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NEW VERSIONS OF COUNTRY CLASSICS When Bob Irwin started dividing his time between his Sundazed label and Sony/Legacy, he not only brought his own wealth

NEW VERSIONS OF COUNTRY CLASSICSWhen Bob Irwin started dividing his time between his Sundazed label and Sony/Legacy, he not only brought his own wealth of musical and technical knowledge to the major label – he also brought Al Q. Al Quaglieri is a longtime friend and colleague of Irwin’s, who has been producing pop and country reissues for Legacy since the early ’90s.

As many country music fans may remember, in the late ’80s, Legacy was deep into the Country Classics series of compilations. A few years ago, the powers that be at the label began working on reissues of classic country albums, all remastered to 20-bit, and each with bonus tracks. Irwin produced the two Johnny Cash prison albums, and the other eight (so far) in the series were produced by Quaglieri.

Work on the series is mainly done at Sony Music Studios in Manhattan. “Sony’s primary core of mastering engineers – Vic Anesini, Joe Palmaccio, Darcy Proper, Ken Robertson and Mark Wilder – have the skill set, flexibility and the gear to deal with just about anything you can imagine doing to bring out the best in a vintage master,” says Quaglieri. “Because they deal with everything from rap edits to new jazz to frontline pop and surround, they don’t flinch when you haul in a crate full of sticky, undocumented, no-tone reels you’ve unearthed for a reissue.”

Quaglieri mainly works with Palmaccio in a mastering suite that contains a customized Sony/GML console and Dunlavy SC-5 monitors, and a full-blown Sonic system. Palmaccio also uses a wide range of analog and digital processing gear; he says he’ll use whatever box it takes to get the sound that’s right for a recording.

Mix asked Quaglieri to share some specific experiences working on American Milestones, and Quaglieri spoke in-depth about the research and remastering of Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man.

“A lot of times, the more popular a record was, the more chance there is that the original master tape is either long-gone or demolished,” says Quaglieri. “But you always want to go back to the closest original source that you can find, so we started digging through the tapes. There had been so many Greatest Hits permutations of Tammy’s catalog – on Epic and it’s been licensed all over the place – and every time they needed the cuts, they went to this album. I called up all the tapes, and we also called up what we could from Sony Nashville, which has its own tape library.

“As I expected, most of the ones in New York were noisy and copies. It’s hard to reconstruct what happens, but I think that the original EQ’d master would be mildly EQ’d every time they did something with it, so every time they re-released it, it was further and further away; it was like a joke that was told to 100 people. But Nashville had the original 2-track mixdown master, which only had been mildly, initially EQ’d, and the 3- and 4-track half-inch analog masters, which had never been touched.

“I also asked them to pull anything from that artist during that period, looking for the bonus material. A lot of times, the titles weren’t marked, or the project wasn’t marked on a box. I waded through these, and we put up the 2-track, and then we also brought in a 3-track and did a little rough mix.

“[Producer] Billy Sherrill was a genius. These things would kind of mix themselves. You just set them all at zero and let it go, and the thing would mix itself, but you’d find that they laid a lot of effects down during the tracking, and they also did some compression during the tracking, so Joe Palmaccio and I tried to determine which was the better-sounding, the more authentic-sounding, the new 2-track that we had or a remix from scratch, and there wasn’t much to be gained from remixing these, because the newly found tape was so clean.

“We tried remixing a bunch of original tunes, and not only was there a difference in sound between these and the other tracks, but it’s impossible to completely reproduce all that vintage equipment that they used to mix this the first time. So, it was a choice of either remixing the whole album or letting the whole thing go from the 2-tracks. Another thing that nailed our decision was that a couple of guitar tracks were laid down during the 2-track mixdown and didn’t exist anywhere else.

“Then we found a couple of tracks done during the same sessions that were either never logged or were forgotten. I have to figure it was some combination of both, because had anybody realized they existed, these would have shown up long ago.

“I think we had four or five bonus tracks in various stages of completion, three of which were actually very complete. One of the three was lopped off, because it wasn’t a very good performance. There is obviously a reason some things get left in the can, and you have to honor that. What we ended up with is a new master that is certainly a good reflection of where the state of the recording art was at that time, what the production ideas were at that time.”