Mississippi, You’re On My Mind

Astounding. Is not a word I use much. It’s old sounding, something my father would have said a lot more often than I do, and he was born in 1908. But my audio system is that. Astounding.

It’s doing it regularly, including this morning with pedal steel and dobro on “I Can’t Escape From You” by Vince (“Triple O”) Martin. This record was recorded right after and on the site of Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” and avails itself of the very same stellar gang of Nashville session players, minus my buddy Norman Blake, and sounds even better than “Skyline” by dint of a more direct sound with more vivid, distinguished instrumental timbres and sparkier dynamics. Columbia’s recording of Dylan with these same dudes has more of that Vaseline on the lens kind of sound, as if they were trying to soften the scene for Dylan’s first shot at singing country and sounding like someone else. They all sound fine there, but they really step forward and snap here. And the dobro and pedal steel have that, well, astounding, in-the-room feel.
And, look here… It’s doing it again right now on “Straight, No Chaser” from Monk’s album of the same name. Not to ding Columbia Records twice in succession, but my “go to” Monk record for sound (as well as some of my very favorite of his music) is the much earlier Riverside “Monk’s Music.” But my system is so… astonishing that I can get as lost in this still pretty damn great sounding Columbia record. Charlie Rouse’s tenor is standing right where the pedal steel was this morning and every bit as convincingly. Every so often, I look over there and instead of Charlie, there sits Lily, her head flicking around as if she, too, is looking for the musicians. It’s got us both fooled, and at least one of us deliriously happy.

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I’m blaming Audio Research. They have been on a quiet roll for a few years now, but it’s starting to get loud. My inside source tells me it all started with the SE versions of the power amps, the development of which created just the right amount of additional music to leak through into their eardrums that they could investigate everything that happens before, or “pre-” the power amp with new ears stuffed with bags more knowledge.
Things just sort of snowballed from there. The Reference 6 line stage and Reference Phono 3 have been blowing open doors for over half a year now, and they are about to be joined by the Foundation Series for those of you who have been waiting for the more affordable lineup- LS 28 line stage, PH 9 phono preamp and DAC 9 D-to-A converter. Take your pick at $7500 each, or collect them all for maximum affect. All three will be in stock by August, with the LS 28 due this week. And joined by a tube amp before the snow flies.
The Ref 6 seems to be the source of this… astronomical improvement in my listening enjoyment. When I say “blowing open doors” I mean it. That is the sensation. So many veils lifted it as if they had added up to a door. One that is now open. In fact, removed from its hinges and leaning against the wall in the garage, so gone is it. It, in partnership with my Ref 75SE, causes the condition where seemingly every bit of good and none of the bad is unlocked in all recordings. Equality at the top of the sonic heap is a little hard to handle! It leaves little time for anything other than listening to music.
The other night, I was on a Jerry Jeff jag. The only copy I have of “Too Old To Change” is a test pressing of the vinyl. Literally a white jacket, no cover art, and a 8 1/2 x 11 photocopied piece of paper slipped inside with track listings. Normally, this would be cause for extreme celebration. If promo copies are guaranteed early pressings, you can imagine what something that precedes those sounds like. Except it has a flaw that lasts almost all the way through “Hands On The Wheel,” a knockout of a Jackie Jack solo voice and electric guitar. It’s heartbreaking. So I dialed it up on Tidal. Sweet mother of vacuum tubes! It’s still a knockout. This is a tender ballad and I thought the dynamics in Jerry Jeff’s voice were going to blow my speakers. It was… asparagus! Sorry, I’m at a loss for words. I have never heard such “jump,” such uncapped dynamics revealing a man singing a song completely unbound by the limits of a sound reproducing machine. Experiencing it with a voice I know so well and love so much was bordering on unnerving, but in such a beautiful, exciting way.

One thing led to another, as will happen, and I found myself completely rediscovering Jesse Winchester’s “Mississippi, You’re On My Mind,” long a classic in my life, as though for the first time. Gigantic, enveloping, loaded with musical sparklers at the same time as it let me explore every nuance of the scene the lyrics paint. What a revelation this Audio Research gear is! And what timing. Hottest night of the year and I’m playing perhaps the ultimate hot summer song. It was a harmonic convergence of a rare kind. Night is hot, song is hot, tubes are hot. Let it roll!
In the case you don’t know the song, I’ll leave you with a minor admonishment, the lyrics to it, and a strong recommendation to check out the latest or forthcoming Audio Research gear soon. If they have me listening nonstop in July, just think what will happen when the leaves turn.
Mississippi You’re On My Mind
Jesse Winchester

I think I see a wagon rutted road
With the weeds growing tall between the tracks
And along one side runs a rusty barbed wire fence
And beyond it sits an old tar paper shack

Mississippi, you’re on my mind
Mississippi, you’re on my mind
Ohh, Mississippi you’re on my mind

I think I hear a noisy old John Deere
In a field specked with dirty cotton lint
And below that field runs a little country stream
Down there you’ll find the cool green leaves of mint

Oh, Mississippi you’re on my mind
Oh, Mississippi you’re on my mind
Ohh, Mississippi you’re on my mind

I think I smell the honeysuckle vine
It’s thick sweetness like to make me sick
And the dogs, my God, ah, they’re hungry all the time
And the snakes are sleeping where the weeds are thick

Oh, Mississippi you’re on my mind
Mississippi you’re on my mind
Ohh, Mississippi you’re on my mind

I think I feel the angry oven heat
The southern sun just blazin’ in the sky
In the dusty weeds, an old fat grasshopper jumps
I wanna make it to that creek before I fry

Oh, Mississippi you’re on my mind
Mississippi you’re on my mind
Ohh, Mississippi you’re on my mind

Mississippi you’re on my mind
Oh, Mississippi you’re on my mind
Ohh, Mississippi you’re on my mind

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