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The Steve Miller Band
The Joker,  JVC (from Capitol) CD JVCXR-0043-2, 1973/1998

 Classic reissued

Guitar rock and The Steve Miller Band thrived in the 1970s. The album that broke Miller to a wide-scale audience, 1973’s  The Joker, gets a well-polished re-mastered treatment courtesy of JVC and its XRCD, a form of compact disc, which, JVC says, "offers clearer definition, more accurate imaging, and higher audio quality than any compact disc before." Goodness. The album’s sound, twenty-five years after its initial release, is, in fact, so refreshingly new and clear that it really sounds like a new release.

Miller, who’s not released an album since 1993’s acclaimed  Wide River, marks his thirtieth year of recording this year. He splits his time between homes in Sun Valley, Idaho and Washington’s San Juan Islands, yet is still quietly involved in music. Last year he played guitar and co-wrote several tunes with Paul McCartney on Paul’s well-received album,  Flaming Pie. Nevertheless, Miller is without a record contract, despite having recorded a slew of tunes in the past year or so.

Still, Miller remains a fixture on the concert circuit (though he only performs sporadically) and classic radio, attributable to the timeless quality that surrounds his music. Twenty-five years ago millions of fans sang along to the "The Joker"–and undoubtedly still do–as it strolled its way up the Top 40 charts, becoming the first of his three #1 singles. The song’s languid, laid-back approach became the foundation for Miller’s trademark sound thereafter.

"The Joker" may have been the only hit produced on the album, but like all good ’70s rockers, Miller recorded albums, not just singles. Save a number or two (such as the dreadful "Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma"), very little filler can be found on  The Joker. Especially noteworthy are the blues-rock numbers such as "The Lovin’ Cup" and the slow-paced "Evil," two of six tunes written by the native Texan that draw from his background. A protege of the legendary Les Paul, Miller’s guitar prowess, usually understated, has pretty much been overlooked throughout his career–ironic when you consider that his career thrived during the height of the guitar-rich ’70s.

Still, it’s a surprise, especially in hindsight, that tunes such as "Sugar Babe," a song that features the incredibly noticeable Miller sound fully intact, was never a hit. Like most of his tunes, "Sugar Babe" is no lyrical masterpiece, yet it possesses the unmistakable sway and appeal of much of his hits. Despite a lack of hit singles, "The Joker" became Miller’s first platinum selling album, rising to #2 in the nation, beginning a string of successes that would continue for a decade.– Tom Netherland

notes on the recording

 The Joker is an "Extended Resolution Compact Disc," or XRCD, reissue from JVC. How does JVC turn an ordinary CD into an XRCD? Basically, by paying close attention to mastering and manufacturing and judging the results by listening as well as measuring. It's pretty simple. No decoder is needed to play back XRCDs, and since JVC found no improvement in gold-plating the discs, XRCDs are ordinary aluminum. But they are packaged in handsome book-style albums, which may help the buyer feel more comfortable about shelling out two to three times the price of a regular CD.

The XRCDs so far are mostly jazz and blues reissues from Fantasy (Prestige, Milestone, Riverside, Pablo), AudioQuest, Analogue Productions and JVC itself. If you are familiar with these labels, you will recognize that JVC starts off with albums that sound pretty good already. They recently started reissuing pop CDs like  The Joker and Tina Turner's  Private Dancer.

So, how do they sound, dammit?! Compared to the often very good originals, XRCDs have a rounded three-dimensionality that is quite noticeable. Especially for jazz and blues CDs, it can make a real improvement.– Glenn Brooks

Copyright © 1998 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.