This review starts with a killer copy we played in 2011. Further down you can read about our aborted attempt to do a shootout for the album in 2005.
ABSOLUTELY STUNNING TRIPLE PLUS SOUND ON SIDE TWO with a side one that’s nearly as wonderful! You’ve probably heard us say this before, but it is ridiculously tough to find great copies of Blue. It’s not just the toughest nut to crack in Joni’s catalog, it’s one of the most difficult albums in ALL OF POP MUSIC to get to sound right.
So when we find one like this, it’s a BIG DEAL. It’s got Off The Charts breathiness, delicacy, warmth and sweetness, and that’s just Joni’s voice. The sound of the ensemble throughout is amazingly natural, the recording so spacious.
Just check out the piano on The Last Time I Saw Richard: this is not the thin and hard-sounding instrument that accompanies Joni on every pressing you have ever had the misfortune to audition, hoping against hope that someday you would find that “elusive disc” with sound worthy of such extraordinary music. No, this piano has real weight; it has body; and it’s surrounded by real, three-dimensional studio space. No vinyl pressing we have ever played has managed to capture the sound of the piano on this record any better. Exactly no copies. (A few White Hot Stamper copies have done it as well, but none any better.) For those of you with a certain Heavy Vinyl pressing in your collection, we can only say: Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Both sides here are rich, full-bodied and warm with amazing immediacy. The sound is exceptionally DYNAMIC and the clarity and transparency are OFF THE SCALES. Joni’s vocals sound just right — so clear and natural, with lots of breath and texture.
We Promised Not to Talk About It
In the introduction to the Blue Game you may remember reading this:
Down the road when we’ve had a chance to do a shootout amongst all our best copies, we will be offering something more to our liking. I recommend instead — and this is coming from a die-hard LP guy, someone who disconnected his home CD player over two years ago and only plays the damn things in the car — that you pick yourself up a nice used copy of the gold CD Hoffman mastered for DCC. It’s wonderful.”
We then went on to explain that we didn’t want to just tell you what we found lacking in the newly remastered version. We much preferred that you discover it for yourself, an experience we were sure would be both edifying and enjoyable in equal amounts.
We Weren’t Ready in 2005
That first aborted attempt at a shootout for Blue failed because we had neither the specialized cleaning techniques and machinery that we use now, nor the equipment required to play such a challenging recording. We pointed out at the time that our notes contained comments such as “soft, lacks bass, grungy, grainy, thin, hi-fi, bright, so-so, aggressive, hard, thick, groove damage, highs worn away, lacking in bass and extreme top, gritty, swooshy, bad vinyl.”
No doubt that’s what we were hearing.
We also found comments such as “perfection, wonderful, lovely, sweet, transparent, as good as it gets, Joni’s right there, one of the best, wow.”
So there was hope, even way back in 2005. But no Blue to sell.
One of the Few. One of the Very, Very Few
The record we are offering today is one of the few that sounded good before. Now it sounds really good. It got much quieter after applying some of our new cleaning techniques, and the sound became even warmer, richer, sweeter and more transparent.
In 2005 we tried to explain why it is practically impossible to find good sounding copies of Blue, comments we stand by today:
The main reason it’s so difficult to find a good sounding pressing of this record is that most copies have a tendency towards hardness, shrillness and aggressiveness. There is a great deal of mid to high frequency information in this recording, and the problems arise when you take all that energy and try to stamp it into a piece of mass-produced cheap domestic vinyl. If the vinyl wasn’t good on the day they pressed the record, it doesn’t matter how good the mastering is. The result is grain. Grunge. And since Joni pushes hard in her upper registers on many of these songs, it’s enough to make you leave the room.
That’s on the copies that are mastered right! The copies that are mastered with thin and aggressive sound to start with can only get worse. Those are the rule, not the exception.
The best copies bring out the breathy quality to Joni’s voice, and she never sounds strained. They are sweet and open, with good bass foundation and transparency throughout the frequency range.
The best pressings (and our better playback equipment) have revealed nuances to this recording — and of course the performances of all the players along with it — that made us fall in love with the music all over again. Of all the tough nuts to crack, this was the toughest, yet somehow copies emerged that allowed us to appreciate the sonic merits of Blue and ignore its shortcomings. Hot Stampers have a way of doing that. You forget it’s a record; it’s now just Music. The right record and the right playback will bring this music to life in a way that you cannot imagine until you hear it. That is our guarantee on Blue — better than you ever thought possible or your money back.