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Two New Audiophile LP Benchmarks: Eric Clapton Unplugged and Patricia Barber Higher

05-23-2022 | By Robert S. Youman | Issue 121

Eric Clapton, Unplugged (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)

This latest limited edition Mofi UltraDisc One-Step box set was cut by Krieg Wunderlich and pressed at RTI. You get your two 180 gram 45 RPM LPs on Supervinyl with all the usual packaging and perks, but I had to wonder if this pressing was really going to stand up to the earlier competition. Originally released in 1992 on the Reprise label, this has to one of the most engaging efforts of the MTV Unplugged series, and that says a bunch considering the other excellent sessions by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Jay-Z, Paul McCartney, and a dozen or more iconic artists and groups over the years.

Clapton was coming off one of the most difficult periods of his life after he lost his young son a year earlier through a very sad and unfortunate accident. It seems that the concert and the entire production from beginning to end was a very cathartic and healing process for him.

The basic premise for these unplugged shows was to provide a more simplified and more acoustic rendition of the music as possible. Greatest hits were the primary focus, but there were a few wonderful surprises along the way. Sound quality for most of the associated recordings was typically outstanding and this was certainly the case here. I have the original 1992 European 33 RPM Reprise single LP mastered by Ted Jensen. I also have the 2011 USA 33 RPM Reprise double LP cut by Chris Bellman. Both are demonstration quality pressings, with extreme amounts of presence and immediacy.

The MOFI with the dead quiet Supervinyl and 45 RPM pressing takes the music to another level. You can sense almost every detail of Clapton's breathing and physical movement on guitar as he plays along on "Layla." While listening to "Tears In Heaven," you can now almost feel a personal connection to all the heartache and pain that Clapton was actually going through at the time. Strings are vibrant, yet rich and loaded with detail. The sound stage is wide and deep. This has got be one of my top five acoustic guitar recordings ever—a clear must have for Clapton fans and audiophiles alike.

Patricia Barber, Higher (IMPEX Records)

As mentioned in previous reviews, I am a long term Chicago area native. Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs and educated via several local and state Universities, some of my most rewarding experiences over the years have been the live performances that I have attended for Patricia Barber at the Green Mill in Chicago. She is such a talented and fantastic entertainer. She continues to perform. I continue to attend. We both continue to have just a wonderful time at these events. Definitely a two way street for her and the audience. A must see if you are ever in town!

The IMPEX SACD release of this title came out in 2020 and I referenced it in several of my hardware reviews. Now we have a limited edition two LP 45 RPM 180 gram release from IMPEX that is simply amazing. Along with several additional tracks beyond the SACD, you get a deluxe gatefold jacket and an outstanding 16-page booklet with new session photos and notes from Robert Baird and the production team. The recording was mastered by Scott Hall at Masterdisk, and utilizes the original DXD (32-bit/392.8 kHz) files that were engineered by multiple Grammy and Emmy award winner Jim Anderson. Yes, we are talking about a digital recording here, but so what?

Jim Anderson has been working with Patricia for many years and on many albums utilizing digital recordings. They are some of the finest sounding CD, SACD, and LP releases this side of the infamous TAS Super LP list. As digital recording has evolved, Jim Anderson has been one of the key leaders in the industry and his trophy case continues to get bigger and bigger. Just Google for Jim and DXD (32-bit/392.8 kHz). You will get several articles and interviews that are a must read for any Audiophile who thinks that all analog is the only way to go.

Whether its digital or analog, it's all about execution and results. This LP release is a revelation. It might just be the most harmonically accurate and natural sounding LP pressing to hit my turntable in the last couple of years. Bottom line. It has the purity and lucidity of the real thing. Patricia and her band have never sounded better! Bravo to Jim Anderson and the entire production team! Sorry for all the drama, but this is breath taking stuff!

From an emotional perspective, Higher is one of those quiet summer night LPs, that along with a glass of fine wine or a single malt whiskey, it really makes life worth living. Patricia's vast range of expressive skills on piano are never more evident than on this LP. Soulful, romantic and highly emotional, her playing is almost poetic in nature. Yes, we have the piano, but when it comes to the key instrument, it's her vocal skills that really takes us along a wonderful journey. Can't wait for my next concert at the Green Mill! Highly recommended!