Five Star Albums

The Band – Music From Big Pink

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  • Two strong Double Plus (A++) sides AND quiet vinyl make this a consistently impressive copy of this all-time classic album
  • Forget all those lifeless, ambience-free, vague sounding Heavy Vinyl pressings – THIS is the sound of the album
  • It’s big, punchy and dynamic, and resolves all the intricacies of the recording that make it so interesting to us audiophiles
  • 5 stars on Allmusic: “Over time, Music from Big Pink came to be regarded as a watershed work in the history of rock, one that introduced new tones and approaches to the constantly evolving genre.”

We guarantee you have never heard Music from Big Pink sound remotely as good as it does on this very copy. (more…)

Marshall Crenshaw’s Debut

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  • A killer copy of Marshall Crenshaw’s debut, earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides
  • Balanced, musical and full throughout – this pressing is a big step up from many of the other originals that we played
  • 5 Stars in Allmusic and a classic of “catchy, relatively unadorned guitar rock.”
  • “The album is an alternately rousing and heartbreaking cycle of infectious pop rockers (“Cynical Girl,” “Rockin’ Around in N.Y.C.,” “She Can’t Dance”) and ballads (“Mary Anne,” “Not for Me”) — none of them clocking in at more than 3:07.”

These songs may seem simple on the surface, but they are heartfelt and catchy, the essence of great popular music. If you like Buddy Holly (and who doesn’t like Buddy Holly?), or any of the people that have been influenced by him to make straight ahead rock and roll, you should find much to like here.

Marshall credits Rockpile and Squeeze as influences on this album. Since I like both those bands, especially Squeeze, this music is right up my alley.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Less grit – smoother and sweeter sound, something that is not easy to come by on the man’s debut.

A bigger presentation – more size, more space, more room for all the instruments and voices to occupy. The bigger the speakers you have to play this record the better.

More bass and tighter bass. This is fundamentally a pure rock record. It needs weight down low to rock the way the engineers wanted it to. (more…)

John Coltrane – Giant Steps on Real Atlantic Vinyl

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

As you might expect, the original Blue and Green label pressings have — potentially — superb sound on Giant Steps, but somewhat surprisingly — assuming you’ve heard a White Hot original copy — the Red and Green label pressings can sound every bit as good.

The Tubey Magical richness and warmth carried over into the ’70s, at least on some copies of this title, and we’re very glad they did, as finding clean original Coltrane albums from the early ’60s is not so easy these days.

If you know anything about this music you know that Coltrane builds up a head of steam on practically every track on the album. He is blasting away here and it is a thrill to be sure. The soundfield opens up naturally, with real depth.

The clarity does not come at the expense of brightness or thinness of any kind. In fact, just the opposite is the case, the sound is so rich and tubey you will be practically bowled over by it.

The extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum is one of the qualities that often sets the better copies apart from the pack. All the top end and the deep bottom end weight and fullness that are so essential to the sound are simply not to be found on most pressings — but here they are.

Superb Engineering

The engineering duties were handled by Phil Iehle, a man who went on to record a few of Coltrane’s most iconic albums for Atlantic (My Favorite Things, Coltrane Jazz) and the venerable Tom Dowd, who also did Coltrane Jazz in 1961, Coltrane’s Sound in 1964 and many others.

Phil Iehle also helped engineer Buffalo Springfield’s Last Time Around, as well as albums by Mose Allison, Jerry Jeff Walker, Charles Mingus, the MJQ, Herbie Mann, Eddie Harris, Hank Crawford and dozens of others. Staff engineer at Atlantic? That’s my guess. But a supremely talented one nonetheless.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Giant Steps 
Cousin Mary 
Countdown 
Spiral

Side Two

Syeeda’s Song Flute 
Naima 
Mr. P.C

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Giant Steps bore the double-edged sword of furthering the cause of the music as well as delivering it to an increasingly mainstream audience. Although this was John Coltrane’s debut for Atlantic, he was concurrently performing and recording with Miles Davis… He was, in essence, beginning to rewrite the jazz canon with material that would be centered on solos — the 180-degree antithesis of the art form up to that point. These arrangements would create a place for the solo to become infinitely more compelling. This would culminate in a frenetic performance style that noted jazz journalist Ira Gitler accurately dubbed “sheets of sound.” Coltrane’s polytonal torrents extricate the amicable and otherwise cordial solos that had begun decaying the very exigency of the genre — turning it into the equivalent of easy listening.

Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

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  • With stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and Double Plus (A++) on the second, this copy will be tough to beat!
  • Tired of the crude, congested, hard, harsh and otherwise unpleasant sound of most pressings? We have the answer
  • Stand, I Want To Take You Higher, Sing A Simple Song, Everyday People, You Can Make It If You Try — what a killer lineup of songs!
  • 5 stars: “Stand! is the pinnacle of Sly & the Family Stone’s early work, a record that represents a culmination of the group’s musical vision and accomplishment.”

Good News

Finally, a White Hot copy of Sly’s classic Stand album from 1969, one of the few times that this album has EVER sounded the way it is supposed to! Man, most copies of this album just plain suck — sonically of course.

Both sides here have lively punchy drums; a big soundfield, front to back and side to side; tonally correct vocals (which obviously are key and sound edgy and thin on most copies), and real resolution to the sound overall, not opaque and blurry as would be expected from most greatest hits compilations. Also just as importantly you lose the sibilance most copies suffer from and the smear on the horns goes away, thank goodness.

Finding clean copies was quite difficult; it took us a long time to get enough to play, and, as we said, most pressings are dreadful. Those of you who like to read our commentaries and play along at home are going to have a rough time with this title. We sure did, until we got it figured out. Now it’s easy as pie.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Stand! 
Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey 
I Want To Take You Higher 
Somebody’s Watching You 
Sing A Simple Song

Side Two

Everyday People 
Sex Machine 
You Can Make It If You Try

AMG 5 Star Review

Stand! is the pinnacle of Sly & the Family Stone’s early work, a record that represents a culmination of the group’s musical vision and accomplishment. Life hinted at this record’s boundless enthusiasm and blurred stylistic boundaries, yet everything simply gels here, resulting in no separation between the astounding funk, effervescent irresistible melodies, psychedelicized guitars, and deep rhythms. Add to this a sharpened sense of pop songcraft, elastic band interplay, and a flowering of Sly’s social consciousness, and the result is utterly stunning.

Dave Brubeck – Time Out

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  • An exceptional pressing – Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) on side one, an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two, big and open, with note-like bass and huge amounts of studio space
  • Original Six Eye stereo LPs in playable condition are getting tough to find nowadays – even this one has issues
  • 5 stars on Allmusic, an audiophile favorite and a great example of what’s phenomenally good about 1959 All Tube Analog recordings
  • “Dave Brubeck’s defining masterpiece, Time Out is one of the most rhythmically innovative albums in jazz history, the first to consciously explore time signatures outside of the standard 4/4 beat or 3/4 waltz time.”

Spacious and transparent, this copy has the big three-dimensional soundstage that makes this record such a joy to listen to. The piano has weight and heft, the drums are big and dynamic, and everything is relaxed and sweet — in short, this copy is doing pretty much everything we want a top quality Time Out to do.  (more…)

The Band’s Second Album – Listening in Depth

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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 Band’s second album.

The best copies have no trace of phony sound from top to bottom. They’re raw and real in a way that makes most pop records sound processed and wrong. Our best Hot Stampers have plenty of the qualities we look for in The Band. Energy, presence, transparency, Tubey Magic… you name it — you will find it there. The biggest strength of this recording is its wonderful, natural midrange. And tons of bass.

Despite what anyone might tell you, it’s no mean feat to find good sounding copies of this record. There are good originals and bad originals, as well as good reissues and bad reissues. Folks, we’ve said it many times — the label can’t tell you how a record sounds, but there’s a sure way to find out that information. You’ve got to clean ’em and play ’em to find out which ones have Hot Stampers, and we seem to be the only record dealers who are doing that, in the process making unusually good pressings available to you, the music-loving audiophile. (more…)

Jimmy Smith – Bashin’

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

Bashin’ is back after a two and a half year hiatus, and it’s back with a vengence — both sides here are Super Hot, with some of the best sound we have ever heard for the album. In the past we’ve complained about “Rudy Van Gelder’s somewhat over the top echo-drenched brass”, but on a copy such as this there is nothing to complain about!

All that reverb on the brass sounds RIGHT. If you have a top quality front end (and the system that goes with it), this recording will be amazingly spacious, three-dimensional, transparent, dynamic, and open.

With a bit more weight and whomp down low this copy would have been competitive with the best we played. Everything above two hundred cycles is here!

Copies of this album are sometimes so SOUR or dull (or both) that they go right in the trade pile. Add to that the difficulty of finding copies that are scratch-free and not too noisy and you have one tough shootout. Inner Groove Distortion caused by the non-anti-skate-equipped turntables of the day is a chronic problem with vintage jazz records, and this title is typically no exception — except in this case! The record has no IGD and plays mostly Mint Minus, as quiet an original as we have ever heard. (more…)

The Beatles Rubber Soul – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy (or our copy) of Rubber Soul. (If you have the MoFi pressing please click on the Track Listing tab below to read about its most glaring shortcoming.)

After playing so many copies of this record over the last few years, all of us here at Better Records have come to appreciate just how wonderful an album Rubber Soul really is. It has 14 fairly compact, well-structured, well-arranged pop songs, each of which is a gem in its own right. It reminds me a bit of the second album (With The Beatles) in that respect — short and to the point, get in and get out.  (more…)

Rod Stewart – Gasoline Alley

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – only the second copy to ever hit the site
  • These early Vertigo sides are rich, smooth and Tubey Magical yet still relatively clean, clear and spacious
  • Absolutely as QUIET as any pressing we have played – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – it is the very rare copy that will play this well
  • 5 Stars: “Of course, being a rocker at heart, Stewart doesn’t let these songs become limp acoustic numbers — these rock harder than any fuzz-guitar workout. The drums crash and bang, the acoustic guitars are pounded with a vengeance — it’s a wild, careening sound that is positively joyous with its abandon.”

This early Vertigo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even 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. (more…)

Genesis – Foxtrot

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  • This early Peter-Gabriel-led Genesis album from 1972 boasts killer Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • One of the toughest in the catalog to find with good sound and quiet surfaces – you need the right UK pressing to even be in the ballpark – but this copy delivers the proggy goods like gangbusters
  • 5 stars: “Foxtrot is where Genesis began to pull all of its varied inspirations into a cohesive sound – which doesn’t necessarily mean that the album is streamlined, for this is a group that always was grandiose even when they were cohesive, or even when they rocked, which they truly do for the first time here. This is the rare art-rock album that excels at both the art and the rock, and it’s a pinnacle of the genre because of it.”

This vintage British pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even 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. (more…)