Soul / R&B

Al Green – I’m Still In Love With You

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this superb pressing of Al Green’s 1972 release
  • One of the fullest, richest, smoothest, cleanest and most energetic copies we played in our shootout – this is how good the album can sound
  • 5 stars: “[It] shares many surface similarities with its predecessor, from Al Green and Willie Mitchell’s distinctive, sexy style to the pacing and song selection. I’m Still in Love With You distinguishes itself with its suave, romantic tone and its subtly ambitious choice of material. There isn’t a wasted track on I’m Still in Love With You, and in many ways it rivals its follow-up, Call Me, as Green’s masterpiece.”

This is The Memphis Sound at its best — big Hammond organs with whirring Leslie speakers, funky drums, punchy brass blasts, and lovely string arrangements.

Al Green’s vocal performance is superb, of course, but one thing that really stands out after hearing the best Hot Stamper copies is the quality of the musicians’ performances. The rhythm section on this album really drives the music. Just listen to the punchy kick drum and deep, note-like bass on a song like Love and Happiness — the band is rockin’.

The Hodges Brothers — the house band at Hi Records, known for their “telepathic interplay” — deliver rock solid musicianship just brimming with energy and soul. The brass is handled by the truly great Memphis Horns, of Stax Records fame.

Just play the beginning of I’m So Glad You’re Mine to hear what we’re talking about. The drummer opens with a tight, funky beat that gets the song going right out of the gate. The kick drum is as punchy as they come, and just listen to that big room around the rimshots.

When the rest of the band joins in, you’ll be treated to some of the best Hammond organ sound you’ll ever hear. You can really hear the effect of the rotating Leslie speaker. When Al joins in on vocals with a very emotional, expressive performance, you’ll understand just why we’re so crazy about this record — it’s pure soul magic, baby! (more…)

Ray Charles / All Time Great Country and Western Hits – Better Sound than the Originals? Can It Really Be True?

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More Soul, Blues and R&B

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  • With three nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • What was especially shocking about this shootout is that in some ways the best sounding copies of the reissue not just the equal of, but actually best their original album counterparts
  • 22 classic songs on two LPs, including huge hits like I Can’t Stop Loving You, You Don’t Know Me, Oh Lonesome Me, Bye Bye Love, and much more – no wonder AMG gave both discs 5 stars
  • This is some big, bold, absolutely glorious Tubey Magical analog – the tape to disc transfer is Hard To Fault (HTF), making a mockery of the audiophile remasters to come

The music is wonderful. Just listen to that swingin’ horn section behind Ray on Hey, Good Lookin’. They are hot! And Bye Bye Love just plain ROCKS.

Both these LPs have the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (more…)

Stevie Wonder – The Woman In Red

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  • The Woman In Red finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Surprisingly good sound, perhaps the best sound Stevie Wonder got after about 1976 – we were shocked as you no doubt are
  • A superb collection, including I Just Called To Say I Love You and Love Light in Flight
  • “An ingenious jump from his trademark, spectacular, blend of Funk, R&B and Soul,contaminated with Pop, Disco, Gospel and Reggae, to a brand new Synthpop/Pop-soul sound that characterizes his ’80s works.”

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Aretha Franklin – Live at Fillmore West

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  • A superb pressing of this classic live Aretha album with nearly Triple Plus (A+ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Aretha’s cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water is truly amazing, but really, there’s not a weak track here – her covers of current material take those songs to another level entirely
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The music here sparkles and crackles with the energy of a top-flight rhythm section — Cornell Dupree on guitar, Bernard Purdie on drums, and Jerry Jemmott on bass, with Billy Preston on organ, Curtis on saxophone, and the Memphis Horns… the most dramatic and deeply satisfying of Aretha Franklin’s live recordings, and is a historical document that every soul fan should own…”

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The Vintage Sound of The Genius After Hours

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Yet Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

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Proof positive that there is nothing wrong with remastering vintage recordings if you know what you’re doing. These sessions from 1956 (left off of an album that Allmusic liked a whole lot less than this one) were remastered in 1985 and the sound — on the better copies mind you — is correct from top to bottom.

The highest compliment I can pay a copy such as this is that it doesn’t sound like a modern record. It sounds like a very high quality mono jazz record from the ’50s or ’60s. Unlike modern recuts it doesn’t sound EQ’d in any way. It doesn’t lack ambience the way modern records do. It sounds musical and natural the way modern records almost never do.

If not for the fairly quiet vinyl you would never know it’s not a vintage record. The only originals we had to play against it were too noisy and worn to evaluate critically. They sounded full, but dark and dull and somewhat opaque (hey, there’s that modern remastered sound we’ve all been hearing for years!).

And although it is obviously a budget reissue, it sure doesn’t sound cheap to these ears.

Tender Loving Care?

Was it remastered with great care, or did the engineer just thread up the tape on a high-quality, properly calibrated deck and say “Nice, sounds good, let her rip.”? Either explanation works for me, because I really don’t care who made the record or how much work they put into it. In the case of The Genius After Hours it seems they found the real master tape and just did their job right, the way mastering engineers — well, some of them anyway — had been doing for decades.

A scant ten years later Bernie Grundman, a true Hall of Famer, started cutting for Classic Records and ruined practically every tape handed to him.

Our explanation? We don’t have one! We played the records and reported our findings. We sold the ones we thought sounded good to us and didn’t bother with the rest.

Just like we’re doing now. The biggest difference here is that we are evaluating a single copy, with these specific qualities, and guaranteeing that you either love it or you get your money back. (more…)

The Fifth Dimension – Live!!

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  • Live!! finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on all FOUR sides
  • Bones Howe once again engineered, which means you can be sure the tonality is correct from top to bottom and the breath of life is captured beautifully in the midrange
  • The sound here is rich and full-bodied with much less grain and much more Tubey Magic than every other copy we played
  • Hal Blaine on the drums, Joe Osborne on bass and Larry Knechtel on keyboards – not too shabby!
  • 4 stars: “The performance offers an adequate sampling of the 5D’s classics and concurrent pop songs that attendees would likely be familiar with.”

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Al Green – Green is Blues

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • A tough title to find in audiophile playing condition – good luck finding one any quieter
  • Exceptionally spacious and three-dimensional on both sides, as well as relaxed and full-bodied – this pressing was one of the best we played
  • A superb collaboration between Al and Willie Mitchell, whose brilliant and skillful production elevated Al’s music to new heights
  • “[Green] sang with the conviction and talent that provided the final component in an artistically and commercially satisfying union.”

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Donny Hathaway – Extension of a Man

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  • Hathaway’s superb 1973 release finally arrives on the site with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Clearly better than every other pressing we played – when you can hear it sound this good you may just come to appreciate what a talent the man was
  • Donny’s final releases as a solo artist and arguably his studio masterpiece (his live album is absolute Must Own)
  • 4 stars: “Ranging from inner-city soul to orchestral grandeur to a bluesy ballad to easy-listening pleasantries, Extension of a Man was Donny Hathaway’s most ambitious LP, the justly titled capstone to his phenomenal career.”

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Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul

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  • This superb copy of Aretha’s 1968 release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – reasonably quiet vinyl too 
  • Surprisingly rich, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, with plenty of natural ambience – Aretha’s vocals are present, breathy, and explosively dynamic
  • You’d need either a lot of copies, a lot of luck, or both, to come up with a pressing that sounds this good and plays this quietly
  • 5 stars: …an inspired blend of covers and originals from the best songwriters in soul and pop music…”

We’ve been playing a lot of Aretha Franklin records lately, working our way through her catalog, but it’s hard to find pressings that separate themselves from the pack to give you audiophile-friendly sound. Too many seem to be optimized more for the radio than for your hi-rez audio rig.

Every now and then, however, we luck into a copy that has the real soul magic in its grooves. On this album, that means Chain Of Fools and Aretha’s great version of Natural Woman will sound just the way you want them to. (more…)

Al Green – Call Me

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  • You’ll find solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on this copy of Al Green’s superb 5 Star 1973 release, Call Me
  • This vintage pressing has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s surely missing from whatever 180g reissue has been made from the 40+ year old tapes (or, to be clear, a modern digital master copied from those tapes)
  • 5 stars: “Al Green reached his creative peak with the brilliant Call Me, the most inventive and assured album of his career. So silky and fluid as to sound almost effortless, Green’s vocals revel in the lush strings and evocative horns of Willie Mitchell’s superbly intimate production… A classic.”

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