Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble - The
Sky is Crying
by Greg Smith
When The Sky is Crying came out in 1991, I was slaving away at college. My friend Mauro, a Stevie Ray Vaughan fan, picked up the CD as soon as it hit the stores. He used to play it at high volumes on his system with Carver electronics and the ever-popular Polk Monitor 10 speakers. While these didn't give the deepest bass in the world, the two woofers could rumble pretty well. One day he opened the door to his dorm room while leaving the music on. Shortly afterward, he made an amazing discovery. Apparently, the bass guitar on the title track (his favorite) was tuned such that it excited the resonant frequency of the hallway. Even though the building was concrete, after a bit the whole place felt like it was shaking. Mauro was delighted. You see, he hated his neighbors. He would play the song regularly not only because he loved it, but because he really enjoyed opening the door and causing a small seismic disturbance that pissed everyone else off.
It's a good thing the Mobile Fidelity version of this disc wasn't available back then because it might have caused structural damage. The bass guitar and kick drum on the title song are firmed up quite a bit. In addition, a bit of extra top-end extension gives a bit more resolution to the cymbals and considerably more clarity to SRV's guitar licks.
Listening to "Empty Arms," I found the original CD a touch hollow and shallow. The MoFi release is neither of these things. "Little Wing" is one of the better-sounding tracks on the '91 release, with a good sense of the space the recording took place in. The new version isn't a big improvement. But for fun, you can play "Sounds of the Studio" (a Todd Rundgren favorite) when listening to either release. At about 1:20, there's a very obvious hum-like noise in the background that resembles the sound of a fluorescent light. You can hear the sound at other spots on several tracks, but this is the spot at which it's clearest. As Greg Weaver pointed out to me, the liner notes mention that this is actually a guitar amplifier buzzing in the background.
The appropriately titled "Wham" is quite dynamic and bombastic, but it's also very rough around the edges. The Ultradisc sharpens up the transients, so there's a clear transition between notes and silence instead of a ragged one. The bass tightens up a bit as well. "May I Have a Talk With You" shares this grating character, which again is worn away by the remastering. The guitars are considerably more lifelike, and Stevie Ray's voice has a fullness and body to it that's missing on the original.
The last track, the prophetic "Life by the Drop," sounds very clear on the older CD. The vocals are well fleshed-out, but there is a touch of distortion on the louder parts. The remastered version still has a trace of that problem, but it's somewhat ameliorated. Far more important than that difference is the increase in clarity on the acoustic-guitar parts.
Mobile Fidelity almost always improves on the original liner notes when they release a CD. For The Sky is Crying, they print all of the album's lyrics instead of just including those for one song. As a bonus, the longer booklet is printed with a larger, easier-to-read typeface. But even with these extras, some people seem to feel the company's gold CDs aren't worth getting. This release is particularly vulnerable to looking like a bad deal if you're someone who believes what Sony tells you. After all, when you open the 1991 release, the SPARS codes state that some of the older tracks are ADD, while the later ones are DDD. But there's a reason those codes have become obsolete on current releases: They don't accurately represent what was actually done during the recording process. Regardless of what the old CD might lead you to believe, the original master tapes delivered to Mobile Fidelity were 1/2", 30 ips, and most certainly analog-exactly the kind of master MoFi is most effective at restoring to top quality. Since we're not going to get anymore music from Stevie Ray Vaughan, it's all the more important to get the best-sounding versions of his existing recordings, especially if you want to disturb your neighbors.
Steven R. Rochlin adds:
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