Soul / R&B

Sly and the Family Stone – Fresh

More Sly and the Family Stone

More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • A Fresh like you’ve never heard, with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them throughout this early Epic pressing
  • The sound is punchy and full-bodied with excellent clarity; it’s also smooth in the best tradition of analog from the early ’70s – this is the right sound for the music, no question about it
  • “Jazz legend Miles Davis was so impressed by the song ‘In Time’ from the album that he made his band listen to the track repeatedly for a full 30 minutes.” – Wikipedia
  • 4 stars: “Fresh expands and brightens the slow grooves of There’s a Riot Goin’ On, turning them, for the most part, into friendly, welcoming rhythms.”

(more…)

Whitney Houston – Self-Titled

More Whitney Houston

More Debut Albums of Interest

  • A stunning early Arista pressing, this copy earned killer grades throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This album has the kind of smooth, rich, tonally correct analog sound we thought they had forgotten how to record by 1985 – but here it is, thank goodness
  • Consistently strong material: You Give Good Love, Saving All My Love for You, How Will I Know, All at Once, and Greatest Love of All (the last of seven (!) singles released from the album)
  • “…introduced the world to ‘The Voice,’ an octave-spanning, gravity-defying melismatic marvel.”

Having done this for so long — 2020 marks our 33rd year in the record business — we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound — even as late as 1985! — is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.).

The music is not so much about the details in the recording; rather it lives or dies by its ability to recreate a solid, palpable, Whitney Houston singing live in your listening room. The best copies had an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

More Sly & The Family Stone

  • Tired of the crude, congested, hard, harsh and otherwise unpleasant sound of most pressings? The solution is right here!
  • Stand, I Want To Take You Higher, Everyday People, You Can Make It If You Try — what a killer lineup of songs
  • 5 stars: “Stand! is the pinnacle of Sly & the Family Stone’s early work, a record that represents a culmination of the group’s musical vision and accomplishment. …everything simply gels here, resulting in no separation between the astounding funk, effervescent irresistible melodies, psychedelicized guitars, and deep rhythms.”
  • This is a Must Own Soul Classic from 1969 that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1969 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

(more…)

Aretha Franklin – Soul ’69

More Aretha Franklin

More Soul, Blues and R&B

  • This early Atlantic pressing brings Aretha’s underrated Soul Album from ’69 to life with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • If you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful record, a vintage pressing like this one is the only way to go
  • Tough to find this quiet – Aretha made a lot of amazingly good records in the ’60s and they got played good and hard
  • 4 1/2 stars: “One of her most overlooked ’60s albums, on which she presented some of her jazziest material. Her vocals are consistently passionate and first-rate, as is the musicianship; players include the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and respected jazzmen Kenny Burrell, Ron Carter, et al.”
  • This is a Must Own Soul Classic from 1969 that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1969 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The music, of course, is top notch, and it’s even better when you don’t have the bad sound and groove distortion of the average copy getting in the way. I imagine the Queen Of Soul herself would be very impressed with the way she sounds on this Hot Stamper LP.

So many copies are smeary, recessed and lifeless you’d think you were playing a heavy vinyl reissue, not a vintage Atlantic pressing. With a lovely copy such as this, the music comes to life in front of you and the shortcomings quietly recede into the background (assuming you can handle the surfaces).

This is the way of all good pressings. We’ve played thousands of them. We call them Hot Stampers but let’s face it, “good sounding pressings” is just as accurate, if not quite as catchy.

(more…)

Stevie Wonder – The Secret Life of Plants

More Stevie Wonder

More Soul, Blues and R&B Albums

  • A superb copy of Wonder’s wonderful documentary soundtrack from 1979 with Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides
  • The sound here is bigger and livelier than on most other copies we played – above all it’s balanced, avoiding the tonality issues we heard on so many other pressings
  • “… there is beauty here. Stevie’s unquenchable desire for experimentation and love for melody are in full effect, and some of the magic and mystery of the botanic planet is evoked.”

(more…)

Stevie Wonder’s Second Masterpiece

More of the Music of Stevie Wonder

Hot Stamper Pressings of Soul Masterpieces Available Now

Over the course of the last year or two, for the first time in my life I’ve really gotten to know the album well, having found a CD at a local store to play in the car. I’ve listened to Fulfillingness’ First Finale scores of times and now see that is some of the best work Stevie Wonder ever did, right up there with Innervisions and miles ahead of any other Stevie Wonder album.

To my mind the best songs on the album are the quieter, more heartfelt and emotional ones, not the rockers or funky workouts. My personal favorites on side one are: Smile Please. Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, Too Shy to Say and Creepin’, which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are all the songs that weren’t hits.

On side two the two slowest songs are the ones I now like best: It Ain’t No Use & They Won’t Go When I Go (famously and brilliantly covered by George Michael on Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 in 1990).

If you take one of our Hot Stampers home see if you don’t find something very special about the tracks I have noted above.

Balance

Our original pressings have 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 exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl.

Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but new records do not, ever.

What is lost in these newly remastered recordings?

Lots of things, but the most obvious and bothersome is transparency.

And that also turns out to be the main issue with Fulfillingness. Many copies are thick and opaque.

Finding the right balance between Tubey Magical Richness and Transparency is the trick, and we think our best copies strike that balance as well as it can be struck.

(more…)

Marvin Gaye – Midnight Love

More Marvin Gaye

More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • Drop the needle on Sexual Healing then sit back and relax as the rich, warm sound of analog sets the mood!
  • There’s good frequency extension up top and down low, with plenty of meaty bass and silky highs (check out those bells)
  • “Midnight Love is a classic Marvin Gaye effort. In addition to this project thriving with Gaye’s enthusiastic spirit, it has his harmonious background vocals, his stunning vocal arrangements and his creative penmanship, as he wrote all the selections.”

This copy has two qualities which are essential for this music to really work its soulful magic: silky vocals and a BIG meaty bottom end.

Check out all the texture to the synths on Turn On Some Music – this is a highly resolving pressing which takes Marvin Gaye’s music — the last he would make before his death — to another level.

Many copies of Midnight Love suffer from a phony hi-fi-ish quality, sacrificing much of the warmth that is the all-important hallmark of analog. Is that any way to listen to this great Soul Classic? (My sources say no.)

(more…)

Aretha Franklin – Aretha Arrives

More Aretha Franklin

More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) grades throughout this Atlantic Green & Blue label pressing, we guarantee you’ve never heard the Queen of Soul’s 1967 release sound remotely as good as it does here
  • Both of these sides are outstanding – big, full-bodied and Tubey Magical yet still clear, spacious and open
  • The presence, breath and resolution to the vocals is superb, bringing Aretha out of the speakers and into your listening room
  • Tons of great material here, including Aretha’s fun version of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and the rockin’ classic “96 Tears.”
  • “Recorded in 1967 after the first flush of back-to-back successes with ‘Respect’ and ‘I Never Loved a Man,’ this captures Aretha Franklin in peak form. An essential addition to her discography.”
  • If you’re a fan, this early pressing from 1967 surely belong in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

We finally pulled together enough clean copies for a big shootout recently and most of them sounded the way you’d probably expect — thin, bright, and grainy. But not this one! It was doing pretty much everything we wanted it to, giving you the kind of life and energy this music needs to work its magic.

(more…)

Earth, Wind & Fire – Spirit

More Earth, Wind and Fire

More Recordings by George Massenburg

  • This outstanding pressing of Spirit boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big, clear, tubey, sweet ANALOG sound – we played it good and loud and it was ROCKIN’!
  • 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
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… the soul powerhouse didn’t let anyone down (either commercially or creatively) on the outstanding Spirit, which boasted hits ranging from the optimistic “On Your Face” and the passionate funk classic “Getaway” to the poetic ballad “Imagination”… even if one didn’t take EWF’s calls for unity, hard work, self-respect, and faith in God to heart, they had no problem with their solid grooves.”

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 we analog types, EWF was an audiophile-oriented band, producing some of the best sounding ’70s multi-track recordings of the day. “Getaway” is killer on this copy.

There may in fact be a few too many multi-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 some of the mixes (which is no doubt 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 end of the range — we should be clear that these problems can be heard to some degree on even the best copies we auditioned.

What we’re 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 can. It’s the same process no matter who does it, and who else does it at this scale but us? It may not take a village, but it at least takes a sizeable crew to sort through a dozen or more copies of the same album time and time again.

Fortunately we did manage to find copies in which the sound was big — “wall to wall” as we like to say — and on the best of them the presence of the vocalists puts them right in front of you. For the most part you can clearly make out each of the voices that make up the harmonically-complex choruses. What a sound! Nobody harmonizes better than these guys, partly because no other band has anyone remotely as talented as the preternaturally gifted Philip Bailey to sing the superhuman falsetto parts the way he does.

For audiophiles who like to play their music loud, the sound on the best copies can be GLORIOUS!

(more…)

Bill Withers / Still Bill – Surprisingly Well Recorded Soul

More Bill Withers

More Soul, Blues and R&B

  • Some of the best soul sound you’ll ever hear – natural, full-bodied and present, with the kind of richness and smoothness you only get from vintage analog
  • It’s Withers’ most consistent album, with outstanding sound for the two big hits – “Lean On Me” and “Use Me”
  • 5 stars: “It’s warm and easily accessible, but it has a depth and complexity that reveals itself over numerous plays — and, given the sound and feel of the music, from the lush arrangements to his comforting voice, it’s easy to want to play this again and again… the greatest testament to his considerable gifts.”
  • If you’re a Withers fan, this is a Must Own Classic from 1972 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Many of Withers’ best songs are here, classics of the ’70s canon such as ’Use Me,’ ‘Who Is He (And What Is He To You)? and ‘Lean On Me.’

This killer early Sussex pressing was one of the best from our recent shootout. It beat practically every other copy we put up against it (on side one anyway) with superb presence, top-notch clarity, full-bodied vocals and serious energy. I don’t think you could find a better sounding Bill Withers album no matter what you did. I wish there were more ’70s soul albums that sounded as good as this one does.

The vinyl is about as quiet as any Sussex pressing ever is. Finding these good sounding early pressings in audiophile playing condition is not easy as I’m sure you can imagine. (more…)