Alternative takes – the road less travelled

In a previous opinion piece, I have noted the power of streaming to access music in decent sound quality that would otherwise be much less available.

One of the particular features that is enjoyable is the availability of alternative versions of music that I have known for many years. When Bruce Springsteen released his tracks compilation he described it as a journey down an alternative road to his musical life. When Bruce Springsteen released his Tracks compilation he described it as a journey down on alternative road through his musical life.

Some of these are live recordings. I have previously commented on the terrible sound quality that I experienced at the Bridgewater Hall Suzanne Vega concert. This is in sharp contrast to the recording available on Quboz and other streaming platforms of the 25th anniversary concert to celebrate the success of Solitude Standing. This recording from the Barbican in London shows just what sound quality is possible at a live event. Presumably this was taken directly from the sound desk so there is no guarantee that those present experienced the same sound quality.

Another route to an extensive catalogue of live concert performances are direct downloads from the artist themselves. Featuring highest on my list are those available from Bruce Springsteen, downloadable in better than CD quality. The ability to download the actual performance and replay it at home adds an additional enjoyment to attending live events. With an artist like Springsteen where each playlist is different I was able to compare the concert I attended in Manchester with the one attended by my daughter in London. Only about one third of the program was common and Patti Scialfa,Absent from the Manchester lineup of the E Street band was present for the London concert.

However possibly my favourite items of this type are alternative versions of studio recordings. In particular, Richard Thompson has produced three albums of acoustic performances of his songs, entitled Acoustic classics volume one Acoustic classics volume two and Acoustic rarities. His songwriting lends itself very well to the stripped back performances featured here, mostly just his voice accompanied by guitar. The songs include not just material he has previously recorded as a solo artist, but also songs from his time with Fairport Convention, such as the normally anthemic Meet on the Ledge. The sound quality on the Quboz streaming platform is exceptionally good, and the result is one of my favourite listening experiences. The Springsteen Tracks compilation mentioned above features a similarly stripped back version of Born in the USA, which shows clearly what Springsteen describes as the true nature of this song as a protest song about the treatment of Vietnam veterans.

In a different vein one of my early discoveries on streaming, was a tribute version of the wall from an all-star cast of progressive rock musicians known as Rebuilding the Wall. The Wall has had this treatment several times notably the live Berlin recording created by Roger Waters to celebrate the downfall of the very real Wall in Berlin. However, this studio recording offers alternative interpretations from surprising musicians such as the late great Keith Emerson on keyboards and Ian Anderson with his trademark flute and vocals. It’s worth noting that not all these experiments also successful. The parallel version of Dark Side of the Moon is a sad disappointment and fails to either capture the innovation of the original or present an exciting alternative re-interpretation. A less glamorous feature of streaming is the facility to access material like this and discard it without forking out for a disc you will likely only play once.

These new adventures in music (sorry REM for the appropriation) enable our sound systems to lead us back to finding joy in the music itself rather than in an unhealthy(?) obsession with technology and are one of the very best features of lossless streaming.

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