More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums
Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists
- This vintage Contemporary pressing is close to the best we have ever heard, with stunning Nearly Master Tape sound from start to finish, just shy of our Shootout Winner – fairly quiet vinyl too
- Both of these sides are amazingly Tubey Magical, yet incredibly clean and clear — something you can’t get from the tube-mastered originals
- Helen’s voice is PERFECTION — breathy, full, and sweet; and the orchestra sounds JUST RIGHT — just listen to the nice bite of the brass
- 5 stars: “One of the high points of Helen Humes’ career, this Contemporary set features superior songs, superb backup, and very suitable and swinging arrangements by Marty Paich. Humes’ versions of ‘If I Could Be With You,’ ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy,’ and ‘Million Dollar Secret,’ in particular, are definitive… This classic release is essential and shows just how appealing a singer Helen Humes could be.”
This vintage Contemporary 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 Songs I Like To Sing! 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 1961
- 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.
Later Pressings Have The Real Sound
We prefer later pressings of this album to the Black Label originals, which sound tube mastered and have a bit of echo added to them. The later pressings offer superior clarity and resolution. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than the other, but this seems to be the more accurate reproduction of what happened in the recording session, and I know this is the one I would rather listen to.
Without a doubt it’s one of my all time favorite jazz albums. The amazing Marty Paich (Art Pepper Plus Eleven) did the arrangements for this group of top musicians, which includes Art Pepper, Ben Webster, Barney Kessel, Shelly Manne, Jack Sheldon and Leroy Vinnegar, just to name the ones whose work I know well. Does it get any better?
What We’re Listening For On Songs I Like To Sing!
- 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 note-like 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.
My Favorite Big Band Vocal Album Ever
This is my favorite Big Band Vocal album ever. It belongs in any serious record collection.
After years of playing and enjoying various pressings of this album, I made quite a fortuitous discovery recently — the OJC pressing of this record was never remastered by the OJC people (Phil De Lancie, ugh!), but instead was a real Contemporary label mastering job.
That explains why the OJC of this record sounds so good.
Or does it? Not really! We have other copies with the same stampers that are not nearly as good sounding. You’ve got to have good mastering and you’ve got to have good pressing, and the only way to know whether you have both is to play the record. It’s what Hot Stampers are all about.
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.
A Word About OJC Pressings
OJC versions of Contemporary Records albums can be excellent. Those tend to be the ones we say nice things about. But most of the time the pressings that were mastered and put out by Contemporary in the mid ’70s on the yellow label (until they were bought by Fantasy) are superior. Again, you have to play them to know which are which.
We are also big fans of the OJCs that come with the long strips on the cover. They tend to be mastered pre-Phil De Lancie (maybe by George Horn, one of our favorite mastering engineers), and usually sound much better than the pressings that followed. There is a link for them on the left.
My understanding is that Bernie Grundman was cutting a lot of records for Contemporary in those days. If that’s true he was doing a great job because those are some wonderful sounding records.
I also recommend the CD, which has a bonus track, an alternate take which is even more dynamic than the version that’s on the album.
If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)
Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me
This is where this album starts to cook. This brass gets going, preparing themselves for the next track where they really let loose.
Mean to Me
This is my favorite track on the album, the real demo disc quality track. Roy DuNann was able to get all his brass players together in one room, sounding right as a group and as individual voices. The piano, bass, and drums accompaning them are perfectly woven into the fabric of the arrangement. What makes this song so good is when the brass really starts blowing good and loud. This is a big speaker record, no doubt about it. With the right equipment and the right room you can get the kind of sound that is so powerful you would swear it’s live.
This is also an excellent test track. Helen was recorded in a booth for this album, and her voice is slightly veiled relative to the other musicians playing in the much larger room they needed. When you get the brass correct, the trick is to get her voice to become as transparent and palpable as possible without screwing up the tonality of the brass instruments.
The natural inclination is to brighten the sound up to make her voice more clear. But you will be made painfully aware that brighter is not better when the brass tears your head off. So the balance between voice and brass is key to the proper reproduction of this album.
Once you have achieved that balance, tweak for transparency while guarding against too much upper midrange or top.
Every Now and Then
I Want a Roof over My Head
St. Louis Blues
You’re Driving Me Crazy
My Old Flame
Million Dollar Secret
Love Me or Leave Me
Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone
AMG 5 Star Rave Review
One of the high points of Helen Humes’ career, this Contemporary set (reissued on CD) features superior songs, superb backup, and very suitable and swinging arrangements by Marty Paich. Humes’ versions of “If I Could Be With You,” “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” and “Million Dollar Secret,” in particular, are definitive… This classic release is essential and shows just how appealing a singer Helen Humes could be.