Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings.
Of course that won’t be the case if you don’t like popular music. I’m glad to say I’m not the kind of snob who looks down his nose at a good soft rock hit. (I’m a snob in other ways of course; who isn’t?) I don’t mind admitting I enjoy the hell out a good Hall & Oates jam, and I positively love Bread. Ambrosia can and does hold their own with the best of these soft-rockers. And they usually sound better doing it.
One Eighty (recorded on 1/80, get it?) kicks off with a real rocker: Ready, which is a great name for an opening track and really gets the album off to a high-energy start. Side two opens with my favorite track on the album, Livin’ On My Own. I actually used to demonstrate my system with it: the bass is huge, way up in the mix and really punchy. Additionally there are powerful multi-tracked vocal harmonies in the chorus that are wall-to-wall, surprisingly dynamic, yet sweet (all things considered; this is a modern recording after all).
Shooting Out the Tough Ones
Ambrosia albums always make for tough shootouts. Like Yes, a comparably radio-friendly Pop Prog band, their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to recording make it difficult to translate their complex sounds 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. (Careful VTA adjustment could not be more critical in this respect.)
If we’re not hearing the sound we want, we keep messing with the adjustments until we do. There is no getting 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). Obsessing over every aspect of record reproduction is what we do for a living. Ambrosia’s recordings require us to be at the top of our game, both in terms of reproducing their albums as well as evaluating the merits of individual pressings.
When you love it, it’s not work, it’s fun. Tedious, occasionally exasperating fun.
We Love Ambrosia
Ambrosia easily qualifies as one of the handful of bands to produce an immensely enjoyable and meaningful body of work throughout the ’70s, music that holds up to this day. Their debut is still my All Time Favorite Album and has been for close to thirty years. The music on this album, so multi-faceted and multi-layered, will surely reward the listener who takes the time to dive deep into its sound. Repeated plays are the order of the day. The more you listen the more you will discover in these exceedingly dense mixes.
And the better your stereo gets the more you can appreciate the care and effort that went into the production of their recordings. The first two albums just cannot be beat — if you have the right pressings (the ones with the Hottest Stampers of course). I would rate this one a step down from the first album and closer to the second, although in a very different way. Even after all these years, the best pressings still have the power to take you on a remarkable audio journey. (Big speakers will be a big help in this regard.)
Shape I’m In
You’re the Only Woman
Rock N’ a Hard Place
Livin’ on My Own
Cryin’ in the Rain
No Big Deal
Biggest Part of Me
The ballads are the album’s redeeming feature. They are all lovingly crafted and boast strong, often complex melodies that keep them from getting too sappy or sentimental: “You’re the Only Woman” is a keyboard-rich song that highlights Christopher North’s soulful Hammond organ playing, and “Livin’ on My Own” layers harmonies reminiscent of the Doobie Brothers over a jazzy tune driven by an intricate bassline. The album’s finale, “Biggest Part of Me,” is the best of these ballads. It combines rich Beach Boys-styled harmonies with a heartfelt lyric to create a rich slice of blue-eyed soul that gave the group a number two hit single…