Mastered from the original analog master tapes, Mobile Fidelity's numbered-edition hybrid SACD plays with reference clarity, presence, and dynamics that elevate an effort revered for decades by audiophiles, it provides a lively, transparent, and intimate view of a release whose contemporary importance continues to grow. The opportunity to zero in on the particulars of the Eagles' golden harmonies, distinct vocal timbres, and cohesive interplay has never been better. Free of artificial ceilings and artifacts, the collectible reissue also spotlights the important sonic differences between the approaches of the two producers that are an important part of the album's story and success.
Indeed, with On the Border, there's plenty to take in and soak up. Declared by famed critic Robert Christgau as "[the Eagles'] best album," the 1974 set claims a rich backstory. Initially recorded amid tumultuous sessions with producer Glyn Johns in London shortly after the release of the group's sophomore Desperado set, On the Border took a new turn after the band elected to scrap most of the prior work, return to its native California, and team with producer Bill Szymczyk to give the material less of a smooth, polished sheen and more toughness. Szymczyk also afforded the Eagles more input and freedom in the arrangements, and suggested adding another guitarist to play on "Good Day in Hell." Felder got the call, and so won over the Eagles with his skills, he quickly became the fifth member of the band.
While the late-arriving Felder only plays on one other album cut, "Already Gone," his mates more than prove their muster on the remainder of a double-platinum affair that established the Eagles as a force whose range transcended the calmer country-leaning style it perfected on their first two LPs. Primarily written by Jackson Browne and shelved during the Desperado sessions due to its higher-energy nature, the throttle-twisting "James Dean" ricochets with barbed riffs and rebellious swagger. Listen without limits to how Szymczyk's raw production stamps the song with a leather-and-jeans cool befitting its protagonist. Similarly rugged, the slide-guitar-fueled "Good Day in Hell" boasts its own mean streak. And the funk-laced, boot-stomping title track cautions "don't you tell me 'bout your law and order." Throughout On the Border, the Eagles are in no mood to mess around.
Not that the band skirts sentimental territory. On one of the era's finest covers, the Eagles nail the bittersweet feelings and bring high-definition detail to the vivid scenery of Tom Waits' "Ol' ‘55," a song the group makes its own. The rustic ballad "My Man" serves as a tribute to the recently deceased Gram Parsons, with singer-guitarist Bernie Leadon taking the lead on the microphone as he pours his heart out to his former Flying Burrito Brothers mate. And when it comes to romance, is it possible to top "Best of My Love"? Graced with Henley's honey-dipped vocals, refined wordless group harmonies, brushed drums, and the gentle strum of acoustic guitars, the Johns-produced cut soared to No. 1 and set the stage for what would soon be the Eagles' reality: international stardom.