- With superb Double Plus (A++) sonic grades or BETTER on both sides, this is an outstanding copy of an absolutely essential album
- Big bass, rich meaty guitars and smooth silky vocals make this a Band album like you have never heard before
- Not only is the sound superb, but both sides here play Mint Minus Minus, about as quiet as we can find them
- 5 stars: “As had been true of the first album, it was the Band’s sound that stood out the most… The arrangements were simultaneously loose and assured, giving the songs a timeless appeal…”
The lucky person who takes this record home is in for quite a shock. This very pressing is proof positive that this album is much better recorded than the audiophile community gives it credit for being. How could anyone judge the sound of the record without a great copy such as this one to play?
This vintage pressing has no trace of phony sound from top to bottom. It’s raw and real in a way that makes most pop records sound processed and wrong. These two sides have plenty of the qualities we look for in an album by The Band. Energy, presence, transparency, Tubey Magic… you name it, you will find it here. Its biggest strength — and the biggest strength of the album as a whole — is its wonderful, natural midrange.
And the bass is HUGE. On the best copies it always is.
Drop the needle on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down or King Harvest Has Surely Come and get ready for some serious Analog Magic. This is a Band album like you have never heard before.
What the best sides of this classic Band album have to offer is not hard to hear:
- 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 1969
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the multi-tracked vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards, drums and other instruments having the correct sound for this recording
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
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, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
This copy has superb space in the midrange — it was wider, deeper and clearer than most of the Robert Ludwig originals we played (which are of course the only way to go on this album). Few copies were this full-bodied, solid, meaty and rich, yet clear. It was so tubey, never dry, unlike more copies than we care to remember.
It is very difficult to find a copy of this album that plays any more quietly than this one does, and to find one that sounds this good? Forget about it.
Despite what anyone might tell you, it’s no mean feat to find good sounding copies of this record. There are good originals and bad originals, as well as good reissues and bad reissues. Folks, we’ve said it many times — the label can’t tell you how a record sounds, but there’s a sure way to find out that information. You’ve got to clean ’em and play ’em to find out which ones have Hot Stampers, and we seem to be the only record dealers who are doing that, in the process making unusually good pressings like this one available to you, the music-loving audiophile.
What We’re Listening For on The Band
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- 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, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also 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 instruments.
The Track Listing tab above will take you to an extensive song by song breakdown for each side, with plenty of What to Listen For (WTLF) advice.
Across The Great Divide
This song should sound very smooth, with correct tonality from top to bottom; that’s the way it is on the best copies.
It’s easy to tell when the sound is boosted in the upper midrange: the vocals sound “shouty,” not smooth and real the way they can on the killer Hot Stamper copies.
If the sound is rich, smooth and sweet, you are off to a good start. If this track sounds “modern” – clean with lots of presence — all is lost. If you can hear much detail on this track, the record is too bright. (Or your system is.)
Rag Mama Rag
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
This is probably the best sounding track on the album; it’s certainly the best sounding on side one. If the whole album sounded like this we wouldn’t have to work so hard to find a decent sounding copy. But that is sadly not the case. To find one good copy a year is not easy, and that’s with going to record stores practically every week.
If you have a slightly bright copy, this is the track that will be ruined.
When You Awake
Up On Cripple Creek
Tons of subterranean bass are the hallmark of this track. You may think your side one is bass shy on the opening tracks — many of them are — and perhaps you will conclude that the recording is a bit lean like so many other ’60s rock recordings. But when this one rolls around there will be more than enough bass to disabuse you of that notion. It’s the mix that’s screwy; it’s not the fault of the recording engineers failing to capture those low low notes. This song has plenty.
Side two should have audible tape hiss if there are going to be any highs. If the tape hiss sounds too loud, you probably have a record that is made from a sub-generation copy tape. If that is the case the sound should be pretty hopeless. Typically the reissues are bright and irritating with little of the warmth and sweetness which are this recording’s principal strengths.
The drums are cardboard on the average copy of this record. On the better sounding copies they may not be the best drums you ever heard, but at least you can tell they are drums!
A great test track for side two. There should be plenty of air and room around the lead vocal. The horns should also sound clean and clear, not smeary and thick.
King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
The song will sound quite flat and dull unless you have a good copy. Most originals are this way. The reissues try to “fix” the problem with brightness, but that’s even worse. You need an early pressing that has that warm, rich, tubey sound, coupled with some presence and “life”, the quality that’s mostly missing from them. Finding a copy with all these good qualities on one LP, that’s not beat to death, is practically impossible. They are no doubt out there, but they sure are hard to find!
AMG 5 Star Rave Review
The Band’s first album, Music from Big Pink, seemed to come out of nowhere, with its ramshackle musical blend and songs of rural tragedy.
The Band, the group’s second album, was a more deliberate and even more accomplished effort, partially because the players had become a more cohesive unit, and partially because guitarist Robbie Robertson had taken over the songwriting, writing or co-writing all 12 songs. Though a Canadian, Robertson focused on a series of American archetypes from the union worker in “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” and the retired sailor in “Rockin’ Chair” to, most famously, the Confederate Civil War observer Virgil Cane in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
The album effectively mixed the kind of mournful songs that had dominated Music from Big Pink, here including “Whispering Pines” and “When You Awake” (both co-written by Richard Manuel), with rollicking uptempo numbers like “Rag Mama Rag” and “Up on Cripple Creek” (both sung by Levon Helm and released as singles, with “Up on Cripple Creek” making the Top 40).
As had been true of the first album, it was the Band’s sound that stood out the most, from Helm’s (and occasionally Manuel’s) propulsive drumming to Robertson’s distinctive guitar fills and the endlessly inventive keyboard textures of Garth Hudson, all topped by the rough, expressive singing of Manuel, Helm, and Rick Danko that mixed leads with harmonies. The arrangements were simultaneously loose and assured, giving the songs a timeless appeal, while the lyrics continued to paint portraits of 19th century rural life (especially Southern life, as references to Tennessee and Virginia made clear), its sometimes less savory aspects treated with warmth and humor.