Genre – Rock – Singer / Songwriter

Carole King – Tapestry – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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TAPESTRY is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it.  

We love the album and we hope you do too. If you have some time on your hands — maybe a bit too much time on your hands — please feel free to check out our commentaries.

This link will take you to all of our other CAROLE KING albums.

Tapestry Testimonial

… I felt the earth move under my feet with this record …

Our good customer Roger (and, if he keeps this up, a future editor-at-large) recently purchased the cheapest Hot Stamper Tapestry ($150) from our mailing. As is his wont he proceeded to do his own shootout with the CBS Half-Speed. We told him in our listing it wasn’t any good but we’re glad to see he didn’t take out word for it. There is no subtitute for hearing a record on your own stereo, good or bad. (The record, not the stereo.) (more…)

Cat Stevens Asks: Light, Medium or Heavy on the Congas?

Teaser and the Firecat

 

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During the shootout for this record a while back we made a very important discovery, a seemingly obvious one but one that nevertheless had eluded us for the past twenty plus years (so how obvious could it have been?). It became clear, for the first time, what accounts for the wide disparity in ENERGY and DRIVE from one copy to the next. We can sum it up for you in one five letter word, and that word is conga.

The congas are what drive the high-energy songs, songs like Tuesday’s Dead and Changes IV. Here is how we stumbled upon their critically important contribution.

We were listening to one of the better copies during a recent shootout. The first track on side one, The Wind, was especially gorgeous; Cat and his acoustic guitar were right there in the room with us. The transparency, tonal neutrality, presence and all the rest were just superb. Then came time to move to the other test track on side one, which is Changes IV, one of the higher energy songs we like to play.

But the energy we expected to hear was nowhere to be found. The powerful rhythmic drive of the best copies of the album just wasn’t happening. The more we listened the more it became clear that the congas were not doing what they normally do. The midbass to lower midrange area of the LP lacked energy, weight and power, and this prevented the song from coming to LIFE the way the truly Hot Stampers can and do.

Big Speakers

For twenty years Tuesday’s Dead has been one of my favorite tracks for demonstrating what The Big Speaker Sound is all about. Now I think I better understand why. Big speakers are the only way to reproduce the physical size and tremendous energy of the congas (and other drums of course) that play such a big part in driving the rhythmic energy of the song.
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Listening in Depth to Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years

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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 Still Crazy After All These Years.

As well-produced, well-engineered Pop Albums from the ’70s, the very best copies can proudly hold their heads high. Wait a minute. Our last commentary noted what a mess most of the pressings of this album sound like, with so much spit and grain. Have we changed our minds? Well, yes and no, and as usual we make no excuses for having changed our minds. We call it progress. (more…)

Listening in Depth to James Taylor – Sweet Baby James

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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 album.

This White Hot Stamper is GUARANTEED to BLOW YOUR MIND, as James himself so famously sings on Steamroller here, and you can be sure that he never heard it sound any better on playback than it does here. This is truly Master Tape Sound — transparent, present and Tubey Magical, the kind of sound that only the best pressings from the era can lay claim to. If you’ve got the stereo to play it, this record may become your new favorite Demo Disc. Yes, it’s that good. (more…)

Leonard Cohen – Recent Songs – Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018


Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018

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  • Another BR rarity — Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Here you will find a big, spacious soundstage and rich, natural vocals virtually no other copy in our shootout could compete with
  • Fairly quiet vinyl on both sides — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “The first thing Leonard Cohen’s music fans noticed about his sixth new studio album, given the typically open-ended title Recent Songs, was that, musically, it marked a return to the gypsy folk sound of his early records…” – All Music

See all of our Leonard Cohen albums in stock

This 1979 album marks Cohen’s return to the simple folk arrangements of his early albums. The songs are as stunning as ever, but only the best pressings really do them justice. As you might expect, the key elements here are going to be vocals, acoustic guitars and Cohen’s trademark female backup vocalists (Jennifer Warnes among them). This one really gets them all right, with the kind of big, spacious soundstage and full, rich tonality most of the copies in our shootout could not compete with. (more…)

Billy Joel – The Stranger – Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018


Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2018

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  • A Shootout Winning pressing – Triple Plus (A+++) on side two, a strong Double Plus (A++) on side one, and rockin’ from start to finish
  • The sound is huge, open and spacious with plenty of driving energy and a big punchy bottom end thanks to Phil Ramone’s engineering
  • The Stranger, Only the Good Die Young, Vienna, Just The Way You Are, Movin’ Out, She’s Always A Woman – some of Joel’s strongest songwriting is here
  • 4 1/2 stars in the AMG: “Joel rarely wrote a set of songs better than those on The Stranger, nor did he often deliver an album as consistently listenable.”

See all of our Billy Joel albums in stock

We recently completed a shootout for the album and this copy was absolutely KILLIN’ it. After playing a stack of mediocre Strangers, we are completely confident in saying that you’ll have a VERY hard time finding a copy that sounds this good.

The Stranger is chock full of some of Joel’s biggest hits, including Just The Way You Are, Movin’ Out, Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, Only The Good Die Young and She’s Always A Woman. AMG raves about this one (4 1/2 stars) and it’s easy to see why — this is the kind of pop music that still sounds fresh 40 years (!) after it was recorded and might just be good for another forty years. (more…)

Neil Diamond – Stones – Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2017


Our White Hot Shootout Winner for 2017

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  • A Shootout Winner – Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side, Double Plus (A++) on the first – this is the way to hear Neil Diamond!
  • Armin Steiner engineered the album, and it’s Neil’s best recorded release (that we’ve critically auditioned in large numbers)
  • Stones and I Am… I Said are killer on the A+++ side one, but both sides have outstanding sonics
  • 4 Stars: “Stones is a stronger album than most of Neil Diamond’s late-’60s records. An engaging collection of mainstream pop.”

See all of our Neil Diamond albums in stock

I can’t say for sure that this is the best sounding Neil Diamond album, we haven’t been through all of them yet, but it’s certainly the best sounding album of his that we’ve critically auditioned in large numbers. Good luck finding another copy of Stones out in the bins that deliver top quality sonics the likes of these — we went through a TON of copies and not many held our interest.

 

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Joni Mitchell – For The Roses

Joni Mitchell – For The Roses

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

This is probably the most underrated Joni Mitchell album, both in terms of sonics and music. It seems that everyone wants a great copy of Blue or Court And Spark, but this album ranks right up there with them and does not deserve to be overlooked.

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Let’s face it, we love Blue (1971) but most pressings suffer from a raft of sonic problems, as does Ladies of the Canyon (1970).

Court and Spark (1974) is up at the top up the list as well, but Roses (1973) seems to have more recording purity. Perhaps the engineers saw this as an opportunity to address the problems with Blue, the album that preceded it.

By the time Joni had fully indulged her jazzier inclinations with Court and Spark some of the recording quality had been lost in the quest for slicker production values for which that album is known. The complexity of the instrumentation required more multi-tracking and overdubbing, and as good as that record can sound on the best copies, in a head to head matchup with For the Roses the latter would probably win, and probably by no more than a nose.

The White Hot Pressings virtually eliminate the shortcomings of all the titles mentioned above, but boy are they hard to find, which accounts for how rarely they show up on the site. (more…)

Listening in Depth to James Taylor’s Forgotten Classic – Mud Slide Slim

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Listening in Depth

 

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Mud Slide Slim has some of Taylor’s strongest material: You’ve Got a Friend; You Can Close Your Eyes; Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox, and one of his best and most underrated, Love Has Brought Me Around. If you’ve got a top copy of the album, this song, the leadoff on side one, can really rock. It’s yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Love Has Brought Me Around

One of my all-time favorite James Taylor tracks. When you get a good copy, this music comes ALIVE! This is not your typical sad sack, touchy feely James Taylor song. This song ROCKS!

You’ve Got a Friend

Listen to Carole King’s piano. On the best copies the transparency allows her playing to be heard so clearly. Her style is unmistakable. (more…)

The James Taylor Album You Don’t Know – One Man Dog

ONE MAN DOG

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Play Chili Dog here, one of our favorite tracks, and note not only the clarity and spaciousness, but the PUNCH and LIFE of the music. This song is supposed to be fun. The average compressed dull copy only hints at that fact.

Then skip on down to the hit at the end of the side, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, another favorite track for testing. There’s a lot of bass in the mix on this track, but the best copies keep it under control. When it gets loose and starts blurring the midrange, the vocals and guitars seem “blocked”. The best copies let you hear all that meaty bass, as well as into the midrange. (more…)