Lovely Recordings: Hosted by Craig Stenstrom

Some recordings sound canned, the artifacts of production and the recording process call attention to themselves so it takes more work to listen to them. Some popular recordings are even produced in a way that they sound better in your car than on your home stereo (for an example of production that I think detracts, listen to Hozier's album compared to the live NPR mini concert). The Lovely Recordings I've selected, while not audiophile demos, have both musical content I love and sound quality that helps you get into the music. They all sound more real and let you hear further into the mix, especially with better playback systems. These aren't exactly obscure recordings but I feel they should be better known than they are. Doing this, I developed a new appreciation for those who write about music—it's hard.

The Roches: The Roches (Warner Bros., 1979)
This was the first album where I really noticed the sound. And it sounded really good—like you were in the studio with this 3 sister singing group.

Fripp was the producer and the album was recorded in what he calls "Audio Verité". In an interview, Fripp describes this:

Yes, well there's two senses to audio verité. The first is that it's a commitment to discover whatever the essence of the artists might be and try and express it on record. And this is done in the second sense of the term by, as far as possible, not interfering with the performance by equalization, limiting and so on. So in the second sense, yes, this is audio verité, though with a whole battery of technology which has failed, conceived to validate the main premise of the second aspect of audio verité, that too much technology gets in the way. All that one needs is a small and appropriate level of technology.
(the whole interview is here)

Beyond the production, the songs are witty and the harmonies are beautiful. It's also folky but with an urban edge and sense of humor. In 1979 my favorite band was the Clash but I also really liked this album, and I still do.

Available from Qobuz.

Gillian Welch: Time (The Relevator) (Acony, 2001)
I think Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings are sort of like audiophiles: they are obsessed with getting a certain sound. A sound that is dreamy, unhurried, haunting. The opposite of slick and borrowing heavily from traditional old-time country music yet it sounds fresh. Time lures you in and hypnotizes you, as you lean in to catch a subtle detail. I love the midrangey sound of the vintage guitars (Epiphone archtop and Gibson), the meticulously crafted vocal harmonies with just a touch of dissonance. Think modern songwriting duo meets rural Appalachia and that mix somehow sounds authentic and lovely.

Available from

Townes Van Zandt: Live at the Old Quarter (Tomato, 1977)
This double album combines great songs with a natural unhyped sound that transports you to this sweaty Houston club in 1973. It's just Townes singing and playing guitar but his poetic story telling casts a spell that never fails to leaves me choked up.

In 1977, when this album was released, it flew way under my radar. It wasn't until 2009 when Steve Earle released Townes, the album of Van Zandt covers, that I discovered his work. Many of his other recordings are over produced studio affairs that don't have the same emotional impact.

Available from Qobuz.

Honorable Mention:

Roxy Music: For Your Pleasure (Island, 1973)
Otherworldly arty glam rock.

Available from .

Freedy Johnston: <>This Perfect World (Elektra, 1994)
Some like Can You Fly best but I think they're wrong. It's this one.

Available from Qobuz.

John Hiatt: Bring the Family (A&M, 1987)
Nearly perfect.

Available from Qobuz.

Son of a electrical engineer and a Pillsbury bake-off finalist, Craig was born in Wisconsin, grew up in Southern California, and has since lived in the San Francisco Bay Area longer than compact discs have been for sale. Once focused exclusively on prog rock and then punk, he has gradually expanded his musical diet to include Americana, Blues, Jazz and some other weird stuff. Craig plays back digital files and streams via Windows/Schiit Modi/Quad 9L Powered Speakers or Ubuntu/AQ Dragonfly/Grado Headphones, and plays anachronistic recordings on Music Hall and Empire turntables, Sony Playstation CD player, with el84 or 6v6 tube amplification, over Reynaud speakers, with a Sherwood tuner, and Yamaha cassette deck.

Share your Lovely Recordings with us!

Wilderness's picture

No matter whether you like country or folk, give a listen to Gillian Welch. I am captivated by her beautiful voice, emotive lyrics, and the superb guitar work that all work together to transcend any one genre.

Once again, I am grateful beyond words to Audiostream and its guest host for this worthy recommendation. I had never heard Welch, but now thanks to you guys I purchased several of her albums and am happily listening. I feel a roadtrip coming on, and Gillian Welch will be riding shotgun. Thank you!

GarkM's picture

Check out their latest Nashville Obsolete recorded as Dave Rawlings Machine (Dave sings lead but it is still great).

garrettnecessary's picture

I love that Townes Van Zandt album. "Tecumseh Valley" may be the saddest song I've ever heard. I had the great good fortune to go to the TvZ memorial concert at the Cactus Cafe in UT Austin one year. His son played, as did countless others, and told wonderful stories. The highlight was hearing the great Butch Hancock (of the Flatlanders) sing "If you were a bluebird" in his honor.

GarkM's picture

especially knowing Townes life story, but it also makes me laugh. I bubble with enthusiasm.

tulysses's picture

Wow. I am also a huge Gillian, Hiatt and TVZ fan. Gillian's work is overall pretty darn good in the sound quality department, in addition to outstanding musically. I agree that this is the "best" TVZ recording. Seems a simple setting often flatters really good artists. I second Garrettnecessary's comment about "Tecumseh Valley". Nanci Griffith recorded an outstanding version which captures the heartbreak. Haven't listened to much Roxy since back in the day. I would also recommend Hiatt's "Slow Turning". I have never listened to Freedy, but given your endorsement, I certainly will. Well done.