Genre – Soul / R&B

David Bowie – Young Americans – Listening in Depth

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series.

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.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Young Americans  
Win

My favorite track on the album, an undiscovered gem in the Bowie catalog. (more…)

Ray Charles & Betty Carter – A Forgotten Classic

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on this vintage stereo pressing – it’s the first truly Hot Stamper to EVER hit the site 
  • This 1961 release showcases two of the most soulful singers to ever share a microphone, both at the height of their powers
  • Includes the still-popular “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (no one has ever recorded it quite like these two), People Will Say We’re In Love, Side By Side, and many more
  • 4 stars: “There is certainly a powerful, often sexy rapport between the two — Charles in his sweet balladeering mode, Carter with her uniquely keening, drifting high register — and they definitely create sparks in the justly famous rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.””

It’s EXTREMELY rare to find a stereo copy of Ray Charles & Betty Carter in anything but beat condition, but here’s one that not only sounds great, but plays exceptionally quietly for an album from this era.

We’ve raved about the DCC pressing in the past. If you own that one, this very record will show you what you’ve been missing. (more…)

Michael Jackson – Off The Wall – Listening in Depth

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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 Off The Wall.

On the better copies the multi-tracked chorus and background vocals are as breathy, rich, sweet and Tubey Magical as any pop recording we know of. An extended top end opens up the space for the huge, dense production to occupy. There is Midrange Magic To Die For exceeding anything to be found on Thriller.

Track Commentary

Side One

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

The first single from the album was designed to go to Number One and it certainly met all expectations in that regard.

On the properly mastered and pressed copies the vocals and percussion will be a bit brighter than those on most of the tracks that follow. The percussion is often somewhat brittle on even the best copies; it’s surely on the tape that way.

It should be big, clear and lively right out of the gate. (more…)

Michael Jackson’s Thriller Is White Hot

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  • The two INCREDIBLE sides here are guaranteed to make this by far the best sounding Thriller you have ever heard – Triple Plus (A+++) or very close to it
  • The sound is HUGE – wide, deep, and open, with a solid bottom end and relentless rhythmic energy to spare 
  • Billie Jean and Beat It sound out of this world, but that’s not fair, since every track on this copy is good enough to blow your mind
  • “This was a record that had something for everybody, building on the basic blueprint of Off the Wall by adding harder funk, hard rock, softer ballads, and smoother soul — expanding the approach to have something for every audience.” AMG 5 stars

Note that the slightly better sounding of the two sides here is the second side, which we feel is the stronger side of the album. with Beat It, followed by Billie Jean and ending on the single most emotional song MJ ever sang, The Lady in My Life.

Clearly one of the greatest lineups to be found on any side of any album from any era. No other Michael Jackson album can hold a candle to it.

The sound on this copy is huge, with the kind of three-dimensional soundstaging that lets the music unfold in front of you and around you as well. The bass is meaty and well-defined, showing you the rhythmic foundation that the music needs. The overall sound is transparent with amazing texture to practically every element.

Michael’s voice is marvelous on this copy — breathy, textured, and positively dripping with emotion (just listen to him break down on The Lady in My Life). (more…)

Donny Hathaway Lives On

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This live recording has YOU ARE THERE sound! It’s so natural, rich and transparent, what is there to fault? The soundstage is wide and deep. Within moments of the needle hitting the groove your speakers disappear and the music just flows into the room. On the best original domestic pressings you can immediately understand and appreciate the honest, emotive sound that made Donny Hathaway the tremendous performer he was known to be.

I’ve been playing this record regularly since I first heard it back in the mid-’90s and even after twenty years it has never failed to thrill. If I could take only one soul album to my desert island, it would be this one, no doubt about it.

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Aretha Franklin – Soul ’69

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  • Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second for this White Hot 2-pack 
  • The overall sound here is incredibly rich, full and Tubey Magical with excellent clarity and a wonderfully extended top end
  • An incredibly tough album to find without condition issues; they’re usually beat
  • “Her vocals are consistently passionate and first-rate… as is the musicianship.”

This original Atlantic stereo pressing is a MONSTER, one of the best we’ve ever played. You will have a very tough time finding a copy with even one side this good, let alone two.

The music, of course, is top notch, and it’s even better when you don’t have the bad sound and groove distortion of the average copy getting in the way. I imagine the Queen Of Soul herself would be very impressed with the way she sounds on this White Hot Stamper pressing.  

So many copies are smeary, recessed and lifeless you’d think you were playing a heavy vinyl reissue, not a real Atlantic original. But when you get a lovely copy such as this, the music comes to life in front of you and the shortcomings quietly recede into the background (assuming you can handle the surfaces).

This is the way of all good pressings. We’ve played thousands of them. (more…)

Thoughts on a Direct to Disc Recording – Side One Vs. Side Two

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In our last shootout this White Hot Stamper tied for the best side two we have ever heard! In the final round it simply came down to the fact that the other copy was a little more clear, this one is a little richer. They were both so amazing we couldn’t decide which we preferred so we gave them both White Hot Stamper grades.

In our experience this rarely happens. Most of the time one side of one of the records in the shootout will show itself to be the clear winner, doing everything (or almost everything; there is no such thing as a perfect record) right. When you play enough copies, eventually you run into the one that shows you how the music wants to be heard, what kind of sound seems to work for it the best. The two side twos we liked were variations, and fairly subtle ones at that, on a theme — a little richer here, a little clearer there, but both SO GOOD!

Side two fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few — very few — direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, most copies of this title were quite good. Few didn’t do most things at least well enough to earn a Hot Stamper grade. This has not been the case with many of the Sheffield pressings we’ve done shootouts for in the past. Often the weaker copies have little going for them. They don’t even sound like Direct Discs! (more…)

Stevie Wonder’s Second Masterpiece

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In my opinion this is clearly the second of Stevie Wonder’s two MASTERPIECES.

It could also be one of the Great Albums You May Not Know.

Over the course of the last year or two, for the first time in my life I’ve really gotten to know the album well, having found a CD at a local store to play in the car. I’ve listened to Fulfillingness’ First Finale scores of times and now see that is some of the best work Stevie Wonder ever did, right up there with Innervisions and miles ahead of any other Stevie Wonder album.

To my mind the best songs on the album are the quieter, more heartfelt and emotional ones, not the rockers or funky workouts. My personal favorites on side one are: Smile Please. Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, Too Shy to Say and Creepin’, which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are all the songs that weren’t hits.

On side two the two slowest songs are the ones I now like best: It Ain’t No Use & They Won’t Go When I Go (famously and brilliantly covered by George Michael on Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 in 1990).

If you take one of our Hot Stampers home see if you don’t find something very special about the tracks I have noted above.

Balance (more…)