Court and Spark – Joni’s Best Sounding Record

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  • A stunning sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides!
  • The sound is rich, warm and natural with wonderful transparency, ambience and loads of Tubey Magic
  • One of our very favorite Joni albums here at Better Records, and probably her Best Sounding Album
  • “[A] remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz … the music is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last.” – AMG 5 Stars

Stunning sound for this White Hot Stamper! Court and Spark deserves to be heard with all the clarity, beauty and power that only the best Hot Stamper pressings can convey.

What you hear is the sound of the real tape; every instrument has its own character, because the mastering is correct and the vinyl — against all odds — managed to capture all (or almost all; who can know?) of the resolution that the tape had to offer.

Tubey Magic Is the Key to Court and Spark

This early Asylum pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

Joni Mitchell’s Best Sounding Album

What the best sides of this classic Joni album from 1974 have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl domestic pressings like this one offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1974
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with the vocals, guitars, and horns having the correct sound for this kind of recording
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What to Listen For — Sides One and Two

There are loud vocal choruses on many tracks, and more often than not at their loudest they sound like they are either breaking up or threatening to do so. I always assumed it was compressor or board overload, which is easily heard on Down to You. On the best copies there is no breakup — the voices get loud and they sound clean throughout.

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.

Hi-Fidelity

What do we love about these vintage pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The unique sound of every instrument is reproduced with remarkable fidelity. That’s what we at Better Records mean by “Hi-Fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that passes for Hi-Fidelity these days. There’s no boosted top, there’s no bloated bottom, there’s no sucked-out midrange.

This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it. I’m pretty sure our customers do, and whoever picks this record up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Court And Spark
Help Me
Free Man In Paris
People’s Parties
Same Situation

Side Two

Car On A Hill
Down To You

Want s super quick check for resolution on side two? Listen for the amount of air moving through the flute on this track. Breathy, sweet sounding flutes with no trace of grit or grain are a good indication of high-resolution, transparent, natural sound in the mids and highs.

Just Like This Train
Raised On Robbery
Trouble Child
Twisted

AMG Review

Joni Mitchell reached her commercial high point with Court and Spark, a remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz which stands as her best-selling work to date. While as unified and insightful as Blue, the album — a concept record exploring the roles of honesty and trust in relationships, romantic and otherwise — moves away from confessional songwriting into evocative character studies: the hit “Free Man in Paris,” written about David Geffen, is a not-so-subtle dig at the machinations of the music industry, while “Raised on Robbery” offers an acutely funny look at the predatory environment of the singles bar scene.

Much of Court and Spark is devoted to wary love songs: both the title cut and “Help Me,” the record’s most successful single, carefully measure the risks of romance, while “People’s Parties” and “The Same Situation” are fraught with worry and self-doubt (standing in direct opposition to the music, which is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last).

Rolling Stone Commentary of Interest

By 1973, Joni Mitchell was searching for a new sound. On albums like Clouds and Blue, she had accompanied herself on piano and acoustic guitar, and progressed from folkie waife to sophisticated chronicler of the gender wars. She needed musical arrangements that matched the complexity of her lyrics.

Tom Scott had played woodwinds on Mitchell’s previous album, For the Roses (1972), and she decided to do some sessions with his jazz-rock band, the L.A. Express. The result is Court and Spark, an album that not only represents the culmination of Mitchell’s folk-rock period but also signals the many musical experiments in her future.

Released at the end of 1973, “Raised on Robbery,” the album’s first single, caught all the humor and energy that had always been part of Mitchell’s personality but that had barely found a place in her music. The second single, “Help Me,” showed the flip side of Mitchell’s sensibility — the romatic dreamer, swept up in the currents of desire and uncertain about where they are carrying her or even where she wants to go. “We love our lovin’/But not like we love our freedom,” she sings in lines that summararize the dueling impulses in so many of her songs.

Playing behind her, musicians like Scott, guitarist Larry Carlton, drummer John Guerin and trumpeter Chuck Findley add colors and depth to songs that stretch melodies and vocal lines in suprising directions. And as always with Mitchell, the lyrics penetrate deftly to the painful core of feeling beneath the requisitely cool coupling of the early Seventies. When she sings, in a kind of prayer, “Send me somebody/Who’s strong and somewhat sincere,” her reduced expectations (this was the age of less is more, remember) seem both poignant and desperate, Court and Spark was — and still is — Mitchell’s most commercially successful album. In another sign of the times, she was defeated the following year in two major Grammy categories by Olivia Newton-John. That’s why the criterion of “standing the test of time” was invented — a standard that Court and Spark will always meet. * * * * * (Five Stars)

Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone, 2001.

DCC

It ain’t easy to find a plain ol’ domestic copy that can knock out the DCC pressing, but if you’ve got a few dozen copies handy and enough energy to clean and compare them all, I’m sure you would eventually manage to do just that.

As we are so fond of pointing out, the real thing just can’t be beat. Now is this a case where a little bump around three thousand cycles is fooling us into believing we are hearing more breath in Joni’s voice, more space around her piano? Is it adding more definition to all the instruments in the wonderfully complex orchestral passage at the heart of Down to You? Is that what it is, a click or two on the old Equalizer?

We’ll let you be the judge. We obviously don’t think so. Our Hot Stamper copies do everything better. The bass is better: tighter, punchier, with more note-like definition. The top end is better: more extended and airier. There’s more weight to the lower mids and upper bass without sounding overly rich or bloated. It can’t all be caused by a 3k bump then, right?

Right.

Now that we’ve addressed that logical fallacy, let’s talk about some of the real issues at play with Court and Spark on DCC.

Hoffman’s version is very musical; it’s rich and natural sounding, which is to say very enjoyable. You can do a lot better but you sure can do a lot worse. Opaque, veiled, lifeless, dull sound is the norm for Court and Spark — most copies are dead as a doornail. If they’re not dead, they’re likely to be thin and gritty. The DCC is a big improvement over the average domestic pressing. (The original Brit imports are fairly competitive with the DCC; the later Brits with the K catalog numbers suck as a rule.)