Genre – Soul – Blue Eyed Soul

Boz Scaggs – Silk Degrees – David Hungate Gives a Master Class on the Bass

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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 Silk Degrees.

One of the main qualities separating the winners from the also-rans on this title is the quality of the bass. This is first and foremost rhythmic music. David Hungate just kills on this album; he’s giving a master class on rock and roll bass on practically every track. And, for us audiophiles, the good news is the bass is very well recorded — big, punchy and well up front in the mix.

The bad news is that only the best copies show you the note-like, clear, rich bass that must be on the master tape. Vague and smeary bottom end is the rule, not the exception, and it’s a veritable crime against Well-Recorded Sophisticated Pop such as this. (more…)

Joe Cocker – Joe Cocker – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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

This Hot Stamper Original A&M LP has BIG BOLD sound. It’s dynamic, punchy and spacious. Just listen to the drums on Black-Eyed Blues — the way the percussion and bass mingle sonically with Alan Whites’ skins takes this listener right into the room where the magic happened. This is definitely the best sounding Joe Cocker record we have ever heard.

Both the lead and background vocals have real presence to them. This copy has energy and life that was nowhere to be found on ANY other pressing. Joe Cocker is known for being a throaty vocalist but this was extraordinary even for him. The breathiness found here was a good blend of the smooth and gravely — a true test for any Cocker record. Every time that piano hit the lower registers you could feel it right down to your toes.

This copy had extension on both ends. An absolutely fantastic weight and openness thrive on this copy, so much so that the tambourines sound like they are right in the room with you. The textural way the guitars were recorded is incredible; their tone is RIGHT ON THE MONEY! I don’t think there’s anything you could do to this recording to make it sound much better than this.

Soundwise, most copies became harsh and shrill in the loud passages of the music. When the music gets loud, the sound becomes strained and unpleasant. A copy (like this one) that doesn’t do that is the exception, not the rule. Listen to the cover song ‘Midnight Rider’ on side two. If you own the typical copy, parts of that song will sound pretty darn unpleasant. Not so here!

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

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  • This WB Green Label pressing has STUNNING Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides for Van The Man’s 1968 groundbreaking, introspective classic – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This record lives or dies by the quality of its Tubey Magical Midrange, a sound modern records rarely begin to reproduce
  • It takes us years to find enough clean copies to do a shootout – these originals are not sitting in the bins at your local store anymore, they’re displayed behind the counter for a hundred bucks or more a pop 
  • 5 stars: “Astral Weeks is a justified entry in pop music’s pantheon. It is unlike any record before or since; it mixes together the very best of postwar popular music in an emotional outpouring cast in delicate, subtle musical structures.”

The original cover is actually in the original shrink!

I don’t think there’s too much I can tell you about Astral Weeks that’s going to convince you to buy it or not. It’s obviously one of the man’s (many) masterpieces, his most unique and original contribution to the music of his time, and one of the most beloved albums in his canon. (more…)

Robert Palmer – Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley – His Best Album By Far

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

TWO EXCELLENT SIDES on this British Sunray Island pressing. SSTTA is very hard to find nowadays, but we managed to put together a big enough stack to make a shootout possible, and this copy acquited very well indeed — it was miles ahead of the typical pressing. As is usually the case with these originals, the vinyl is a bit noisier than ideal at Mint Minus Minus.

No doubt this is the best album Robert Palmer ever made. With Lowell George’s unmistakable slide guitar and members of the Meters providing backup, as well as the amazing Bernard Purdie on drums, it’s the only Robert Palmer release that consistently works all the way through as an album. The entire first side is excellent from top to bottom, with the title track being our favorite RP song of all time.  (more…)

Joe Cocker – Joe Cocker (1972)

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  • A Killer Copy of Joe Cocker’s patented Blue Eyed Soul Album, rating an outstanding grade of Double Plus (A++) or close to it on both sides
  • Plays on some of the quietest vinyl we have ever heard for the album, a true Mint Minus throughout!
  • Pardon Me Sir; High Time We Went and Black-Eyed Blues, Midnight Rider; Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and St. James Infirmary – so many of his best songs
  • “With “St. James’ Infirmary,” Joe Cocker has moved into a whole different sphere of musical activity, far distant from the rip-roaring anarchism of the Mad Dogs … This album is, when all be said and done, riddled with meaningful soul.” — Rolling Stone

Great sound for this rockin’ soul album with two live tracks. Just listen to the drums on Black-Eyed Blues — the way the percussion and bass mingle sonically with Alan White’s skins takes this listener right into the room where the magic happened.

Classic Tracks

On side one, three out of five you know or should know: Pardon Me Sir; High Time We Went and Black-Eyed Blues.

On side two, three out of four you know or should know: Midnight Rider; Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and St. James Infirmary.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Solitude 
Where or When 
Mood Indigo 
Autumn Leaves

Side Two

Prelude to a Kiss 
Willow Weep for Me 
Tenderly 
Dancing in the Dark

Depanorama.net

Stunningly beautiful. The band plays perfectly. All the solos are fantastic. This album of romantic ballads is easily in the top 1% in my record collection of several thousand items. Picking highlights is an exercise in futility as every second of this album is wonderful. But don’t miss Duke’s piano with the full band on “Solitude” and in a trio setting on “All The Things You Are.” Ozzie Bailey’s vocal on “Autumn Leaves” is serene and lovely, but when coupled with the violin of Ray Nance, the beauty becomes more than we mere mortals deserve.

David Bowie’s Young Americans – 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.

The average RCA copy of this album is bright, grainy and hard to some degree, like most RCA pressings I come across. If you’ve been stuck with an average copy, you’re not going to believe how smooth and sweet the best ones sound. 

This is one of my favorite Bowie albums. Nobody seems to care about it anymore. They dismiss it as disco junk, but it actually has some of his best music on it. I especially like the song Win. David Sanborn’s saxophone sounds like it’s coming from 60 feet behind Bowie, a nice effect.

Both sides here are AGAIG — As Good As It Gets, Master Tape Sound. The overall sound is open, spacious, and transparent with lots of DEEP bass. You can easily pick out all the background vocals, and Bowie’s voice sounds just right. The strings have amazing amounts of texture — you can really hear the sound of the rosin on the bow. The highs are silky sweet and the bottom end is punchy and powerful. You won’t believe how superb the cymbal crashes sound — you’re right there in the room with these guys! (more…)

Elvis Costello Get Happy – What to Listen For

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  • A superb sounding vintage UK copy with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish 
  • Big, lively and dynamic, with plenty of bass (Elvis’s trademark sound) and New Wave energy
  • This release, coming right before the brilliant Trust, contains Elvis classics like I Can’t Stand Up (for Falling Down) & Motel Matches
  • The AMG Five Star rating “…a 20-song blue-eyed soul tour-de-force…” and killer recording quality make this a Must Own for Elvis fans

Two excellent sides for this rip-roarin’, twenty song, five star rated Elvis Costello extravaganza!

This is the record that came right after Armed Forces, which is a huge favorite around these parts, and the venerable All Music Guide gives both albums five big stars. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but it’s certainly full of good material. Out of the twenty songs on here, exactly one clocks in at over three minutes.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

There’s not a lot of top end on this recording. The mistake the American mastering engineers made when Columbia released their version was to brighten up the sound, which does nothing but make it aggressive and transistory. This is the way Get Happy is supposed to sound and trying to change it only makes it worse. (more…)

Boz Scaggs Silk Degrees – CBS Half-Speed Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile Pressing Hall of Shame.

Ran across this listing from all the way back in 2005. It takes shots at Badly Half-Speed Mastered records like this awful CBS audiophile pressing of Silk Degrees, as well as the audiophiles who complained about plain old domestic pressings at the time. I should know; I was one of them. Ouch. 

Old customers know that we have been relentlessly anti-audiophile-LP for years, since the early ’90s in fact, when those awful Acoustic Sounds jazz records first started coming out.

Hey, here’s a question for you. When was the last time that anybody mentioned a word about those Heavy Vinyl Disasters, badly mastered by Doug Sax with no presence and bloated bass? They’ve rather fallen from favor, have they not? I wonder why. Could it be because they were as ridiculously bad as I said they were, and it just took the rest of the world a little longer to recognize that fact? Perhaps most audiophiles are making progress. It’s just taking them a long long time. 


Here are the relevant remarks from our Hot Stamper listing:

So what do you hear on this copy? Well, the first thing you hear is a rich, solid piano, one that’s missing from the CBS Half-Speed and 90% of the reissues. The second thing you hear is a smooth, sweet top end, which is likewise missing from the above mentioned pressings. This album, like so many recordings from the ’70s, is surprisingly natural sounding for a pop record. I’ve had the same experience with a lot of Billy Joel records from this period — I was surprised to hear how well recorded they were after I stopped listening to the Half-Speed and the Import pressings and just went back and played good original domestic copies. When you get the right ones, they’re fabulous.

And these were all the records that we audiophiles were complaining about! We lamented the fact that these pressings weren’t audiophile quality, like the best MOFIs and Japanese pressings! Can you imagine?! This is how bad even good equipment was back then. Of course we got what we deserved. We got lots of phony, hyped-up pressings to fool us into thinking we were hearing better sound, when in fact the opposite was true. (I regret to say that nothing has changed — most pressings aimed at audiophiles are still junk.)


Hot Stamper Commentary from 2005!

Hot Stampers finally discovered! This is the SWEEETEST, RICHEST, MOST TONALLY CORRECT COPY I have ever heard.

This album has a long history here at Better Records. I used to complain about the CBS Half-Speeds being too bright.

The typical domestic copies were no better and usually much worse. Then Simply Vinyl did a version that was about as awful as one could imagine — so aggressive it was virtually unplayable.

But I kept buying copies of this record in the hopes that someday I would find one that sounded good. I remember playing this record when it came out in ’76 and thinking that it sounded very good. So how is it that all the copies I’m playing sound so bad, or at the very least, wrong?

Well, the answer to that question is not too complicated. When you get the right pressing, the sound is excellent.

I must have had a good one 20+ years ago, and that’s why I liked the sound. The exact same thing happened to me with both Deja Vu and Ambrosia’s first album. The copy I had picked up at random when I bought the album just happened to have Hot Stampers. (When you consider that Hot Stampers for both of those records are pretty unusual, I would say I was very lucky to get good sounding copies of those two masterpieces while everyone around me was buying crap.)

Whether Silk Degrees is music you want to listen to is the question before the house. As the old saying goes, “there is no disputing matters of taste.” Maybe Boz Scaggs is not your thing. But I can tell you this — you will have a hard time finding a better sounding copy than this one!

Joe Cocker (1969) – With More Than a Little Help from Leon Russell

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  • A killer 2-pack, with Triple Plus (A+++) sound, or close to it, from first note to last – they don’t get much better than this!
  • Here it is – the energy, space, and full, rich, Tubey Magical sound this music needs to work
  • You get Triple Plus sound for some of his best tracks here: Dear Landlord, Bird on the Wire, She Came in Through the Bathroom Window, and Hitchcock Railway
  • “Cocker mixed elements of late-’60s English blues revival recordings (John Mayall, et al.) with the more contemporary sounds of soul and pop; a sound fused in no small part by producer and arranger Leon Russell, whose gumbo mix figures prominently on this eponymous release and the infamous Mad Dogs & Englishmen live set.” – 4 Stars

This is a surprisingly good recording. Cocker and his band — with more than a little help from Leon Russell — run through a collection of songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and the Beatles, and when you hear it on a White Hot Stamper copy it’s hard to deny the appeal of this timeless music. (more…)

Van Morrison – His Band And Street Choir – An All But Forgotten Classic

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  • With both sides earning outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades, this is a killer copy of a wonderful sounding, shockingly underrated album
  • The band is swinging, the material top-notch – Domino, Crazy Face, Blue Money and other classics are all here 
  • We vote this The Best Sounding Van Morrison Album – a classic of 1970 Tubey Magical analog – and his only title to make our Top 100
  • “As ‘Domino’ opens the album with a show of strength, ‘Street Choir’ closes it with a burst of both musical and poetic energy which is not only better than anything else on the album but may well be one of Van’s two or three finest songs.” Rolling Stone

This is the album that came out between Moondance (in the same year in fact, 1970) and Tupelo Honey, but for some reason, it don’t get no respect. We think that’s insane — the material on this album is stellar and the sound on the best pressings is out of this world! (more…)