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The Vinyl Word

MFSL is back on track with a pair of new albums

By Greg Cahill

Before closing its doors in 1999, the Sebastopol-based Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab label pressed the finest vinyl ever to spin on a turntable. Those long out-of-print MFSL reissues command some of the highest prices in the collector's market; on eBay, the label's 1980s Beatles box sets of original master recordings fetch $1,000 or more for all 14 Fab Four titles.

So now that the label has been revived, and has resumed giving music fans new high-quality CDs on 24kt gold discs, it's a welcome sight to see MFSL once again reissuing original master, half-speed recordings on audiophile-quality 180-gram vinyl.

The first two vinyl reissues in the label's new Gain 2 Ultra Analog series are 1997's So Long, So Wrong (Rounder/MFSL) by Alison Krauss & Union Station (a two-disc, limited edition release), and 2003's Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People, a five-song, 45RPM EP by Primus.

I didn't receive a review copy of the Primus disc and to be honest, it's too much hassle to realign the belt on my Music Hall turntable so I can play 45s. So you're on your own on that one. But if the Alison Krauss album is any indication, you're in for a serious treat (plus the MFSL 45 RPM disc should offer more sonic definition than a standard 33 1/3 RPM disc).

Musically, So Long, So Wrong is one of the hottest bluegrass outings of the past decade, marked by sparse acoustic arrangements that leave plenty of room for Krauss' gentle high, lonesome vocals. Her old fans, and one suspects even her newfound followers, weren't disappointed.

"After mainstream success happened for Alison Krauss & Union Station," music critic Cub Koda noted in his All Music Guide review at the time, "one would have rightly expected a commercial sweetening of their sound, resulting in diminishing (or even abandoning) the simple but very unique thing that brought them into the public eye--and eventual public acclaim--in the first place. But the group's first new recording in the wake of the surprise success of Now That I Have Found You: A Collection (Rounder) finds Alison Krauss & Union Station happily keeping their eclectic focus firmly on the prize stretched before them with no silly attempts to court the hat-hunk-of-the-month or the boot-scoot-boogie crowd."

Sonically, the sense of space, clarity and warmth of this MFSL reissue is simply astonishing. Quite simply, this is one of the first albums I have heard that without qualification supports the notion vinyl is superior to CDs.

I might just break down and buy that Primus EP . . . .

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Web extra to the September 1-7, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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