Rickie Lee Jones – Pirates

xxxxx

  • Insanely good sound for Jones’ sophomore release with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the only way to go
  • Lee Herschberg recorded Rickie’s debut as well as this follow-up, and both can sound shockingly good
  • 4 stars: “The musical and lyrical variety on the album is best represented in the album’s centerpiece, ‘Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue),’ where she moves through mood and tempo changes with ease. Although the songs may not immediately grab the listener, the lyrical and musical complexities ultimately make this album more rewarding with every listen.”

This vintage Warner Brothers pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely 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.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • 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 even as late as 1981
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio 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 qualities we discuss 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.

What We’re Listening For on Pirates

  • 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.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Problems to Watch For

Some of the more common problems we ran into during our shootouts were slightly veiled, slightly smeary sound, with not all the top end extension that the best copies have.

You can easily hear that smear on the guitar transients. Usually, they’re a tad blunted and the guitar harmonics don’t ring the way they should. Smeary, veiled, top-end-challenged pressings were regularly produced over the years. They are the rule, not the exception.

The Warner Bros. team of this era (Herschberg, Titleman, Waronker, etc.) brought us some wonderful recordings, but you’d never know it from listening to the typical ’80s WB Tan Label LP, which tends to be fairly unimpressive. Of course, if you search hard enough you can find a copy that delivers the magic of the master tape, and that’s exactly what we have here.

Engineering Excellence

LEE HERSCHBERG is one of our favorite producers and recording/mixing engineers. One of the top guys at Warners, you’ll find his name in the credits for many of the best releases by the Randy Newman, Gordon Lightfoot, The Doobie Brothers, Ry Cooder, Frank Sinatra, and yes, Rickie Lee Jones, all albums we know to have outstanding sound (potentially anyway; you have to have an outstanding pressing to hear outstanding sound).

TRACK LISTING

Side One

We Belong Together
Living It Up
Skeletons
Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking

Side Two

Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue)
A Lucky Guy
Traces of the Western Slopes
The Returns

AMG Review

There are a wide range of musical influences represented (rock, jazz, soul), but the acoustic arrangements are more piano-based than most of her other albums. While there is an undercurrent of reflection on failed romances, Jones also reveals her playful side with songs like “Woody and Dutch.”

The musical and lyrical variety on the album is best represented in the album’s centerpiece, “Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue),” where she moves through mood and tempo changes with ease. Although the songs may not immediately grab the listener, the lyrical and musical complexities ultimately make this album more rewarding with every listen.

Leave a Reply