- This early pressing was hard to fault – it will put Tom Waits right between your speakers, with a batch of great session players behind and to the side, all playing live in the studio
- “The album contains more ballads than most of his records do, but they were the most effective vehicles for the kind of storytelling he was trying to get to. Produced and engineered by Bones Howe, Foreign Affairs was recorded live in studio by a quintet that included West Coast jazzmen Jack Sheldon on trumpet, saxophonist Frank Vicari, bassist Jim Hughart, and drummer Shelly Manne.
This vintage Asylum 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.
And the outstandingly good sound? Credit Bones Howe, a man who knows Tubey Magic like practically no one else in the world. The Association, The Mamas and the Papas, The Fifth Dimension, and quite a few Tom Waits albums — all their brilliant recordings are the result of Bones Howe’s estimable talents as producer and engineer.
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 such as these 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 1977
- 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.
What We Listen For on Foreign Affairs
- 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 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.
I Never Talk To Strangers
Medley: Jack & Neal / California, Here I Come
A Sight For Sore Eyes
Tom Waits’ fifth album for Asylum foreshadowed changes that would alter his career over the next six years. It signals a musical restlessness that fueled his next two records (Blue Valentine and Heartattack and Vine), and resulted in his writing a film score and leaving the label for Island, where he was given greater artistic control. He leans less on comic relief here and more on fully formed story songs. The album contains more ballads than most of his records do, but they were the most effective vehicles for the kind of storytelling he was trying to get to.
Produced and engineered by Bones Howe, Foreign Affairs was recorded live in studio by a quintet that included West Coast jazzmen Jack Sheldon on trumpet, saxophonist Frank Vicari, bassist Jim Hughart, and drummer Shelly Manne. Further accompaniment was provided by an orchestra arranged and conducted by Bob Alcivar.
Foreign Affairs is one of the most unjustifiably overlooked titles in Waits’ catalog. It holds its appeal — and sounds less dated — than many of his more popular entries.