Talking Book, depending on who you speak with, is either a part of Wonder’s golden era, a part of his holy trinity or quadrant (Music Of My Mind may not be as influential as his other albums in the 70’s, but many see it as a factor in the music he would create for the decade). It is an album known for its hits “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” and “Superstition,” both of which can be heard on pop radio to this day, but Wonder was branching out, especially in a genre of music that was always based on the maximum potential of the hit single. It was a time in music when artists were looking into creating music as events, and the full length album was the grandest way to do so. Entering his Talking Book was a need to want to know and hear more, and this album would help him become one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.
This CD was made for the audiophile market, so the cost of this 24k gold CD is higher than normal CD’s. Of course, the music on the disc is for everyone, but if you have always wanted to buy this album on CD and wanted to know which was the best pressing to have in your collection, I will say without hesitation that it is this Audio Fidelity. The remaster was created by Kevin Gray, who has worked on a number of remasters over the years, including Steely Dan’s Aja and a number of rock and jazz titles. The original plan was for Audio Fidelity to receive the master tape directly from Stevie Wonder himself, an admitted audiophile. This is how Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) obtained the master tape for Innervisions when the label licensed and released an incredible version of the album in the 1990’s. Audio Fidelity were that close when Universal stepped in and said no, so the only tape Gray was allowed to have was a secondary master, or a master dub from the actual master tape. Even the secondary tape is good, and for the most part this is probably the best you will ever hear this album.
Hearing the 10 songs on this album from start to finish, you tend to want to focus on the instrumentation and recording techniques a bit more. There’s a certain crispness in what was captured on tape, and an airiness in the studio where you are able to feel the music a bit more, or at least the instruments sound vibrant, alive, almost as if they are breathing entities. When you hear the vocals in “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” come in, you can almost sense the anticipation of the couple singing to each other, then Wonder coming in to sing about being rescued into love. Ray Parker Jr.’s sweet guitar solo in “Maybe Your Baby,” mixed in with Wonder’s work on the ARP and his slightly sped up vocals, may move you to do the things Wonder sings about, and the Moog bass sounds so thick that it sounds as if they’re ready to spill out of your speakers. You also can’t think of “Tuesday Heartbreak” without singing along to the saxophone melody made by David Sanborn, and the way Wonder’s keyboard work pans back and forth in stereo sounds as fresh now as it did all those years ago.
While Wonder loved collaborating with others (guitarist Jeff Beck played on”Lookin’ For Another Pure Love”), his love of studio technology allowed him to explore and expand the boundaries of his music. In songs like “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” and “Big Brother,” what you’re hearing is Stevie backed by Stevie, who jams with Stevie, singing with Stevie. It was something that Paul McCartney had explored a year before Talking Book with his McCartney album, and something both Prince, Lenny Kravitz, and DâM-FunK would explore when they first started making their own sounds. That first spark of influence can be heard on this album. What was once considered groundbreaking has lead to it being celebrated as a sub-genre, as if being daring and bold are occupational risks. This new remaster of Talking Book is an example of music done without fear, and to hear it so close to the source is an incredible, mandatory experience. While audiophiles seem to be more focused on hearing rock, jazz, and classical, I do hope Gray and Audio Fidelity will be moved to cover more soul and funk albums. I think a remaster of D’Angelo’s Voodoo would be most welcome (hint hint).