Genre – Rock – Singer / Songwriter

Joni Mitchell / Court And Spark – The DCC LP Is Not Bad!

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Sonic Grade: B

Steve’s version is very musical; it’s rich and natural sounding, which of course makes it very enjoyable. You can do a lot better but you sure can do a lot worse.

Opaque, veiled, lifeless, dull sound is the norm for Court and Spark — most copies are dead as a doornail. If they’re not dead, they’re likely to be thin and gritty.

The DCC is a big improvement over the average domestic pressing. (The original Brit imports are fairly competitive with the DCC; the later Brits with the K catalog numbers suck as a rule.)

The Nautilus Half-Speed is pretty but lifeless, like so many of their pressings (and Half-Speed Mastered records in general). I would grade it about a C. Don’t waste your money. Keep buying originals until you find a good one.

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Carly Simon – How Clearly Can You See the Hi-hat?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Carly Simon’s Albums Available Now

Carly’s soulful version of You Belong To Me is what made this album a Must Own back in the day (and still does). During our shootout, as we listened to the song over and over again on copy after copy, it became clear that the best pressings allowed us to easily hear the drummer’s hi-hat within the dense mix of this heavily produced pop song. On most copies it’s buried and all but inaudible.

If the pressing you own is full-bodied and tonally correct, and you can easily pick out the rhythmic contribution of the hi-hat within the mix, you have a copy with the kind of transparency that few we played managed to achieve.

Transparency (and all the other stuff we talk about) can and does make a big difference in your enjoyment of the music. If the average record sounded even close to right nobody would need us to find good sounding copies for them, copies would be in every record bin in town and we would have to find some other records to sell. Copies of this album may be in every bin in town — that’s where we found this one — but the sound sure isn’t.

Of course this has to be a multi-miked, multi-tracked, overdubbed pop record — they don’t make them any other way — but it doesn’t have to FEEL like one.

When you get a good copy it feels like all these guys and gals are playing together live in the studio.  They may have their own mics, and they are certainly being placed artificially in the soundfield to suit the needs of the track (piano over here, guitar over there, drummer behind the singer), but the transparency of the better pressings makes them sound like they are all in the same room performing together.

And without the very best cleaning technologies, the ones invented only recently as a matter of fact, there is no chance of achieving the kind of transparency our best copies have. We consider it one of the most important Revolutions in Audio of the last twenty years. If you want your records to sound their best, we would love to help you do it.

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Carole King / Tapestry – CBS Half-Speed Reviewed

More of the Music of Carole King

Reviews and Commentaries for Tapestry

Sonic Grade: D

The CBS Half Speed is bright and thin — can you imagine a worse way to present this intimate music?  

The chances of there being Hot Stamper CBS Half-Speed Mastered pressings of Tapestry may be vanishingly small, but we can’t say the number is zero. There could be some, but considering how bad an idea Half-Speed Mastering is, would they have much chance of beating our Hot Stampers?

As a practical matter I would have to say the chances are zero.

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John Denver – Poems, Prayers and Promises

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  • This early Orange Label RCA pressing earned Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • We guarantee that it’s fuller, bigger and clearer than any copy you have ever heard or your money back
  • Superb engineering by Ray Hall— the recording is from 1971 but in some ways it sounds as good as if it had been made in 1961 — high praise in these parts!
  • “… this was at the beginning of a golden period for Denver when his songs would dominate the easy listening airwaves, especially his big hit singles.” – All Music

NOTE: The record has a noticeable dishwarp which we had no trouble playing perfectly.  If your rig struggles with dishwarped records, best to pass on this one. (more…)

Jackson Browne / Late for the Sky – Lovin’ That Rich, Smooth Asylum Sound

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More 5 Star Albums

  • This outstanding pressing of Browne’s third album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This one was bigger and bolder, with more Tubey Magical richness on Jackson’s voice, than most of what we played
  • We love the rich, smooth, natural sound that Asylum was known for, and this copy has a healthy dose of each of those qualities
  • It’s getting harder and harder to find these in good condition these days – the man has a lot of fans, and they prefer to hear him on vinyl
  • 5 stars from AMG and Rolling Stone calls it the “quintessential Browne album,” saying the “… open-ended poetry achieves power from the nearly religious intensity that accumulates around the central motifs; its fervor is underscored by the sparest and hardest production to be found on any Browne album yet… as well as by his impassioned, oracular singing style.”
  • If you’re a fan of the man, this title from 1974 is clearly one of his best, and one of his best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here. (more…)

Gordon Lightfoot – Summertime Dream

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More Singer-Songwriter Albums

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Summertime Dream you’ve heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • 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
  • 4 1/2 stars: “With Summertime Dream, Gordon Lightfoot produced one of his finest albums, and wrapped up a six-year period of popularity… Lightfoot and his band deliver a tasty smorgasbord of intelligent, grown-up music. As for ‘Edmund Fitzgerald,’ its continued popularity more than 20 years after its release attests to the power of a well-told tale and a tasty guitar lick.”
  • If you’re a fan of Gordon Lightfoot, his 1976 release is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1976 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

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Carly Simon / Hotcakes – What to Listen For

More of the Music of Carly Simon

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Carly Simon

Hot Stamper Pressings of Richard Perry Productions

Many copies of this album suffer from (at least) one of two problems: unnatural hi-fi sound or considerable grit and grain.

Both are in large part due to the processing-intensive production of Richard Perry. On the best copies it’s easy to understand his choices as the sound is quite lovely. Unfortunately that rich, sweet sound he obviously got on to the master tape didn’t quite make it to the average vinyl pressing of the album.

The effects used on Carly’s vocals turn her voice into a gritty, grainy mess on most copies — certainly not the kind of sound that audiophiles want to hear. It took a few exceptional copies to make us understand what Simon and Perry were going for. Compare this Hot Stamper to the typical copy and you’ll hear it for yourself right away. (You DEFINITELY want your electricity really cookin’ for this shootout, because bad electricity will certainly exacerbate problems with grit and grain.)

You Haven’t Got Time For The Pain, But We Do

It’s one of Carly’s best songs and the title perfectly sums up our selling point for these Hot Stampers. Anyone can do this shootout on his own; these records are in every used record bin out there. Of course, I don’t know if anyone but us would WANT to do this shootout, because so many copies sound just plain awful! If, like Carly, you haven’t got time for the pain, save yourself the trouble and take home a Hot copy. Your free time is valuable — spend it listening to good records and leave the bad ones to us.

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James Taylor / One Man Dog – A Personal Favorite and Forgotten Gem

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More Personal Favorites

Which of these copies has Hot Stampers?

That’s easy – just check the notes!

Of course this is far too many copies to have in one shootout, so some quick and dirty triage is the only way to get this group down to a manageable number, typically ten to twelve.

  • Big, rich and solid on both sides, with an especially relaxed, musical quality – it also has the transparency and clarity that most of the copies we played could not offer
  • There is not a false note to be found on side one: it’s brilliant from start to finish and side two is almost as good – we love the Abbey Road-like medley that makes up most of it
  • “Taylor turns in his best singing performance, running through the songs with fire, force, and enthusiasm, the qualities most notable by their absence on earlier recordings.” Rolling Stone

Play Chili Dog here, one of our favorite tracks, and note not only the clarity and spaciousness, but the PUNCH and LIFE of the music. This song is supposed to be fun. The average compressed dull copy only hints at that fact.

Then skip on down to the hit at the end of the side, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, another favorite track for testing. There’s a lot of bass in the mix on this track, but the best copies keep it under control. When it gets loose and starts blurring the midrange, the vocals and guitars seem “blocked”. The best copies let you hear all that meaty bass, as well as into the midrange.

One Man Dog, like many early WB pressings, has a tendency to be dull and opaque. (Most side twos have a real problem in that respect.) When you get one like this, with more of an extended top end, it tends to come with much more space, size, texture, transparency, ambience and openness.

Of course it does; that’s where much of that stuff is, up high. Most copies don’t have nearly enough of it, but thankfully this one does.

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this recording. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and especially from modern remasterings). (more…)

Jim Croce – Life and Times

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More Singer-Songwriter Albums

  • This copy of Croce’s superb 4th studio album boasts superb sound from start to finish
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, and vocal presence on this copy than others you’ve heard
  • “Released at the height of the singer-songwriter era, Life And Times put Jim Croce up there with the best of them. Containing the upbeat top forty songs such as “One Less Set Of Footsteps” and “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” along with such ballads as “These Dreams,” and “Alabama Rain.” High rollicking fun for anyone who likes enjoyable music.”

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Joni Mitchell – Song To A Seagull

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

  • Song To A Seagull FINALLY returns to the site on this early Reprise pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • Our favorite early (pre-Blue) Joni album by far – as good as her others are, this one has a special charm we can find on no other record, by her or anyone else
  • Side one gives you breathy, clear vocals and sound that is rich, full, and Tubey Magical with especially lovely guitar tone
  • Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • “What sets this release apart from those of other confession-style singer/songwriters of the time is the craft, subtlety, and evocative power of Mitchell’s lyrics and harmonic style… “

I loved this album from the minute I first heard it; all of side one is magical in a way that no other Joni album is. Is it the particular guitar tunings she was using? The minor key melodies? Whatever she did, however she did it, the result is an absolutely SUBLIME folk album, as unique in its own way as Leonard Cohen’s debut.

I put this one right up with her best, which are of course the ones we’ve done Hot Stamper shootouts for, of course, and on any given day I would rather play side one of this album than any of the others. (more…)