, being careful not to cut into the music. Of course, declicking, decrackling and also dehissing were required for the 78s I used as ‘bonus tracks.’ Again, these were from near mint copies from my own collection, and two were actually 78s pressed on vinyl material rather than shellac, so the sound quality was consequently better.” One exception to the generally superb audio would be the A Star Is Born sides, which suffer from a harsh original sound recording. In mono, these tracks have decent sound, albeit with little bass and high treble, but have no punch. The result is that the beauty of Garland’s voice is unfortunately not to be heard. It is also unfortunate that the song order chosen here does not correspond to any LP or the film itself; Dellow regrettably has reversed his sides from the BL 1201 Columbia LP. On the positive side, Dellow has chosen not to no-noise the LP to death; as a result, some surface noise can thus be heard. It is strange to go from A Star Is Born to Miss Show Business, which was Garland’s first Capitol LP and her first LP ever, in the blink of an eye. Another exception to the general excellence of these transfers and restorations, the sound on the Miss Show Business tracks, as heard here, cannot come close to the recent high-resolution mastering that was based on the master tape and released by Capitol as a digital download. The best moments on the Avid Easy can be heard on the Judy and Alone tracks. Concerning the former, the sound has great depth, with solid bass, sparkling treble, and great presence. Alone, which is perhaps one of Garland’s best albums at Capitol, with its lush soundstage, here sounds like new. The four Columbia sides, all in mono, have been expertly transferred and restored, and have great clarity. Again, no-noise has been used in moderation, and these 64-year old recordings sound as if Garland were in the room.
Although Capitol released a high-resolution download of Miss Show Business, expertly remastered by Robert Vosgien, in 2015 (see Schulman, Lawrence. ARSC Journal [2015;46(2):364-366]), the last time Capitol/EMI issued a physical CD devoted to Garland was the 3-CD 2007 The Very Best of Judy Garland: The Capitol Recordings 1955-1965 (see Fisher, James. ARSC Journal [2008;39(2):326-329]), which was remastered remarkably well by Dave McEowen. The Avid Easy set is thus a long time coming and a welcome addition to the Garland discography. Equally welcome is a new edition of Alone, which last came out in 2002 as a twofer along with Judy in Love, both remastered by the audio guru Steve Hoffman. The four 1953 Columbia singles were transferred and restored by the legendary Robert Parker in the 2008 Judy Garland: Classiques et inédits 1929-1956 from Frémeaux & Associés (See Fisher, James. ARSC Journal [2008;39(2):324-326]). All this is to say that Dellow has stiff competition from other distinguished restorers, but can rightfully claim a well-deserved place in this rarified club of audio engineers.
Judy Garland has not been well-served by Capitol/EMI, now owned by Universal Music Enterprises, insofar as their releasing a set that includes all of her recordings, including alternates and outtakes, at the label. Whether on CD, SACD, or BD, such an integral is long overdue. As for Columbia, a set that includes recordings from A Star Is Born plus her Columbia singles, along with alternates and outtakes from the singles session (April 3, 1953), is also long overdue. Until that day, music lovers should be grateful to such public domain labels as Avid Easy, which continue to issue remastered Garland compilations or whole albums in order to preserve her unique legacy. Reasonably priced, at 77:55 for CD1 and 80:57 for CD2, and with an 8-page brochure that includes complete track listings along with reproductions of the backs of the original LPs, this set is well worth the investment. Reviewed by Lawrence Schulman
ARSC Journal Vol. 48, No. 1, Spring 2017. ©Association for Recorded Sound Collections 2017. All rights reserved. Printed in USA. Republished at The Judy Room with permission.
This review was first published in the Spring 2017 issue of the ARSC Journal (Volume 48, No. 1). The paper edition of the ARSC Journal can be purchased at the ARSC Journal page (http://www.arsc-audio.org/journal.html) of the ARSC website (http://www.arsc-audio.org/index.php).