Labels We Love – A&M

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Bruce Botnick and The Big Bottom End

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What separates Sergio from practically all of his ’60s contemporaries is the AMAZING SOUND of his recordings. The first album was recorded by the legendary BRUCE BOTNICK, the man behind the superb recordings of The Doors, Love and others too numerous to mention. This, in my opinion, is his Masterpiece. The Doors albums Bruce recorded represent some of his best work, but what Doors album sounds as good as Sergio’s debut? I can’t name one. [Actually I can: the first album, when you get the right pressing. It’s out of this world.] 

Only the best copies are sufficiently transparent to grant the listener the privilege of hearing all the elements laid out clearly, each occupying a real three-dimensional space within the soundfield. When you hear one of those copies, you have to give Botnick his due. The man knew what he was doing. (Larry Levine, who recorded the subsequent albums, was no slouch either. Stillness is one of the ten best sounding records I have ever played, and that’s no exaggeration.)

Funky Brazilian Music For Audiophiles

This is one of my favorite albums, one which certainly belongs in any Audiophile’s collection. Better sound is hard to find — when you have the right pressing. Unfortunately those are pretty hard to come by. Most LPs are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled and full of compressor distortion in the louder parts: this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

But we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and have since Day One. One of the first records I ever played for my good audio buddy Robert Pincus (Cisco Records) to demonstrate the sound of my system was Sergio’s syncopated version of Day Tripper off this album. That was close to twenty years ago, and I can honestly say I have never tired of this music in the intervening decades.

Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive

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  • All four sides of this double album earned Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to it for their Big, Bold Live Rock sound – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Mixed and mastered so that the guitar solos soar the way they do in live music — what a thrill it is to hear them finally sounding the way they should
  • A killer copy like this one is a potent reminder of why we all went so crazy for this album back in the ’70s – I did anyway
  • Allmusic agrees with us that many tracks here are “much more inspired, confident, and hard-hitting than the studio versions.”

On the better copies, the guitar solos are the loudest parts of some of the songs, which, as everyone who’s ever been to a rock concert knows, is exactly what happens in live rock music. Fancy that!

Not many live albums are mixed to allow the guitar solos to rock the way these do. Since Frampton is one of my favorite players, hearing his work get loud on this album is nothing less than a thrill. It’s hard to turn up the volume on most copies — they tend to get aggressive in a hurry — but that simply doesn’t happen on our hottest Hot Stampers. They sound right when they’re loud. (more…)

George Benson – Tell It Like It Is – A&M Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile Pressing Debunked.

The Half-Speed is pretty — pretty lifeless if you ask me, in the way that so many Half-Speed mastered records are. It’s cut very clean, but until you play a good A&M pressing, you don’t know how much meat has been stripped from the bones. The best A&M pressings sound like a Rudy Van Gelder recording, which, of course, they are.

Joan Armatrading – Joan Armatrading – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

TWO AMAZING SIDES! We’ve known for quite some time that this can be an amazing sounding record, but until this week we didn’t realize just how stunning the best copies can be! This one’s an absolute knockout — side one earned the high grade of A++ while side two is As Good As It Gets!

The average copy of this album has a tendency to sound a bit too hi-fi for our tastes. Most audiophiles love that kind of sound, but us analog freaks prefer richness and warmth over hyper-detailed, unnatural sound. That’s why most of the heavy vinyl stuff we play around here gets the hook after just moments. We just aren’t interested in records that sound like CDs.

Side one is incredibly airy, open, and transparent. Turn down the lights, drop the needle, and your speakers will practially disapper! The soundfield is spacious and three-dimensional. The top end is silky sweet, the bottom is rich and solid, and the acoustic guitar sounds JUST RIGHT. Listen to how full-bodied and present the vocals sound on Down To Zero — lovely!

Side two has AMAZING MASTER TAPE SOUND! It’s big and lively with unbelievable immediacy to the vocals. The acoustic guitar has just the right amount of pluck and twang. Most copies don’t have this degree of clarity and transparency. There’s lots of ambience and room around the drums that weren’t nearly as clear on other pressings. We gave this side our top grade of A+++.

Our Man Glyn Johns At The Helm

This album was produced and engineered by Glyn Johns and recorded at Olympic Studios in London. Glyn, of course, is one of our all-time favorite engineers. If you like the sound of Who’s Next, Let It Bleed, On The Border (my personal favorite Eagles album), Led Zeppelin’s debut, and Sticky Fingers, you have Glyn Johns to thank for that.

 

Sergio Mendes – Look Around – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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Finally, Hot Stampers are here for this notoriously difficult to reproduce recording. This side one was KILLER, earning a grade of A++ to A+++! It’s big and bold, with dramatically less grit and grain than the average copy. The sound is punchy and lively with wonderful transparency. You can really hear the sound of the room around the musicians with this one. Some of the tracks on this side one are DEMO DISC quality.  

Side One

Side one has virtually no strain, EXTENDED highs, and is overall so clear and open that you will have a hard time believing that it’s the same recording as whatever copies you may have heard in the past. It KILLED most of the copies we played against it.

It’s just much more FUN and LIVELY this way! (We had one copy that earned the full three pluses but the difference between them was minimal.) (more…)

Supertramp – Even In The Quietest Moments

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A killer pressing! So much clearer, cleaner and more transparent than we remember from last time around, with more Tubey Magic too.

The bottom end is big and punchy, the top is smooth and sweet, and the vocals are present and breathy. On a transparent copy such as this the drums really punch through the dense mixes clearly, giving the music more life and energy. The piano sounds correct, the sax is full and breathy — you’d be very hard-pressed to find better sound for this album than this. Very hard pressed indeed.

Side Two

Big bass, great vocal energy and presence, huge space — this side blew every other side two out of the water.

Scroll down for comments about the piano intro on the second track. The sound is off the charts, practically faultless.

Side One

Superb in its own right. Rich and tubey but not thick or opaque. Great energy and space. Right up there with the best of the side ones we played, and right up there with the best Supertramp we’ve ever heard.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

The piano on Give a Little Bit can get buried in the dense mix. Side ones that are rich and tubey and smooth with a clear piano did very well in our shootout.

Lover Boy is a Demo Quality Track on the best copies. It can be huge, spacious and lively. Getting the strings to sound harmonically rich without sliding into shrillness may not be easy but some copies manage it. On the biggest, richest copies the breakdown at about 2:20 is a lot of fun.

On side two the recording quality of the solo piano at the start of the second track is nothing short of breathtaking. No piano on any Supertramp album sounds as good, and only the White Hot Stamper pressing reproduced it perfectly. (more…)

Rita Coolidge – Nice Feelin’ – Reviewed in 2010

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

A very well recorded album. It’s easy to see why – two of the engineers are none other than Bruce Botnick and Glyn Johns. Al Kooper’s here too.

It is amazing given the exposure Rita Coolidge obtained through the Mad Dogs & Englishmen soundtrack that her second album for A & M is such a cult item. Covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Graham Nash and participation by names like Al Kooper, Glyn Johns, Bruce Botnick, and Marc Benno should have made this record her breakthrough…” AMG 

Rita Coolidge – The Lady’s Not For Sale

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  • Rita Coolidge’s superb third album arrives with superb Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from first note to last
  • Fans of Linda Ronstadt’s ’70s music are going to find a lot of Tubey Magical sound to like here – this is a simply wonderful example of the kind of album that makes record collecting fun
  • John Haeny, the principal engineer for Rita and hubby Kris Kristofferson during the ’70s, in fact worked on some of Linda’s albums, as well as those by Judy Collins, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Little Feat and many others
  • “… a fine mixture of covers and originals that manages to showcase her fine vocal abilities as well as show off an impressive array of friends.”

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Carpenters – A Song For You

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  • An outstanding original A&M pressing, with both sides earning excellent Double Plus (A++) sonic grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This LP is full of the Midrange Magic that has the Carpenters sounding rich, smooth, sweet and breathy – in other words, in ANALOG, so they sound every bit as good as you remember them
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The duo’s best album, and the place to start beyond the hits compilations… a seemingly unified concept album written and recorded during a frantic period of concert activity, and brimming with lovely musical ideas even more lovingly executed, laced with good humor, and enough hits of its own to have established any artist’s career on its own. And even in between the hits, the album was built on material that could have made a whole career for anyone.”

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Sergio Mendes – Stillness – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including a BETTER THAN WHITE HOT A++++ SIDE TWO! That’s right folks, four pluses! This is an incredibly well-recorded album and a member of our Top 100, in fact. The soundfield itself has a three-dimensional quality that will absolutely blow you away. If you are looking for DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND with music every bit as good, look no further – this record is for you. 

We figure we’re about due for a thank you note from Mr. Mendes, because we’ve turned a huge number of audiophiles into die-hard fans of this album. It’s easy to see why when you play a copy that sounds like this. All of the qualities we look for on this album are right here.

Side One

The vocals on this side are Right On The Money — present and breathy. It could use a bit more extension up top but at A+ – A++, this side is a nice step up over the average copy.

Side Two

A++++, absolutely As Good As It Gets! The side is doing everything right. It’s big, bold, rich and lively with none of the vocal edginess that plagues the average copy. The vocals are wonderfully breathy and it’s tonally correct from top to bottom.

Even if you don’t know much about this music we encourage you to take a chance on this one. We’re fairly confident that anyone who values amazing sound enough to be in the Hot Stamper market will get a LOT out of this record — it’s pure, unadulterated, audiophile gold. We have turned a lot of people on to this album, and we’ve received quite a few letters from folks who had totally missed out on this wonderful music back in the day, only to fall in love with a Hot Stamper copy forty years after its release. (The album bombed when it was released, which accounts for the fact that it’s not nearly as common in the used record bins as others by Sergio and his bandmates.) (more…)