A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.
This White Hot Stamper Ambrosia LP has the kind of sound you would never expect to find in the grooves of this album. It was a THRILL to hear, especially at the volumes at which we played it! The transparency and openness were off the charts, and unmatched by any other copy in our shootout. We’re big fans of this band here at Better Records — we love their take on complex, big production rock!
It’s also yet another example of the value of taking part in the myriad revolutions in audio. If you never want your prized but sonically-challenged records to sound any better than they do right now, this minute, don’t bother to learn how to clean them better, play them back better or improve the acoustics of your room. No one can make you do any of those things. The only reason you might have for doing them is so that you can enjoy more of your favorite music with much better sound. Is that a good enough reason? If you’re on this site I’m guessing it is.
That’s the reason we do it. We want records like this one, which didn’t start sounding good until about 2005, and now sound MUCH better than I ever thought they could, to keep getting better and better. Why shouldn’t they?
And these improvements we talk about so much have allowed us to enjoy records we could never fully enjoy before because they never really sounded all that good to us. Now they do, and they will keep getting better, as more and more developments come along in all areas of analog reproduction.
Life Beyond L.A. may not be especially well known in audiophile circles but it is certainly an album we know and love here at Better Records. I’ve been playing it regularly for more than 30 years. There’s so much good music on the album that, now that we can hear it right, we’ve come to appreciate it all the more. It rocks in a more straightforward manner compared to the first two albums. It’s still got plenty of proggy elements and breakdowns, but now there’s an entirely new jazz element introduced into the mix, which comes to the fore strongly on the wonderful Apothecary. Side one is exceptionally strong from first note to last.
Side two starts out brilliantly with the dynamic, energetic Dancin’ By Myself, a song that ranks with the best by the band. It’s followed by Angola, a tongue-in-cheek staple of their live act these days, and then on to the wonderful ballad Heart to Heart, pointedly reminiscent of Holdin’ On To Yesterday, right down to the violin solo. The last track is a bit of a downer, but everything before that is superb.
Shooting Out the Tough Ones
Ambrosia albums are always tough shootouts. Like Yes, another radio-friendly pop-prog band, their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink music and approach to recording make it difficult to translate their complex sound to disc (vinyl or otherwise). Everything has to be tuned up and on the money before we can even hope to get the record sounding right. (VTA is of course critical in this respect.)
If we’re not hearing the sound we want, we keep messing with it until we do. There is no way around sweating the details when sitting down to test a complex recording such as this. If you can’t stand the tweaking tedium, get out of the kitchen (or listening room as the case may be). Sweating the details is what we do for a living here at Better Records. Ambrosia’s recordings require us to be at the top of our game, both in terms of reproducing them as well as critically evaluating them. When you love it, it’s not work, it’s fun. Tedious, exasperating fun.
Life Beyond L.A.
If Heaven Could Find Me
How Much I Feel
Dancin’ by Myself
Heart to Heaven
Not as You Were
Ready for Camarillo
Ambrosia’s third album (and first for Warner Bros.) is more commercial and less conceptual than their first two releases, Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled and the self-titled Ambrosia. The album opens effectively with the title track, which is about life, or the lack thereof, in Los Angeles. The better songs on this album, including the title track and the top ten single “How Much I Feel,” were written and sung by lead vocalist/multi-instrumentalist David Pack.
In 1978 Life Beyond L.A. was released. It marked a bit of a move away from their lush arrangements and introduced a more raw, aggressive progressive rock/jazz influence. Christopher North, who had family obligations and was not totally happy with the group’s shift away from the sound of the first two albums, left the group in 1977 during the album’s recording, citing creative differences (as well as certain health problems) as the reasons for his departure.
The year 1978 marked their biggest pop breakthrough with their first Gold single “How Much I Feel” from the album, which was a #3 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Despite its success, advertising of the album in Billboard and Rolling Stone downplayed the song, suggesting listeners check out the other cuts on the LP. Warner Bros pushed the title cut for radio and Life Beyond LA started to get significant airplay on AOR stations a few months after the album’s release.
Extensive touring with Fleetwood Mac, Heart and the Doobie Brothers, in addition to major headlining shows, cemented Ambrosia’s reputation as a live act.