Back in August, I received copies of the first three Jade Warrior albums on CD, as issued by Hi-Note. I've spent a fair bit of time playing through these CDs, in part and in whole, on headphones and through speakers. I found myself smiling a lot, and noticing riffs and subtleties that I'd never perceived before (even through I must have played my LP transcriptions through a dozen times while de-clicking them earlier this year). These CDs are far, far better than the LINE versions released a decade ago.
The remastering was done by David Burrows, an engineer described to me as "meticulous". Burrows seems to have concentrated on getting the best-available transfer from the master tapes he used (the second-generation U.S. versions), and I think he did a commendable job. The sound of these CDs is very similar to what I hear on my own LP transcriptions - minus, of course, all of the pops, ticks, thuds, swooshes, and gnrrs. The tonal balance seems good - cymbals and percussion come through crisply, the guitars sound fine, and Glyn's voice is clear. I can hear occasional signs of overload, especially on the first album (some of those wood-on-vinyl-kitchen-stool THWAPs either overdrove the microphone, or saturated the tape) but there's almost certainly nothing which could be done about that now. I'm glad to say that the guitar track missing from the LINE version of The Traveller is quite definitely present in the new version - the tape Hi-Note is using was the final mixdown, it seems.
It sounds to me as if Burrows did not try to filter or equalize out the analog tape hiss from the masters - and given how badly LINE's attempt to do this turned out, I think it was a good decision. The residual tape hiss is sometimes audible over headphones (particularly on the first two albums) but I don't find it objectionable. By not trying to filter it, Burrows avoided the risk of accidentally dulling the treble, as LINE did on their versions of these albums.
The second album includes two different versions of Minnamoto's Dream. The first, in proper sequence as track 5, is the version from the LP, with the gradual fade-out at the end. The second, an alternate version with an abrupt cut-off ending, appears as track 9... it sounds to me like a straight edit of the standard version.
The presentation and artwork is quite good. The albums are shipped in jewel boxes, and came in re-closable protective poly sleeves rather than shrink-wrap. The artwork was based on the U.K. versions of the LPs - photographed from the best-available LP jackets available, and then retouched by Keith Philips.
The inserts for Jade Warrior and Last Autumn's Dream are of the conventional two-page, four-surface format - front and rear LP cover artwork on the front and back surface, and the inner-leaf lyrics, credits, and photos on the inner surfaces of the insert. The tray card reproduces the rear cover of the LP, faded towards white/pastel colors, with the track listing as a textual overlay.
The insert for Released is more involved - it's a 3-by-2 foldout. When folded and inserted, it shows the front LP cover (title, and flying arrow) and the rear cover (seagull-over-sun, minus the "At last!" anonymous quotation present in the U.S. artwork). Take it out, unfold it, and it forms the full 6-panel poster version of the artwork in a single sheet, including all of the lyrics and credits from the original LP. The text is so small that it's almost impossible to read. Turn it over, and the back-side has the same artwork (shifted down to a gray-and-pink palette), with the lyrics reproduced in a larger and quite readable font. The tray card has the seagull-over- sun image with the track listing.
I'm going to ask the folks at Hi-Note if they'll give me high-resolution TIFF or PhotoShop copies of their artwork, for the web site. They really did a nice job.
I was personally quite touched to note that Hi-Note acknowledged the modest assistance I gave them on this project, and included the URL to the Friends of Jade Warrior web site!
Could these CDs have been even better? Maybe - if the first-generation (U.K.) master tapes still exist in a vault somewhere, and if the band had been able to get 'em back, the sound would have been one tape generation closer to its original form, with perhaps a bit less tape-hiss and maybe more presence. Oh well... if dogs' prayers were granted, bones would rain from the sky. Given what they had to work with, I think they did a bang-up job of it.
When I first bought and listened to the LINE versions of these albums over ten years ago, I was really disappointed - both because the sound quality was so poor, and because I figured that LINE had "poisoned" the CD market for these albums forever and that no one would ever go back and do a better job of it.
I'm very pleased to have been wrong about that. It's been a long time coming, there were at least two "false starts" on this project (Dutch East Indies, and Wounded Bird both discussed the project and then didn't follow through), but it's finally been done, and I find the results to be quite satisfying.
I'm a happy camper!