- Tarkio finally makes it back to the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
- This, like Dark Side and so many other White Hot Stamper records we offer to the discriminating audiophile, is ANALOG at its finest
- The sound here is OFF THE CHARTS in a big way — it’s amazingly rich, yet clear and transparent as any we played — what a combination!
- To our knowledge there hasn’t been a single record mastered in the last thirty years with this kind of sound, and we know whereof we speak: we’ve played them by the hundreds
Not Really One Toke Over the Line
Please don’t assume that this album has much in the way of uptempo country rockers like One Toke Over the Line, Flying Burrito Brothers style. Nothing could be further from the truth. Practically every other song on the album is better, almost all of them are taken at a slower pace, with none of them having the “poppy” arrangement of that carefully calculated Top Forty hit. The rest of the music on the album, the music you probably don’t know, is much better than the music that you do know if what you know is that song.
This Bay Area Hippie Folk Rock has a lot in common with The Grateful Dead circa Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty (the latter recorded by the same engineer, Stephen Barncard), and like those superbly well-recorded albums, it lives or dies by the reproduction of its acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies.
Analog richness, sweetness and Tubey Magic are elements absolutely indispensable to the sound of these recordings. Without them you might as well be playing a CD. (Some of the reissue pressings actually do sound like CDs and are not part of the shootouts for this album anymore. Who wants a record that sounds like a CD? They may be pressed on vinyl but they’re no less an embarrassment to analog for it. As you can imagine we feel the same way about most of the Heavy Vinyl records being made today. They’re just embarrassing.)
The best pressings, on the other hand, are everything that’s good about the analog medium — smooth, sweet, relaxed and involving. You had best have a fast cartridge and not overly rich electronics to get the most out of this one. The richness on this record is already baked-in; no need to add more.
Years in the Making
This shootout has been a long time coming, for two reasons that every record guy and gal can relate to: bad sound and bad surfaces. So many copies of this album are noisy. Even the few that have survived being played by the average pot-smoking music lover, records with no obvious visible signs of abuse from the Garrards and ARs of the day, tend to be pressed on vinyl that leaves much to be desired.
Kama Sutra/ Buddah Records, home to The Lovin’ Spoonful, was no major label. It was a small independent just trying to survive. Audiophile pressing quality was simply not in the budget. Fortunately for us analog types they put good money behind high quality session players and state-of-the-art 16 track recording technology at Wally Heider’s renowned studio in San Francisco.
This vintage Kama Sutra pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely 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 the band, 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 Tarkio 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 1970
- 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.
Robert Ludwig — No Guarantee of Good Sound
Even though the original Pink Label pressings are mastered by Robert Ludwig, they have a marked tendency to be dull, thick and opaque. The sound is just too smooth on most copies. The best copies have the top end and the transparency to let you hear all the guitar and vocal harmonics, surrounded by the large acoustic of the studio.
This time around we discovered something new: one specific stamper that seemed to be the only one with the potential for an extended top end. This special stamper did not always fare well; some copies with it were mediocre. We have always found this to be the way with the “right” stampers; they often let us down and they can really let us down hard. But this stamper, when it was right, had an extension on the top that no other copy could match. (The Robert Ludwig mastered Band second albums are the same way. Most have no top but boy, when they do, the magic you hear is phenomenal.)
The sound of the better pressings can be wonderfully silky and sweet, with absolutely no trace of phoniness to be found. If you have the kind of high resolution system that can pull the information out of these grooves, you are in for a real treat.
Stephen Barncard, the recording engineer on Tarkio, is a genius. He’s the man behind one of the ten best sounding rock recordings we have ever played, If Only I Could Remember My Name. The Tubey Magic on Deja Vu has to be all his; Halverson on the first album doesn’t get that sound remotely as well as Barncard does on the second.
What We’re Listening For on Tarkio
- 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.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.
- One Toke Over The Line
- Song From Platte River
- The Light
- Ruby On The Morning
- Oh Mommy
- Don’t Want To Die In Georgia
- Can’t Go Home
- Tarkio Road
- Seems Like A Long Time
- Fifty States Of Freedom
Notable not just for the inclusion of “One Toke Over the Line” but also for the great back porch stoned ambience of the entire recording, this 1970 effort from the band is ripe with dope references and subversive humor. Not that it ever takes away from the excellent country-style playing that pops up all over the record.
Jerry Garcia lends a hand with the pedal steel and it’s a welcomed sound. During the course of the album, you get highlights like “Song from Platte River” (where the boys lament the loss of their freedoms and feel a kinship with folks like General Custer and Abraham Lincoln) and the spectral “Ruby on the Morning.”
Add in “One Toke Over the Line” amidst freedom-friendly tracks like “Oh, Mommy” and “Don’t Want to Die in Georgia,” and you’ve got an album that speaks out to anyone who has ever felt threatened by “the Man.”