This commentary about a very special 2-pack was written close to ten years ago. We think it’s every bit as true today as it was then.
The long and the short of it is simply this Axiom of Record Collecting:
There are no easy answers and there are no quick fixes.
Once you realize that, you will then be free to build a truly wonderful sounding record collection and stereo system.
Our commentary begins:
It took two records to make this White Hot Stamper 2-pack, with INCREDIBLE A+++ SOUND FROM START TO FINISH. The result? One of the best sounding, if not THE best sounding copy to ever hit the site. If you’re a Joni fan this is one of her strongest records, and one that definitely belongs in your collection. If you own any other pressing we’re confident that this copy will positively blow your mind.
These two sides have the kind of sound quality you probably never imagined would be possible — but it is! We played it, we heard it for ourselves, and now we offer it to you, the Joni Mitchell (nee Roberta Joan Anderson) fans of the world.
I’ve been trying to get this album to sound good for more years than I care to remember. If you own a copy you know what I’m talking about — the sound is typically drenched in echo, with Joni sounding like she’s standing at the back of a cave. Harmonically-challenged acoustic guitars. Vocals with no breathy texture (much like practically all the heavy vinyl reissues we’ve suffered through over the course of the last decade or two).
In its own way, it’s every bit the challenge that Blue is, just reversed. Blue tends to be bright, shrill, thin and harsh.
Song to a Seagull is usually dark, veiled, smeary and dull.
What’s an audiophile to do?
Simple. Commit the resources. Find more copies of the record, clean them and play them. Upgrade your system with some of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio that have come along in the last ten years. The recording may have its faults — you’ll get no argument from us about that, we just finished playing a big pile of copies so we are intimately aware of just how problematical the recording can be — but what holds it back from sounding musical, and in its own way, magical, is often the reproduction part of the equation.
We couldn’t get the album to sound right for ten years. Now we can. Something changed, and it wasn’t us simply lowering our standards. The magic in the grooves of the best copies has to have been there all along. It was up to us to figure out how to get the muck out of the vinyl with better cleaning technologies, then get the stereo to unlock and reveal the wonderful music in those nearly forty-year-old grooves.
And we did. The result is an album whose best copies are warm, sweet and rich, with breathy full-bodied vocals, clear guitar transients and a solid-sounding piano. These, as well as the other instruments captured in these grooves, are beautifully arrayed on a three-dimensional, wide and deep soundstage.
Not Exactly in the Room with You
Joni will never sound like she’s in the room with you the way she can on Blue or For the Roses (both Top 100). David Crosby’s production either didn’t want her there or know how to put her there. (You’ll have to take that up with him.)
Be that as it may, on the best copies she can have lovely presence to her vocals, accompanied by her harmonically-rich acoustic guitar. The intimacy and emotion of these songs, when played on the hotter Hot Stamper copies, is communicated beautifully. This is late night listening at its best, especially on side one.
Transparency Is Key
Only the most transparent pressings let you appreciate all the nuances of her performance, and you had better have a top quality front end to resolve subtle information of that kind. Clarity is key here, not the sound of tubes. There’s already plenty of Tubey Magic in the studio; we don’t need to bring more to the party. Only the best phono stages, carts, arms and tables can bring light to that lone figure standing at the back of the studio in the shadows.
Side One – Record One
A+++. Super clean, clear and open with great presence, super breathy vocals and a wonderfully extended top end.
Side Two – Record Two
A+++. This side is rich, full and dynamic with breathy vocals, excellent presence and tons of space around all of the instruments.
Why We Do It
All this work and trouble only makes sense if the music is good. I loved this album from the minute I first heard it; all of side one is magical in a way that no other Joni album is. Is it the particular guitar tunings she was using? The minor key melodies? Whatever she did, however she did it, the result is an absolutely SUBLIME folk album, as unique in its own way as Leonard Cohen’s first album is.
A Special Charm
I put this one right up with her best (the ones we’ve done Hot Stamper shootouts for, of course), and on any given day I would rather play side one of this album than practically any of the others. As good as those others are, this one has a special charm I can find on no other record, by Joni or anyone else.