Anita O’Day – Trav’lin’ Light

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Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists

  • A superb copy of Anita’s 1961 release, with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two
  • Big space, breathy vocals, lovely leading edge transients on the brass, and plenty of Tubey Magic make this album a true audiophile treat
  • Johnny Mandel’s and Russell Garcia’s arrangements are the perfect compliment to O’Day’s swinging vocals on this tribute to Billie Holiday
  • 4 stars: “… most of this beautiful record find O’Day going her own way in a more forthright, less vulnerable manner… that make[s] haunting use of muted brass at ballad tempos. This was O’Day’s favorite among her Norgran/Verve albums.”

Great players on this one – Ben Webster, Jack Sheldon, Barney Kessel, Al Viola and Mel Lewis are just a handful of the top players on these sessions. A hard record to find in stereo with good vinyl; it took us years to put together this shootout. This ’60s Verve LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Anita O’Day singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 58 years old), 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 less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.

What the best sides of Trav’lin’ Light from 1961 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 1961
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • 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.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For on Trav’lin’ Light

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks for the guitars, horns and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Produced by Russell Garcia

You may have seen RUSSELL GARCIA credited for the arrangements on one of the truly great recordings of the ’50s: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s Porgy and Bess (1959). We’ve discovered some exceptional original and reissue pressings, as well as some that really do a disservice to the music and the engineers who recorded it. We wasted an awful lot of time and money finding out just how bad some versions of the album can be. I guess that’s what we get paid to do, but it doesn’t make it any less painful or expensive.


Side One

Trav’lin’ Light
The Moon Looks Down And Laughs
Don’t Explain
Some Other Spring
What A Little Moonlight Can Do

Side Two

Miss Brown To You
God Bless The Child
If The Moon Turns Green
I Hear Music
Lover Come Back To Me
Crazy He Calls Me

AMG Review

A tribute to Anita O’Day’s idol Billie Holiday — who had died less than two years before the making of this recording — O’Day’s performances here are more notable for what she didn’t borrow from her vocal role model. Selections like the title track find her generating a slightly bitter tone quality and languorous phrasing in the manner of Holiday, but most of this beautiful record find O’Day going her own way in a more forthright, less vulnerable manner.

…Half of the tracks feature a small group led by guitarist Barney Kessel while the other half — the more effective tracks, actually — feature now-exuberant, now-exquisite arrangements for big band by Johnny Mandel that make haunting use of muted brass at ballad tempos. This was O’Day’s favorite among her Norgran/Verve albums.