Genre – Vocals – Female

Sarah Vaughan – A Winner from Speakers Corner

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Sonic Grade: B

A TOP TITLE from Speakers Corner on 180 gram. This is an outstanding Sarah Vaughan album with very good sound and top players like Clifford Brown on trumpet, Paul Quinichette on tenor sax and Herbie Mann on flute. 

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

[We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds.]

“The Jazz World, instrumentally and vocally, may be said to be split into two camps. There are the followers and the followed; the imitators and the inimitable. True, there are many who have managed to graduate out of the first class into the second (didn’t Dizzy Gillespie once sound just like Roy Eldridge?), but in the case of Sarah Vaughan it can safely be assumed that this talent has been sui generis from the very beginning; that the Newark neighbors who heard her first infant cries in 1924 could tell immediately when it was Vaughan who was wailing.”

“It is doubtful whether anyone, including Sarah herself, is likely to be able to find any more completely satisfying representation of her work, or any more appropriate musical setting, than are offered in this LP. These sides are sure to rank among the foremost achievements of her decade as a recording artist.” – from the original liner notes

TRACK LISTING

Lullaby of Birdland
April in Paris
He’s My Guy
Jim
You’re Not The Kind
Embraceable You
I’m Glad There Is You
September Song
It’s Crazy
Lullaby Of Birdland

June Christy – Gone For The Day – Fifties Capitol Magic

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

Side two of this White Hot Stamper June Christy record on the original Capitol Turquoise label is AMAZING, both musically and sonically. It has all the TUBEY MAGIC we know these old records are famous for, but this copy gives you something you may never have heard on a vintage pressing before: real frequency EXTENSION, both high and low. Who knew an old record could have extended highs like these and such deep bass?

I can honestly say I have never heard any June Christy record sound as good as this copy does. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Johnny Mercer Song Book

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this superb Verve stereo original LP 
  • The huge, rich orchestral sound captured so beautifully by Val Valentin is always one of the highlights of these songbooks
  • By the time this one came out in 1964 Ella had already recorded 18 LPs of songbooks – this was the last, going out on a high note
  • Some of the Mercer Classics here are Too Marvelous For Words, Day In-Day Out, Laura, Skylark, Midnight Sun, I Remember You
  • AMG raves “this is one of the best of Ella Fitzgerald’s songbooks. Fitzgerald’s assured and elegant voice is a perfect match for Mercer’s urbane lyrics and Nelson Riddle’s supple arrangements…”

When you are lucky enough to find a album that sounds as good as this one, 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 outstanding, with huge amounts of space and the kind of richness in the midrange that might just take your breath away.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top (to keep Paich’s orchestral arrangements from becoming congested, hard or shrill) did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

And we know a fair bit about Ella’s recordings at this point. As of today we’ve done commentaries for more than a dozen different Ella Fitzgerald albums, and that’s not counting the sixteen (yes, 16!) titles we put in our Hall of Shame.

We’ve searched high and low for her records and played them by the score over the years. We plan to keep great copies on the site for our Ella fans so watch for new arrivals in the Vocal section (linked to the left).

What excellent 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 1964. The richness of the sound of this pressing is what earned it such high sonic grades
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments in Nelson Riddle’s orchestra having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • There’s more — isn’t there always — but we hope that should be enough for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we describe above

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.

Val Valentin

Valentin’s list of credits runs for days. Some high points are of course Ella and Louis, and Getz/Gilberto.

Recently we played a copy of We Get Requests by the Oscar Peterson Trio that blew our mind. And we have been big fans of Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley for more than a decade.

Pull up his credits on Allmusic. No one I am familiar with other than Rudy Van Gelder recorded more great jazz, and in our opinion Valentin’s recordings are quiet a bit more natural sounding than Rudy’s, especially with regard to the the sound of the piano.

* Much of the above commentary is borrowed from other Ella records. The better songbook albums have much in common, and the top pressings of them are much more alike than they are different, especially once Verve entered the stereo era in the later ’50s.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Too Marvelous For Words
Early Autumn 
Day In – Day Out 
Laura 
This Time The Dream’s On Me 
Skylark 
Single ‘O

Side Two

Something’s Gotta Give 
Travlin’ Light 
Midnight Sun 
Dream 
I Remember You 
When A Woman Loves A Man

Allmusic 4 1/2 Star Review

Along with her Rodgers and Hart collection, this is one of the best of Ella Fitzgerald’s songbooks. Fitzgerald’s assured and elegant voice is a perfect match for Mercer’s urbane lyrics and Nelson Riddle’s supple arrangements…

Fitzgerald’s Mercer songbook has become something of an overlooked gem partly because of the popularity of her Cole Porter and Gershwin collections. It’s a shame, because this songbook is beautifully executed by Fitzgerald and Riddle and contains wonderful Mercer collaborations with, among others, Harold Arlen and Hoagy Charmichael. This is definitely one for any Fitzgerald fan and not a bad introduction to her vast catalog.

James Gavin Review

WHEN ELLA Fitzgerald began her now-legendary Verve Song Book series in 1956, she was a musicians’ and singers’ singer of limited commercial appeal. Eight years later, when Verve released the final volume, she had become as much of an icon as Frank Sinatra. Fans all over the world embraced her as a peer of the geniuses she’d saluted: Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, and others. The Song Book series, in turn, was seen as a shrine to the songwriting craft at its zenith.

When those albums first appeared, no one knew that the so-called golden age of classic popular song was. In 1964, when Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Song Book hit the stores, the Beatles were America’s favorite tunesmiths, and Fitzgerald’s series had run its course. Her Gershwin box had included five long-playing albums and a companion EP single; Mercer got one LP.

Still, this album had its riches. The album placed Fitzgerald in the Tiffany settings of arranger Nelson Riddle. The lyrics came from Savannah, Georgia’s favorite son, a four-time Oscar-winner whose career had spanned Dixieland, swing, Hollywood, and Broadway. Along the way he attracted a stellar bevy of collaborators: Richard Whiting, Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg, Hoagy Carmichael, Jerome Kern, Arthur Schwartz, Harry Warren.

Like Carmichael, this jovial Southern teddy bear was a voice of American life. In witty, casual, but superbly honed language, he evoked the open highway (“Blues in the Night”), the prairie (“I’m an Old Cowhand”), revival meetings (“Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive”), deserted barrooms (“One for My Baby”). For Mercer, nature was rife with human feeling; in one of his masterpieces, a bird becomes a confidante and a symbol of hope: “Skylark, have you seen a valley green with spring/Where my heart can go a-journeying/Over the shadows and the rain/To a blossom-covered lane?”

Exploring his words, which she phrased with underrated thoughtfulness, Fitzgerald bears out the contention of many that she was the perfect singer. Henry Pleasants, a British classical-music critic, wrote this about her: “She has a lovely voice, one of the warmest and most radiant in its natural range that I have heard in a lifetime of listening to singers in every category. She has an impeccable and ultimately sophisticated rhythmic sense, and flawless intonation. Her harmonic sensibility is extraordinary. She is endlessly inventive.”

The sometimes strident girlishness of her concert singing is nowhere to be heard here; instead, the lower keys and relaxed tempos bring out her most womanly sound.

Shortly after recording this song book, she confessed to Down Beat that she was relieved to be getting “a little back to the jazz thing” in her new album, Whisper Not. “The Song Book material is beautiful,” she said, “but sometimes you can’t do too much with these numbers before you get away from the essence of the tune.” Later in life she made a few Song Books for other labels, but the Verve series captured her in her prime. The original Song Books have never lost their prestige; Mercer’s volume is as good as any of them.

Ray Charles and Betty Carter – DCC Reviewed & Recommended

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Sonic Grade: B+

Folks, I have to hand it to Steve Hoffman — this is the BEST SOUNDING DCC LP we have played in years.

We’ve been harshin’ on DCC for quite a while now. Whenever we do a shootout for The Eagles or The Doors or Bonnie Raitt or Queen or you name it, the DCC pressing almost always gets a serious drubbing from our listening panel. Not so here. This one took TOP HONORS against the other copies we played and was head and shoulders better sounding in practically every way.

Do all the copies of the DCC sound this good? I would bet money right now they don’t. Folks, I’m guessing this is a Hot Stamper. It was pressed just right and all the Hoffman magic is in these grooves. But that’s just a guess, and I could easily be wrong. If you have a few copies at home, shoot them out! What, you don’t have a bunch of these? Me neither, so no shootout will probably ever be done. This album is just too rare and pricey these days.

Bottom line: We know a good record when we hear one, and this is a very good record indeed! Bravo to Steve for a job well done. 

Billie Holiday’s Lady In Satin – Superb Columbia 30th Street Studio Sound

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  • Amazingly clear and Tubey magical Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
  • Dramatically richer, fuller and more Tubey Magical than most other copies, with breathy vocals and rosiny, fairly smooth strings
  • I’m a Fool to Want You on this very copy may just send chills racing up and down your spine
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic: “Lady Day herself said that this session was her personal favorite.”

On the better copies both the sound and music are absolutely breathtaking. 

What to Listen For (WTLF)

The better copies reproduce clearly what to our minds are the three most important elements in the recording — strings, rhythm, and vocal — and, more importantly, the are reproduced properly balanced with one another. (more…)

Julie London – Julie… At Home in 1959

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

If you’re a fan of intimate female vocals – the kind without a trace of digital reverb – you should get quite a kick out of Julie… At Home. And unless I miss my guess you’ll be the first and only person on your block to own it! (That’s not a bad thing considering the average person’s taste in music.) 

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These Liberty pressings are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience (or at least as much ambience as can be heard in Julie’s living room), dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here. (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…)

Billie Holiday – All Or Nothing At All

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I expected our amazing sounding original to win the shootout, but it didn’t!

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The reprocessed fake stereo copy here is to be avoided at all costs. It sounds as bad as any fake stereo record I can remember playing. What were they thinking?

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  • A KILLER sounding copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish, on quiet vinyl to boot 
  • This is one of the best sounding Billie Holiday records we have ever heard – it’s even a clear step up from the originals we had on hand
  • This 2 LP set features most of the tracks from the original release plus another handful of recordings from the same period (1955-1956)
  • “… features some of Billie Holiday’s top Verve performances from the mid-’50s… she runs the emotional gamut from summery optimism to pathos-rich musings. Befitting her perennial after-hours mood, the majority of songs here feature Holiday in a low-down mood of the highest order.” – All Music

Naturally, the highest quality vocal reproduction has to be the main focus on a Hot Stamper pressing for any Billie Holiday record we would offer. Her voice should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and present.

In addition to being tonally correct and natural, the pressings we offer must also be highly resolving. With the right room and the right equipment, properly set-up and adjusted of course, you will hear everything that these vintage recordings have to offer, including the three-dimensional space of the studios in which the various sessions were recorded, under the auspices of Norman Granz.

The Sound of the Original

The original Trumpet Player Verve mono we had on hand to play suffered from an EQ problem we run into frequently in our shootouts for vintage vocal albums. Actually, to be clear, there were two main problems in the case of All or Nothing At All: a boosted midrange and occasional sibilance issues. (more…)

Julie London in 1960 – Make Love To Me

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  • One of the best copies from our most recent shootout with a Triple Plus (A+++) side one and an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two
  • Julie is in the room with you – her voice is intimate, breathy and Tubey Magical like practically nothing you’ve ever heard 
  • Unusually clean surfaces, playing Mint Minus Minus (w/ caveats, see below), a step up from most of the copies we’ve been running into lately
  • “Her subtle sensuality and lightly swinging style made for a potent combination.” – All Music

If you’re a fan of vintage female vocals – the kind without a trace of digital reverb – you should get quite a kick out of Make Love To Me. And unless I miss my guess you’ll be the first and only person on your block to own it. (That’s not a bad thing considering the average person’s taste in music.)

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These Liberty pressings are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here. (more…)

Sarah Vaughan – Dreamy – ’60s and ’80s Work Well Together

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  • Superb Shootout Winning sound on side one, rating a Triple Plus (A+++) – side two rated a solid Double Plus (A++)
  • Forget the honky originals – our killer reissues of this 1960 All Tube Recording are rich and relaxed, just the way they should be
  • Pretty darn quiet throughout — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus – good luck finding a copy in the bins that plays this quiet
  • “Trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison contributes some soft, melodic trumpet but the focus is very much on the singer during such numbers as “The More I See You,” “Star Eyes,” “My Ideal,” and “Crazy He Calls Me.”” – All Music

The original release for Dreamy is on Roulette, a label we have often found to have problems in the sound department (not to mention notoriously bad vinyl). The originals we’ve played over the years have much too much honk and hardness in the midrange to be taken seriously, at least by us anyway, and certainly not at these prices. When we stumbled upon these good Emus reissues, the skies opened up and the sun shone down upon Sarah’s wonderful 1960 album of ballads as it had never done before. (more…)