Genre – Vocals – Female

Sarah Vaughan / The Lonely Hours on Classic Records

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Classic Records remastered this album back in the day, and I can see why: the average pressing on Roulette is borderline unlistenable. Of course we didn’t know that when we started this shootout. We had found a nice sounding copy and subsequently went on the hunt for more. Little did we know how wide the variation in sound quality we would find on the original Orange Label pressings. There was simply no denying that many of the copies we played were just too thin, shrill and pinched in the midrange to be of any interest to our audiophile customers.

As mediocre as Bernie’s Classic cutting may be, it’s still better than the average Roulette original one might throw on the turntable.

And you can forget the monos completely; they were by far the worst sounding of them all.

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Ella Fitzgerald – Hello Love

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  • Ella’s 1959 release finally arrives on the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) Mono sound from first note to last
  • The sound is relaxed, full-bodied and lively, with Tubey Magical richness befitting the 1957 and 1959 recording dates of these sessions
  • Skip the stereo pressing on this title – none of the copies we played could hold a candle to this killer mono LP
  • “The album focuses on well-known songs not included in Fitzgerald’s epic Songbooks project, and several of the songs are tunes that she had recently recorded in duet with Louis Armstrong.”
  • 4 stars: “A fine gem among the diamonds of Ella Fitzgerald’s late-’50s period with Verve… Wrapped in the strings of Frank DeVol’s orchestra, Fitzgerald is a bewitching presence singing these dreamy standards…”

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Lena Horne & Gabor Szabo – Now That’s What a Real Drum Kit Sounds Like!

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

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records are just too consistently noisy for us to offer to our audiophile customers no matter how good they sound.

We have a section for records that tend to be noisy, and it can be found here.

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This is the most realistic drum kit I have heard on a non-jazz album in my life. The drum sound on the first track is exactly the sound we all know from hanging around small clubs and our friends’ garage bands. There is simply no audible processing on any part of the kit. The drums are centered behind the vocals and lead instruments, with what sounds like to me the barest of miking, surrounded by just the right amount of unbaffled studio space.

When the drums come in on the first track on side one you will hear immediately what I mean. The third track on side two has especially good drums as well. The vocals on that third track, Message to Michael, are some of the most natural on the album as well. Lena can strain a bit on some songs in the loudest passages, but on others she can belt it out and stay clean all the way to the top. Listen track by track to hear how well she holds up when the bigger choruses come in.

As music lovers and audiophiles this was a truly marvelous discovery for us years ago. True, we’ve known about the album for a long time, but as a practical matter it’s been impossible to find enough clean copies to do a shootout — until now of course.

Dave Sanders, a name I — and no doubt most audiophiles — was not familiar with, brilliantly engineered the album as well as other favorites of ours, including Szabo’s 1969, Gilberto’s Windy and McFarland’s Does The Sun Really Shine On The Moon? It’s hard to find a recording he did that isn’t full of Tubey Magic, huge studio space and right-on-the-money instrumental timbres. (more…)

Julie London – Around Midnight

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More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

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  • Julie’s impossibly rare and wonderful 1960 release makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides of this original Liberty stereo pressing
  • For whatever reason, this is a record that takes us years to find even one clean stereo copy, ouch
  • Like many of her best Liberty recordings, this one puts Julie right in the room with you thanks to the brilliant engineering of John Kraus (Julie Is Her Name, Calendar Girl, Julie… At Home, etc.)
  • 4 stars: “Her ability to interpret a song was at its strongest in the late ’50s and early ’60s, as is evidenced on the shimmering Around Midnight. While some of her best recordings were in front of small jazz combos, Around Midnight proves that London was just as effective in front of larger orchestras and bands. The drowsy “Black Coffee” and lazy “Lush Life” typify the late-night feel of the album, leading right into “The Wee Small Hours of the Morning.”

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Nancy Wilson – Nancy Wilson / Cannonball Adderley

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More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

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  • This dynamic collaboration finally makes its Hot Stamper debut with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two
  • Here is the sound we love at Better Records – both sides are full-bodied and Tubey Magical, with Wilson’s vocals unusually smooth and present
  • An inspired collection that showcases the versatility of both Wilson and Adderley (who plays five instrumentals)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Given the play list and the outstanding artists performing it, why any serious jazz collection would be without this classic album is difficult to comprehend.” [Hear hear!]

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

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records never justified the time and money required to find Hot Stamper pressings of them in order to make it worth our while to do them again. This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more.

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Sarah Vaughan – In a Romantic Mood

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  • Sarah Vaughan’s superb In a Romantic Mood album from 1957 finally debuts on the site, and what a copy it is, taking top honors for side two and earning our coveted Triple Plus (A+++) grade
  • No other copy could touch this original Black Label Mono Mercury pressing for warmth, richness, and, most especially, vocal intimacy and in-the-room presence
  • If all you know are the Classic Records and Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl reissues, our Shootout Winner here should be a sonic treat you have simply never experiences before
  • An original Mercury pressing that has no audible marks and plays as quietly as this one does is a rare find indeed – it seems to be the quietest copy from our shootout, and even better, no other copy earned higher grades

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Julie London – Julie Is Her Name

More Julie London

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

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  • Julie’s debut finally arrives on the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • The vocal naturalness and immediacy of this early Liberty pressing will put Julie in the room with you – more than anything else, it lets her performance come to life
  • The naturalness of the presentation puts this album right at the top of best-sounding female vocal albums of all time
  • 4 stars: “Her debut is her best, a set of fairly basic interpretations of standards in which she is accompanied tastefully by guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Ray Leatherwood.”

Listen to how rich the bottom end is on Barney Kessel’s guitar. The Tubey Magic here is off the charts. Some copies can be dry, but that is clearly not a problem on this one.

To take nothing away from her performance, which got better with every copy we played. Julie’s rendition of Cry Me a River may be definitive.

If only Ella Fitzgerald on Clap Hands got this kind of sound! As good as the best copies of that album are, this record takes the concept of intimate female vocals to an entirely new level. (more…)

Burt Bacharach – Casino Royale Is a Mess on Classic Records Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: D

Casino Royale under the sway of Bernie’s penchant for bright, gritty, ambience-challenged sound? Not such a good match. There is no reissue, and there will never be a reissue, that will sound as good as a good 3s original. (And I hope it would go without saying that most copies cannot begin to do what a real Hot Stamper original can.)

As is often the case, the Classic Heavy Vinyl Reissue is simply a disgrace.


FURTHER READING

Labels With Shortcomings – Classic Records – Classical (more…)

The Recordings of Lena Horne – These Five Didn’t Make the Grade

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These are just some of the recordings by Lena Horne that we’ve auditioned over the years and found wanting. Without going into specifics, we’ll just say these albums suffer from poor performances, poor sound, or both, and therefore do not deserve a place in your collection.

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find these in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

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Burt Bacharach – Casino Royale

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  • A superb original stereo copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally QUIET vinyl for this album too
  • A record that has its share of problems, but if you’ve got the system for it (huge, heavily tweaked, fast, free from obvious colorations and capable of tremendous resolution), this copy is sure to impress  
  • A TAS List favorite that sounds amazing on a the right early pressing and dramatically better than any Heavy Vinyl reissue that’s we know of
  • “The more recognizable and certainly more straightforward side of Bacharach is here, too, on the Dusty Springfield smash ‘The Look of Love.’ This is one of Bacharach’s best soundtracks…”

The space is big and the sound relatively rich (although the sound does vary quite a bit from track to track). The vocals have notably less hardness than most and the orchestra is not as brash as it can be on so many of the copies we audition. Huge amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies, and critical to The Look of Love. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD. (more…)