Genre – Vocals – Female

Sarah Vaughan – Golden Hits (1954-58)

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  • Excellent sound throughout with each side rating a solid Double Plus (A++) or BETTER – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Surprisingly dynamic on both sides – this pressing lets you hear The Divine One when she really was that good
  • This is Sarah in her prime, presenting the listener with an especially good overview of her best Mercury recordings from 1954-58

Wonderful space and most of the richness that makes these ’50s recordings (many by the legendary Robert Fine) so wonderfully natural.

Big, lively and highly resolving. A powerful low end too (which has to be Fine’s doing).

We’ve been fortunate to have a number of excellent sounding Sarah Vaughan records find their way onto our turntable over the course of the last few years, but this is our first official Sarah Vaughan shootout title to make it to the site.

Most of the reason for this unfortunate fact can be attributed to the lack of clean copies of her prime albums for Mercury sitting in our local record store bins. Her best albums are either missing or scratched. (Plenty of Pablos and Mainstreams, sure, but we have never been all that impressed with either label’s recordings of vocalists.)

This Greatest Hits album apparently stayed in print long enough to produce the supply necessary for one of our shootouts, and the result is we now have some wonderful Sarah Vaughan performances with superb sound to share with our customers. (more…)

Sarah Vaughan – After Hours on Emus

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last, this copy of After Hours put the living, breathing Divine One right between our speakers
  • With simple arrangements, featuring Mundell Lowe’s guitar and George Duvivier’s double bass, Vaughan’s soulful voice can take center stage
  • This copy was pressed on exceptionally quiet vinyl – it plays as quietly as any copy we have ever heard
  • “…a quiet and intimate affair, with Vaughan more subtle than she sometimes was… some fine jazz singing.”

This early Emus Stereo 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, this is the record for you. It’s what Vintage Records 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…)

Ella Fitzgerald Sings Cole Porter

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it for all four sides, this glorious 1956 mono recording is superb from first note to last
  • Full-bodied, musical, and smooth, with surprisingly spacious orchestral staging – this is just the right sound for this album and especially this kind of music
  • “The combination of Ella and Porter is irresistible and whether up-tempo or down-tempo, Ella’s three-octave range voice soars effortlessly as she makes each song come to life. It was all helped by the cream of L.A. session men and Buddy Bregman’s arrangement that oozes sophistication way beyond his twenty-four years. It is a perfect record.” – Richard Havers

he space is HUGE and the sound so rich. Prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies.

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one. The sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a classic vintage jazz vocal album. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a record this good, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably hasn’t heard, and that’s the best reason to demonstrate a stereo. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – Rhythm Is My Business – 1962 Was a Great Year for Ella

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  • Ella’s first album to come out after Clap Hands finally makes its Hot Stamper debut, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • What took us by surprise was how rich and sweet this original Verve was – so many of Ella’s early albums don’t have the smooth, natural vocals of this pressing
  • We absolutely love the swinging R&B organ Bill Doggett brought to these big band sessions, all backing an exceptionally well recorded First Lady of Song
  • “Ella Fitzgerald is in the spotlight throughout, mostly singing swing-era songs along with a couple of newer pieces… [her] voice was in its prime, and the charts are excellent.”

This copy is as quiet as we can find any domestic original Verve stereo pressing. The monos of this title — which naturally are five times more common — have that hard, honky sound that so many mono cuttings made from Ella’s stereo recordings suffer from.

Clap Hands is a notable exception to that rule, and of course any of her albums recorded in mono sound best in mono, when cut right and pressed right.

1962 was a great year for Ella. She released this album early in the year and followed it up with the Grammy winning Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson. Later in the same year Verve released Ella Swings Gently with Nelson, and it’s interesting to note that all three of these classic albums were recorded late in 1961. The woman could do no wrong! We would have to wait for her first release of 1963, Ella Sings Broadway, before she put out a clunker. But who’s fault is that? The music is fine, it’s the recording that’s bad (as far as we can tell; we have yet to hear one sound good). (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – The Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 2

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  • A stunning sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on ALL FOUR SIDES!
  • Forget the originals – like so many of the early songbook pressings, they suffer from painfully hard and honky mastering EQ (and gritty sounding vinyl)
  • We know whereof we speak when it comes to early Ella records – we’ve played plenty of them and found that most just don’t sound very good
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout* — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Duke’s spectacular catalog dazzles, and his sprightly, lush textures are transfigured under Fitzgerald’s warm-timbred voice and elegant, precise delivery… each tune as familiar as it is delightful to hear in this new context.”

This mono reissue is the only way to find the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from modern records. As good as the best of those pressings may be, this record is going to be dramatically more REAL sounding.

Ella is no longer a recording — she’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. Her voice is so rich, sweet, and free of artificiality you cannot help but find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here. You could certainly demonstrate your stereo with a record this good, even one that’s not nearly this good, because this one is superb.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1957
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does. (more…)

Lena Horne & Harry Belafonte – Porgy and Bess

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound for both sides of this wonderful Living Stereo album – as you would expect, the Tubey Magic is off the charts
  • Both sides are big, lively and present with lovely breathy vocals from the two principals (who sing solo on all but two of the tracks)
  • A brilliant Living Stereo recording from 1959, which plays as quietly as we can find them – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “The first of Belafonte’s duet albums with female performers, this one paired two attractive black American singers at the peak of their respective talents.”

A Living Stereo knockout! We often forget to spend time with records like this when there are Zeppelin and Floyd records to play. We’ve always enjoyed Belafonte At Carnegie Hall, but when we’ve dug further into his catalog we’ve been left cold more often than not. However, when we finally got around to dropping the needle on a few of these we were very impressed by the music and BLOWN AWAY by the sound on the better pressings.

It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology. If you’re a Harry Belafonte fan, a Lena Horne fan, a Gershwin fan, or just somebody who enjoys classic material performed with gusto and soul, this is a record that belongs in your collection.

1959 Tubes?

You just can’t beat ’em. (more…)

Julie London – About The Blues

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  • About The Blues with KILLER Triple Plus (A+++) sound from first note to last; we rarely have this title on the site 
  • Julie’s lilting vocals are clear, breathy, Tubey Magical, and sweet, like practically nothing you’ve ever heard
  • This copy is about as quiet as we can find these 1957 Turquoise original mono pressings, Mint Minus Minus* throughout
  • 4 stars: “About the Blues … may just be her best orchestral session. Since downbeat torch songs were London’s specialty, the album features an excellent selection of nocturnal but classy blues songs that play to her subtle strengths…”

Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.   (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Swings Lightly

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  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this original Bow Tie Verve Stereo pressing is going to be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Lovely All Tube sound from 1958, with a huge, rich orchestra conducted by one of our favorite arrangers, Marty Paich 
  • Grammy Award for Best Improvised Jazz Solo – these were the days when Ella was on top of the world
  • “The bright, sunny optimism of Fitzgerald’s style comes through in several tracks, including ‘If I Were a Bell’ (which also includes several remarkable variations on the melody), and ‘Teardrops From My Eyes’ (which alternates between rock and jazz beats—not a big leap back then!)”

When you are lucky enough to find an album chock full of standards from the Great American Songbook, you cannot help but recognize that this era for Ella will never be equaled, by her or anyone else.

The recording is excellent, with space and midrange richness that might just take your breath away. (more…)

Billie Holiday – Music For Torching

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  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides, this is a killer copy of one of Billie’s best
  • Not only that, but this pressing plays as quietly as any we can find – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • A superb recording of jazz standards with a great lineup and Billie in top form, as well as Tubey Magical sound, with especially breathy vocals
  • Great versions (and lovely sound) for It Had to Be You, Come Rain or Come Shine, A Fine Romance, and too many more to list
  • “The overall feeling on this 1955 recording… is strictly after-hours: the party is long over but a few close friends remain for nightcaps and, is that the sun peeking through the windows?” — Allmusic

You’d be hard-pressed to find a female vocal album from the 1950s with sound comparable to this one. We just finished up a big shootout for the sublimely titled Music For Torching, and this lovely copy was clearly one of the better pressings we played. If you love smoky jazz standards the way only Lady Day can sing them, we think you’ll be blown away to hear her sound this warm, rich and present. (more…)

Peggy Lee – Latin ala Lee! – S&P (Reviewed in the ’00s)

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Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the 2003 when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

The Record of the Year for 2003. I know how crazy that sounds, but it’s true! If you don’t have a smile on your face fifteen seconds after playing track one, you better check your pulse, cuz, as the famous song has it: Jack, You Dead. Amazingly good sound, courtesy of a fabulous and painstakingly difficult remix by the mastering guru himself, Steve Hoffman. This is popular music for the previous generation — but why should we be denied these long forgotten treasures? (more…)