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Jeff Beck’s classic ‘Truth’ receives major sonic upgrade

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Beloved by generations of listeners, frequently cited as one of the most influential rock guitar albums of the 1960s and occasionally denigrated by its creator, Jeff Beck’s “Truth” has finally received its sonic due in a numbered, limited edition CD/SACD hybrid from audiophile label Audio Fidelity.  

Nearly 50 years on, it’s difficult to fathom the assemblage of sublime musical alchemy unfolding inside recording studios around the globe, where heavy-hitters and dilettantes alike were occupied with the creation of career-defining records.

The year following his 1966 ouster from The Yardbirds saw guitarist Jeff Beck record (at the behest of producer Mickie Most) what the mercurial guitarist considered a series of novelty songs. Though they charted respectably in the UK, “Hi Ho Silver Lining,” “Love Is Blue” and “Tallyman” sound today a bit like the musical equivalent of Frank Lloyd Wright being coerced into designing a building with Lincoln Logs.

Fearing that his career might fall through the cracks if he didn’t come up with a debut album that could effectively compete with the latest offerings from contemporaries Hendrix, Clapton and Page, Beck quickly assembled a band with Rod Stewart on lead vocals, Ronnie Wood on bass and Micky Waller on drums.

Taking a cue from the flourishing British blues boom, Beck recast a handful of 12-bar favorites in a new light: a Jerome Kern classic from “Show Boat” (“Ol’ Man River”), a traditional instrumental (“Greensleeves”), a new psychedelic take on a Yardbirds hit (“Shapes of Things”), a dazzlingly-arranged version of the folk classic “Morning Dew” and an instrumental credited to friend, foe and former Yardbirds bandmate Jimmy Page (“Beck’s Bolero,” recorded two years previous).

Recorded at Abbey Road’s intimate Studio 3 in London and engineered by Ken Scott (The Beatles, David Bowie, Elton John), “Truth” was a #15 hit in America, but strangely did not chart in the United Kingdom.

In his excellent 2012 memoir “Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust,” Ken Scott recalls a great spirit among the Jeff Beck Group, which contributed to “Truth” being committed to tape in a relatively brief period of time.

“I was blown away by Jeff, of course, and the majority of Rod Stewart’s vocals were live and ended up on the master,” wrote Scott.

When I interviewed Scott shortly before his book was released, he stated that he recorded most of “Truth,” with the exceptions of the acoustic instrumental “Greensleeves” and the previously-recorded “Beck’s Bolero.” The latter track features future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on 12-string guitar and bass respectively, with Keith Moon of The Who on drums.

While Beck has on occasion dismissed “Truth” as nothing more than contractually-obligated product, his fanbase rightfully continues to enshrine it in the upper echelon of his recorded output.

During an interview years after its release, Beck remembered the confusion of Columbia Records promoters assigned the task of selling the album.

“They said ‘We always knew Beck would make it. By the way, who’s the fellow on guitar?’ They said that. I’ve still got those words ringing in my ears,” Beck remembered of the label-pluggers who assumed he was Rod Stewart.

“Truth” continues to be trumpeted by fans like Boston’s Tom Scholz, who cites it as his favorite album of all time. Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, Brad Whitford and Steven Tyler also routinely praise the record as an important influence.

“Truth” has been reissued multiple times on vinyl and CD with mixed results.

Various CD issues of “Truth” have been plagued with different degrees of noise reduction processing designed to remove the sound of naturally inherent tape hiss. Noise reduction processing will remove hiss, but it also tends to suck the life out of a recording, especially during quiet passages.

The new reissue of “Truth” from Audio Fidelity was mastered by audiophile mastering engineer Steve Hoffman, who admits that this was a tricky but fun project.

“It’s a fun project to work on,” Hoffman wrote on the music forum section of his website, www.SteveHoffman.tv. “I tried real hard not to mess with the feel of the thing.”

Hoffman writes that he did not employ any noise reduction processing during his mastering of “Truth,” though he states “that a few people begged me to do so. They said that the tape hiss is so old-fashioned, but I say a little tape hiss won’t kill you.”

“Truth,” as released on Audio Fidelity, contains two layers of information encoded on the disc - a standard CD layer (playable on any CD player), and a high-resolution Super Audio CD layer, playable only in SACD-compatible machines. Both feature the same mastering.

Hoffman’s treatment of “Truth” naturally coaxes life from the master tape, adding no digital compression and proving that the tape hiss removed by previous engineers was mostly unnoticeable to begin with. In essence, this is the true “Truth.”

This classic now lives and breathes as never before in the digital age. There is a depth to the soundstage that I have never heard in any previous analog or digital issue of “Truth.” In some ways, it is like hearing the album for the first time.

Beck’s sweeping Gibson Les Paul has a bite and attack, Stewart’s swaggering rasp has seldom sounded this sincere and Wood’s bass playing is as deeply confident and assured as he would later appear on lead guitar for The Rolling Stones.

Get it before it’s gone. Audio Fidelity’s deal with major labels dictates that their releases are issued in limited quantities and this one appears to be disappearing quickly.

Some online retailers are currently out of stock but “Truth” is (as of this writing) still available from the source at www.AudioFidelity.net.

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