Frank Gutch Jr: Diament Is an Ear’s Best Friend; Little Lonely Rocks the Furniture; Impending Releases; and a Raft of Notes…..


Barry Diament.  Odds are, you’ve never heard of him— or think you haven’t.  The truth is, though, that if you have albums or CDs by Bad Company or Hoodoo Gurus or Led Zeppelin or Linda Ronstadt, you could have some of his work in your collection.  Diament, you see, has mastered or remastered  albums by those and many other musical artists.  What is mastering?  According to Hoyle (erm, Wikipedia):

A master engineer is one skilled in the practice of taking audio (typically music content) that has been previously mixed in either the analog or digital domain as mono, stereo or multichannel formats and preparing it for use in distribution, whether by physical media such as a CD, vinyl record, or as some method of streaming audio.

barry_diamentYeah, I know.  The supposed experts remain so by the art of confusion.  But what that basically means is that they remix the music to fit the format.  Each format, meaning the way the music makes its way to you, is its own little world, see, and them crazy engineers are supposed to know which buttons to push and/or knobs to twist to make the music sound its best.

Sounds easy, right?  Hell, all you have to do is sit down behind this huge panel and listen and tweak.  Of course, the key part is the listening.  Or so the most of us think.  The key part, I am afraid, beyond truly understanding the music, is knowing what the hell you are doing.  Sure, we can all listen, but could we master— or even mix? 

steveturnidgebeyongmasteringBarry Diament can, and Steve Turnidge.  They are the only two mastering engineers I know and you know what?  They are a little left of center.  Both of them.  You talk to them about life and politics and the basics of music and they seem normal enough, but when you begin digging past the basics of music, they slowly step into their own little universes.  With Diament, it has to do with some sort of space/time continuum.  With Turnidge— well, I will talk about him in a future column.  Let us just say that he thinks in terms of the future, right down to the technical and scientific terms.  And while I think I understand him at times, the next day I don’t.  To understand him, you need to check out his book, Desktop Mastering (click here) and Beyond Mastering.  And stay tuned.  Some time in the future, I will be talking with him in-depth about not only mastering but the future of not only music but the world.

But I digress.  I “met” Barry Diament (because cyber-meetings are not really meetings, are they?) on Steve Hoffman Forums over a discussion of the Loudness Wars.  For those unfamiliar with the term, the wars covered everything from compressing files (digital music files, that is) to mastering more for loudness than sound quality to arguments regarding music formats (vinyl, CD, streaming, etc) to anything else which affected music and how we receive it.  There were some knock-down-drag-out fights in the forums, mostly by people who had a little knowledge (you know what they say— a little knowledge is a dangerous thing) and little else.  Swear to God, over half of the arguments involved Led Zeppelin (them Zep fans can be a bit stubborn when it comes to their music overlords) and they weren’t pretty.  Suffice it to say that when the arguments subsided, while there was blood all over the virtual room and it became obvious that little was accomplished among the combatants, I began to understand.  I’d been listening to music all my life and worked in record retail most of it and thought I knew something.  People like Diament allowed me to see how little I knew.

For one thing, I had been arguing not necessarily against analog but against the idolatry of analog because I have heard amazing sounds in all formats.  While the extremists screamed all or nothing (CD, streaming or vinyl), I yelled “it depends” but without knowing why.  One day, during a “discussion,” one of the people involved opened my eyes.  He said simply that if the mastering is solid and you hear an album through speakers, it is as good a sound as you will hear.  Of a sudden it dawned on me that I haven’t heard any music through my stereo speakers for years, and I have a pair of beautiful Sansui five-speaker, four-way jobs which I pushed through a 100-Watt Sansui amp.  Probably not state of the art anymore, but it was when I got out of the Army in ’71, by the gods!  Hell, I hadn’t even considered the difference in sound of computer speakers and ear buds and regular stereo speakers.  All I paid attention to was the music emanating from my system-of-the-moment!

The point is that even engineers disagree.  Digital, analog, headphones, speakers, ear buds, amps, equalizers, filters…..  I have no real idea how they fit together.  I shouldn’t be making comment.


Barry Diament should, though, and he does.  Not fanatically, as far as I know, but logically.  Even though Diament left the label game years ago, he did so because he wanted to.  He had an aural vision, if you will, and presently is putting it together through a company he calls Soundkeeper Recordings (click here).  While it is a music company, its goals step beyond any music company of which I am aware.  They are about more than just getting music to the consumer.  They are about getting the music experience to the consumer.  How does it work?  Well, here’s what Diament has written for his site.

The goal of every Soundkeeper recording is to bring the listener to the performance, to create the feeling that the listener is in the presence of the musicians, in the space where the performance actually took place.  To give you this feeling, it is important to capture as many of the sonic cues our ears/brains would perceive in the presence of the performance as is possible.  Listening to a live musical event, we hear not only the sounds of the instruments but also the sound of the air around the instruments.  This sound is a combination of the space in which the performance occurs, its effects on the sounds of the instruments  and how the players play their instruments as a result of that interaction.

Are you following this?  What Diament is saying, if I have it right, is that Soundkeeper wants to give you as much of the total live experience as they can.  They want you to not only hear the music, but hear it as if you were in the room as it was recorded.  They want you to not only hear the notes, but feel the space in which those notes occurred.

Direct-to-Disc?  It is more than that.  It is more like direct-to-the-brain.  Or as close as they can get it.    I mean, consider the concept.  If they can get it right, the music would have more depth and more width.  It would be full and immediate.  It would be, if your system were right, right there in your house— or in your head.


And Diament takes the concept even further.  As many years as he has been in the business and as much effort as he makes to stay up with the times, he admits to being behind the learning curve.  That doesn’t mean that he is.  It just means that he’s smart enough to know how much he doesn’t know.  This is what he posted in a recent blog.

It was almost a year ago, in one of the earliest entries in this blog, entitled “The High End Arrives,” that I recounted some of my first experiences with better gear.  In both of the specific instances mentioned, my expectations were toppled.  First, a different turntable changed my thinking from “turntables just turn” to having a better appreciation for just how much more is involved in retrieving music from the spiral groove.  In the second instance, a change of speaker cables taught me that everything the signal passes through has an impact on the final sound.

That was a valuable lesson, particularly, as I came to learn later, when applied to making recordings (and) not just playing them back.  While I was reading about debates regarding whether cables could make an audible difference, I was bringing my own to work when I started mastering for CD.  I’d found that when replacing the “pro” cables in the studio (which connected the output of the master tape playback machine with the input of the analog-to-digital converters) with “audiophile” cables let more of the musical information in those tapes get through to the CD master.  It wasn’t that the cables I installed were making the sound better.  They just did a better job of getting out of the way.

Let me repeat.  They just did a better job of getting out of the way.  I would have said they made the sound better.  The idea is the same.  The approach is totally different.

This is why we need guys like Barry Diament!

Sound.  Space.  Air.  Vibrations.  Microphones.  Cables.  And a thousand other things.  Diament gets it.  He knows the intricacies of working with sound.  He knows that every approach to music is different.  Sure, the basics are somewhat the same, but the approach can make the difference!

Truth is, I’m over my head here.  I have little to no engineering knowledge and have no idea how the music makes it to my ears (just like I still don’t understand how pictures and sound can be passed from transmitter to receiver— I always figured it was magic!).  All I know is that when it gets there and it is good, I am happy.

Barry Diament is pretty happy to be doing what he is doing right now, too, I am assuming.  He must be.  He is building a dream.  He is doing what he could not really do when the major labels handed him most of those albums to master.  They wanted loud.  They wanted crunch.  They wanted inroads to the ears.  Diament is trying to build inroads to the musical soul.  You may think that road begins in your ears.  It begins much earlier than that.  It begins before the first note is created, in actuality, and the path it takes from there is an adventure.  Diament and Soundkeeper are part of that.

The music available from Soundkeeper is available in a variety of formats.  I suggest you take a look at their purchase page just to see what is available.  If you have any questions, I am sure Diament would be more than happy to address them.  (click here)

Julie Cain Is a Little Lonely and Rockin’ the Furniture…..

Flashes of the early-to-mid-sixties!  There is something about the semi-rockabilly/country female during that period which gets to me.  Think Brenda Lee.  There is something very cool about the echo chamber and a young lady’s voice and that pop attitude.  I mean, while most of country cries in their beer, it is good to hear something different like— erm— furniture, right?  Call me an old fool (you wouldn’t be alone), but I dig it!

It wasn’t that long ago that Little Lonely had me gasping for breath with this video.  Watch closely.  And listen closely, too.  She actually uses the word “garish.”

Hell, as long as we’re here, let’s watch/hear Little Lonely’s other videos.

This one is worthy of Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers and you all should know what I think of them by now.  If I have to have country, give me country like this.  To hell with Modern Country!

Next Up…..  Impending Releases…..

Let’s see how many artists I can piss off by forgetting to list their new releases.  Actually, I am the one who gets pissed when I leave someone I think important off of lists like this.  I get too little opportunity to pass the word along as it is.

Jubal Lee Young has a new album on the horizon titled On a Dark Highway.  This is his best yet, as far as I’m concerned.  Rockin’ country and a stable of musicians and vocalists behind him to beat the band.  His choice to cover one song each written by the parental units is a good one (White Trash Song by father Steve Young and My Oklahoma by mother Terrye Newkirk) and he adds some of his best songs to-date.  Credit the backup vocals of Amanda Preslar for much of the album’s continuity.  Young and Preslar work very well together.  Due September 16th.

New American Farmers are releasing The Farmacology Sessions (get it?) October 14th.  I haven’t heard it yet but have it in my grimy little hands and will be listening when this column is finished.  I really dug last year’s Brand New Day album.  You can stream Brand New Day and listen to a few tracks from Farmacology on Bandcamp by clicking here.

nickhornbuckle1Nick Hornbuckle, who has been with John Reischman  & The Jaybirds for the last number of years, has just released an album titled 12 X 2 (Plus or Minus One).  More banjo mastery (this guy really knows his stuff) from the former bass player for one of my favorite grunge bands of the late eighties and early nineties, Son of Man.  You want grunge, this ain’t it, but if you want a look toward the past through sepia-tinged glasses, don’t miss it!

Anna Maria Rosales has announced her latest, Washed Up On Your Shore.  The co-writing credits are solid gold, songwriting credits given to Ms. Rosales and Will Kimbrough, Irene Kelly, Todd Herfindal, Grant Langston, Rich McCulley, Ry Bradley, and Dave Norris.  The album will also include two songs written by the late Duane Jarvis.

DBAWIS‘s own Jaimie Vernon has just made Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts – Singles Edition available.  While I have yet to hear this one (it sits in my file drawer, awaiting a free moment to listen), my assumption is that it is Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts – The Ice Flow Show minus the radio concept— i.e., just the music.  I shouldn’t say “just the music” because the music is damn impressive on its own.

Jeremy Gargill recently told me that he is making Hot Knives available for a limited edition run.  Even the music people— most of them anyway— missed the first run of this album which featured ex-Flamin’ Groovies members Tim Lynch and Danny Mihm.  This limited edition package is limited edition for a reason.  Check out the package here.

No dates yet for a new Paige Anderson & The Fearless Kin, probably because they have been playing gigs all summer, but Paige says that they are hoping to get into the studio in October.

Canada’s Tracer Flare is kickstarting a new project, an EP.  Actually, they are go-going it.  You can check out their page by clicking here—- pretty nice stuff.

Crapola!  I had a list of impending releases on my desk and it has disappeared!  I will have to find it and continue this next week.  In the meantime, there are a few things you might like to see in….

Music Notes smallNotes…..  Rebecca Pidgeon has finally released the official version of Love Is Cocaine and is preparing a new album, tentatively titled Bad Poetry (okay, it’s actual and not tentative, but you have to admit that tentative is a really good word), scheduled for October 7th release.  I lobbied for a twenty minute version complete with fifteen minute jam, guys, I really did, but cooler heads prevailed and it will be about this long.

While the video is not only professionally done and the sound better than the video which I first saw, that live video was the one which convinced me that Ms. Pidgeon has found a musically fascinating voice.  Which makes Bad Poetry an album worth a close, close listen.  A personal thank you to Amy Duncan for posting her video of this live performance.

The history of Mankind, the Cliff’s Notes version— music by Canada’s Tracer Flare.  There is way too much truth in the graphics and just enough in the music.

Straight rockers (meaning guys who play straight rock) are hard to come by these days, at least the ones who have a touch beyond the norm.  Lots of bands can sound like Zeppelin or Deep Purple.  Few can sound like Filligar because, well, they’re not.  Here are three reasons I dig these guys:

Am I crazy or does this really have a bit of the old Goldie Wilson vibe to it?  Ah, the days of Goldie and Rose Bergdahl.

Most people don’t realize how really hard musicians work to get the music to them.  Andrew Hardin and Jeannie Burns works as hard as any of them.  Long tours, intense writing sessions, constant working with other musicians and artists are just the tip of the iceberg.  When you live your music, the pressure never stops.  I know what you’re thinking— how hard can it be?  A lot harder than you think.  In recognition of that ethic, may I present the latest— a video of the title track from their latest (and impending) album, Down the Deep Well.

This is the first time I have heard I Fashion You a Dreamer outside of the rough cut Bonsai‘s Simone Stevens sent to me a while ago.  Stevens used to front Fiery Blue, for those not in the know, and captured my attention with her voice and baby blues.  And I have to admit that I love a girl with an electric guitar.

Here she is with “The Blue” breaking my heart again.


Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

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DBAWIS ButtonFrank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.” 

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