Blues, Electric Blues and R&B

Stevie Ray Vaughan / Texas Flood – Forget Layered Depth and Pinpoint Imaging

More of the Music of Stevie Ray Vaughan

Hot Stamper Pressings of Electric Blues Albums

This copy gets Stevie’s room-filling guitar to sound about as rich and powerful as a recording of it can. When playing this record, first make sure the volume is good and loud. Now close your eyes and picture yourself in a blues club, with the volume ten times louder than your stereo will play. Electric Blues played at loud levels in a small club would sound pretty much like this album does, a bit messy but also real.  

If you’re one of those audiophiles who insists on precise soundstaging with layered depth and pinpoint imaging, forget it. That’s not in the cards. The producers and engineers were going for the “live in the studio” sound with this one (and most of his other albums it seems), which means it’s a bit of a jumble image-wise.

But that’s the way you would hear it performed live in a club, so where’s the harm? (more…)

Albert King – I’ll Play The Blues For You

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More Electric Blues

  • Big, rich and relatively smooth, here are the wonderfully breathy vocals and Electric Blues energy that are missing from the reissues (including, no doubt, any and all Heavy Vinyl ones)
  • Mint Minus Minus throughout – about as quiet as we can find these vintage Stax pressings
  • 4 stars: “…the combination of King, members of the legendary Bar-Kays, the Isaac Hayes Movement, and the sparkling Memphis Horns was hardly a risky endeavor… The result was a trim, funk-infused blues sound that provided ample space for King’s oft-imitated guitar playing.”

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Janis Joplin – I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!

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  • This outstanding 360 Stereo pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • This copy has the ideal combination of openness and transparency, coupled with the richness and solidity of vintage analog
  • When Janis starts singing, watch out – her voice positively JUMPS out of the speakers, something we didn’t hear her do on many of the other copies in our shootout
  • Features Try, one of Janis’s All Time Classics — and with these grades you can be sure it sounds positively amazing here

This Columbia 360 Stereo pressing is THE CURE for Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues!

Drop the needle on the great song Try and just listen to how crisp, punchy, and BIG the drums sound.

The bottom end has real weight and the top end is silky and extended. The overall sound is rich, full, and smooth.

ENERGY is the key element missing from the average copy, but not on this bad boy (or girl if you prefer). The electric guitars are Tubey Magical and the bass is solid and punchy.

On many copies — too many copies — the vocals are pinched and edgy. Here they’re breathy and full — a much better way for Janis to sound. There’s a slight amount of grit to the vocals at times and the brass as well, but the life force on these sides is so strong that we much preferred it to the smoother, duller, deader copies we heard that didn’t have that issue.

On copy after copy we heard pinched squawky horns and harsh vocals, not a good sound for this album. Janis’ voice needs lots of space up top to get good and loud, and both of these sides have it in spades.

Few other copies had this combination of openness and transparency on the one hand, and full, rich tonality on the other. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – The Original Fleetwood Mac

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Reviews and Commentaries for Fleetwood Mac

  • The Original Fleetwood Mac makes it back to the site with incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Both of these sides are KILLER – clean, clear, full-bodied and musical with tons of bottom end weight
  • This album sounds like Fleetwood Mac is playing live in the studio most of the time, and that is a glorious sound
  • 4 stars: “An undeniably strong collection culled primarily from the band’s first incarnation, featuring John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, and Jeremy Spencer.”

The music on this album was recorded when they were still a blues band — tracks left off their early albums for one reason or another.

As is so often the case with unreleased material, these songs do not have that overproduced, too-many-generations-of-tape sound. This sounds like Fleetwood Mac live in the studio most of the time. In other words, awesome. If the drum sound on the first track isn’t enough to convince you this is an amazing sounding record, I don’t know what would.

These British imports are the only way to go. The domestic copies are definitely made from dub tapes. They can sound good, but they never sound this good! (more…)

Hot Tuna – Self-Titled

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• Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides make this the best sounding Hot Tuna we have ever played
• If you like the kind of music Brits such as John Renbourn, Stefan Grossman, Bert Jansch and the like were making back in the ’60s this should be right up your alley
• Live, all acoustic, mostly Blues and Rags, this is about as far from the Jefferson Airplane as you can get
• 4 Stars: “Kaukonen remained the accomplished fingerpicking stylist he had been before joining the Airplane, while Casady dispensed with the usual timekeeping duties of the bass in favor of extensive contrapuntal soloing, creating a musical conversation that was unique. The result was less an indulgence than a new direction.”

Top quality sound for both sides of Hot Tuna’s classic debut album. It’s the best Hot Tuna Hot Stamper to ever hit the site for a good reason — it’s hard to come by clean copies of this stuff, and even when you do most copies don’t sound all that good.

Schmitt and Zentz

A pair of big names behind the recording managed to achieve some of the better live sound of the day. I refer of course to none other than Al Schmitt, producer (and winner of 23 Grammy Awards to date), and Allen Zentz, engineer (who later went on to found Allen Zentz Mastering and Recording). (more…)

Bee Gees et al. – Saturday Night Fever

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More 5 Star Albums

  • An OUTSTANDING copy of this ’70s classic with Double Plus (A++) sound on all FOUR sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • There’s real Bee Gees vocal magic here – “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” “More Than a Woman,” “Jive Talkin’,” and more!
  • One of the most underrated tracks that holds up surprisingly well after all these years is “A Fifth of Beethoven,” and it sounds great here
  • It’s no walk in the park to find a copy with sound this good and vinyl this quiet, but here it is
  • 5 stars: “Saturday Night Fever is virtually indispensable as a Bee Gees album, not just for the presence of an array of songs that were hits in their own right but because it offered the Gibb brothers as composers as well as artists…”
  • If you’re a Bee Gees fan, this title from 1977 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1977 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

This copy of the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack has truly killer sound throughout, and that ain’t no jive talkin’! We collected a bunch of these and put them through the shootout process and were delighted to find out that some of the material on here can sound wonderful on the best pressings.

Like any compilation, some songs are going to sound better than others. The good news here is that most of the tracks you’d hope to be impressive actually are: “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love” and “Disco Inferno” are among the better-sounding songs here.

Find your favorite song on here, drop the needle, and see if the dramatically improved sound doesn’t bring back some special memories, and maybe even inspire you to bust a move!

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Eric Clapton – Unplugged

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  • The sound of this superb import is rich, full-bodied, lively, and warm, with solid bass and breathy, clear vocals
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Unplugged is the concert and album that established the MTV program as a classy, tony showcase for artists eager to redefine themselves via reexamination of their catalogs, which is what Clapton cannily did here.”

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Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood

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More Electric Blues

  • Both sides here are incredibly big, full and natural sounding with tons of energy and presence; exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • “It’s hard to overestimate the impact Stevie Ray Vaughan’s debut, Texas Flood, had upon its release in 1983… Vaughan became a genuine star and, in doing so, sparked a revitalization of the blues…” – All Music
  • If you’re a fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan, a killer copy of his debut album from 1983 belongs in your collection.

This copy gets Stevie’s room-filling guitar to sound about as rich and powerful as a recording of it can. When playing this record, first make sure the volume is up good and high. Now close your eyes and picture yourself in a blues club, with the volume ten times louder than your stereo will play. Electric Blues played at loud levels in a small club would sound pretty much like this album does, a bit messy but also real.

If you’re one of those audiophiles who insists on proper soundstaging with layered depth and pinpoint imaging, forget it. That’s not in the cards. The producers and engineers were going for the “live in the studio” sound with this one (and most of his other albums it seems), which means it’s a jumble image-wise.

But that’s the way you would hear it performed live, so where’s the harm? (more…)

Willie Dixon – Hidden Charms

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More Classic Blues

  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • Hidden Charms was produced by T Bone Burnett, a man who understands this music as well as any living soul, and also a man who knows how to get the most out of the artists he works with

It was pretty easy to separate the men from the boys in this shootout. A quick drop of the needle on each side would immediately answer our number one question: “How BIG is the sound?”. The copies that lacked top end extension or bottom end were just too boring. This is the BLUES, baby — you think it’s supposed to sound small?

Another problem we ran into on many copies was excessive smoothness. When a copies was overly rich or smeary, it usually lacked the “gritty” feel that music like this should have. I don’t know about you, but if I’m listening to the blues I am not looking for glossy sound. Give me the texture and the detail and the other qualities that Willie Dixon put on the tape. I don’t want his sound to be “fixed” after the fact.

This is some of the best modern blues sound money can buy! We picked up a bunch of these and shot ’em out, and most of the copies left us cold. The average pressing is still a decent sounding record, but the music works so much better on a Hot Stamper. A copy like this one gives you more detail and texture, more extension up top and real weight to the bottom end — absolutely crucial for this music.

Hidden Charms was produced by T Bone Burnett, a man who understands this music as well as any living soul, and also a man who knows how to get the most out of the artists he works with. The sound and the arrangements are perfectly suited to Willie’s material. Since most vintage blues recordings leave a lot to be desired sonically, and most modern “hi-fi” blues recordings are less than engaging musically, this album is the cure for the blues-lovin’ audiophile’s blues! (more…)

Joe Cocker / With a Little Help From My Friends – A Masterpiece of Blue Eyed Soul

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We just finished our first shootout in over FIVE [2012 or so] years for the album and were SHOCKED by how amazing the best copies can sound, even better than we remember them from last time around. Turn this one up good and loud and you’ll have Joe Cocker in all his raspy glory belting out With A Little Help From My Friends right in your very own listening room! (more…)