Midrange Presence is tough to come by on Mud Slide; most of the time JT’s voice is recessed, dark, veiled and has a slightly hollow quality. To find a copy where his vocals are front and center — which of course is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet and tonally correct is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off. Out of the dozens of copies we played in our most recent shootout few had the midrange we were looking for and knew existed.
One thing we noticed this time around was that for some tracks James’ vocals are recorded in a booth and for others they are not. Listen to the first track — there is no ambience, no room around his voice whatsoever. He’s in a padded booth, and they sure padded the hell out of it. Now play Long Ago and Far Away on side two. No booth! Lots of studio space around the vocal. MUCH more natural acoustic.
We don’t have the luxury of playing every track on both sides for these shootouts. We pick two or three songs that have specific qualities we know to look for and play them on every copy. (Shootouts like this almost always involve at least a dozen pressings, sometimes more, and it’s impossible to keep them all straight with more copies than that.)
So here’s a potentially fun exercise — assuming you find this sort of thing fun — that we thought about doing but just don’t have the time to devote to at present, with so many other shootouts waiting in the wings. Take your own copy, assuming you have at least a decent one, and play each track listening for only one thing: does James sound like he is in a booth, or does he sound like he is in an open space in the studio? If you have the typical original WB pressing you will probably not be able to get very far and will be quickly tempted to give up, the frustration of a murky midrange being more than most of us audiophiles can bear.
But maybe you have a good copy; the possibility certainly exists. And if you find much success with this exercise we encourage you to drop us a line, we will be more than happy to print it.
Love Has Brought Me Around
One of my all-time favorite James Taylor tracks. When you get a good copy, this music comes ALIVE! This is not your typical sad sack, touchy feely James Taylor song. This song ROCKS!
You’ve Got a Friend
Listen to Carole King’s piano. On the best copies the transparency allows her playing to be heard so clearly. Her style is unmistakable.
Places in My Past
Riding on a Railroad
Mud Slide Slim
Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox
As good as any James Taylor song ever written.
You Can Close Your Eyes
Again, one of his best. When the vocals are clear and present, the emotional power of the story really hits home.
Machine Gun Kelly
Another song that really rocks. On the best copies, you’ll hear a room around the kick drum. When you have a copy with an extended top end the tambourine will jump right out of the speakers.
Long Ago and Far Away
Joni Mitchell’s duet here with James is one of the highlights of this album. You need a really transparent copy to appreciate how much she contributes to this song. Notice the subtlety of the cymbals. The overall delicacy of the track is what makes it work so well.
Let Me Ride
Isn’t It Nice to Be Home Again