Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee – Sonny and Brownie

More Soul, Blues and R&B

xxxxx 

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, so natural and relaxed, this is the right sound for this bluesy music
  • This early pressing puts a Folky-Bluesy jam from 1973 live in your living room, showcasing two of the true masters of the form
  • The immediacy, clarity and transparency are excellent, but the key element is Tubey Magical warmth, and these vintage pressings have plenty of it
  • 4 1/2 stars: “John Mayall and John Hammond, Jr. are among the “youngsters” on this powerful statement that includes a definitive version of Randy Newman’s wickedly subtle anti-slavery tune Sail Away.”

This is easily one of better Folkie Blues albums to hit our table in a while. The music is SUPERB. Among the highlights are great covers of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and Randy Newman’s “Sail Away.”

This vintage A&M pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even 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 this duo, 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 the Best Sides of Sonny and Brownie 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 in 1973
  • 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.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For on Sonny and Brownie

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • 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.

Best Practices

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that the others do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given pressing reproduces those passages.

The process is simple enough. First, you go deep into the sound. There you find something special, something you can’t find on most copies. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

Mobile Fidelity Ruins Another Classic

Mobile Fidelity released a version of this title on Anadisq in 1995, and if you want to avoid a pressing that’s airless, murky, compressed and opaque, you would be wise to pass up their Heavy Vinyl Half-Speed.

Our advice is to avoid these dreadful pressings, and that goes for practically every record this company produced over the last thirty years or so. The description of the sound to be found on these remastered albums is fairly consistent as well. How any audiophile finds the sound of these records to his liking is beyond our understanding. They are insufferable on good equipment, and the fact that so many audiophiles suffer through them does not speak well for their equipment or their critical listening skills.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

People Get Ready 
Bring It on Home to Me
You Bring out the Boogie in Me 
Sail Away 
Sonny’s Thing 
White Boy Lost in the Blues

Side Two

The Battle Is Over 
Walkin’ My Blues Away
Big Wind (Is A’Comin’) 
Jesus Gonna Make It Alright 
God and Man 
On the Road Again

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

In a way, this is the veteran duo’s version of Fathers and Sons, a meeting of old black bluesmen with young white admirers that Muddy Waters and Otis Spann cut with Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield. John Mayall and John Hammond, Jr. are among the “youngsters” on this powerful statement that includes a definitive version of Randy Newman’s wickedly subtle anti-slavery tune “Sail Away.” Sonny Terry’s trademark whoops are energizing. The repartee between him and Brownie McGhee might convince you they were fast friends if you didn’t know otherwise.