Listening in Depth to Tarkio

More of the Music of Brewer and Shipley

Reviews and Commentaries for Brewer and Shipley

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

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.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

One Toke Over the Line

This track is almost always ever so slightly too bright on even the best copies. How many records do we know that have the projected hit single EQ’d a little brighter (or a lot brighter) than the rest of the album? Sergio Mendes’ first album and Mona Bone Jakon spring immediately to mind and I’m sure if I thought about it for a while I could think of many more. It’s a common practice and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

But what this slightly bright track helps the listener to notice is whether there is grain to those brighter highs. The Hot Stamper copies will still be sweet and clear even though they are a little tipped up on the top. The typical copy, pressed on the typically bad vinyl Buddah records is infamous for, will be edgy and aggressive when the vocals get loud.

Song From Platte River
The Light
Ruby On the Morning
Oh Mommy

Side Two

Don’t Want To Die In Georgia

My favorite track by the boys. So good!

Can’t Go Home
Tarkio Road
Seems Like A Long Time

This track is often noisy. The intro is quiet and the Buddah vinyl has a nasty habit of shining through. Once the song gets going, the surfaces should not be much of a problem, assuming you have a quiet cartridge and top quality, properly set up front end.

Fifty States Of Freedom

Sonic Elements

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.

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.

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 simply 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 best sounding rock recordings we have ever played, If Only I Could Remember My Name.

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