Labels We Love – Columbia/Epic

Ellington-Basie / First Time – The Count Meets the Duke

More Duke Ellington

More Count Basie

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, this early Columbia 6-Eye pressing will be very hard to beat
  • Reasonably quiet vinyl too, considering its age – how many early ’60s Columbia Stereo pressings survived with audiophile playing surfaces the way this one did?
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, along with boatloads of Tubey Magic – here’s a 30th Street recording from 1961 that demonstrates just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Ellington’s elegance and unique voicings meet Basie’s rollicking, blues-based Kansas City swing, and it works gloriously. The Duke and his band accentuate their swinging dance band side, while Basie and company have never sounded as suave and exotic as when playing Billy Strayhorn arrangements. Everyone has a good time, and that joy infuses this album from start to finish.”
  • If you’re a fan of either or both of these jazz giants, this Classic from 1961 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

(more…)

Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline

More Bob Dylan

More Country Rock Recordings

  • With Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and Double Plus (A++) on the second, this copy has the real Nashville Skyline magic – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • We guarantee that Bob’s duet with Johnny Cash on this Shootout Winning Triple Plus side one (Girl from the North Country) will blow your mind, or your money back  
  • “Lay Lady Lay,” “To Be Alone With You,” “I Threw It All Away,” “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” are true country-rock standards
  • 5 stars: “It’s a warm, friendly album, particularly since Bob Dylan is singing in a previously unheard gentle croon — the sound of his voice is so different it may be disarming upon first listen, but it suits the songs.”
  • This is a Must Own Dylan Classic from 1969 that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1969 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

(more…)

Listening in Depth to Romantic Warrior

Romantic Warrior is my favorite JAZZ/ROCK FUSION album of all time. As good as the music is, the sound is even better. This is the Jazz/Rock Demo Disc that stands head and shoulders above the rest. In my experience, no record of this kind is more DYNAMIC or has better BASS. Not one. Demo Disc doesn’t begin to do this kind of sound justice.

Simply put, not only is this one of the greatest musical statements of all time, it’s one of the great recording statements. Few albums in the history of the world can lay claim to this kind of POWER and ENERGY.

But the Super Sound has a purpose, a raison d’etre. This is the kind of music that requires it; better yet, DEMANDS it. In truth, the sound is not only up to the challenge of expressing the life of the music on this album, it positively ENHANCES it.

Those monster Lenny White drum rolls that run across the soundstage from wall to wall may be a recording studio trick, but they’re there to draw your attention to his amazing powers, and it works! The drums are EVERYWHERE on this album, constantly jumping out of the soundfield and taking the music into the stratosphere where it belongs.

TRACK LISTING and COMMENTARY

Side One

Medieval Overture

The grandiose opening of this record serves as an important sonic checkpoint, as well as a tipoff for the pyrotechnics to come. On the better copies Corea’s multi-layered, swirling synths occupy their own space, clearly separated from each other, not blurred and inarticulate as they are on the poorer pressings.

Also notice how much attack Lenny White’s drums have, especially in the more exposed sections. The transients are breathtakingly immediate. Run-of-the-mill copies tend to flatten Mr White, making his acrobatic playing seem two-dimensional and less-than-inspired. The best copies prove that nothing could be further from the truth.

Sorceress

This groove-oriented track is a testament to RTF’s diversity, as well as the mastery of Messrs. Clarke and White as a rhythm section. This is a real test for bottom end. Even though the bass goes unbelievably deep, the best copies manage to exhibit plenty of control while still allowing you to FEEL the bass rising up through the floorboards and into your chair. There is so much deep bass at the opening of this track that at any sort of serious levels I would immediately run out of the wattage needed to sustain them. It was either back off the volume or distort like crazy. You need some serious juice to play this track, or a very efficient speaker, or both.

All the members of this All-Star cast are showcased in the improv section, highlighted by Corea’s brilliant piano solo in the middle, one of my personal favorite solos of all time. Corea is a musician’s musician. There is nothing he or his bandmates are not capable of on this recording. This is more than mere fusion. On this album the whole world of jazz can be heard.

The Romantic Warrior

Side Two

Majestic Dance

The blistering opening track for side two is the quintessence of guitar-driven prog rock, a heads up for what’s to come. Most copies lack the top end extension that allows the hottest copies to open up and come alive. With the right top to bottom mastering and pressing this track is Gold! Demo Disc Quality all the way and then some.

The Magician

Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant

(more…)

Barbra Streisand / Guilty – Bab’s Best and Most Underrated Album (By Too Many Audiophiles Anyway)

More Barbra Streisand

This ain’t no zombie audiophile BS, the kind of sleep-inducing, reverb-drenched trash that passes for “female vocals” in bad audio showrooms around the globe. (Paging Diana Krall.) This is Barbra and The Bee Gees at the peak of their Pop Powers. It just doesn’t get any better.

This is THE BEST ALBUM Babs ever made, and you can take that to the bank. It’s also one of the best sounding, if not THE best sounding of her later Monster Pop Productions. Can’t say for sure as I haven’t played all that many. Her first album is a true Demo Disc as well, but that one’s all about the Tubey Magical ’60s Columbia era, the Golden Age of Natural Sound, a world away from Guilty and its layers and layers of tracks. Having said that, there are multi-tracks and then there are multi-tracks.

The engineers and producers here pull it off brilliantly.

If you don’t feel something deep inside when playing this record, open up a vein and let some of that ice water that passes for blood in your system run out.

It’s From WHERE?

This very copy was on the site for a long time. Nobody wanted to buy it even though it was quite cheap, and there’s a good reason nobody wanted to buy it: it’s a Japanese pressing.

That’s right, it’s one of those typically awful Japanese pressings that we criticize endlessly on the site, the purest form of audiophle BS vinyl in the history of the world. We played side one and heard the kind of sound that did not exactly float our boats. (Before it was cleaned it really sounded bad.)

But when we filpped it over we were positively KNOCKED OUT by the sound and decided it had to be part of our shootout. While evaluating the record the listening panel (mostly me) had no idea which pressing was playing. When the Side Two A Triple Plus Gold Star was awarded to this much-maligned Japanese pressing we were FLABBERGASTED.

(more…)

Bob Dylan – Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (Original Soundtrack Recording)

More Bob Dylan

More Soundtrack Albums

  • An incredible copy of Dylan’s 1973 soundtrack album with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • This one is doing practically everything right – it’s bigger, bolder, richer and more clean, clear and open than almost anything else we played
  • Includes the hit “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which charted on the Top 20 and would be famously covered in later years by the likes of Eric Clapton and Guns N’ Roses
  • “This record also proved that Dylan could shoehorn his music within the requirements of a movie score without compromising its content or quality, something that only the Beatles, unique among rock artists, had really managed to do up to that time…”

(more…)

Doris Day – Hooray For Hollywood

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.
This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more.

This fairly rare, fairly clean Six Eye Columbia original Stereo pressing has TWO SUPERB sounding sides, each earning our Super Hot stamper sonic grade. Frank DeVol did the orchestral arrangements, and it sounds like he let Miss Day have some of the same ones he’d done for Sinatra. Don’t mess with success, right?

The vintage Columbia sound is overflowing with Tubey Magic — it’s about as Big and Rich as it gets! If you don’t mind some heavy-handed reverb, the kind found on practically every vintage Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole record ever made, you will find much to like here.

There’s a bit of an edge to the vocals that we think has something to do with the reverb interacting with the compressors of the day, but this is all part of the sound of the tape (we’re guessing) and not something that can be altered in the mastering.

Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love

More Bruce Springsteen

  • On the better pressings you get something approaching the warmth and unforced clarity of analog we audiophiles crave
  • Some of Bruce’s best material is here: the title track and One Step Up are two of our favorites  
  • “Bruce Springsteen followed the most popular album of his career, Born in the U.S.A., with [a] low-key, anguished effort, Tunnel of Love.”

As is the case for the Bob Clearmountain mix of Born in the USA, the sound is not exactly vintage analog at its best, but at least on vinyl you get more analog qualities than would otherwise be possible. This is 1987, not 1967 and not even 1977. That said, the copies that earned the better grades were big and rich, with plenty of studio space and nicely present vocals.

Mostly what they do well is that they fill out the sound and take the edge off of it without losing musical information, dynamics or energy. Not many copies managed that feat but this one did. (more…)

Bob Dylan / The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – We Preferred the Mono in 2016

More of the Music of Bob Dylan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Bob Dylan

Back in 2016 we liked the Mono pressings of this album best. We wrote:

We greatly prefer the best Mono pressings to the best stereo copies, but they are very hard to come by.

This is our favorite of the early Dylan albums for both music and sound. We’re picking up both mono and stereo copies when we see them clean (which is rare) but the best mono copies truly take this music to a whole new level.

Now we like them both, and we like the stereo pressings maybe even a bit better.

Live and learn we say!


Mono, Stereo, Reprocessed Stereo, We’ve Played Them All!

On this Dylan album, the mono and stereo pressings both have the potential to sound amazingly good.

Mono or Stereo? Both Can Be Good

Other records that sound their best one way or the other can be found using the links below.

Mono or Stereo? Stick with Mono

Mono or Stereo? Stick with Stereo

(more…)

Miles Davis – Porgy and Bess on the 360 Label

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

More Miles Davis

  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this vintage Columbia 360 Stereo pressing
  • The 360 label pressings don’t win shootouts, but they can sound very good, and are guaranteed to beat anything you have ever heard — from any era — at any price
  • Both sides are full of that old-school 30th Street Studio Tubey Magic – the brass is full-bodied and airy, the bass is surprisingly well-defined, the top end is extended and sweet, and the soundfield is HUGE and three-dimensional
  • The music is a classic example of the brilliant partnership between Davis and arranger Gil Evans, and a Must Own for serious jazz fans
  • 5 stars: “It was Evans’ intimate knowledge of the composition as well as the performer that allowed him to so definitively
  • If you’re a fan of the collaborations of Davis and Evans circa 1959, this album belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

(more…)