Month: October 2018

The Moody Blues – A Question of Balance

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  • Side one earned a Double Plus (A++) grade and side two was even better, nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++)!
  • This copy has some of the tubiest, richest, yet clearest Moody Blues sound we’ve heard
  • Huge and spacious with strong midrange presence – this is the way the band should sound, alive and kickin’!
  • Includes the big hit Question, one of the all time greats by the band, which sounds fantastic here of course

Note that the sound on side one seems to get better as it goes, a phenomenon we have noticed often in the past.

What to Listen for

Achieving just the right balance of “Moody Blues Sound” and transparency is no mean feat. You have to be using the real master tape for starters. Then you need top end extension, a very rare quality on these imports, and finally, good bass definition to keep the bottom end from blurring and bleeding into the midrange. No domestic copy in our experience has ever had these three qualities, and only the best of the British imports (no Dutch, German or Japanese need apply) manages to get all three on the same LP.

Allow me to steal some commentary from a Moody Blues Hot Stamper shootout we did years ago, for the wonderful In Search of the Lost Chord, in which we say that, on the best Hot Stamper pressings, the clarity and resolution come without sacrificing the Tubey Magical richness, warmth and lushness for which the Moody Blues recordings are justifiably famous.

It’s so correct from top to bottom, so present and alive, while still retaining all the richness and sweetness we expect from British Moody Blues records, that I would find it hard to believe you could do much better, in this life anyway. (We did, of course; we found a White Hot copy that beat this one, but it took us many, many years and many, many copies to do it.)

We guarantee this copy will take the Moodies’ wonderful music to a level you have never experienced in all your audio days.

What amazing sides such as these 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 pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments (and effects!) having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is of course the only way to hear all of the above

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Question 
How Is It (We Are Here) 
And the Tide Rushes In 
Don’t You Feel Small 
Tortoise and the Hare

Side Two

It’s Up to You 
Minstrel’s Song 
Dawning Is the Day 
Melancholy Man 
The Balance

AMG Review (short)

And the Tide Rushes In” is one of the prettiest psychedelic songs ever written, a sweetly languid piece with some gorgeous shimmering instrumental effects. The surprisingly jagged opening track, ‘Question,’ recorded several months earlier, became a popular concert number as well as a number two (or number one, depending upon whose chart one looks at) single. Graeme Edge’s ‘Don’t You Feel Small’ and Justin Hayward’s ‘It’s Up to You’ both had a great beat, but the real highlight here is John Lodge’s ‘Tortoise and the Hare,’ a fast-paced number that the band used to rip through in concert with some searing guitar solos by Hayward.

George Starostin’s Review (very long, but a fun read)

Apparently, Children invigorated the band, so they decided they were strong enough to try and duplicate its success. And, darn it all, they almost succeeded – they were on such a high songwriting roll that, formula as it was, it was still nearly impeccable; I sort of view this record as a special Magical Mystery Tour-type ‘extension’ for Sgt Pepper. The sound might have changed a trifle (less Mellotron and less hi-tech overdubs on this one, apparently, to make it easier to reproduce some of these numbers on stage), but the essence is still the same.

What distinguishes the album is its concept: for the first (and last) time in their existence, the Moodies try out a straightforward take on ecological problems (that’s what ‘Balance’ is all about). However, as much as I hate eco rock for its brainwashed nature and (usually) dorky lyrics, there’s really little to complain about this particular concept: the ‘save-the-world’ problems are taken on a global, cosmic scale, with innocent philosophical allusions tied in now and then and lyrics masked by the Moodies’ artistic and ontological pretensions (oh well, what else could one expect?) On top of it, Graeme Edge gets the one and onely reasonably attractive piece of text-writing ever: the spooky ‘Don’t You Feel Small’, although his closing Biblical stylization (‘The Balance’) ain’t that nauseating either – so much for maturation.

Of course, it isn’t really the concept that matters here, rather the songs themselves. The first side of the album is truly awesome – maybe the greatest side of material recorded by the band since Days, and definitely the band’s best ‘democratic’ side – five songs, each by a different band member.

It all starts with an absolute Hayward classic – the upbeat acoustic rocker ‘Question’, with an intoxicating ‘aaah’ now and then, and a vocal melody that forms a perfect optimistic counterpoint to the pessimistic aura of ‘Gypsy’; both songs are otherwise very similarly structured, with verses and ‘aaah’s interchanging with each other over a fast steady beat, backed by a ‘wall-of-sound’ Mellotron backing. Unlike ‘Gypsy’, though, ‘Question’ also has a middle romantic acoustic slow part which is quite endearing too, although I fear the balance between the two parts is a little too far shifted in favour of the slow part.

Pinder contributes the dark, ‘labyrinthic’ (if you know what I mean) meditation ‘How Is It (We Are Here)’, one of his catchiest ditties ever, and introduces the ecological topic – although I’m a bit puzzled as to what is meant under ‘her love’. Is it the Earth he means? Possibly. In any case, the symphonic effect in the instrumental part of the song is admirable, with the Mellotron forming a perfect duet with Hayward’s strangely encoded guitar solo. If you ask me, that passage is at least ten times as good as the band’s stupid cluttering with their instruments on ‘The Voyage’.

After the ‘depression’, Ray Thomas comes up to soothe us and becalm us with the beautiful ‘And The Tide Rushes In’, reminiscent of his style on Days – same shaking vocals, same stunning harmonies, hey, it could have easily fitted onto their debut, it’s on the same level. Except that it’s actually different: this is the first time Ray managed to come up with something of a truly operatic character, not giving his voice even the slightest restraint, and it’s also very personal-sounding – after all, it’s just an acoustic ballad with some Mellotron in the background.

As for the already mentioned ‘Don’t You Feel Small’, this disturbing shuffle could have been Edge’s masterpiece, if not for the utterly nasty loud whispered voice echoing the band’s singing – it mars an otherwise excellent vocal melody. Kudos to Graeme anyway for writing the first true song in his career – after all, even his best contributions so far on Children have mostly been instrumentals with an occasional bit of declamation.

Finally, Lodge’s ‘Tortoise And The Hare’ is yet another minor-key rocker, with a suspicious, disturbing sound and suspicious, disturbing lyrics. I love hearing the band go ‘it’s all right it’s all right’ with that paranoid beat, and I love hearing Justin deliver a short grizzly solo, completely up to the point. It should be noted, however, that ‘Tortoise’ is the first example of Lodge showing a passion for disco-type monotonous rhythms and thus leads to ‘I’m Just A Singer’, which in turn leads to ‘Sitting At The Wheel’ which in turn leads to ‘Here Comes The Weekend’… oh me, oh my.

Getting back to pleasant things, I must reiterate that this side has it all – it’s slow (‘Tide’), it’s fast (‘Question’), it’s sad (‘How Is It’) and it’s funny (‘Tortoise’), it’s dark (‘Don’t You Feel Small’) and bright (‘Question’ again) at the same time. If you ever needed to demonstrate all of the Moodies’ talents in one twenty-minute session, this would obviously be the best choice.

Unfortunately, the second side, as is quite often the case with the Moodies (see On The Threshold Of A Dream for further reference), just doesn’t sustain the heat. For me, it contains just two songs that can be qualified on the same (or nearly the same) level: Lodge’s ‘Minstrel’s Song’ is a nice little ‘pastoral’ shuffle with hippiesque overtones and an excellent vocal melody structure, and Pinder’s ‘Melancholy Man’…

I know some people prefer to detest it, but I just think it’s a perfect example of a lyrics-melody match: the song is supposed to be slow, dreary, long and muddling, as it is dedicated to depicting the ‘process’ of melancholy, and, well, it is. Plus, those backing vocals are moody, and why should we expect anything else from a band with the word ‘Moody’ in it? Nah, I like the song, even if it’s more than five minutes long.

It’s also heavily influenced by French chansons, as is my hypothesis, and thus – quite naturally – provokes an Anglo-Saxon to rebellion. What I don’t quite like are Hayward’s contributions to this side. Both ‘It’s Up To You’ and ‘Dawning Is The Day’ are quite pretty by themselves, but they’re just not too substantial, ya know. Once again, Justin fell into the atmospheric trap of harmonizing and romanticizing without any truly creative melodies. In fact, I know it might sound strange, but at this point in his career Hayward was much better at ‘rockers’ than at gentle songs (aren’t ‘Question’ and ‘Gypsy’, two of his best songs, proof enough?)

Also, just as the album opened on a high note, so it closes with a downer: ‘The Balance’ is obviously just a piece of conventional crap, even if the Edge poem is not the worst he’d ever written. For some reason, though, I’m about the only person on Earth who dislikes the number – seriously now, do all you people really fall for that unmelodic chorus and Pinder’s pompous declamations of the old drummer boy’s poetry? Still, none of the other nine songs are really bad, and so, being in a good mood, I gently deprive the album of just one point. Blame it on the ecologists.

Discography

Hot Stamper shootouts have been done for all their records with the exception of Go Now (which never sounds good as far as we know).

  • Go Now! (a.k.a. The Magnificent Moodies) (1965)
  • Days of Future Passed (1967)
  • In Search of the Lost Chord (1968)
  • On the Threshold of a Dream (1969)
  • To Our Children’s Children’s Children (1969)
  • A Question of Balance (1970)
  • Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1971)
  • Seventh Sojourn (1972)

 

 

Dave Brubeck – Countdown – Time In Outer Space

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Clean and Clear, Yet Rich and Sweet. This copy managed to find the perfect balance of these attributes.

You want that rare copy that keeps what is good about a Tubey Magical analog recording from The Golden Age of Jazz while managing to avoid the pitfalls so common to them: smear, lack of top end extension, opacity and blubber. To be sure, the fault is not with the recording (I guess; again, not having heard the master tape) but with the typically mediocre pressing. 

Bad vinyl, bad mastering, who knows why so many copies sound so thick, dull and veiled?

Full-bodied sound, open and spacious, bursting with life and energy — these are the hallmarks of our Truly Hot Stampers. If your stereo is cookin’ these days this record will be an unparalleled Sonic Treat. We guarantee that no heavy vinyl pressing, of this or any other album, has the kind of analog magic found here. (more…)

Eagles – Hotel California – Rockin’ Out to Victim of Love

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Victim of Love is yet another one of our favorite tracks that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

It’s the sound of this five piece tearing it up LIVE IN THE STUDIO. It’s also the track where the DCC just falls apart for us. Where did the rock and roll energy go? The DCC makes it sound like the band just doesn’t care, which was certainly not our experience when were playing any of the killer Hot Stampers we came across. Just the reverse was true; we had them turned up full blast and they ROCKED.

In fact I might go so far as to say that Victim of Love is the best sounding track on the whole album. It’s punchy, real and MUSICAL in a way that nothing else on the album is, because it’s being played by a real band, live. The energy and coherency of the sound is like nothing else you will hear on Hotel California, and possibly on any other Eagles record.

Such A Lovely Place

Yet another example of an album that we couldn’t fully appreciate until we’d discovered a truly great copy. You may have heard these songs a million times, or what seems like a million times, but you’ve sure never heard them sound like this. We played copy after copy this week and never grew tired of the music. In fact, we like it better than ever. If you take home one of our Hot Stamper copies, we’re pretty sure you’ll feel exactly the same way. This album is a classic in the world of Classic Rock. When you can hear it right that fact becomes all the more believable. Until then maybe not so much.  

The Search For Hotel California

Even though we’re HUGE Eagles fans at Better Records, we had never tried to do a shootout for this album until about 2008, and that’s because the typical copy doesn’t even hint at the magic found on the better pressings. After countless gritty, grainy, compressed, lifeless, veiled copies we had almost given up — until we played one that summer and heard some seriously good sound coming out of our speakers.

We checked the dead wax, and with new stamper information to go by, we hit the local stores. Let me tell you, finding any clean copy of this album is not easy. Of the scores of copies we’ve picked up, about one in three or four turns out to be quiet enough to sell. Asylum vinyl leaves much to be desired, and the average copy of this album has been played to death, on pretty bad equipment no less.

The DCC — Not Terrible, But…

The DCC for this album is not a total disaster. In fact, the first side of the DCC is one of the better DCC sides we’ve played in recent memory. We dropped the needle on a few copies we had in the back (pressing variations exist for audiophile records too, don’t you know) and they averaged about a B+ for sound on side one. Side two was quite a bit too clean for our tastes — no real ambience or meaty texture to the guitars, about a B- for sound. To flip something we say often: you can do worse, but you can do a LOT better.

Robert Palmer – Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley – His Best Album By Far

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A distinguished member of the  Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

TWO EXCELLENT SIDES on this British Sunray Island pressing. SSTTA is very hard to find nowadays, but we managed to put together a big enough stack to make a shootout possible, and this copy acquited very well indeed — it was miles ahead of the typical pressing. As is usually the case with these originals, the vinyl is a bit noisier than ideal at Mint Minus Minus.

No doubt this is the best album Robert Palmer ever made. With Lowell George’s unmistakable slide guitar and members of the Meters providing backup, as well as the amazing Bernard Purdie on drums, it’s the only Robert Palmer release that consistently works all the way through as an album. The entire first side is excellent from top to bottom, with the title track being our favorite RP song of all time.  (more…)

Prokofiev / Peter & The Wolf / Bernstein – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

What makes this an especially good Peter and the Wolf? The timbre of the solo instruments — bassoon, oboe, flute — each of which serves to represent a character in the story. Shockingly lifelike, the tonality is unerringly Right On The Money (ROTM) throughout. That makes this pressing both a superb Demo Disc as well as a top quality Audio Test Disc.    (more…)

Lena Horne & Harry Belafonte – Porgy and Bess

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound for both sides of this wonderful Living Stereo album – as you would expect, the Tubey Magic is off the charts
  • Both sides are big, lively and present with lovely breathy vocals from the two principals (who sing solo on all but two of the tracks)
  • A brilliant Living Stereo recording from 1959, which plays as quietly as we can find them – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “The first of Belafonte’s duet albums with female performers, this one paired two attractive black American singers at the peak of their respective talents.”

A Living Stereo knockout! We often forget to spend time with records like this when there are Zeppelin and Floyd records to play. We’ve always enjoyed Belafonte At Carnegie Hall, but when we’ve dug further into his catalog we’ve been left cold more often than not. However, when we finally got around to dropping the needle on a few of these we were very impressed by the music and BLOWN AWAY by the sound on the better pressings.

It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology. If you’re a Harry Belafonte fan, a Lena Horne fan, a Gershwin fan, or just somebody who enjoys classic material performed with gusto and soul, this is a record that belongs in your collection.

1959 Tubes?

You just can’t beat ’em. (more…)

The Reiner Sound – Reviewed in 2010

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Wow, the first nice Reiner Sound on Shaded Dog to make it to our site. Why? Because the few copies we’ve run across that looked decent enough to clean and play were just too noisy to enjoy. Not many copies have survived the bad turntables of their day with all their top end and inner grooves intact, but we’re proud to say that this one has! 

This former TAS List record really surprised us on two counts. First, you will not believe how DYNAMIC the recording is. Of all the classical recordings we’ve played lately I would have to say this is THE MOST DYNAMIC of them all. (more…)

Otis Redding – The Dock of the Bay

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  • A stunning copy of The Dock of the Bay — Triple Plus (A+++) on the first side and Double Plus (A++) on the second
  • A well-recorded album, with sound that’s incredibly big, rich and Tubey Magical yet still clean, clear and spacious
  • About as quiet as we can find them, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus throughout – most copies we see are just wrecked
  • “…this is an impossible record not to love … Cropper chose his tracks well, selecting some of the strongest and most unusual among the late singer’s orphaned songs…” — All Music

This vintage Atco 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 any sign of coming back. (more…)

Roy Orbison – Sings Lonely and Blue on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked. 

Can’t recommend this one. It’s too bright. The DCC LP of Orbison’s material is dramatically better [assuming you want a Heavy Vinyl pressing. I doubt I would care for the sound of it now but back in the day we recommended it].

I’ve had some discussions with some audiophiles who liked this album, and I’m frankly surprised that people find this kind of sound pleasing, but if you’re one of those people who likes bright records, this should do the trick! 

 

The Turn Up Your Volume Test – Bonnie Raitt’s Home Plate

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Another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

This is a classic case of a record that really starts to work when the levels are up. It’s so free from distortion and phony processing it wants to be played loud, and that’s the level this music works at. It’s the level it was no doubt mixed at, and that mix sounds pretty flat at moderate levels. If you want to hear the real rockin’ Bonnie Raitt you gots to turn it up!

Like a lot of the best recordings from the mid-’70s, the production and recording quality are clean and clear, and we mean that in a good way. There is very little processing to the sound of anything here; drums sound like drums, guitars like guitars, and Bonnie sings without the aid of autotuning — because she can sing on-key, and beautifully. Her vocals kill on every song. (Her dad had a pretty good set of pipes too.) (more…)