Advice – What to Listen For – Smear

Fleetwood Mac – Mystery To Me – Whomp Factor on “Why”

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album.

That bass drum tells you a lot about your deep bass reproduction, but we prize a little something called whomp here at Better Records every bit as much. It’s the WEIGHT and POWER you sense happening down below that translates into whomp factor. (This is the frequency area that screens and small dynamic drivers have the most trouble with. You need to be able to move lots of air under, say, 200 cycles to give the music a sense of real power down below. Few systems I’ve run into over the last thirty years can really pull it off.) 

That bass drum tells you a lot about your deep bass reproduction, but we prize a little something called whomp here at Better Records every bit as much. It’s the WEIGHT and POWER you sense happening down below that translates into whomp factor.

“Why”

Speaking of the song “Why,” I have to confess that it’s my favorite Fleetwood Mac song of all time. Considering how many great songs this band has recorded over the last thirty plus years, that’s really saying something. (“Need Your Love So Bad” off Pious Bird is right up there with it.) (more…)

Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain – Our Shootout Winner in 2016

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

The first White Hot copy to hit the site in nearly EIGHT years! Both sides were stunning, knocking us out and earning our top Triple Plus (A+++) grade.

When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the sound is truly MAGICAL. (AMG has that dead right in their review.) Tons of ambience, tubey magic all over the place; let’s face it, this is one of those famous Columbia recordings that shows just how good the Columbia engineers were back then. The sound is lively but never strained. Davis’s horn has breath and bite just like the real thing. What more can you ask for?

Harry Pearson added this record to his TAS List of Super Discs a few years back, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording?

Of course you can be quite sure that he would have been listening exclusively to the earliest pressings on the Six Eye label. Which simply means that he probably never heard a copy with the clarity, transparency and freedom from distortion that these later label pressings offer.

The Six Eyes are full of Tubey Magic, don’t get me wrong; Davis’s trumpet can be and usually is wonderful sounding. It’s everything else that tends to suffer, especially the strings, which are shrill and smeary on most copies: Six Eyes, 360s and Red Labels included. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Goin’ Up – Reviewed in 2011

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

Good sound and some straight ahead Blue Note jazz. The second track on side one, ’The Changing Scene,’ is a wonderful ballad reminiscent of ’Round Midnight. It’s the best material on the album in my opinion. 

AMG Review

For his second recording as a leader, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard (22-years-old at the time) performs two compositions apiece by Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley, the obscure “I Wished I Knew” and his own “Blues for Brenda.”

Hubbard (featured in a quintet with tenor-saxophonist Mobley, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones) takes quite a few outstanding solos, playing lyrically on the ballads and building his own sound out of the Clifford Brown/Lee Morgan tradition. Goin’ Up is an excellent set of advanced hard bop…

Freddie Hubbard – First Light (2011)

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

This Super Hot Stamper original CTI pressing has a truly SUPERB side two that just put to shame most of what we played. Smeary blurred trumpet blasts? Not here. Nope, the transient bite and energy of the trumpet is as REAL as it gets. 

Hubbard was a master of funky jazz, and this pressing was one of the few in our shootout with the kind of high quality mastering that can do justice to his uniquely energetic, lightning fast jazz style.

This is more of a mainstream jazz record than Red Clay or Straight Life. It features an outstanding lineup including Ron Carter on bass, George Benson on guitar, Airto on percussion, and Jack DeJohnette on the drums. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Mystery To Me – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

Here it is, folks — the best sounding copy of Mystery To Me to ever hit our site. This copy positively DOES IT ALL — it’s super open and spacious with tons of energy and incredible presence. The bottom end is just KILLER and there’s dramatically more richness and fullness than you get on most copies out there. 

It’s beyond difficult to find great sounding copies of this album, which is why it’s been about four years since we last had these on the site.

Mystery To Me is my All Time Favorite Fleetwood Mac album, and this White Hot Stamper copy has the sound that I always DREAMED this album could have, but didn’t — until now. This is just the second Hot Stamper shootout that we’ve been able to do, since clean copies with the right stampers are ridiculously hard to come by. I’m not kidding. I have spent the last ten years and more trying to find the right stampers for this record. I can tell you I was dead wrong so many times in the past that I had almost given up. Time and time again, just when I thought I had it figured out, I would go back and play my so-called “hot” copy, to find myself miserably disappointed all over again. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard – Sky Dive – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album. 

Smear is by far the most common problem with the copies we played. When the transient bite of the trumpet is correctly reproduced, maintaining its full-bodied tone and harmonic structures, you know you have a very special copy of Sky Dive (or First Light or Red Clay, etc., etc.). When the sound is blurry, thick, veiled, dull or slow, you have what might be considered something more like the average copy.

Rudy gets one hell of a lively trumpet sound in this period of his career. If you have a good pressing of one of his early ’70s jazz recordings the sound can be positively EXPLOSIVE, with what feels like all the size and power of live music. (more…)

Esquivel and Other Vintage Recordings – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your vintage ’50s and ’60s All Tube recordings.

Folks, I can tell you right now most original LSP pressings, of this or any other Living Stereo Popular title, do not begin to recreate the Studio Wizardry found on this album. The sound rivals the best Chet Atkins albums and Bob and Rays in all their delicious three-dimensional Cinerama staging.  (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Black and Blue – Listen to Billy Preston’s Piano

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.  

Billy Preston is all over this album on piano and organ and his contribution is crucial to the musical vibe on practically every song. Listen for Billy’s full, solid, clear piano sound. When the piano is thin, the mix is thin and that’s not the sound you want on a Stones album.

If the piano gets lost, your copy either has a smear problem or a transparency problem. Those are certainly easier to live with — all the ’70s systems I owned were smeary and opaque compared to my system today and I enjoyed the hell out of all of them — but far from ideal.

Excerpts from the Rolling Stone Review

By Dave Marsh – April 23, 1976 Although the Rolling Stones now sing about their children and families as often as their stupid girlfriends, we still try to retain our old image of them, under our thumbs and out of our heads. Musically, the Stones aren’t the same band anymore, either, although the continued use of the same rudiments — the drumming, the ceaseless riffing, the vocal posturing — might make it seem otherwise at a hasty glance. But the band that made Black and Blue isn’t the same one that made 12 x 5 or even Aftermath. But that doesn’t mean today’s Stones are not a great band playing great music. They’re a different sort of band, playing a different kind of music.

There is plenty of good stuff left, although all of it is marred by the need for fuller, firmer instrumentation. “Hand of Fate,” which isn’t as melodic as the Stones riff usually is, is brought to life by a blistering Wayne Perkins guitar solo and Jagger’s incredibly live vocal.

“Crazy Mama,” the wild little rocker that closes the set, is hot stuff. It sounds as out of control as the Faces, although Wood doesn’t play on it. (He’s “in the band,” but he only plays on two songs.) The lyrics are marvelous: “‘Cause if you really think you can push it/I’m gonna bust your knees with a bullet.” Those two are the only hard rockers on the album, and the only time Jagger pulls the standard macho-demonic act, too. The former is perplexing news, but the latter may be regarded by one and all as a good omen.

Jagger’s new role is as a professional singer, and he’s great at it. “Melody” ought to be a tentative experiment with Billy Preston’s jazzy keyboard sound. Instead, it’s a triumph, Jagger’s voice swooping and snaking around Preston’s piano and harmonies. If Black and Blue leaves us nothing else, it is the knowledge that Jagger has become a total pro in a way that, of rock’s great white vocalists, only Rod Stewart and Van Morrison can match. This, with the album’s two ballads, “Fool to Cry” and “Memory Motel,” is material he can sing with pride until he’s 50.

“Fool to Cry” harks all the way back to the confessional style of one of Mick’s original influences, Solomon Burke. He talks and cries through the number, riding against the waves of Nicky Hopkins’s string synthesizer. Stalked by the same lonely terror that haunts so many recent Stones numbers, Jagger is consoled and sometimes berated by his daughter, his woman, his best friends. He opens with a neat, oblique comment on his own parenthood, another sign of his maturity. But what is finally striking about the song is that Mick Jagger is now living up to his inspirations. He tried to match Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye for power in his younger days, and failed brilliantly. Older and wiser, he proves their equal as a singer of ballads.

For “Memory Motel,” a sort of return to “Moonlight Mile,” the stops are all pulled out. Once more, Watts propels the tune with his drumming. The story begins when Mick meets a girl before last summer’s tour. (The real memory motel is near the house in Montauk, Long Island, where the band rehearsed.) But it soon becomes entangled with his recollections of the tour.

The singing is nothing less than spectacular. Jagger is powerful in his yearning, almost a supplicant. But the real revelation (as always) is Keith Richard, who sneaks in some really touching lines:

Mighty fine, she’s one of a kind
She got a mind of her own
She’s one of a kind
And she use it well

This is a perfect description of Keith Richard on last summer’s tour, racing forward to sing “Happy” and running the show with more poise than he’s ever been given credit for.

But “Memory Motel” is more than just a vignette or two. In the end, it becomes the perfect agony-of-the-road song, for it dwells not just on the difficulties of touring, but also on the ultimate joys: As Watts moves in like a locomotive, pushing the song upward, Jagger explains in one brief flash what it’s worth to him, what keeps him coming back for more: “What’s all this laughter on the 22nd floor?/It’s just some friends of mine/And they’re bustin’ down the door!” There’s no way to capture the exhilaration he expresses as his pals roust him from his reverie, lifting him away from his cares. For that one moment, at least, Jagger feels his music as deeply as he ever has.

I remember often these days how long it has been since rock was essentially a fad. Yet we still treat it cavalierly, dismissing careers on the basis of a single disliked album. We are often cruelest, too, to those who have given us most, seeing only the short term, and forgetting that we deal with careers now, not just one-shot hits. Black and Blue may not be the invincible Rolling Stones of our dreams, but that is also a virtue in its way.

Black and Blue leaves me remembering the first important lesson I learned from the Stones: “Empty heart is like an empty life.” This may not be the same band which told us that, but those sullen teenagers would recognize this one, and be proud.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Hot Stuff 
Hand of Fate 
Cherry Oh Baby 
Memory Motel

Side Two

Hey Negrita 
Melody 
Fool to Cry 
Crazy Mama

AMG Review

The Rolling Stones recorded Black and Blue while auditioning Mick Taylor’s replacement, so it’s unfair to criticize it, really, for being longer on grooves and jams than songs, especially since that’s what’s good about it. Yes, the two songs that are undeniable highlights are “Memory Motel” and “Fool to Cry,” the album’s two ballads and, therefore, the two that had to be written and arranged, not knocked out in the studio; they’re also the ones that don’t quite make as much sense, though they still work in the context of the record. No, this is all about groove and sound, as the Stones work Ron Wood into their fabric. And the remarkable thing is, apart from “Hand of Fate” and “Crazy Mama,” there’s little straight-ahead rock & roll here. They play with reggae extensively, funk and disco less so, making both sound like integral parts of the Stones’ lifeblood.

 

Gaite Parisienne with Fiedler – More Smeary Dreck from Classic Records

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Sonic Grade: F

Another Classic Records LP found wanting. 

The last time I played the Classic I thought it was a smeary mess, as awful as their awful Scheherazade (both shamefully on the TAS List as I recall). If I were to play it today I’m guessing it would join the other Classic Records entries in our Hall of Shame. 

 I love Fiedler’s performance and the 1954 two track RCA Living Stereo sound but finding an original Shaded Dog pressing in clean condition under $500 with the right stampers (something above 10 as a rule) is all but impossible nowadays.

If you want to go that way more power to you. 

This 1954 2-track recording is RCA’s first stereo recording of the work. 1954. Can you believe it? Two mics and two channels and it blows away 99% of all the classical recordings ever done! Some old record collectors and tube lovers say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be. This record proves it.

Freddie Hubbard – The Body and Soul of Freddie Hubbard

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The Body and Soul of Freddie Hubbard

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

The bluesy version of Willow Weep For Me on side one is WONDERFUL. The rich, full-bodied sax sound is Right On The Money. The overall sound is totally transparent with superb clarity. Scrapple From The Apple (also on side one) has a silky top end anchored with deep, well-defined bass.

We had good success with both ’60s originals and later copies pressed in the ’70s. (more…)