The Steely Dan Japanese obi 7 CD box set consists of the core seven long players by the supergroup (Aja, Can't Buy A Thrill, Countdown To Ecstasy, Gaucho, Katy Lied, Pretzel Logic, and The Royal Scam). Japan mini-CD's are faithful reproductions of original LP releases, and offer the audiophile a choice of embedded formats with which to make use of players with particular capabilities. The term "obi" refers to the paper band that graces the cover of a Japanese import, featuring information about the LP, song or album titles, bar code information, and writing in Japanese. It's generally a sign of its import status, and of the special attention to detail that's paid to such a fastidiously-reproduced package such as this set. There are many obi sets of popular rock, jazz and contemporary artists, and the Japanese definitely pride themselves in superior presentation and incredibly clear and focused sound quality, all of which was obvious upon opening this package and playing the CD's. As in their approach to electronics in general, these sets are similarly created and produced, with serious attention paid to quality control. Each long-playing CD features the obi, and are exact 5" replicas of each original album cover and disk, down to liner notes and lyrics, in both Japanese and English.
The music, needless to say, is presented exactly as on the original releases, no bonus tracks, and looking at each cover and holding them as one would do back in the day as we would do when listening, admiring the lyrics and art, totally brings back the original vibe of the vinyl experience. The audio portion is tailored to contain many audiophile formats, so if you splurged a couple grand on a fine disk spinner (unlike me, I currently stock only BPC Sony units unworthy of mention, much less review!) you will be pleasantly surprised at what comes pouring out of your loudspeakers. This is an audiophile band recording for music-loving audiophiles from the golden age of classic rock audio, the 70's.
Steely Dan has long been regarded as the state of the art as it concerns audio quality, and many audiophiles regard the band's seven LP's as the standard by which pop recordings must be judged. Their reputation for perfection in the recording studio is legendary, and their methods have been aped by engineers and producers for decades now. Their belief was that each instrument should have equal attention paid to the reproduction of its sound, usually presented with little or no equalization or reverb artifacts, and overall, this formula has served them well over the years. They have won Grammy awards for superior engineering and production, and have been nominated many times over the years for attention paid to this aspect of their music. It's this presentation that lends itself to using Steely Dan recordings as test music, as the music and its presentation makes it very easy to evaluate the capabilities of an audio system in terms of focus and clarity with these recordings.
Everyone who listens to classic rock will undoubtedly be familiar with "Reelin' In The Years", "Do It Again", and "Deacon Blues", all classic rock radio staples. Their lesser-known album cuts are by no means filler, as they each represent small vignettes of wild living, sexual overtones, and drug use is a common theme throughout their body of work. Remember, their work was largely representative of the freewheeling seventies, where political correctness was frowned upon, generally speaking, and there was a hell of a lot of weed being smoked and cocaine being sniffed! City life, ladies of the night, and nostalgia are recurring themes. They wrote these stories out in the open, between the lines, and every way you can imagine. In a jazz voice, alternately in a rock voice, each song is a small peek into big city life and all warts (lyrically speaking) intact. The music was a perfect framer to the topics covered.
Given the overall attention paid to the details of this package, the historical value of the music itself, and the band's reputation for studio perfection, they were a band that, until the 90's, rarely toured, concentrating solely on recording. There was a fairly endless rotation of musicians, and often the groups leaders (Donald Fagan and Walter Becker) would audition individual musical contributors to a particular song or part and spent many hours sorting out who was to play what on which song or album. They would assemble a large contingent of session players to achieve this near-perfect combination of lyric, music and personality that pervades each and every song on each and every album.
I seem to be reviewing items and music that I like for the most part, and this is no exception (I guess it''s probably becaues my late mother taught me that if I don't have anything nice to say, I shouldn't say anything at all! Nobody likes a grouse, anyway...). I give the Steely Dan mini LP box set a solid five stars, for exemplary production, an awesome body of work that has stood the test of time for many decades, and they have more than proven themselves in concert to boot, assembling incredible live aggregations to reproduce these classics live. Steely Dan and perfection are two things that are mentioned quite frequently in the same sentence, and they are definitely the standard by which all groups in their day were compared to in many aspects. They definitely knew how to rock the studio!
More tomorrow, as usual, from the vaults here at mind's eye music! Till then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!