Month: August 2019

Bud Shank – Brazilliance Vol. 2

  • Shank’s 1962 collaboration with Laurindo Almeida arrives with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Another superb Rickard Bock production from the early ’60s, with huge amounts of studio space and Tubey Magic to die for
  • The combination of Shank’s sax and flute with Almeida’s Brazilan folk-influenced guitar creates a delightful and unique fusion of bossa nova-influenced jazz
  • These two would go on to form the L.A. 4, but we much prefer their earlier work on this album
  • 4 stars: “…once again combining Brazilian rhythms and folk melodies with cool bop improvising… highly recommended.”
  • If you’re a fan of Bud’s, this vintage record from 1962 belongs in your collection.

This World Pacific pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely 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 musicians, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Taj Mahal – Oooh So Good ‘N Blues

More Taj Mahal

Oooh So Good ‘N Blues

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  • You’ll find excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this 1973 album of primarily acoustic Folky Blues
  • If you like the music of Ry Cooder this album should be right up your alley – it’s as well recorded as Ry’s stuff, and that’s saying something 
  • As quiet as we can find them – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Ooh So Good ‘N’ Blues takes a more straight-ahead approach that keeps the experimentation down to a minimum. As a result, this is one of his most consistently enjoyable and even albums.”

Taj does his own material and a few classics by the likes of Mississippi John Hurt, Elmore James and Willie Dixon. With the Pointer Sisters singing backup on some of the songs, fans of authentic acoustic blues will find much to like here. (more…)

June Christy – The Intimate Miss Christy

More June Christy

More Pop and Jazz Vocals

[This is an old review for the mono. We may prefer the stereo pressings now. We will find out next time we do a shootout for the album, one of Miss Christy’s best.]

Both sides of this 1963 All Tube Recorded and Mastered Mono record are just as rich and relaxed as you would expect. The balance is correct, which means the top is there as well as the bottom, with good vocal presence throughout.

We are HUGE fans of this album at Better Records, but it’s taken us a long time to pull together enough clean copies to make this shootout happen. We’re happy to say it worth all the trouble.

Get the volume just right and June will be standing between your speakers and putting on the performance of a lifetime. This is one of our favorite female vocal albums (along with Clap Hands, Julie Is her Name and a fair number of others) and this amazingly good copy will show you why – the sound and music are wonderful.

The Mono Is King

This early mono pressing is the only way to find the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from modern records. As good as the best of those pressings may be, this record is dramatically more REAL sounding. (more…)

Leonard Cohen – Death of a Ladies’ Man

 

What are the criteria by which a record like this should be judged? Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, and on and on down through the list. (more…)

Oscar Peterson Trio w/ Milt Jackson – Very Tall

  • An excellent copy which earned Double Plus (A++) grades for sound on both sides – there’s plenty of rich, Tubey Magic from 1962 to be found on this vintage stereo pressing
  • If you made the mistake of buying the atrocious Anadisq pressing MoFi put out in the ’90s, here is your chance to hear what a wonderful recording Val Valentin cooked up with these cats in their prime
  • “This first matchup on records between pianist Oscar Peterson and vibraphonist Milt Jackson was so logical that it is surprising it did not occur five years earlier… this first effort is a particularly strong set.”

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are wonderful. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1961-62 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy will do the trick. (more…)

Taj Mahal – Giant Step / De Ole Folks at Home

  • KILLER sound throughout with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on sides two, three and four, and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first side
  • On the acoustic side the harmonics of the stringed instruments — banjo and guitar — ring out clearly and naturally
  • Two complete LPs worth of material: the first electric, the second acoustic, something for everybody — it even includes the Monkees hit “Take A Giant Step” if you can believe it
  • 4 Stars: “Parties searching for an apt introduction when discovering Taj Mahal’s voluminous catalog are encouraged to consider Giant Step as a highly recommended reference point.”

The best copies are not hard to spot. They have the richest, breathiest, most present vocals, surrounded in the most space. The balance between the guitar, bass and drums on the electric side is correct. On the acoustic side the harmonics of the stringed instruments — banjo and guitar — ring out clearly and naturally.

A sweeter midrange, with less grit and spit on the vocals, was especially welcome and helped propel three of these sides right into the final round of the shootout, with side three eventually coming out on top. (more…)

Sting – Ten Summoner’s Tales

More Sting and The Police

  • This copy of Sting’s fourth solo album boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Engineer/Producer Hugh Padgham once again achieved his trademark sound in the studio – Spacious, Lively and Powerful
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… his best solo record. In places, it’s easily as pretentious as his earlier work, but that’s undercut by writing that hasn’t been this sharp and melodic since the Police, plus his most varied set of songs since Synchronicity… as an album, Ten Summoner’s Tales is more consistently satisfying than anything else in his catalog.”

(more…)

The Beatles – Twin Track for Me But Not for Thee

More of the Music of Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

How is it that none of the critics of “twin track stereo” — the two-track recording approach used on the first two albums, with the elements hard-panned left and right — has ever come clean about the obvious twin track sound of Rubber Soul?

We used tracks four, five and six to test side two with, and in all three the vocals are hard-panned right with most of the instruments hard-panned left. Why is it wrong for Please Please Me to sound that way — the mono mix being the critic’s choice — but fine for Rubber Soul to be heard that way? 

Tons of energy on the drums in the left channel are a key test. In the right channel the shakers and tambourines are way up in the mix. The bass is a bit lean compared to the other tracks and tends to get a bit lost. If you can follow the bass throughout the song that’s a good sign.

Balancing the bass and drums in the left channel with the vocals and percussion in the right channel is not easy to do, which of course is what makes it a great test.

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Simon and Garfunkel / Bookends – Album Background and Reviews

More of the Music of Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Bookends

Wikipedia on the Music

The “Bookends Theme” that opens and closes side one is played on the acoustic guitar, with no additional instruments. An audio sample of the band’s first hit, “The Sound of Silence”, softly plays during a cacophony of sounds near the end of the second track, “Save the Life of My Child”. John Simon, who was credited with production assistance on the song, created the bassline by playing a Moog synthesizer with help from Bob Moog himself.

James Bennighof, author of The Words and Music of Paul Simon, finds that “textural elements are variously supported by a churning groove, percussive, and distorted electronic sounds” that compliment the song’s subject matter, suicide suburban youth. “Overs” explores a more jazz-oriented style, with a larger selection or chords and looser form than the group’s previous styles.

“Voices of Old People” is a sound collage, and was recorded on tape by Garfunkel at the United Home for Aged Hebrews and the California Home for the Aged at Reseda. The collection of audio recordings of the elderly find them musing on treasured photographs, illness and living conditions.

In “Old Friends”, the title generally conveys the introduction or ending of sections through repetition, and the song builds upon a “rather loose formal structure” that at first includes an acoustic guitar and soft mood. An additional element is introduced midway through the track: an orchestral arrangement conducted by Jimmie Haskell, dominated by strings and xylophone notes. Horns and other instruments are added when the duo cease singing, creating a turbulence that builds to a single high, sustained note on the strings. The song then segues into the final song of side one, the reprise of the “Bookends Theme”.

Side two consists of miscellaneous unrelated songs unused for The Graduate, with many possessing a more rock-based sound than the unified folk songs that precede it.

In “Fakin’ It”, melodies are occasionally deleted to suit lyrics, but the song generally follows a similar chord structure and melodic outline over a “funky rock beat” that sonically references the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”.

“Punky’s Dilemma” is breezy and minimal musically, with a soft jazz-style percussion and seemingly improvised guitar lines dominated by seventh chords.

“Mrs. Robinson” opens with an “instantly recognizable” pop rock guitar hook that carries throughout the track. The first verse consists only of syllables—”dee-dee-dee” and “doo-doo-doo”—that form stable harmonic foundation. The inclusion of the meaningless syllables arises from the unfinished nature of the song when pitched to director Mike Nichols, who particularly liked the verse.

“A Hazy Shade of Winter” follows a more rock-tinged sound, with a fairly straightforward verse-refrain structure.

“At the Zoo” uses a rock groove that settles into the key of G major.

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Bookends is a literary album that contains the most minimal of openings with the theme, an acoustic guitar stating itself slowly and plaintively before erupting into the wash of synthesizers and dissonance that is “Save the Life of My Child.”

The classic “America” is next, a folk song with a lilting soprano saxophone in the refrain and a small pipe organ painting the acoustic guitars in the more poignant verses. The song relies on pop structures to carry its message of hope and disillusionment as two people travel the American landscape searching for it until it dawns on them that everyone else on the freeway is doing the same thing.

The final four tracks, “Mrs. Robinson,” the theme song for the film The Graduate, “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” and the album’s final track, “At the Zoo,” offer as tremblingly bleak a vision for the future as anything done by the Velvet Underground, but rooted in the lives of everyday people, not in the decadent underground personages of New York’s Factory studio. But the album is also a warning that to pay attention is to take as much control of one’s fate as possible.

Listening in Depth to Santana’s First Album

More of the Music of Santana

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Santana

First off, a 360 label doesn’t mean much on this record except the POTENTIAL for good sound. The badly mastered or pressed copies can be recognized easily: they are muddy and smeary. The recording itself has a bit of that too-many-tubes-in-the-signal-path quality to start with, so unless the record is mastered and pressed clearly and cleanly the whole presentation is likely to turn to mud. 

Santana’s first album came out of nowhere and rocked in a way that few had heard before. In that sense it has something in common with Led Zeppelin’s debut. That album took the blues and added heavy guitars. Santana took African and Latin rhythms and added his own heavy guitar sound. Each is a landmark recording in its own right.

Musicianship

Like Abraxas, when you play a Hot Stamper copy Santana’s first album very loud, soon enough you find yourself marvelling at the musicianship of the group — because the best Hot Stamper pressings, communicating every bit of the energy and clarity the recording has to offer, let you hear what a great band they were.

On badly mastered records, such as the run-of-the-mill domestic LP, or the audiophile pressings on MoFi and CBS, the music lacks the power of the real thing. I want to hear Santana ROCK. Most pressings don’t let me do that. Only the best do. (more…)