James Taylor – Mud Slide Slim – Our Shootout Winner from 2009


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Side two here has STUNNING MASTER TAPE SOUND, and side one is not far behind. Side two is open and transparent with shocking clarity. All of the little details that are missing from the average copy really come through here — the sound of the room around the guitars, the transients of the hand percussion, and the weight of the piano, to name a few. The acoustic guitar sound is Right On The Money and the vocals sound amazing. The bottom end on this copy just can’t be beat — we’ve never heard another copy of Mud Slide Slim with such deep, note-like bass. The highs are silky sweet and there’s real three-dimensionality to the soundfield.

I don’t think you could find a better sounding side two no matter how hard you tried. We had dozens of Green Label originals and WE couldn’t! (We don’t bother with the Palm Tree label anymore, although they can be very good on the best copies.)

We give it A+++; it deserves every one of those pluses and then some. Without a doubt this is the best sound we have EVER heard for Mud Slide.

But what REALLY sets this one apart is how much IT ROCKS. The energy on this pressing has to be heard to be believed. Forget all that detail and soundstaging stuff and just focus on how this band is playing the HELL out of that first track, which arguably is the best song on the album. When you hear it sound like this there is no argument.

Side one was nearly as good at A++. The sound was jumping out of the speakers, with breathy, intimate, full, rich vocals. Compared to side two the sound was just a touch crude, so we lowered the grade one plus to A Double. Finding one pressing with five pluses between two sides is a real rarity here at Better Records so this LP must be considered As Good As It Gets, for this round of shootouts anyway. In 2010 we may have an even better copy, if you don’t mind waiting.

The One True Test for Mud Slide

Midrange Presence is tough to come by on Mud Slide; most of the time JT’s voice is recessed, dark, veiled and has a slightly hollow quality. To find a copy where his vocals are front and center — which of course is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet and tonally correct is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off. Out of the dozens of copies we played few had the midrange we were looking for and knew could exist.

Listening You Can Do at Home

One thing we noticed this time around was that for some tracks James’ vocals are recorded in a booth and for others they are not. Listen to the first track — there is no ambience, no room around his voice whatsoever. He’s in a padded booth, and they padded the hell out of it.

Now play Long Ago and Far Away on side two. No booth! Lots of studio space around the vocal. MUCH more natural acoustic.

We don’t have the luxury of playing every track on both sides for these shootouts. We pick two or three songs that have specific qualities we know to look for and play them on every copy. (Shootouts like this almost always involve at least a dozen pressings, sometimes more, and it’s impossible to keep them all straight with more copies than that.)

So here’s a potentially fun exercise, assuming you find this sort of thing fun, that I thought about doing but just don’t have the time to devote to at present, with so many other shootouts waiting in the wings. Take your own copy, assuming you have at least a decent one, and play each track listening for only one thing: does James sound like he is in a booth, or does he sound like he is in an open space in the studio? If you have the typical original WB pressing you will probably not be able to get very far and will be quickly tempted to give up, the frustration of a murky midrange being more than most of us audiophiles can bear.

But maybe you have a good copy, the possibility certainly exists. Andif you find much success with this exercise we encourage you to drop us a line, we will be more than happy to print it!

Sibilance

Distortions that are common to the other good original pressings simply don’t seem to be much of a problem here. This is especially true in the case of sibilance, which can be a major problem on some of these Green Label James Taylor records. No copies won’t have some spit, but this one doesn’t have much, a clear sign that the cutter head was doing a bang up job. (The opposite is of course true for Mobile Fidelity records, which tend to be quite spitty, an indication that their cutting system was not nearly as good as it should have been. It’s old news to us but a fact that the average audiophile record collector still to this day has not caught onto, a sad commentary on the current state of analog audiophilia.)

Old WB Vinyl

The vinyl isn’t silent, but it’s not too bad for an old Warner Bros. pressing. Side one plays mostly Mint Minus. Side two plays Mint Minus with a noisy edge before the vocals. There is a lite warp that did not effect playback. Most of the pressings we played this time were more in the M– / EX++ range, so it’s not too much of a stretch to call this a relatively quiet copy.

Inner Groove Distortion

Can be a problem on this album. The 55 second long last track on side two is practically always groove damaged to some degree. This copy has IGD for that track, par for the course.