Labels We Love – Blue Thumb

Dave Mason – What’s with All the Bad Vinyl and Murky Sound?

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Dave Mason

What follows is some advice on What to Listen For.

If you are interested in digging deeper, our Listening in Depth commentaries have extensive track by track breakdowns for some of the better-known albums for which we’ve done multiple shootouts.

On to Alone Together.

Some records are consistently too noisy to keep in stock no matter how good they sound.

This is one of them. We have a section for records that tend to be noisy, and it can be found here.

We struggled for years with the bad vinyl (on the original vomit-colored vinyl pressings, those are the ones that have the potential to win shootouts) and the murky sound of this album.

Finally, with dozens of advances in playback quality and dramatically better cleaning techniques, we have now [circa 2012] managed to overcome the problems which we assumed were baked into the recording.

I haven’t heard the master tape, but I have heard scores of pressings made from it over the years. I confess I actually used to like and recommend the Heavy Vinyl MCA pressing. Rest assured that is no longer the case. Nowadays it sounds as opaque, ambience-challenged, lifeless and pointless as the rest of its 180 gram brethren.

You want to keep what is good about a Tubey Magical analog recording from The Golden Age of Rock while avoiding the pitfalls so common to them:

  • poor resolution,
  • heavy compression,
  • thickness,
  • opacity,
  • blubber,
  • compromised frequency extremes,
  • lack of space and
  • lack of presence.

How’s that for a laundry list of all the problems we hear on old rock records, old classical records, and old jazz records?

All records when you stop to think about it.

What record doesn’t have at least some of these faults? Not many in our experience. A copy with few or none of these problems would do very well in our Hot Stamper shootouts indeed.

This is, of course, a list of all the faults we hear just as often in the Heavy Vinyl pressings we audition.

Records are records. Thick ones have the same problems as thin ones. Why wouldn’t they?


Dave Mason – Alone Together

More Dave Mason

  • This outstanding copy of Mason’s Masterpiece boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Listen to how big and rich the dynamic chorus gets on the first track, Only You Know and I Know – what a thrill to hear it like that
  • A killer Bruce Botnick recording – Tubey Magical Analog, smooth and natural, with the whole production sitting on a rock solid bottom-end foundation
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Alone Together represents Dave Mason at his peak… everything comes together perfectly.”

Before I get too far into the story of the sound, I want to say that this album appears to be criminally underrated as music nowadays, having fallen from favor with the passage of time.

It is a surely a masterpiece that belongs in any Rock Collection worthy of the name. Every track is good, and most are amazingly good. There’s no filler here. (more…)

Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks – Striking It Rich

Normally this record sounds thick and dead. It’s very rare to find a copy like this that has any real transparency. The vocals are sweet and silky and the string instruments are more clear in the mix.

There’s nothing more frustrating than a record that defies every effort to hear into it, typically the feeling I get when listening to Dan Hicks’ recordings. But on this pressing I could actually appreciate the music without having to fight the sound.

The tracks with violin accompaniment tend to sound the best for some reason. Some tracks are recorded a bit dry for my taste, but others are just right.

This is probably the band’s masterpiece, all things considered. It’s the most consistent album of theirs overall and has wonderful high points in I Scare Myself and Canned Music.


Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks – Where’s The Money?

  • A truly outstanding early pressing with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side two and Double Plus (A++) sound on side one
  • The sound is rich, real and musical in ways that we we almost never hear a Dan Hicks record sound
  • The female singers’ voices are so clear, breathy and sweet on this copy, we were a bit taken aback – that just never happens
  • 4 1/2 Stars: “…the album does in fact capture a certain intimacy missing from their studio debut.”

Both sides are rich, real and musical like no other Dan Hicks record you have ever heard.

The female singers’ voices are so clear, breathy and sweet on this copy, we were a bit taken aback. On a Dan Hicks record? That just never happens.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Here are some of the things we specifically listen for in a vintage Dan Hicks ‘Hipster Acoustic Swing” record

Our hottest Hot Stamper copies are simply doing more of these things better than the other copies we played in our shootout.

The best copies have:

  • Greater immediacy in the vocals (most copies are veiled and distant to some degree);
  • Natural tonal balance (many copies are at least slightly brighter or darker than ideal; those with the right balance are the exception, not the rule);
  • Good solid weight (so the bass sounds full and powerful);
  • Spaciousness (the best copies have wonderful studio ambience and space);
  • Tubey Magic, without which you might as well be playing a CD;
  • And last but not least, transparency, the quality of being able to see into the recording.