Sonic Grade: C
We were fairly unimpressed with the Rickie Lee Jones on Warners that came out a few years back. It has that phony Modern Mastering sound we find so unappealing on the Rhino reissue of Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it. Hey, play The Blue Game and maybe you’ll see why.)
We liked the new Sweet Baby James Hoffman and Gray cut. We note in our review that “Hoffman and Gray can take pride in this Sweet Baby James. It’s some of the best work I’ve heard from them to date. If more DCC and Heavy Vinyl reissues sounded like this, we wouldn’t be so critical of them. Unfortunately they don’t, and there are scores of pages of commentary on the site to back up that statement for those of you interested in the subject.”
We went on to say “The amazing transparency and dynamic energy of the best originals will probably never be equalled by an audiophile pressing like this. (It hasn’t happened yet and we remain skeptical of the possibility.) Considering that this pressing is sure to beat most reissues, imports and such like, we have no problem heartily recommending it to our customers, especially at the price.”
So, What’s Wrong With Rickie Lee?
Simple. They took a somewhat artificial, hi-fi-ish, close-miked, heavy-on-the-reverb recording and made it sound even more artificial, phony and hi-fi-ish (but less-heavy-on-the-reverb; there is always a noticeable loss of resolution in these modern mastering jobs). What were they thinking?
The best copies have warmth, richness and sweetness to balance out the more unnatural elements in the recording. Copies with these qualities are few and far between but we have run across them in our shootouts and proudly put them up, where of course they sold quickly for lots of money. Major league audiophile appeal, this one. In its day it was heavily demo’ed in every stereo store in town, and for good reason — the sound positively jumps out of the speakers.
Detail Freaks Rejoice
The average copy of this album is a sonic disaster, akin to the average copy of Famous Blue Raincoat or — gulp — Graceland. If you’re a detail freak, this pressing may be just what you are looking for. It’s got detail all right. I would hope that the audiophile community would have listening skills of a nature sufficient to recognize what this pressing doesn’t have, but I get the feeling I will be proved wrong yet again in that regard.
In general, Rhino Records has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino touts their releases as being pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl”. However, if they are using performance to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins.
…along these lines can be found below.
Here are more records that will help you avoid listening for phony detail when evaluating equipment or tweaking your system.
The most important advice on the site can be found under the heading Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.
Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and directly address in this commentary from way back in 2005.
Here are more entries in our ongoing Shootout Advice series.