Blues, R&B, Soul

Stevie Wonder – Talking Book

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, this is the way Talking Book is supposed to sound 
  • Richer, warmer, more natural, more relaxed, this is what vintage analog is all about, that smooth sound that never calls attention to itself and just lets the music flow
  • So many great songs: You Are the Sunshine of My Life, Tuesday Heartbreak, You’ve Got It Bad Girl, Superstition, etc.
  • 5 Stars: “What had been hinted at on the intriguing project Music of My Mind was here focused into a laser beam of tight songwriting, warm electronic arrangements, and ebullient performances — altogether the most realistic vision of musical personality ever put to wax…”

Those of you who are familiar with this record will not be surprised to learn that these shootouts are TOUGH. Very few copies are any better than mediocre.

This copy is more dynamic, open and transparent than most pressings BY FAR. There’s ton of space around all of the instruments, the bass is big and punchy and the vocals are present, warm and tonally right on the money. (more…)

Muddy Waters – The Real Folk Blues

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  • An outstanding copy of this compilation album with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last – mostly quiet vinyl too
  • Like its Audiophile Favorite brother, Folk Singer, also on Chess, The Real Folk Blues is another exceptional live-in-the-studio recording, with some of the best sound Chess ever managed
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Once Chess discovered a white folk-blues audience ripe and ready to hear the real thing, they released a series of albums under the Real Folk Blues banner. This is one of the best entries in the series…”

*NOTE: On side one, a mark makes 5 very light ticks at the end of track 2, Screaming And Crying.

This 1965 recording pressed on ’80s vinyl has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (more…)

Van Morrison – Wavelength

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

Richer, warmer and bigger than most of the other copies we played, with the kind of smoothness that’s essential to the album’s enjoyment. His biggest selling album to date? Seems hard to believe but that’s what is says on Wikipedia – it went gold in 3 months. 

What are the criteria by which a record like this should be judged? Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, and on and on down through the list.

When we can get all, or most all, of the qualities above to come together on any given side we provisionally award it a grade of “contender.” Once we’ve been through all our copies on one side we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner for that side. Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that’s left is to see how the sides matched up. (more…)

Earth, Wind & Fire – I Am

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  • Incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this excellent EWF title from 1979; exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • If you like Pop Music, Soul Music, or EWF’s groundbreaking hybridization of the two, you have to love these classic albums from the ’70s
  • “Maurice White makes music whose quality is as high as its market appeal, as accessible as it is innovative…” – Rolling Stone

Every track Maurice White ever produced was a testimony to his deep understanding and prodigious talent for crafting the perfect pop song, complete with arrangements for nine pieces as tight as the matching sequined suits the band wore. Fortunately for us analog types, EWF was an audiophile-oriented band, producing some of the best sounding ’70s multi-track recordings of the day. After the Love Is Gone is killer on this copy.

There may in fact be a few too many tracks, causing the typical copy of the record to get strident and congested in the loud vocal passages, contributing to the somewhat hot upper mids in most of the mixes (which may be the fault of George Massenburg, whose engineering on even his best days tends to be somewhat sparkly).

Even though we are not in the business of selling typical copies — what we offer are very good ones at the very least, and superb ones at the upper ends of our price range — we should be clear that these problems can be heard to some degree on even the best copies we auditioned.

What we are looking for is sound that is as rich, smooth, sweet, and tonally correct as we can find. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it really can’t be anyway. It just has to be the best we can find after going through a big pile of copies, because if we can’t find it I don’t know how anyone else could. It’s the same process no matter who does it, and who else does it but us? (more…)

Lightnin’ Hopkins – Volume II

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this was one of the better copies we played in our recent shootout  
  • A shockingly well-recorded album – we had no idea an old Everest reissue could sound like this (since most of them are just awful)
  • Real down home blues with killer sound featuring Lightnin’ backed by drums and horns – this one is a lot of fun
  • For some strange reason unknown to us, the musician depicted on the front cover here isn’t Lightnin’ Hopkins, but T-Bone Walker!

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Junior Wells – It’s My Life

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  • A superb copy of Junior Wells’ recording from Chicago in ’66 (this is the read deal, folks!) with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound – just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Bigger and bolder, with more bass, more energy, and more of that “you-are-there-immediacy” of a live performance that set the best vintage pressings apart from reissues, CDs, and whatever else might be out there
  • “Cut from the same cloth as Wells’ classic Hoodoo Man Blues LP from the same period, It’s My Life, Baby! captured the Junior Wells-Buddy Guy team in great form, both in the studio and live at Pepper’s Lounge on 43rd Street. This album tends a bit more towards slow blues, including a rare example of Wells’ chromatic harmonica playing on ‘Slow, Slow,’ but there are fine uptempo pieces…”

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Young-Holt Unlimited – Oh Girl

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This is a very nice looking Atlantic LP with AMAZING SOUND! The sound just JUMPS out of the speakers as soon as the needle hits the groove. If more records sounded like this I’d be out of a job — you wouldn’t need me to find good pressings for you. Records like this in my experience are the exception not the rule. Few of these have survived, so I have no other copies to compare to this one.

I can tell you this: the ‘4 Men With Beards’ 180g pressing is a pretty pale imitation of the sound on this album.

Otis Redding – The Immortal Otis Redding

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

An incredible sounding copy with a Triple Plus (A+++) side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two. This vintage Plum and Tan label LP plays pretty darn quietly for an original Atco pressing – we’ve never heard one quieter. 

What won our shootout was whichever copy had the least amount of grit and spit on Otis’s vocals, the most space, the most natural and immediate presentation of the singer, along with the most correct tonality.

Picking the winner was not rocket science seeing as most copies in the shootout had quite a number of sonic issues. This copy is guaranteed to be head and shoulders better sounding than any other copy you’ve ever heard, or could ever hope to hear for that matter. (more…)

Dr. John – Dr. John’s Gumbo

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  • Dr. John’s Gumbo is back, now with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Full, lively, and solid, this copy has just the right sound for this collection of quintessential New Orleans Rhythm and Blues tracks
  • The superbly talented Keith Olsen engineered – just one year later he would record Buckingham-Nicks, and two years after that Fleetwood Mac
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “Dr. John’s Gumbo bridged the gap between post-hippie rock and early rock & roll, blues, and R&B… that sly fusion of styles makes Dr. John’s Gumbo one of Dr. John’s finest albums.”

You may have read this commentary in our other Dr. John listing, the one for In The Right Place. The two recordings — and therefore the Hot Stamper pressings made from them — share much in common, so we’ve more or less copies the listing for that album into this one. What’s good about one is good about the other, and vice-versa.

Tubey Magic Is Key

This original Yellow Label Atco 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 with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Muddy Waters – The Best of Muddy Waters

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  • This outstanding copy of The Best of Muddy Waters boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from top to bottom
  • Huge, Tubey Magical and lively, with solid weight down low and lots of space around all the instruments
  • Comprised of twelve killer tracks, all originally released as singles, including Rollin’ Stone, Long Distance Call, Hoochie Coochie, and many more
  • 5 Stars: “The material this artist cut for Chess during this period is nothing short of a blues revelation. There has never been anything quite like it, before or after, and when one has heard Muddy Waters from this period, one has simply heard the best blues has to offer.”

Don’t be put off by the Best Of designation in the title. ALL these songs were recorded as individual tracks to be released on individual discs. Muddy Waters would go into the studio and cut a few “sides,” the best of which would be approved for distribution. There was no concept in those days of an “album.” Albums were basically just collections of songs, and that means lots of filler. What’s great about this pressing is that it gives you all the classics with none of the filler. (more…)