Soul / R&B

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…)

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…)

Johnny Nash – I Can See Clearly Now

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  • Johnny Nash makes his site debut with this SUPERB pressing of his Number One Album, boasting Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – mostly quiet vinyl too  
  • When we first dropped the needle on a copy of the album, we were knocked out by just how RICH and SMOOTH the chorus was on the title track
  • Here was a Top Quality Analog Recording to rival the best releases of 1972, one that we had practically never heard of – and of course, the shootout produced an even better copy that the one we’d auditioned
  • 4 stars: “Nash’s buoyant, breezy, optimistic classic proved to be a phenomenal record holding the number one pop position for four weeks… It’s a tribute to its high quality that I Can See Clearly Now was in print almost three decades after its original release.”

Seventies Analog

Produced in 1972, the best copies of I Can See Clearly Now are rich, smooth and sweet in the best tradition of the ANALOG record.

Less than ten years later the warm, rich analog sound we Old School Audiophiles prize would go completely out of style. Those later years were a difficult time for audiophiles who liked the pop music of the day but not the pop sound of the day. Heavy-handed processing, as well as the overuse of synthesizers and drum effects, with the whole of the production slathered in digital reverb, not to mention a puzzling lack of bass foundation, have resulted in many of the albums recorded after 1980 being all but impossible to enjoy on a modern high-end system.

For some reason, the ’70s seems to get little respect from audiophiles, when in fact a high percentage of the best recordings we know of were made in that arbitrarily designated ten year period. A rough count leads me to think that more than half of our Top 100 Rock Albums were recorded in the years spanning 1970-79, which is very unlikely to be a statistical anomaly.

The pool of well-recorded albums was simply wider and deeper. Great sounding records like this one were made by the hundreds, their numbers falling off precipitously in the decades that followed. Fortunately for us hard core analog holdouts, we have easy access to the best of the ’70s recordings, still widely available in their original format: the vinyl LP.

Like many of our favorites from the ’70s, this one is not well known in audiophile circles, but we hope to change that with this wonderful sounding pressing. Both the sound and the music are worth your time, and if you find that you don’t agree with us about the music or the sound, feel free to return the record, at our expense even. (more…)

Commodores – Natural High

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  • A STUNNING copy of the band’s 1978 release, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from top to bottom – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Spacious, full-bodied and Tubey Magical with a solid bottom end and driving rhythmic energy, this is the right sound for this music
  • “… even if ‘Three Times a Lady’ isn’t your cup of tea, Natural High still has a lot to offer R&B fans. ‘X-Rated Movie,’ ‘Such a Woman,’ and ‘I Like What You Do’ are exhilarating examples of hardcore funk, and those who appreciate artists like Heatwave and the Brothers Johnson will find a lot to admire about ‘Fire Girl’ and ‘Flying High’ (both of which are sleek examples of the sophisticated funk style).” 

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Tower of Power – Back To Oakland

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When you hear it on a Hot Stamper like this, there is little in the recording to criticize. The brass is textured with just the right amount of bite (but not to the point of sounding gritty). In addition, the soundstage is wide and three-dimensional, with the kind of transparency that allows you to hear into the music all the way to the back wall of the studio (assuming your system resolves that kind of information).

The most obvious effect is that all the horns are separated out from one another, not all smeared together, with plenty of space around the drums, guitars and vocals as well. The sound is freely flowing from the speakers, not stuck inside them.

We love this funky music and have long been delighted with how wonderful the best pressings can sound. This may be Tower of Power’s best; certainly it’s one of their most consistent and well-recorded. (more…)

Jimmy Witherspoon – Handbags and Gladrags

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  • An outstanding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish
  • Both sides here are super big, rich and lively with tons of extension on both ends
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl throughout with both sides playing Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus

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Sly and the Family Stone – Dance to the Music

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  • Dance to the Music makes its debut on the site, with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound and reasonably quiet vinyl
  • This early Epic Yellow label pressing blew them all out of the water – the hit “Dance to the Music” sounds better here than we have ever heard it – who knew?
  • “This is exuberant music, bursting with joy and invention. Consider this — prior to this record no one, not even the Family Stone, treated soul as a psychedelic sun splash, filled with bright melodies, kaleidoscopic arrangements, inextricably intertwined interplay, and deft, fast rhythms.”

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Stevie Wonder – Music of My Mind

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  • AMAZING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this early Stevie Wonder classic
  • Anyone who has followed the site for a while surely knows how difficult it is to find Stevie Wonder records with excellent sound
  • This pressing gives you everything you ever hoped for from this music and then some — it’s full-bodied and spacious with plenty of extension on both ends
  • “Music of My Mind was also the first to bear the fruits of his increased focus on Moog and Arp synthesizers, though the songs never sound synthetic, due in great part to Stevie’s reliance on a parade of real instruments — organic drumwork, harmonica, organs and pianos — as well as his mastery of traditional song structure and his immense musical personality… his first truly unified record…” 

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