Harry Pearson brought this record to the attention of audiophiles with his TAS list a long time ago, and rightfully so: it’s an amazing recording.
We happen to love the music too, which makes it one of the most recommendable records we have ever offered. If you can find a better combination of demo disc sound, with music worth the hassle and expense of reproducing it properly, more power to you. We sure can’t.
Because this is a live recording, because it has lots of natural instruments as well as a vocal, because it was recorded in the Golden Age by one of the greatest labels of all time, RCA, by Bob Simpson no less — for this and many other reasons, it has to be considered one of the most amazing recordings in the history of the world.
That said, it is our contention (and the basis of our business model) that the brilliant quality of the recording can only be appreciated if you have the pressing that captured the sound that the engineers recorded. In other words, a Hot Stamper.
From an audiophile point of view, you get to hear live musicians and all the energy they bring to this music, all on the stage at the same time: strings, brass, percussionists and Harry Belafonte front and center. Tube mics (and not too many of them), a tube tape recorder, RCA’s superb engineering and all-tube mastering chain ensure that the “breath of life” is captured intact. I know of no better live popular vocal recording on the planet.
Tubey Magic Is Key
This vintage 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 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 band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, 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 maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
The best sounding versions we played are cut super-clean; the brass and strings have dead-on correct textures and timbres.
As good as some pressings are, the best pressings are clearly a step up in class. The brass has more weight and body and richness. Same with the strings. The voice gets fuller and sweeter and less sibilant, while still maintaining every nuance of detail. The presence is startling; Belafonte is absolutely in the room with you.
A Live Orchestra Needs This Kind of Space
One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with plenty of room for all of the players. These copies are not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.
And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.
Sylvie — Track Commentary
This is a wonderful song, sung by Belafonte with virtually no accompaniment. His voice should be rich and full-bodied with plenty of presence. In other words, he should sound like a living, breathing person.
Cotton Fields — Track Commentary
The liner notes say this song was introduced in the previous year in Las Vegas. Before I read that I noted that the uptempo arrangement has a jazzy feel to it. The walking bass is well up in the mix and the piano and a few of the other instruments in the song are well behind — it’s pretty much Belafonte and bass. The bass is deep and very note like. (This is of course a big system record. Do not expect good results from small speakers.)
But what makes this one of the best Demo Quality tracks on the album is Belafonte’s amazingly energetic performance. He really sells this song. As I was listening to the dynamics on the best pressings, it makes me think about all the compressed-to-death vocals that are so much a part of the recording style of the modern era. Nobody gets loud anymore. Belafonte did back in 1959, and not too many followed him.
Take My Mother Home
The Marching Saints
All My Trials
Mama Look A Boo Boo
Come Back Liza
Man Smart (Woman Smarter)
Merci Bon Dieu
Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma
The granddaddy of all live albums, this double-LP set captures the excitement of a Harry Belafonte concert at the height of his popularity. Sampled from two consecutive performances of identical material, Belafonte at Carnegie Hall was an anomaly at a time when only comedy albums were recorded outside of the studio environment. It wasn’t the first live album ever made, but it was certainly the first to be a major financial and artistic success. It stayed on the best-selling album charts for over three years and remained in print until RCA discontinued pressing LPs.