Author: humorem

Genesis – Foxtrot – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

More Genesis

More Foxtrot

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

After struggling with this album for YEARS, Foxtrot Hot Stamper are back! It is INSANELY difficult to find good sound for this album. We’ve laid out hundreds of bucks on clear Brit originals over the years hoping to find that magical pressing, but could not manage to get the kind of sound we were hoping for. We the started bringing in every variety of pressing we could find and finally found a few copies that actually delivered. Here’s the best of them all — a White Hot Stamper with an A+++ side one, and A++ to A+++ side two and quiet vinyl. Genesis fans, the long wait is over — it’s time to hear this album sound right.  

This pressing has the best sound we’ve heard for this album, bar none. Having said that, this is probably not going to be the first record you reach for when friends ask you to put something on so they can hear how good your system is sounding. This recording is all over the place — parts of it sound amazing but other parts are always a bit murky. In that respect it has much in common with all the Genesis recordings from the era. Finding one with presence and clarity in the midrange is no mean feat. Here’s one that we think fans of the band should have no trouble recognizing as superior to whatever they may have heard. Demo disc sound? Not exactly. Better than other pressings? Without a doubt.

Side one is livelier and more dynamic than the other copies we played — and it wasn’t even close. The sound is cleaner and clearer with more transparency and more presence. You get a big, solid bottom end and more tubey qualities than you do on the average copy. You’re going to have an incredibly tough time finding a side one that comes even close. A+++ all the way.

Side two earned an A++ to A+++ grade. The best sounding parts of the album are on this side, so even at a half-plus lower than side one you may get your biggest thrills here. The sound is rich, fill and lively. The vocals sound natural with nice texture and real immediacy. Most copies tend to be veiled on this side, but not this one — it’s clearer and more open than we heard elsewhere. It’s also big, bold, and dynamic, which are qualities that bring out the best in this music. Again, it will be very hard to find a side two nearly as good as this one.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Watcher of the Skies
Time Table 
Get’em Out by Friday
Can-Utility and the Coastliners

Side Two

Horizons 
Supper’s Ready 
i. Lover’s Leap 
ii. The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man 
iii. Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men 
iv. How Dare I Be So Beautiful 
v. Willow Farm 
vi. Apocalypse in 9/8 (Co-Starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet) 
vii. As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men’s Feet)

Words & Music

This is Genesis’ fourth album, their second for Charisma, and the second as a mature band. The tracks (I omit the word “songs” purposely) on Foxtrot seem more accessible, more defined, than on their last album, Nursery Cryme.

The opener, “Watcher In The Skies,” is a beautifully constructed sci-fi tale presented against glittering sheets of cascading sound, running in torrents like a burst dam, across the aural spectrum; it rolls and boils and flows like thick velvet of varying colors.

By contrast, “Time Table,” is simplicity itself — Tony Banks’ medieval piano behind Peter Gabriel’s voice spinning its web of wonder.

But it’s “Get ‘Em Out By Friday” that is the real gem of the album (even though Side Two holds a marvelous seven part suite). It is, in fact, an execution, a mini-opera with six characters represented. On the surface, the struggle concerns Styx Enterprises (represented by Mr. John Pebble and Mr. Mark Hall) who have just bought an apartment building, and Mrs. Barrow (a tenant) who’s threatened with eviction. But this is the year 2012, and Genetic Control has put a “four foot restriction on humanoid height.” And why, pray tell? Becuase G.C. had the foresight to buy up housing property and now can get double the number of tenants in each building. The track ends with the reading of a memo from Satin Peter of Rock Developments Ltd.: “With land in your hand you’ll be happy on earth/Then invest in the Church for your heaven.”

All this presented unceremoniously, unpretensiously and with the utmost professionalism. Throughout, there are acres of marvelous solos. But Genesis really transcends such banal and pedestrian inventions as categories.

This is, needless to say, an important album to listen to. Maybe you’ll dig it, maybe you won’t, but this is the kind of band (especially now) that we need to support. And the word is that they’re even better live. I’ve gotta see. And I will.

– Eric Van Lustbader, Words & Music, 1/73.

AMG Review

This was the point where all of the talent simmering and occasionally boiling up out of Genesis blew”… the lid off the pot. There isn’t a weak song here, and the two showpieces, “Watcher of the Skies” and “Supper’s Ready,” presented the group at its strongest in medium-length and extended-length songs.

 

 

For Pete’s Sake, What’s Wrong With Blue? – Thoughts on “The Definitive Vinyl” Version

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In 2007 a customer took issue with our summary rejection of the new Blue.

Tom, 

I find it curious you are not carrying the new Joni Mitchell Blue vinyl issue. Even to the point of saying you can do better… for 25 bucks? After clicking on the LP cover and reading the comments from over the years it makes me wonder what your agenda really is. I paid $250 for a wonderful WLP and this Rhino issue smokes it, even as good as it is. I even have a Cd cut from this mastering session off the analog FLAT, not Dolby tapes and this vinyl even beats it…. of course just my opinion.

I have listened on $100,000 systems, all the way down to portable units, solid state and tube and there is no denying this is the definitive vinyl version….. and again for 25.00. What a bargain.

Maybe all you did was look at that Rhino sticker and think back to the Grateful Dead records they did a few years ago (horrible) and just assumed this wasn’t up to Better Records standards.

Thanks for reading. I enjoy your e mails and store….

Tom

Tom,

We don’t review records based on their labels or stickers. And of course we never assume anything about the sound of a record. We talk about this stuff all the time. Here’s a relevant quote:

My approach to reviewing records is pure skepticism: a record sounds good if it sounds good, regardless of how it was made, who made it, or why. I’ve heard lots of expensive so-called audiophile equipment do a pretty poor job of making music over the years, the owners of which had an armful of reasons for why the sound should be truly awe-inspiring. But it just wasn’t. Most fancy gold faceplates are nothing but lipstick on a pig in my opinion.

I heard Blue poorly reproduced at a friend’s house, and this is probably the best explanation for this letter writer’s inability to understand our position on Blue.

And paying $250 for a White Label Demo that apparently doesn’t sound good is the height of audiophile collector foolishness. That money should have gone for better equipment or room treatments or tweaks, something, anything, to make this guy’s stereo and room work better than they do.

Actually this brings up a good point. If I had to choose one record that separates the men from the boys, the stereos that really work from the phony, lifeless audiophile systems you might read about in the magazines or hear at an audio show, Blue would be a darn good choice.

The problem there is that you have to be one serious record collector to have a great copy of Blue. But good pressings are out there, if you can clean and play them properly. This is why we created the Blue Game. It can be done, and we can help you get there, but most of the work has to be done by you.

Naturally we are happy to do the shootouts for you and charge you the pretty penny the winners command, but for those of you who want to find out what’s wrong with the new Blue and don’t want to buy a Hot Stamper from us, there is a third way: Blue, The Game.

King Crimson – Red – Reviewed in 2009

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This is a Minty British Polydor red label import LP. These British imports are consistently superior to their domestic counterparts. We do not even bother to pick up domestic King Crimson albums anymore; the sub-generation tapes they are made from cause them to be smeary, veiled and compressed. If there are good ones out there we sure haven’t heard them.

As for this copy, both sides are tubey magical and sweet, again, qualities sorely lacking in domestic pressings. Both sides are however a bit recessed compared to the best we’ve played. Side two is especially dynamic though; the sound really jumps in places. (more…)

Sinead O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

This is widely considered one of the best albums of the ’90s, a brilliant and unique piece of work. I positively love this album. The emotion is every bit as naked and compelling as that found on Joni’s Blue, and I do not say that lightly. I know the power of Blue, and this album has that kind of power. This is some heavy heavy stuff. Hearing it sound right is a thrill I won’t soon forget.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Feel So Different
I Am Stretched on Your Grave

This track has some of the wildest instrumentation I’ve ever heard. The rhythm is provided by a looped sample of the beat from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, with Sinead’s reverb-laden vocals carrying the droning melody. At the apex of the track, some crazy-ass violins come in, making for a haunting celtic/hip-hop hybrid. I think there’s even some Persian in there. This one just knocks me out every time I hear it.

The average bad sounding pressing of side one just plain ruins this track. The sound will lack extension on the top and reek of blubbery bass. The hot copies have solid low end, lots of air around the vocals, and texture on the violins. The good copies let the song work its magic; the bad ones don’t. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Concerto for Violin & Orchestra / Oistrakh – Not Too Big to Fail

More Tchaikovsky

More Concerto for Violin & Orchestra / Oistrakh

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Side two of this copy from our 2016 shootout provides a clear example of the effect known as the “The Violin That Ate Cincinatti.”

Yes, it may be oversized, but it’s so REAL and IMMEDIATE and harmonically correct in every way that we felt more than justified in ignoring the fact that the instrument could never sound in the concert hall the way it does here — unless you were actually playing it (and even then I doubt if it would be precisely the same sound — big, but surely quite different) (more…)

Wes Montgomery – California Dreaming – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More Wes Montgomery

More California Dreaming

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This White Hot Stamper Shootout Winner has the REAL Wes Montgomery/ Creed Taylor/ Rudy Van Gelder MAGIC in its grooves. You will not believe how big, rich and full-bodied this pressing is on side one! Since this is one of Wes’s best albums, hearing this side one was a THRILL for us and will no doubt be as big a thrill for you too.   

Beware any and all imitations (even the one I like somewhat, the Cisco version). They barely BEGIN to convey the qualities of the real master tape the way this pressing does. This White Hot Stamper exhibits huge amounts of ambience and spaciousnesss, with far more energy and the kind of “see into the studio” quality that only the real thing ever seems to have. 

Wall to Wall

Note especially how so much musical information is coming from the far sides of the soundfield. The Cisco reissue makes a mockery of that wall to wall sound, sucking it into the middle and flattening it into a single plane. Ugh.

To be fair — and I always am — the Cisco did beat and will beat the pants off of practically any copy you run across. There is a very simple explanation for this: Verve is probably the most poorly mastered label in the history of the world. No other label produced so many wonderful sounding recordings that were turned into lousy sounding LPs — I could list them for days. We rarely even pick up most Verves, having been burned so many times we just can’t face another badly mastered noisy LP.

Side One

A+++ As Good As It Gets Sound! So natural, transparent and clear. Listen to all the space around the guitar! On the Cisco it just isn’t there.

This was the most musical side out of all the sides we played in our shootout.

Side Two

A+ to A++, pretty darn good, especially considering how mediocre most pressings are. A bit flat with some smear compared to side one, but lively and musical, still recommended.

Listen to the horns on the first track of side two. They’re the best sounding instrument on the whole track!

Verve Problems

Even though we have a bad case of Verve fatigue here at Better Records, this album is so special that we took a chance on an open copy at a local store recently, and I’m sure glad we did. It is KILLER. Everything that’s good about this era of RVG, Wes and those glorious Don Sebesky arrangements is here. For my part let me just say that this is the best sounding Wes Montgomery record I have ever played.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

California Dreamin’ 
Sun Down 
Oh You Crazy Moon
More, More Amor 
Without You

Side Two

Winds of Barcelona 
Sunny 
Green Peppers 
Mr. Walker 
South of the Border

CD Universe Review

As Wes Montgomery sailed into ever-poppier waters towards the end of his career, two things remained constant: he kept writing and including original tunes on his albums, and he kept playing and including the blues in one shade or another. Thus, on CALIFORNIA DREAMING, another big band-orchestrated Verve album, we get “Sun Down,” a six-minute original blues, cut for the most part with just the first-call rhythm section of Herbie Hancock, Richard Davis, Grady Tate and Ray Baretto. The other original, “Mr. Walker,” is just as cooking, and dates from Montgomery’s second Riverside album, the aptly titled INCREDIBLE JAZZ GUITAR OF WES MONTGOMERY.

CALIFORNIA DREAMING, unlike BUMPIN’, emphasizes groove tunes over ballads, and keeps the pop challenges to a minimum. It’s not the relentless cooking of SMOKIN’ AT THE HALF NOTE, or the aforementioned INCREDIBLE JAZZ GUITAR, but it’s solid Montgomery nonetheless.

Recorded at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, New Jeresy on Sepetmber 14-16, 1966.

Personnel includes: Wes Montgomery (guitar); Don Sebesky (arranger, conductor); Jack Jennings (vibraphone, percussion); Herbie Hancock (piano); Al Casamenti, Buck Pizzarelli (guitar); Richard Davis (bass); Grady Tate (drums); Ray Baretto (percussion).

Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus

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  • KILLER sound for this Prestige Gold Label Mono pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it
  • This one has been a long time coming but boy was it worth the wait — full-bodied, Tubey Magical and super dynamic with tight note-like bass, this is by far the best copy we have ever played  
  • About as quiet a vintage copy as we are ever likely to find – this pressing plays Mint Minus Minus, which in our experience is practically a miracle
  • 5 Stars: “Sonny Rollins recorded many memorable sessions during 1954-1958, but Saxophone Colossus is arguably his finest all-around set… Essential music”

(more…)

Sonny Rollins – Taking Care of Business – Reviewed in 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This is a Prestige Demo Two-Fer Double LP.

Big, full-bodied, MONO jazz sound at its BEST. This is what classic ’50s jazz is supposed to sound like! These transfers from 1978 by David Turner are in tune with the sound of these recordings. There’s not a trace of phony EQ on this entire record, and the vinyl plays nice and quiet.

This Two-Fer includes all of Tenor Madness and most of Work Time and Tour De Force. Top jazz players such as Ray Bryant, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Kenny Drew, Max Roach and Paul Chambers can be heard on the album.

Brahms / Violin Concerto – Milstein / Steinberg

More of the music of Johannes Brahms  

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

Another nice Milstein record with exquisite violin tone. Of course the performance is magical. The massed strings are lovely here. Lots of hall, big spacious sound, and of course a violin to die for.

(This is not the correct cover for the original pressing we were reviewing.)

Art Pepper – At The Village Vanguard Vol. 4 – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

More Art Pepper

At The Village Vanguard Vol. 4

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Minty Contemporary Demo LP has WONDERFUL SOUND AND MUSIC! The highlight of this pressing is the well-defined DEEP bass — all the intricacies really come to life. The sound is rich and sweet! And holy crap, that piano sounds really nice. On More for Les, Pepper switches from sax to clarinet and the result is a wonderful, bluesy track that is completely original. The clarinet sounds like it is in the room with you. 

If I had to find a fault with this album, the sax can be a bit honky. The top end has its problems, but there are elements, like that piano, that REALLY COOK!

Overall, I’d say this is one of the better sounding live jazz albums you could hope to find from the late ’70s.

This album features the great Elvin Jones on drums, plus Geoge Cables on piano and George Mraz on bass.