Month: February 2021

Weather Report – Sweetnighter

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Weather Report Albums We’ve Reviewed

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from the first note to the last
  • Boogie Woogie Waltz was one of the most mindblowing tracks found on any album from 1973
  • The sound is huge, spacious, lively, transparent and punchy – this is jazz fusion that really rocks
  • 4 stars: ” It is the groove that rules this mesmerizing album, leading off with the irresistible 3/4 marathon deceptively tagged as the ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz’ and proceeding through a variety of Latin-grounded hip-shakers.”

This is our favorite Weather Report album here at Better Records. Heavy Weather is arguably a more ambitious and more accomplished piece of work, but Sweetnighter is so original and rhythmically compelling that we find ourselves enjoying it more. I don’t know of any other album on the planet like it. We only know of two Must-Own Weather Report albums, this one and Heavy Weather. They both belong in your collection if you’re a fan of jazz fusion.

The top end is fully extended here in a way that most copies barely hint at, and the overall sound is amazingly transparent and three-dimensional. The brass is full and rich, the percussion lively and present, and the bass is weighty and defined. All the stuff we look for on a Classic Weather Report album is here.

Note especially that the energy is excellent, and both sides are also very high-rez; the echo trails from all the studio reverb go on for days. (more…)

Jimi Hendrix – Hendrix In The West

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  • With stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, this British Polydor pressing was rockin’ like crazy
  • This is a fun live album with stellar performances by Jimi – the best of his many posthumous releases
  • The awesome version of Little Wing is just killer on this copy – it’s Jimi’s best performance of the song
  • “Hendrix in the West is a collection of extremely good live Hendrix performances between 1968-1970. Three different concerts are sampled on this 1972 release, one of the few official live Hendrix releases following his death.”

*NOTE: A mark plays very lightly five times at the end of side one track three, Blue Suede Shoes. On side two a mark makes four light thumps at the start of track three, Red House.

We’re still surprised at how well recorded the album is. It takes a pressing like this to really show you the live Jimi Hendrix magic Eddie Kramer got onto tape. Drop the needle on Little Wing and you are going to be FLOORED.

The size and space here are really something, miles beyond most. The resolution and clarity of the open live sound of this copy bring out all the instrumental textures and details of the recording like few we played. More importantly, the extended top keeps the highs from getting hard or harsh the way they do on so many pressings we’ve played.

As these performances are culled from different concerts the sound varies a bit from track to track, but every track on here sounds good and the best tracks sound amazing.

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Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire

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  • An outstanding original CBS Orange Label British pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • If you were to own only one Fusion record, you could hardly do better than Birds of Fire
  • It’s hard to think of another record that rocks as hard, and it’s not even a real rock record!
  • Clearly one of the All Time Greats in the world of Jazz/Rock, as well as the band’s Masterpiece – 5 stars

This is the band at the peak of their powers and, no pun intended, ON FIRE. This may be jazz, but it’s jazz that wants to rock. And on this copy, it rocks like you will not believe. The louder you play it the better it sounds.

Birds of Fire is one of the top two or three Jazz/Rock Fusion Albums of All Time. In my experience, few recordings within this genre can begin to compete with the Dynamics and Energy of the best pressings of the album — if you have the Big Dynamic system for it.

It’s hard to think of another record that rocks as hard, and it’s not even a real rock record! We find ourselves playing albums like Houses of the Holy and Zep II and Dark Side of the Moon for hour upon hour, with dozens of copies to get through, and we do it on a regular basis. If anybody knows Big Rock Sound, it’s us. But can we really say that those albums rock any harder than this one? Birds of Fire is to Jazz what Zep II is to Rock — the ultimate statement by a band at the absolute top of their game.

We tried doing a shootout for this album in 2008 and failed miserably. At that time, not that long ago when you think about it, there was no way we could get this music to play so loud, so cleanly, and with such correct tonality, from the deepest bass to the highest highs, complete with the wild swings in dynamics that the recording captures so well.

The Audio Revolution Is Alive and Well and making progress all the time.

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Linda Ronstadt – Lush Life

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  • An outstanding copy of Ronstadt’s 1984 release with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides were doing everything right — clean, clear, full-bodied and dynamic with wonderfully breathy vocals and a solid bottom end
  • “What’s New illustrated that Linda Ronstadt was no longer interested in contemporary pop, and since it was a surprise success, there was no reason not to repeat the formula on Lush Life. Working again with Nelson Riddle, Ronstadt runs through several pop standards — ‘When I Fall in Love,’ ‘Sophisticated Lady,’ ‘Falling in Love Again,’ ‘It Never Entered My Mind’…”

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Judy Collins – Sometimes the Hits Are Mastered from Sub-Generation Tapes, and There’s Not Much You Can Do About It

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Both Sides Now, the Top Ten hit that finally put Judy on the map, is clearly made from a copy tape and doesn’t sound as good as the songs that follow it on side two. Hey, it happens, and I suspect it happens more often than most audiophiles think. I would wager that back in the day most people who bought this album never even noticed.

One thing I’ve noticed about audiophiles over the years: they’re like most people. The difference of course is that they call themselves audiophiles, and audiophiles are supposed to care a great deal about sound quality.

They may care about it, but are they listening critically?  Critically enough to notice dubby sound when they hear it?

Or to notice that one side of a record often sounds very different from another?

Or that some reissues sound better than the originals of the album?

Or that there is no correlation between the country that a rock band comes from and the country that made the best sounding pressings of their albums?

The embrace of one third-rate Heavy Vinyl pressing after another by the audiophile community has rendered absurd the pretense that their members ever developed anything beyond the most rudimentary critical listening skills.

Sadly, the Dunning-Kruger effect, the best explanation for the sorry state of audio these days, means they simply don’t know how little they know and therefore see no reason to doubt their high opinions of themselves, their equipment and their acumen.

Progress in audio is possible, but only if you know that you are not already at the top of the mountain. You should recognize that you have a lot of serious climbing to do.

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Coleman Hawkins – Today and Now

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last on this superbly engineered recording by Rudy Van Gelder
  • This vintage Impulse stereo LP has plenty of Tubey Magic and driving energy – we expect nothing less from RVG in 1962, and this pressing delivers
  • Tommy Flanagan on piano provides fine support for Mr. Hawkins’ breathy stylings – both Down Beat and Allmusic awarded Today and Now 4 Stars!

We love the Tubey Magical breathy/reedy style of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. It seems that only the best early vinyl pressings manage to reproduce it properly. The CDs we’ve played over the years have had a tough time finding the richness in the sound; they end up being at least somewhat dry and hard, and that is simply not the right sound for this music.

Although we have a tough time finding clean copies of their 50+ year old albums (this is the first copy we’ve offered in more than 3 years), the sound Rudy Van Gelder managed to get on tape almost always makes it more than worth our while to play their records. There are literally hundreds of classic jazz records from the early ’60s that are as good as this one, if only we could find them in audiophile playing condition. We’re certainly glad we found this one. There’s not a false note or a bad track on it.

This is one of the better sounding Hawkins albums we’ve played in a while. Some of the reasons why:

Note the clear, extended top end right from the get-go on side one. The second track, a ballad, is where Coleman Hawkins really shines. (more…)

Every Label Made Bad Sounding Records – RCA Released This Living Stereo with Reiner in 1958

Some audiophiles buy albums based on their labels. For example, this Shaded Dog pressing from the Golden Age of RCA Living Stereo might appeal to a certain kind of audiophile who treasures LSC’s on the original label.

More than that, he might limit himself to 1S Indianapolis pressings. Hooray! What could be better?

However, many records from this era simply do not sound good, and this is one of them. We have never heard a good sounding copy of LSC 2112, and we’ve played plenty of them over the decades we’ve been in the business of selling Golden Age Classical records.

A copy came in just last week and I figured it was time to give it a spin and see if there was any reason to change my opinion. Hey, maybe this one had Hot Stampers! Can’t say it wouldn’t be possible. Unlikely, yes, impossible, no.

So here’s what I heard: A wide stage. A bit dry.

But then the trouble started: Shrill strings?! That’s all she wrote. A Johann Strauss record with shrill strings is a non-starter. (more…)

Paul McCartney / Unplugged – This Copy Just Sounded More Like Live Music

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More Beatles

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Back in 2016 we had this to say about a copy of the album we had just played:

This copy will put you front and center for the single greatest acoustic Paul McCartney concert of all time.

In the final round of shootouts on both sides, this copy showed itself as clearly superior in terms of transparency and three-dimensionality, as well as having the most rock solid bottom end. To sum it up, my notes read “so real,” which is exactly what makes this copy THE one to have. This is Paul and his mates LIVE in your listening room like you have never heard them before.

This copy gave us the feeling that we were right there in the audience for the taping of this amazing performance. It made other copies sound like records — good records, but records nonetheless. This one has the IMMEDIACY of a live show, one which just happened to be fronted by one of the greatest performers in the history of popular music, Sir Paul McCartney.

We shootout this album about once a year, which means that many changes will have occurred to the stereo in the meantime. One of the qualities that we noticed this time around was how much like live music this album can be when the pressings have one specific quality — tons of bass.

Live music, especially live music heard in a club, tends to have plenty of bass. It’s the sonic quality that’s by far the most difficult to recreate in the home.

When a record manages to capture that kind of “live” low end energy, it really helps make the connection between the sound of live music and the sound coming out of your speakers. As we have labored so often to make clear on the site, big speakers with plenty of dynamic woofers can put you in front of live musicians in a way that nothing else (in our experience) can.

This very copy makes the case for that proposition better than any we’ve played in a long time. (more…)

The Gregg Allman Band – Playin’ Up A Storm

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More Allman Brothers

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  • This stunning sounding 2-pack of the band’s sophomore release boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last
  • A surprisingly well-recorded album – the sound is exceptionally rich, smooth and natural in the best tradition of Seventies Analog
  • “Playin’ Up a Storm is a well-made, expertly performed set of blues-rock, soul-pop, and straight-ahead rock & roll …the thing that makes it one of Allman’s best solo efforts is the terrific performances. Not only is he in fine voice, delivering each song with conviction, but his supporting band – featuring such luminaries as Dr. John and Bill Payne – is sterling.”

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Spirit / Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus – The Core Collection

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 A record that belongs in any serious Rock Music Collection.

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  • A stunning copy of Spirit’s 1970 Trippy Masterpiece – Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too!
  • Huge, lively and dynamic – this legendary Psych album creates a wall to wall, three dimensional psychedelic world of its own
  • Nature’s Way, Animal Zoo and Mr. Skin all sound amazing on this copy – there’s really not a bad track to be found
  • “Spirit’s crowning moment and one of the era’s great underrated albums … enriched by meaty horn arrangements, imaginative vocal harmonies, and a structured approach to psychedelic studio trickery such as stereo panning and tapes run backward.”

The soundfield is huge and transparent, there’s real richness and body to the instruments, and there’s no edge at all to the vocals. Believe me, it’s the rare copy that has all of these qualities, the only one in our shootout as a matter of fact.

This and Spirit’s first album are absolute Rock Classics in my book, records that belong in any popular music lover’s collection.

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