Labels We Love – Reprise

Neil Young – Harvest


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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this vintage pressing of Neil’s undeniable classic is guaranteed to beat any Harvest you’ve ever heard
  • At Mint Minus Minus this is not an especially quiet copy, but keep in mind that it’s practically impossible to find an early pressing with sound this good that will play quieter – it hasn’t happened in years 
  • A Top 100 album and a sublime recording no audiophile should be without
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…the love songs and the harrowing portrait of a friend’s descent into heroin addiction, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” remain among Young’s most affecting and memorable songs.” 

When you have this kind of open, extended top end, the grit, grain and edge just disappear, leaving you with a clear, Tubey Magical sound that’s way beyond anything you have ever heard (or we give you your money back). Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the string of superb studio albums Neil released from 1970 to 1976. Just look at these titles: After The Gold Rush, Harvest, On The Beach, Tonight’s The Night, and Zuma. (more…)

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie – Sinatra At The Sands – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This double album presents Sinatra and Basie at the height of their powers, in a setting especially conducive to both men’s music, the big room at the Sands Hotel in Vegas. If you missed it — and I’m sure most all of us did — here’s your chance to go back in time and be seated with the beautiful people, front row center. This two disc all tube-mastered analog set is practically the only way you’ll ever be able to hear the greatest vocalist of his generation — in his prime no less — performing with one of the swingingest big bands of the time.

There is some edge on Sinatra’s voice on every side of every copy; it’s so common it’s got to be on the tape. Those copies with less edge and grit on the vocals that are at the same time not overly smooth or dull tend to do very well in our shootouts. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – All Alone

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

The biggest issue with Reprise-era Sinatra is always grit and grain, and we’re happy to report that this superb pressing has very little of either.

Also it’s often the case that the strings may seem a bit shrill or smeary (or both; smear itself can actually make the strings sound shrill). The more harmonically correct and rosiny the string tone the better, obviously.

We tried to get this shootout off the ground in 2012 and just did not have a big enough pile of copies to work with in order to find a truly killer pressing. This time around we had a much bigger pile to work with and much better luck. (more…)

Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps

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  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides, making this one of the more enjoyable copies we’ve heard in quite a while
  • It’s not easy to find copies that get both the quieter, acoustic material and the big, rockin’ Crazy Horse stuff right, but this one did
  • With some fairly quiet passages of music, both sides play about as well as the record ever does – Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • 5 stars: “His strongest collection since Tonight’s the Night, its obvious antecedent was Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, and, as Dylan did, Young divided his record into acoustic and electric sides while filling his songs with wildly imaginative imagery.”

This copy has some of the best Rust Never Sleeps sound we have ever had the privilege of playing. The acoustic guitars are full-bodied and sweet, with lovely, delicate harmonics. The vocals had a natural quality that we didn’t hear on some copies, with no trace of thinness or edginess, yet still present and clear. If you are looking for a copy that gets the folkie stuff right, this is the one.

Play track three, Ride My Llama, to hear the kind of rich, sweet, Tubey Magic to be found on this side. Tubey Magic in 1979? Yes, analog was still alive and well then — this copy proves it. The disastrously synthesized ’80s were on their way but thankfully they hadn’t gotten here yet.

Side two is where the harder-rockin’ electric material can be found, including two of the best songs on the album: Powderfinger and Sedan Delivery. The sound is full and smooth and lively – this side was rockin’ like no other. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Shadows and Light – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

FOUR INCREDIBLE SIDES! We had a huge shootout for this famous double album and this copy blew our minds with a pair each of White Hot and Super Hot sides and quiet vinyl throughout. In the high-stakes game of Better Records Double Album Poker, that’s a full house, my man! Sides one and three earned the A+++ grades while sides two and four were close behind at A++. This one gives you the kind of YOU ARE THERE immediacy and transparency that put you front and center for a late ’70s jazzy Joni Mitchell show. Not too many copies will do that!

If you’re a fan of Joni’s more experimental work from the mid to late ’70s, this album is a must-own. She takes a top-notch crew of musicians including Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorious and Michael Brecker through a set including many of her best album tracks from the era.

Sides one and three were absolutely top-notch, earning the top grade of A+++. The sound is full-bodied, lively and very DYNAMIC. On so many copies the sax sounds thin and hard, but on a Hot Stamper like this one you get fuller, smoother sound for the instrument. Joni’s voice is breathy and present with real texture, and the three-dimensional imaging gives the music a real sense of SPACE — just like you’d get at a concert. This helps convey the intimacy of the songs and the performances, and isn’t that what we audiophiles got in this crazy hobby for in the first place? (more…)

Sammy Davis Jr. – Sammy’s Back On Broadway

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  • Sammy’s Back On Broadway comes to the site with shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • Rich, smooth, and shockingly Tubey Magical, the sound on this 1965 Reprise Tri-Color Steamboat pressing is Hard To Fault (HTF)
  • Some of the best sound and music we’ve ever heard from the man – this is an album that proves Sammy was more than a member of The Rat Pack
  • 4 stars: “Although the 1965 album was filled with concurrently modern selections, the mixture of enduring classics and lesser-known material further exemplifies the artist’s impeccable taste and performance style.”

There are an awful lot of bad sounding Sammy Davis, Jr. records out there. We must have played at least a half dozen hard, honky, sour sounding copies before we ran into this forgotten gem. (Dean Martin’s albums are the same way; maybe one out of ten sound good and the rest are just terrible.) (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Song To A Seagull

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  • This stunning copy boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • The vocals are breathy and clear, and the overall sound is rich, full and Tubey Magical with especially lovely guitar tone
  • Our favorite early Joni Mitchell album by far – as good as her others are, this one has a special charm we can find on no other record, by Joni or anyone else
  • “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…)

Joni Mitchell – Ladies Of The Canyon – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This Ladies Of The Canyon absolutely BLEW US AWAY on side two, defeating a huge stack of originals! When we dropped the needle on this side two, we heard the kind of Joni Mitchell magic that is so hard to come by, even when armed with dozens and dozens of pressings.

Folks, this album comes to life on this side two in a way that is natural and musical, and never forced or phony. It’s The Real Sound, plain and simple — and very few copies have it.

The growl of the cello on Rainy Night House can clearly be heard behind Joni, with the wood of the instrument sounding real and correct. The kind of You Are There immediacy and transparency of this copy has to be heard to be believed.

Listen to the piano Joni plays throughout the album: this is not the thin and hard-sounding instrument that accompanies her on practically every LP you have ever had the misfortune to audition, hoping against hope that someday you would find that “elusive disc” with sound worthy of such extraordinary music. No, this piano has real weight; it has body; and it’s surrounded by real, three-dimensional studio space. (more…)

Dean Martin – Dream With Dean – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This side one gets it JUST RIGHT. My notes read, “WOW! Master Tape Sound! So clear and unprocessed. Right amount of tubey magic. Dynamic and present like no other!” — hopefully that gives you a taste of just how much we loved the sound here. Side two is nearly as good but doesn’t have quite as much presence.  

This is my favorite Dean Martin record of all time; just Dean and a jazz guitar quartet behind him (featuring Contemporary favorites Barney Kessel and Red Mitchell!) doing standards. On the best copies, the immediacy is absolutely mind-blowing. It’s a shame that there aren’t more Frank Sinatra records that sound like this! (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Clouds

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  • Triple Triple! A stunning copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish- this is As Good As It Gets, folks! 
  • Check out the clear transients on Joni’s guitar — you can really hear her moving her hands around the fretboard and pulling on the strings
  • It’s tough to find this album in clean shape with this kind of warm, natural sound (something the new reissue is no doubt profoundly lacking)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Clouds is a stark stunner, a great leap forward for Joni Mitchell. Vocals here are more forthright and assured than on her debut and exhibit a remarkable level of subtle expressiveness. Guitar alone is used in accompaniment, and the variety of playing approaches and sounds gotten here is most impressive.”

The best sounding copies of Clouds are the ones that put Joni and her guitar right there in your living room. The copies with veiled vocals really don’t allow the music to come to life, and the copies where her voice is too forward come across as unnatural and hi-fi-ish. It takes an exceptional copy to strike the right balance and put both the voice and guitar right between your speakers, not under a blanket or in your lap.

The intimacy of the recording is simply breathtaking, but most pressing can’t begin to do it justice, especially the reissues, which tend to be thin and edgy and sorely lacking in Tubey Magic. You have not begun to hear these songs with this kind of realism and power unless, like us, you’ve cleaned and played plenty of copies and lucked into a truly killer Hot Stamper. (more…)