Rickie Lee Jones on Rhino – Not Our Idea of Good Sound, and We Hope Not Yours

More of the Music of Rickie Lee Jones

Reviews and Commentaries for Rickie Lee Jones’ First Album

Sonic Grade: D

We were fairly unimpressed with the Rickie Lee Jones on Warners that came out a few years back [2008, time flies!].

It has that same phony Modern Mastering sound we find so unappealing on the Heavy Vinyl reissue of Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it. We encourage you to play The Blue Game and maybe you’ll see why we feel the way we do.)

We liked the new Sweet Baby James Hoffman and Gray cut. We note in our review that “Hoffman and Gray can take pride in this Sweet Baby James. It’s some of the best work I’ve heard from them to date. If more DCC and Heavy Vinyl reissues sounded like this, we wouldn’t be so critical of them. Unfortunately they don’t, and there are scores of pages of commentary on the site to back up that statement for those of you interested in the subject.”

We went on to say “The amazing transparency and dynamic energy of the best originals will probably never be equaled by an audiophile pressing like this. (It hasn’t happened yet and we remain skeptical of the possibility.) Considering that this pressing is sure to beat most reissues, imports and other such like, we have no problem heartily recommending it to our customers, especially at the price.”

So, What’s Wrong With Rickie Lee?

Simple. They took a somewhat artificial, hi-fi-ish, close-miked, heavy-on-the-reverb recording and made it sound even more artificial, phony and hi-fi-ish (but less-heavy-on-the-reverb; there is always a noticeable loss of resolution in these modern mastering jobs).

What were they thinking?

The best copies have warmth, richness and sweetness to balance out the more unnatural elements in the recording. Copies with these qualities are few and far between, but we have run across them in our shootouts and proudly offered them for sale, where of course they went quickly for lots of money. Major league audiophile appeal, this one. In its day it was heavily demo’ed in every stereo store in town, and for good reason — the sound positively jumps out of the speakers.

It’s a Trap

The average copy of this album is a sonic disaster, akin to the average copy of Famous Blue Raincoat or — gulp, even worse — Graceland. If you’re a detail freak, this Rhino pressing may be just what you are looking for. It’s got detail all right.

But all that phony detail obscures what is wrong with the sound. Overly detailed sound is a trap.

Plenty of recordings designed to appeal to audiophiles strike us as being phony in this way. Stan Ricker cut a lot of overly-detailed records for Mobile Fidelity in the ’70s and ’80s, records that may have sounded fine on the lo-rez stereos of that era (like the one I owned), but are positively painful to play on the top quality equipment that exists today. [1]

I would hope that the audiophile community would have developed their listening skills to a level sufficient to recognize what this pressing doesn’t have — warmth, richness and sweetness — but I get the feeling I will be proved wrong yet again in that regard.

High Performance?

Rhino Records has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino bills their releases as pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl”. However, if they are using performance to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins.

The CD versions of most of the LP titles they released early on are far better sounding than the lifeless, flat, pinched, so-called audiophile pressings they released starting around 2000. The mastering engineer for this garbage actually has the nerve to feature his name in the ads for the records. He should be run out of town, not promoted as a keeper of the faith and defender of the virtues of “vinyl”. If this is what vinyl sounds like I’d switch to CD myself.

And the amazing thing is, as bad as these records are, there are people who like them. I’ve read postings on the internet from people who say the sound on these records is just fine.

Their Grateful Dead titles sound worse than the cheapest Super Saver reissue copies I have ever heard.

The Yes Album sounds like a cassette, a mere ghost of the real thing.

[1] This is what the Revolutionary Changes in Audio link is all about. If you haven’t taken advantage of the many new technologies that make LP playback dramatically better than it was even five or ten years ago, Rickie Lee Jones’ first album won’t do what it’s supposed to do.

Trust me, there’s a world of sound lurking in the grooves of the best copies that simply cannot be revealed without Walker cleaning fluids, the Talisman, Aurios, Hallographs, top quality front ends, big speakers and all the rest.

Our playback system is designed to play records like RLJ with all the size, weight and power of the real thing.

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