Tower of Power – Back To Oakland

More Soul, Blues and R&B

xxxxx

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout, this copy was one of the best we played in our recent shootout
  • Our Hot Stamper pressings are rich, warm and dynamic, with plenty of Analog Tubey Magic
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, presence and energy on this copy than anything else around, and that’s especially true for whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently being foisted on an unsuspecting record buying public
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Back to Oakland had tougher, funkier and better-produced cuts, stronger vocals from Lenny Williams, and included an excellent ballad in “Time Will Tell,” and a rousing tempo in “Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream).”

*NOTE: On side one, a mark makes a sandpapery noise during the first ten seconds of Track One, Oakland Stroke.

We love this funky music and have long been delighted with how wonderful the best pressings can sound. This may be Tower of Power’s best; certainly it’s one of their most consistent and well-recorded.

When you hear it on a Hot Stamper like this, there is little in the recording to criticize. The brass is textured with just the right amount of bite (but not to the point of sounding gritty). In addition, the soundstage is wide and three-dimensional, with the kind of transparency that allows you to hear into the music all the way to the back wall of the studio (assuming your system resolves that kind of information).

The most obvious effect is that all the horns are separated out from one another, not all smeared together, with plenty of space around the drums, guitars and vocals as well. The sound is freely flowing from the speakers, not stuck inside them.

What the Best Sides of Back To Oakland 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 1974
  • 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.

Sonic Issues

The biggest problems we found in our shootout were:

Some edge to the horn sound (the kind of “detail” that some audiophiles might prefer but that to our ears would be a source of listener fatigue in the long run);

Stuck in the speakers low-resolution sound, by far the most typical, wherein the ambience and spaciousness of the studio are noticeably compromised;

And lack of bass, which either takes the rhythmic quality out of the music, the drive so to speak, or makes the horns sound thin, which is a not a sound we tend to like, on this album or any other, although most of the audiophiles that I’ve met seem not to mind it all that much.

The Wrong Kind of Clarity

Much of what passes for clarity in some systems is just a lack of lower mids and thin bass response — woofers too small, not enough of them, the same old story. There are many commentaries on the site concerning this very issue and I recommend you check a few out when you have the time.

Music like this needs full-bodied sound to do what it’s trying to do; you need to be able to move lots of air in your listening room to bring this music to life. You can be sure this band full of horn players was moving huge amounts of air in the studio. Would have loved to be there!

What We’re Listening For on Back To Oakland

  • 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.

The Sheffield Record — So Dry

Some of you no doubt know that there is a Direct to Disc on Sheffield by this band. I can tell you without question that this particular LP is clearly better sounding than that one, which tends to be annoyingly dry. This band’s recordings as a rule tend to be on the dry side, with little in the way of studio echo or ambience. The Sheffield is even more dryly recorded than their other albums, at least on the copies that I have played.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Oakland Stroke
Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream)
Just When We Start Makin’ It
Can’t You See (You Doin’ Me Wrong)
Squib Cakes

Side Two

Time Will Tell
Man From the Past
Love’s Been Gone So Long
I Got the Chop
Below Us, All the City Lights
Oakland Stroke

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Tower of Power followed their self-titled gold album with an even better album that didn’t enjoy similar sales success. Back to Oakland had tougher, funkier and better-produced cuts, stronger vocals from Lenny Williams (who was more comfortable as their lead singer), and included an excellent ballad in “Time Will Tell,” and a rousing tempo in “Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream).” The Tower of Power horn section reaffirmed its reputation in both soul and pop circles, and the album included a powerhouse instrumental.