- An early Reprise pressing of Cooder’s 1976 release boasting incredible Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
- Both of these sides are super transparent, lively and tonally correct from top to bottom with lots of deep, well-defined bass and exceptionally present and breathy vocals
- The stringed instruments all sound natural, correct, and wonderful, with the accordion sounding particularly good here — you can really hear the instrument moving some air
- 4 stars: “Chicken Skin Music is probably Ry Cooder’s most eccentric record since his first, but it’s also one of his most entertaining.”
These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top-quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” meaning relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.
From the moment the needle hit the groove, we were blown away by the huge soundfield and the in-the-room presence of all the musicians. Here was the massive amount of energy that had us believing that Ry and his crew were right there with us, playing their hearts out.
For me, this clearly one of Cooder’s two or three best LPs. The two cuts with Hawaiian great Gabby Pahinui are superb! What kind of cold-hearted person couldn’t love this music?
Much like the better copies of Jazz, this pressing really conveys the live-in-the-studio performance qualities of the music. This is a tight ensemble working at the top of their game, no surprise there; Ry surrounds himself with nothing but the best.
Absolutely crucial to this album is the sound of the various stringed instruments. Over the course of the two sides you’ll be treated to many different styles of guitar — electric, slack-key, Hawaiian, bottleneck, steel, and acoustic — plus mandolin, mandola, tiple, and more. You’ll need an open and spacious copy with superb transparency and clarity to fully appreciate the lovely and unusual sounds of these instruments.
Using an ensemble of seriously talented musicians, as well as studio engineers who really understand how to capture these instruments, Cooder again succeeds in giving the audiophile public a full course spread of lovely and uncommon sounds.
This vintage Reprise 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 Chicken Skin Music 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 1976
- 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.
One of the top guys at Warners, Lee Herschberg recorded and mixed this album (with the help of three other engineers), as well as a number of others by Ry Cooder. You’ll also find his name on many of the best Doobie Brothers, Gordon Lightfoot and Frank Sinatra album credits, albums we know to have potentially excellent sound, not to mention an album most audiophiles know all too well, Rickie Lee Jones’ debut.
What We’re Listening For On Chicken Skin Music
- 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 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.
The Bourgeois Blues
I Got Mine
Always Lift Him Up/Kanaka Wai Wai
He’ll Have to Go
Smack Dab in the Middle
Stand By Me
If Cooder’s approach to the music is stylistically diverse, his choice of material certainly follows suit. Bookended by a couple of Leadbelly compositions, Chicken Skin Music sports a collection of songs ranging from the aforementioned tracks to the charming old minstrel/medicine show number “I Got Mine” and the syncopated R&B of “Smack Dab in the Middle.” Also included is Appalachian songwriter Blind Alfred Reed’s “Always Lift Him Up,” complete with a Hawaiian gospel tune, “Kanaka Wai Wai,” woven into the instrumental section.
As he explains in the album’s liner notes, Cooder understands the connection between these seemingly disparate styles. This is not merely eclecticism for its own sake. Chicken Skin Music is probably Ry Cooder’s most eccentric record since his first, but it’s also one of his most entertaining.