Genre – Vocals – Male

The Tony Bennett / Bill Evans Album – The Best Male Vocal Recording of the Era

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This album, when heard on the best Hot Stamper pressings, ranks right up at the top of the All Time Great Male Vocal Recordings from any era. Bennett’s voice sounds wonderfully rich, BREATHY, and above all REAL.

For a Popular/Jazz Vocal album produced in 1975, or, to be honest, the entire decade of the Seventies, we can think of no other that is its sonic equal.

The soundstage is open and spacious, the piano full-bodied and clear, and the vocals have the clarity and fullness missing from most pressings. It’s incredible to hear these two top-notch musicians interacting and responding to each other in this kind of huge, open and natural space.

The Acoustic

This is a studio recording in a fairly dead acoustic, worlds away from the echo-drenched sound of his Columbia releases, so for practically the first time on record you can really hear the man’s voice, not the echo chamber they used to process it. (more…)

Nat King Cole – Just One Of Those Things on S&P Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: C+

S+P’s 180g reissue has some nice qualities, but it isn’t especially natural, nor is it Tubey Magical the way the real Capitol pressings are. Ambience and instrumental textures are sorely lacking, although to be honest, considering how bad most Capitol pressings are, it’s still a step up from the average copy sitting in your local store’s used record bins.

Our commentary for the DCC Nick of Time lays out in more detail some of the same sonic shortcomings we heard with Just One of Those Things. 

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

Our most recent Hot Stamper commentary follows.

ONE OF THE MOST TUBEY MAGICAL MALE VOCAL RECORDS WE’VE EVER HAD THE PLEASURE OF PLAYING! We shot this out against similar copies, earlier pressings, and a 180g reissue, and nothing was quite in a league with this one. Turn up the volume, turn down the lights, and let Nat serenade you from right between your speakers — he’ll be IN THE ROOM with you!

Side one rates A++ and side two may be even better! The immediacy of the vocals is startling. The bass has the typical “tubby” sound so common to this kind of album, but it’s tighter here than on any other copy we played.

Nat’s voice is PERFECTION — full-bodied and breathy with loads of texture. The overall sound is three-dimensional, with Nat up front and the orchestra behind. The brass sounds wonderful, with just the right amount of bite and more breath than we heard elsewhere.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this record is not one of those “cry in your beer” Sinatra rip offs. The songs are actually fairly lively: mid-tempo and even up-tempo. Maybe it’s the influence of Billy May, the arranger for these sessions. His arrangements keep lifting the spirits of the down in the dumps Nat King Cole (see cover), which is fine by me.


 

 

 

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. 

Lou Rawls – Live! – His Masterpiece

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) grades, or close to it, grace both sides of this Lous Rawls masterpiece 
  • A recent addition to our Top 100, Lou Rawls Live! is an outstanding recording that really comes to life on this original pressing
  • The songs are fantastic, the musicians are brilliant, the sound is amazing — Stormy Monday & Tobacco Road are highlights of the set
  • 4 Stars: “Lou Rawls gives a riveting performance on Live!, covering standards from Basie/Rushing’s tambourine-jumpin’ ‘Goin’ to Chicago’ to T-Bone Walker’s foot-stompin’ ‘Stormy Monday,’ and whole lot in between.”

What an album! For live soul-infused vocals, we know of none better.

Lou is live, singing his heart out in a small club that exists between, behind and maybe even around your speakers. If you can reproduce the three-dimensional space of this club you are in for a real treat. (more…)

Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington – The Great Reunion

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side two and a solid Double Plus (A++) side one, this vintage stereo pressing was one of the best in our most recent shootout
  • So big, so rich, so Tubey Magical, we doubt you have ever heard Louis Armstrong sound remotely as good as he does here  
  • We remember the Classic pressing as being a very good sounding record but make no mistake, this is a GREAT sounding one
  • “One of the best things about this configuration is the sound of the Duke’s piano – an underrated pianist, he seldom recorded in such an intimate context.”

Note that the second track on both sides is slightly smoother and more natural than the first. Listen for it! (more…)

Louis Armstrong – I’ve Got The World On A String

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  • An insanely good sounding copy with a Triple Plus (A+++) side one and an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two!
  • Both sides here are incredibly big and full yet still very clean and clear with excellent bass and none of the edginess that plagues the average copy
  • Fairly quiet throughout (w/ caveats, see below) — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Armstrong finds the essence of each tune, bending and projecting them with his patented joie de vivre and gravel-voiced warmth every time.” 

I first heard this album on the wonderful Classic Records pressing from the ’90s. I remember really enjoying the music and liking the sound of Bernie Grundman’s remaster very much. We reviewed and recommended the album (along with Under the Stars) in our old paper catalogs.

I have no idea what I would think of their version these days — well, to be honest I do have  some idea of what I would think of it — but their version is at least good enough to make the case that Russell Garcia’s orchestral arrangements and Louis Armstrong’s sublime skills interpreting  The Great American Songbook are a match made in heaven.

You may have seen Russell Garcia’s name on one of the landmark recordings of the ’50s: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s recording of Porgy and Bess for Verve in the previous year, 1959. Watch for copies coming to the site one of these days. We’ve discovered some exceptional original and reissue pressings (as well as some that really do a disservice to the music and the engineers who recorded it. What else is new in the world of records?). (more…)

Marty Robbins – Hawaii’s Calling Me

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a side two that’s very respectable in its own right, this copy has the rich, sweet, sound we love
  • This kind of Tubey Magical, tonally correct, spacious sound on this stereo 360 pressing is nothing less than a THRILL
  • The only other Robbins record that can hold a candle to this one is Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs
  • “Robbins performs beautifully, creating a breezy mood that marks one of pop music’s better attempts at the genre.” 

Fairly quiet vinyl too!

The Analog sound of this pressing makes a mockery of even the most advanced digital playback systems, including the ones that haven’t been invented yet. I’d love to play this for Neil Young so he can see what he’s up against. Good Luck, Neil, you’re going to need it.

We’ve been through dozens of Columbia albums from the ’60s since we discovered how good the Marty Robbins titles on Columbia can sound. Most of the popular vocal and country albums we play have an overall distorted sound, are swimming in reverb, and come with hard, edgy, smeary vocals to boot.

To find an album with freakishly good sound such as this involves a healthy dose of pure luck. You will need to dig through an awfully big pile of vinyl to uncover a gem of this beauty. (more…)

Mel Torme – Swings Shubert Alley – Another Reissue that Kills the Original

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  • Both sides of this Mel Torme vintage masterpiece boast Double Plus (A++) grades and play fairly quietly
  • One of our all-time favorite Male Vocal albums that’s just mindblowing on a copy like this
  • Big and spacious with amazing richness and warmth, this is Vocal Demo Disc like few others
  • 5 stars: “The overall mood… is unrestrained enthusiasm, and it makes for an excellent record.”

We are HUGE fans of this album at Better Records, but it’s taken us a long time to pull together enough clean copies to make this shootout happen. Boy, was it worth all the trouble!

The presence and immediacy here are really something. Turn it up and Mel is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. Swings Shubert Alley is one of our very favorite male vocal albums, and a great copy like this will show you why — the audiophile quality sound and swinging jazz vocal music are simply hard to beat.

1961 – It Was a Very Good Year (more…)

Sam Cooke – Hits of the ’50s in Living Stereo

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  • A vintage Living Stereo recording that’s rarely available on the site, this Sam Cooke LP boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • If you want to hear one of the great vocalists from the ’50s, in his prime, with top quality audiophile sound, this is the album that will do the trick!
  • This is the way it must have sounded in 1960, in the New York studios where it was recorded, with legendary RCA engineer BOB SIMPSON behind the board
  • This is not the typically radio-EQ’d singing-out-of-tin-can sound of so many male vocal albums from the era – Cooke’s voice is warm and rich here

This early pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot 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 with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Sinatra At The Sands – My Introduction to Audiophile Sound

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  • This superb 2 LP set boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all four sides! 
  • Truly one of the greatest live albums of all time, recorded late at night in the big room at the Sands Hotel in Vegas
  • This is Basie and Sinatra in their natural habitat and in their prime, putting on the show of a lifetime – quiet vinyl too
  • “Basie and the orchestra are swinging and dynamic, inspiring a textured, dramatic, and thoroughly enjoyable performance from Sinatra … the definitive portrait of Frank Sinatra in the ’60s.” – AMG

This double album presents Sinatra and Basie at the height of their powers, in a setting especially conducive to both men’s music, the big room at the Sands Hotel in Vegas. If you missed it — and I’m sure most all of us did — here’s your chance to go back in time and be seated with the beautiful people front row center. This two disc all tube-mastered analog set is practically the only way you’ll ever be able to hear the greatest vocalist of his generation — in his prime no less — fronting one of the swingingest big bands of the time.

You Are There

The presence and immediacy here are staggering. Turn it up and Frank is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. (more…)