Labels We Love – Island

Fairport Convention – Unhalfbricking

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  • The band’s very well-recorded third album is here, and this early British Island pressing is killing it, with stunning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout and reasonably quiet vinyl
  • A copy like this is a rare audiophile treat – here is the rich, warm, clear, natural and lively sound you want for Fairport Convention
  • A superb collection of songs, including two previously unreleased Bob Dylan tracks, as well as Sandy Denny’s first foray into songwriting, with the achingly powerful “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”
  • 5 stars: “Unhalfbricking was a transitional album for the young Fairport Convention, in which the group shed its closest ties to its American folk-rock influences and started to edge toward a more traditional British folk-slanted sound.”

These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.

Hot stamper fans of Fairport Convention, British Folk Rock, Richard Thompson and the like should not expect to see another copy of this album for years to come. It took us a couple of years to get hold of enough clean copies with which to do this shootout, and the only quiet one with top quality sound was this very pressing.

Forget the dubby domestic LPs on A&M and whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – the early UK vinyl is the only way to fly on Unhalfbricking

The “haunting, ethereal” vocals of the lovely Sandy Denny are sublime here. Some of you may recognize her voice from a ditty called “Battle of Evermore,” found on a grayish ’70s rock album that no one even bothered to give a name. Wonder whatever became of that group? No doubt by now their story is lost to the sands of time. I have to say I thought the music was pretty good though. (more…)

U2 – War – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

When you get hold of a good pressing, War is a surprisingly good sounding album, much better than The Joshua Tree (although that may not be saying much).  

Side two here was one of THE BEST we played in our entire shootout, with Big Bass, tons of Energy and even a pretty sizable helping of Tubey Magic, something we did not expect to hear on a U2 album. Most of them sound as dry and flat as a cassette. Not this one, or to be more precise, not this copy. We rated it A++ to A+++, about as good as it gets! (more…)

U2 – The Joshua Tree – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

This domestic Island LP has SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUND on side one. The soundstage is huge, and the overall quality of the recording is BIG and BOLD. Most copies of this album are either thin, shrill and agressive — like most U2 albums — or thick and veiled. This one is actually smooth and fairly natural sounding, with the added benefit of some deep punchy bass. 

Don’t get me wrong — this is no audiophile recording or demo disc by any stretch. What we have here is a copy that beats most of the other ones we played, no more, no less. It conveys the ENERGY and POWER of the music, and that makes it a very unusual pressing indeed. The vocals can be a bit edgy in places; with better vocals this one would have been hard to beat on side one.

Side two was not as good sounding, rating a grade of A Plus. It’s rich and sweet but a bit smeared, which takes the edge off some of the sound but keeps the energy and presence from working the way they should.

By the way, the British copies we played were awful. Perhaps there are good ones out there but we sure didn’t hear any. (more…)

Traffic – The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

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

HOLY COW! Side one of this British Island Sunray pressing BLEW THE DOORS off the competition in our big shootout. It took the music to an entirely new level for us, so we awarded it the very rare grade of A++++ — that’s four pluses, my man!

You are not going to believe how tubey magical this side one is. I guarantee you have never heard this band sound this amazing on record or your money back.

Side two lacks a little extension up top, but it’s still rich, warm, sweet, and above all, NATURAL. It’s open and transparent with three-dimensionality to the soundfield. We rate it A+ – A++, which means it delivers a good deal of magic. (more…)

Eno – Here Come The Warm Jets

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  • KILLER sound from start to finish for this Island import pressing with both sides finishing top of the class — Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • The sound here is clean, clear, present and dynamic yet still super rich and musical with lots of Tubey Magic
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus on both sides
  • 5 stars on Allmusic: “Eno’s solo debut, Here Come the Warm Jets, is a spirited, experimental collection of unabashed pop songs… Avant-garde yet very accessible, Here Come the Warm Jets still sounds exciting, forward-looking, and densely detailed, revealing more intricacies with every play.”

A great pressing of one of our favorite albums! These are not easy to come by, so we don’t get to shoot these out as often as we’d like. This is not your typical audiophile-friendly rock album, to be sure. There are lots of weird sounds, out-of-tune instruments and other Eno craziness. We’re big Eno fans here — Taking Tiger Mountain and Before And After Science are other big favorites here. If you’ve got a taste for avant-garde art rock, this album should be right up your alley. (more…)

Traffic – Mr. Fantasy

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

This early Pink Label import pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, making this one of the best copies to hit the site in many years, if not THE best.

We used to think that The Best of Traffic had better sound, but in a head to head comparison with this very copy, we were proved WRONG.

Big, full-bodied and lively, with huge amounts of space and off the charts Tubey Magic, the sound here is Hard to Fault.

This is one of the best sounding Traffic records ever made. Musically it’s hit or miss, but so is every other Traffic record, including my favorite, John Barleycorn. The best songs here are Heaven Is In Your Mind, Dear Mr. Fantasy, and Coloured Rain. The first of these is worth the price of the album alone, in my opinion. It’s a wonderful example of late ’60s British psychedelic rock. (more…)

Traffic – Mr. Fantasy – Our Shootout Winner from 2006

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

This British Sunray Label pressing has THE BEST SOUND I’VE EVER HEARD FOR THIS ALBUM! None of the Pink Label originals that we played had the deep, powerful, punchy bass that this pressing has, coupled with an extended, sweet top end.

This is one of the best sounding Traffic records ever made. Musically it’s hit or miss, but so is every other Traffic record, including my favorite, John Barleycorn. The best songs here are Heaven Is In Your Mind, Dear Mr. Fantasy, and Coloured Rain.

The first of these is worth the price of the album alone, in my opinion. It’s a wonderful example of late ’60s British psychedelic rock.  (more…)

Roxy Music – Country Life – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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

Many of the best songs Ferry ever wrote and Roxy ever played are on this album. Musically it’s right up there with the first album and Siren, both early ’70s Art Rock landmarks.

In our experience the right British original Sunray (Pink Rim) Island pressing will always win the shootout if you have a good pile of copies to play. There are some bad sounding Island LPs out there, so don’t assume the Sunray is the answer. It’s potentially the right answer. Without at least five copies in hand you won’t know for sure whether the copy you like is truly a Hot Stamper or not-that-hot-of-a-stamper.

The sound on some tracks is noticeably better than others. These British pressings give you the richest, fullest, biggest sound with the least amount of sibilance, grain and grunge. It’s the rich, full-bodied ANALOG sound — with some problems to be sure — that we adore here at Better Records. (more…)

Spooky Tooth – Spooky Two – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

This very nice looking Island Sunray British Import LP has AMAZING SOUND ON BOTH SIDES (with caveats!). Side one is super rich and full of tubey magic. It can be ever so slightly grainy and strained but when the sound is this good who cares!? Andy Johns is the man behind the console here, which explains why the album is so well recorded. If you’re a fan of Black Sabbath you’ll find much to like here; this is psych rock at its best.

Now for the caveats! Side two has great sound as well, rating A++, but it’s pretty beat up. The third track is full of crackles and pops. Basically we’re giving away this side for free. (more…)

Roxy Music – Stranded

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

Stranded is one of the higher quality recordings by the band, coming in second for sonics only to the first album, which is really saying something considering that the first album is a Top 100 title. The Tubey Magic on the early albums has to be heard to be believed.

In our experience the right British original Sunray Island pressing will always be the Ultimate Pressing. (There are some bad sounding Island LPs out there, so don’t assume the Sunray is the answer. It’s potentially the right answer. Without at least five copies in hand you won’t know whether the copy you like is a true Hot Stamper or a not-that-hot-Hot Stamper.)

The domestic, German, Japanese and Dutch pressings are not remotely competitive with the Brits on this album (which is not true for all of Roxy’s albums but true for this one, Siren being the clear exception to the rule).

Now for those of you who are not Roxy Music fans and don’t know this music, this album may take a bit of getting used to. We assure you it will be well worth your while. We think it’s brilliant!

The sound on some tracks is noticeably better than others. Amazona is a KNOCKOUT here. These British pressings give you the richest, fullest, biggest sound with the least amount of sibilance on the vocals, grain or grunge. It’s the rich, full-bodied ANALOG sound we adore here at Better Records.

We thank Chris Thomas for his production and John Punter for his engineering work at AIR Studio. This album and the first one are without question the two best sounding Roxy albums, and that’s true for any incarnation of the band.

Both belong in any serious rock and pop collection, and if you are a fan of Art Rock, every Roxy album should be on your shelf, along with all your Bowie, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Eno, Peter Gabriel, 10cc and so many others (most of which are personal favorites of mine, albums I have played hundreds of times over the last 30 years and plan to play hundreds of times in the next).

My Story

I’ve been a giant Roxy Music fan since 1975. Rolling Stone gave Siren a rave review that year, and I went right out and bought myself a copy on their say-so. I then proceeded to play it every day. This went on for weeks. I’m a bit obsessive that way. (Being obsessive is extremely helpful if you have a desire to excel in audio. It may in fact be the most important trait of them all.)

I consider Roxy to be one of the greatest Art Rock bands in the history of the world. Although the general public and probably most audiophiles would surely cast their vote for Avalon as the band’s masterpiece, I much prefer the music of these others — their eponymous first album, Stranded, Country Life and Siren — to the more “accessible” music found on Avalon. To be fair, that’s splitting hairs, because any of those five titles are absolute Must Own Albums that belong in any serious popular music collection.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Street Life
Just Like You
Amazona
Psalm

Side Two

Serenade
A Song for Europe
Mother of Pearl
Sunset

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

Without Brian Eno, Roxy Music immediately became less experimental, yet it remained adventurous, as Stranded illustrates. Under the direction of Bryan Ferry, Roxy moved toward relatively straightforward territory, adding greater layers of piano and heavy guitars. Even without the washes of Eno’s synthesizers, Roxy’s music remains unsettling on occasion, yet in this new incarnation, they favor more measured material, whether it’s the reflective “A Song for Europe” or the shifting textures of “Psalm.” Even the rockers, such as the surging “Street Life” and the segmented “Mother of Pearl,” are distinguished by subtle songwriting that emphasizes both Ferry’s tortured glamour and Roxy’s increasingly impressive grasp of sonic detail.

Webr Rave Review (Author Unknown)

Feeling that the band couldn’t handle two egos (and talents) moving in opposite directions half the time, Eno quit the band after For Your Pleasure. This move made Roxy Music less quirky (and innovative), but more focused, without ugly synth grunts unsettling Ferry’s mannered music and melodies.

There’s still plenty of weirdness and odd sound effects, but these are incorporated more subtly – the telephone ringing on “Street Life”, the castanets punctuating “Mother Of Pearl”. Roxy practically reinvented their sound on each album, and here they are elegant and stately, with Latin rythms reinforcing its Mediterranean flavor. Smoothed out, they sound like a much different band – no longer would their music contain the hint of anarchy; every piece is integrated without seeming patched on. When Manzara’s guitar cuts through the stroll of “Amazona”, it’s the kind of shock that you live for, a half-court jump and slam-dunk through the net of Ferry’s pretensions.

The operative adjective for Roxy’s first true masterpiece is gorgeous (it’s the same adjective for their final one, too), a far remove from the first two albums. “Just Like You” contains lovely falsetto singing from Ferry, and a razor-lyrical guitar solo from Manzanera. The futurism of the first two albums gives way to the world-weary nostalgia of “Song For Europe”, which admits “There’s nothing left for us to share but yesterday.”

The centerpiece, “Mother Of Pearl”, might be Roxy’s finest seven minutes. Charging in with blazing guitars, the music suddenly gives way to a stately piano ballad – the effect is startling. Ferry soliloquizes on the elusiveness of true love, rhyming odd metaphors like “serpentine sleekness/was always my weakness”, summing it all up with the so-true phrase, “If you’re looking for love in a looking glass world, it’s pretty hard to do.” Continue that quest for thy damsel in distress, Bryan, as long as you always keep it this interesting.