Labels We Love – Asylum

Linda Ronstadt – Hasten Down The Wind

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Hot Stamper Pressing on the Asylum Label

  • A vintage Asylum pressing that earned outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them from first note to last
  • This copy is doing pretty much everything right, particularly on side two — huge, rich and lively, with Linda’s vocals reproduced to near perfection
  • “Her big but pretty voice is a stunning instrument for expressing feelings, particularly intense feelings that require a slightly understated delivery… a fine album that begs closer inspection than, I fear, many of us are willing to give to Linda Ronstadt’s art. Like the best moments of the preceding nine, though, the best moments of Hasten Down the Wind will be with us a long, long time.”
  • If you’re a fan of the lovely Ms Ronstadt, her 1976 release is surely one that belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1976 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

The sound is rich, smooth, full-bodied and natural on both sides. In other words, this is Classic Analog from the ’70s, recorded by none other than Val Garay, one of our favorite engineers.

Most pressings of this album have quite obvious problems. If you own the record see if you don’t notice some of them on your own copy.

Some have a phony boosted top end, a subject we have discussed on Linda’s records before.

Some are just too fat and Tubey. Perhaps the result of too much Aphex Aural Excitement?

Some are thick, some are thin, some are too clean, some are not clean enough, every sonic issue you can imagine can be heard on this album if you have enough copies to play, and we had plenty.

We know that this copy is about as correct as can be. We know because we cleaned and played it and listened to it critically in comparison to other copies, and we did it all by ourselves. (Of course we did. There’s really no other way to do it.)

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Joni Mitchell – Hejira

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

  • This original Asylum pressing was doing just about everything right, earning excellent Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides
  • Most copies we played were too compressed or veiled to involve you in the music, but this one has the big, rich, clear sound of analog at its best that Joni’s spacey “beatnik jazz” needs to work its magic
  • 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
  • “Joni Mitchell’s Hejira is the last in an astonishingly long run of top-notch studio albums dating back to her debut… Performances are excellent, with special kudos reserved for Jaco Pastorius’ melodic bass playing… This excellent album is a rewarding listen.”

We played a ton of copies and heard a lot to dislike. Many copies have a tendency to sound phony, a case of heavy-handed EQ in the mastering perhaps. When a copy sounds glossy, it loses its natural warmth and starts to sound like any old audiophile LP. We’re ideally looking for something akin to Blue here, and not the sound you find on Patricia Barber LPs. (Gratuitous maybe, but it feels like it’s been too long since we took a swipe at that junk. But I digress…)

Plenty of copies had natural sound but no real life or presence to speak of. It’s a sound you could live with until you heard a good one, but there’s no going back once you’ve heard what the album’s really capable of. A copy like this one gives you lots of richness and warmth without sacrificing the texture to the instruments or the breath to Joni’s voice. The percussion really comes through, the bass has more weight and the immediacy of the vocals put Joni front and center, just where she should be.

If you aren’t familiar with this album, it’s a few more steps down the path she started taking on Court and Spark. The musicians include Larry Carlton and Jaco Pastorius, so that should give you an idea about the jazz-fusion direction of the arrangements. It was a fun album to get to know and on a copy like this one, it really rewards multiple listens.

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Jackson Browne – His Debut Is Still His Best Album

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More Asylum Label Recordings

  • Balanced, musical, present and full-bodied throughout – this copy was a big step up from most of what we played, particularly on side two
  • “… Jackson Browne’s first album is among the most auspicious debuts in pop music history”
  • 5 stars: “… the album has long since come to seem a timeless collection of reflective ballads touching on still-difficult subjects — suicide (explicitly), depression and drug use (probably), spiritual uncertainty and desperate hope — all in calm, reasoned tones, and all with an amazingly eloquent sense of language.”
  • If you’re a Jackson Browne fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1972 is clearly one of his best, and one of his two best sounding, the other one being The Pretender.
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark

Hot Stamper Pressings of Court and Spark Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

  • The sound is rich, warm and natural, with wonderful transparency, ambience and loads of Tubey Magic
  • Musically this is one of our favorite Joni albums here at Better Records, and probably her Best Recording as well
  • A proud member (along with Blue) of our Top 100 Rock and Pop albums – yes, it’s that good sounding when it’s mastered and pressed as well as this copy is
  • 5 stars: “[A] remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop, and jazz … the music is smart, smooth, and assured from the first note to the last.”
  • Court and Spark, along with For the Roses, are two of the best sounding albums in Joni Mitchell’s canon. Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group can be found here.
  • If you’re a Joni fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1974 is an absolute Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Court and Spark deserves to be heard with all the clarity, beauty and power that our Hot Stampers reproduce so well. If there is a better sounding album with Joni Mitchell’s name on the cover, you’ll have to prove it to us.

What you hear is the sound of the real tape; every instrument has its own character because the mastering is correct and the vinyl — against all odds — managed to capture all (or almost all; who can know?) of the resolution that the tape had to offer. (more…)

The Long Run – Don’t Blame Bill Szymczyk If Your Copy Doesn’t Sound Good

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More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

Most copies have a smeary, veiled, stuck-in-the-speaker quality that makes for some painful listening. Cardboard drums. Non-existent ambience. No energy. (Unless you get one of the hard, edgy, thin ones — we’re not sure which is more unpleasant to play.)

The best copies are a whole different story, with the kind of big, punchy, full-bodied sound this music absolutely demands.

What’s Bill Szymczyk’s problem anyway, you might ask. Can’t the guy record an album any better than this after being in the studio for all these years?

Yes he can. Don’t make the mistake of judging his work by the typical bad pressing of it, the kind that Elektra was churning out by the millions back in the day.

Believe me, the master tape must be AWESOME if the sound of some of the records we played is any indication (which of course it is).

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Joni Mitchell / For The Roses – The Most Underrated Album of Her Early Period?

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

Some current thoughts on Joni’s oeuvre have been added in brackets to this older commentary.

This is probably the most underrated Joni Mitchell album, both in terms of sonics and music. It seems that everyone wants a great copy of Blue or Court And Spark, but this album ranks right up there with them and seems to have been undeservedly overlooked.

Let’s face it, we love Blue (1971), but most pressings suffer from a raft of sonic problems, as does Ladies of the Canyon (1970).

Court and Spark (1974) is up at the top up the list as well, but Roses (1972) seems to have more recording purity. Perhaps the engineers saw this as an opportunity to address the problems with Blue, the album that preceded it.

By the time Joni had fully indulged her jazzier inclinations with Court and Spark, some of the recording quality had been lost in the quest for slicker production values for which that album is known. The complexity of the instrumentation required more multi-tracking and overdubbing, and as good as that record can sound on the best copies, in a head to head matchup with For the Roses the latter would probably win, and probably by no more than a nose.

Side One

Clear, present, breathy vocals, about as good as Joni can sound on vinyl, which is saying a lot.

The second track is a great test. Here the guitars are full-bodied, harmonically rich, with more reverb and space than practically any side one we have ever played. The Tubey Magical liquidity of the sound is what vintage analog is all about. No reissue and no CD will ever get that sound the way this copy does.

And you don’t need tubes in your system to hear it. The magic is on the tape and it was transferred beautifully to this piece of vinyl.

Side Two

Listen to how huge the piano is — no other copy could reproduce the size, weight and clarity of that piano. No two copies will show you the same piano, which makes it a great test for sound. Put this side up against the best you’ve got, it should be no contest.

Breathy, immediate vocals are key to any Joni Mitchell record and this side reproduces them as well as any we heard in our shootout.

Andrew Gold – What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Hot Stamper Pressings on the Asylum Label Available Now

More Records on Asylum – A Label We Love

The best copies of Gold’s sophomore release are incredibly rich, sweet and Tubey Magical. They also have tons of deep punchy bass and wonderfully breathy vocals.

If you own many Asylum records, you know this title is yet another example of classic Asylum Analog. Think of the sound of the Eagles first album and you won’t be far off.

Andrew Gold is another talented popster who got little respect from the critics, or the public for that matter. His music has a lot of the same qualities as Buddy Holly’s: simple catchy tunes about love, with clever lyrics and tons of hooks. He covers one of Holly’s songs on this very album.

But the best song he ever did is right here on side two: One of Them Is Me. Everybody has been the guy telling this story at one time or another; it’s a heavy song if you make the effort to listen to the lyrics.

More importantly, from an audiophile recording point of view, the song builds and surges to a stirring, dynamically powerful climax, then drops down to the noise floor with just an electric piano playing softly. This is what being a studio wizard is all about, and Gold is definitely a wizard. Any Super Hot or better pressing will demonstrate to you that this is one helluva well recorded album.

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The Eagles / The Long Run – The True Test for Side One

More of the Music of The Eagles

More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

Most copies have a smeary, veiled, stuck-in-the-speaker quality that makes for some painful listening. Cardboard drums. Non-existent ambience. No energy. (Unless you get one of the hard, edgy, thin ones — we’re not sure which is worse.)

This one is a whole different story, with the kind of big, punchy, full-bodied sound this music absolutely demands.

What’s Bill Szymczyk’s problem anyway, you might ask. Can’t the guy record an album any better than this after being in the studio for all these years?

Yes he can. Don’t make the mistake of judging his work by the typical bad pressing of it, the kind that Elektra was churning out by the millions back in the day.

Believe me, the master tape must be AWESOME if the sound of some of the records we played is any indication (which of course it is).

What We Listen For on The Long Run

Less grit – smoother and sweeter sound, something that is not easy to come by on The Long Run.

A bigger presentation – more size, more space, more room for all the instruments and voices to occupy. The bigger the speakers you have to play this record the better.

More bass and tighter bass. This is fundamentally a pure rock record. It needs weight down low to rock the way Bill Szymczyk wanted it to.

Present, breathy vocals. A veiled midrange is the rule, not the exception.

Good top-end extension to reproduce the harmonics of the instruments and details of the recording including the studio ambience.

Last but not least, balance. All the elements from top to bottom should be heard in harmony with each other. Take our word for it, assuming you haven’t played a pile of these yourself, balance is not that easy to find.

Our best copies will have it though, of that there is no doubt.

The True Test for Side One

Want to know if you have a good side one on your copy? Here’s an easy test. Timothy B Schmit’s vocal on I Can’t Tell You Why rarely sounds right. Most of the time he’s muffled, pretty far back in the soundstage, and the booth he’s in has practically no ambience. On the good copies, he’s not exactly jumping out of the speakers, but he’s clear, focused, and his voice is breathy and full of emotional subtleties that make the song the heartbreaking powerhouse it is.

This is why you need a Hot Stamper. Most copies don’t let you FEEL the song.

And the rest of the band is cookin’ here as well. From the big, full-bodied bass to the fat, punchy snare, this side is doing practically everything we want it to.

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The Eagles – One Of These Nights

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  • On an exceptionally good sounding copy such as this one, the soaring guitar solo of the title track really comes alive – assuming you have it turned up GOOD and LOUD
  • Lyin’ Eyes and Take It To The Limit sound the way they should – we guarantee you have never heard them sound remotely as good as they do here
  • 4 stars: “…a lyrical stance — knowing and disillusioned, but desperately hopeful — had evolved, and the musical arrangements were tighter and more purposeful. The result was the Eagles’ best-realized and most popular album so far.”

Another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

What to listen for you ask? Dynamic, soaring guitar solos! On the best copies the guitar solos are the loudest parts of some songs, which, as everyone who’s ever been to a rock concert knows, is exactly what happens in live rock music.

This is one of the toughest Eagles albums to find with good sound. This album may never sound quite as good as Hotel California or the self-titled debut, but there are some wonderful songs here and a Hot Stamper like this brings them to life in a way most pressings cannot hope to do.

The best copies are richer and sweeter. When you turn them up, they really come to life. When you play the better sides at Rock Music Volumes they really ROCK. When a copy is cut really clean, as the best ones are, the louder you play them the better they sound. They’re tonally correct at loud levels and a bit dull at what we would call “audiophile” levels. That’s the way it should be. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

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  • So spacious and three-dimensional, yet with a tonally correct and fairly natural sounding Linda, this is the way to hear it
  • What engineer George Massenburg gets right is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio
  • “…the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania… undid in the mid-60’s.”
  • Watch for my MoFi review coming later this year – talk about a disaster, that reissue is beyond awful
  • If you’re a Ronstadt fan, this title from 1983 is surely a Must Own. The complete list of titles from 1983 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

With two outstanding sides, this pressing gets two critically important elements of the recording right:

The strings in the orchestra, and, for obvious reasons, even more importantly, Linda’s voice.

We guarantee that these sides give you a more natural sounding Linda than you’ve ever heard, or your money back.

If all you own is an mediocre sounding pressing or the truly awful Mobile Fidelity from 1983, you are in for a world of better sound with this very record.

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