Labels We Love – Reprise

Frank Zappa – Waka/Jawaka

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout and exceptionally quiet vinyl, this copy delivers plenty of Zappa’s Waka/Jawaka Big Band Magic
  • A Top 100 Title, and deservedly so – the sound is big, rich, punchy, lively, clear and above all, ANALOG
  • This copy will show you the size and power of a big band, Frank Zappa style – there is (almost*) nothing like it
  • Rolling Stone raved that this Jazz Rock Fusion album contains “…some of the best material he’s done in years.” and we could not agree more

(*Other than The Grand Wazoo, which can have sound every bit as good but is not the equal of Waka/Jawaka musically.)

What an incredible album. I know of no other like it. It’s not big band, it’s not rock, it’s not jazz, it’s a unique amalgamation of all three with an overlay of some of Zappa’s idiosyncratic compositional predilections (say that three times fast) thrown in for good measure.

In our opinion it’s nothing less than Zappa’s MASTERPIECE, the summation of his talents, and a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection. (We say that about a lot of records audiophiles don’t know well, but we’ve been doing it for most of our 31 years in this business and don’t see much reason to stop now.)

Most copies, especially the WB brown label reissues, are dull and smeary with little in the way of top end extension, failing pretty miserably at getting this music to come to life.

Not long ago we discovered the secret to separating the men from the boys on side one. On the lively, punchy, dynamic copies — which are of course the best ones — you can follow the drumming at the beginning of ‘Big Swifty’ note for note: every beat, every kick of the kick drum, every fill, every roll — it’s all there to be heard and appreciated. If that track on this copy doesn’t make you a huge fan of Aynsley Dunbar, I can’t imagine what would. The guy had a gift. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – A Swingin’ Affair!

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This is a very nice looking original Capitol Grey/Black Label LP. As for sonics, the record starts off a little problematically but things really start cookin’ by track two when the sound becomes sweet and warm. By the way, this Capitol Label was only used from 1956 until 1957. This record plays Mint Minus Minus about as quiet as any early Capitol pressing you’re likely to ever hear.

The record was number one in the UK for 7 straight weeks! (more…)

The Beach Boys – Sunflower

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  • A Top Copy: Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side, Double Plus (A++) on the first
  • This pressing is surprisingly rich and smooth, with excellent bass and nice immediacy to the vocals
  • One of the better sounding Beach Boys recordings that really comes to life on the best copies
  • A 4 1/2 star album in the All Music Guide: “Brian Wilson once again back near the top of his game.”

This album — like Surf’s Up, which was released just after it — can really sound wonderful on a good pressing. If you love Pet Sounds, you’ll find plenty of the Beach Boys’ signature harmonies here, all recorded with real richness and warmth. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – Nice and Easy – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

It’s been a long time coming but we’re pretty sure whoever takes this bad boy home will agree that it’s been worth the wait. Here’s the first White Hot Stamper of The Chairman’s classic Nice ‘n’ Easy to ever hit the site! This killer pressing has an A+++ side one, an A++ side two, and unusually quiet vinyl throughout. Take this one home and play it against the MoFi pressing for a good laugh — this thing will positively SMOKE whatever other version you might have in your collection, guaranteed. 

Definitely one of the most fun Sinatra albums, especially when it sounds like this!

It’s tough to find great sound for this album — most copies are pretty mediocre and the MoFi is godawful. That piece of garbage gets Frank’s voice completely wrong, thinning it out and boosting it at the top of his range. No one else besides MoFi ever managed to make Frank Sinatra’s voice sound this way, so what are the chances that they’re right and everybody else is wrong? (more…)

Bryan Ferry – Bete Noire

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  • An exceptional pressing, with Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Both sides of this hit-packed 1987 Ferry UK pressing are big, rich and tubey – dramatically fuller than most of the others we played
  • Kiss & Tell and The Right Stuff are two of the bigger bangers here, and they both sound the way they should – big and clear
  • Four Stars in AMG: “Bete Noire sparkles as the highlight of Ferry’s post-Roxy solo career… Here, his trademark well-polished heartache strikes a fine balance between mysterious moodiness and dancefloor energy…”

Bigger, richer and cleaner than nearly any other copy we played. Almost no grain or congestion – just sweet, sweet sound like you have never heard on this album before.

There’s much less phony processing and grit on Ferry’s voice than on most of the copies we played. The space and ambience are likewise excellent. The sound by track two is actually quite good (track one being a bit dull as a rule). (more…)

Ben Webster – The Warm Moods

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  • An excellent copy of this great jazz “plus strings” album starring our man Ben Webster – Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • The sound is rich, warm and full-bodied, with you-are-there immediacy and impressive dynamics – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • With a wonderful combination of material, performance, and sonics, this is a record you’ll want to play again and again
  • If your collection could use some romantic jazz ballads, look no further, this is the album for you

This is calm, relaxed jazz performed expertly by Webster backed by a small orchestra capably conducted by Johnny Richards.

Drop the needle on any of these great ballads and appreciate how relaxed, natural, balanced and warm the sound is. I imagine this is going to be a record you return to over and over. It’s hard for me to imagine this record ever getting old with such a wonderful combination of material, performance, and sonics. (more…)

Randy Newman – Good Old Boys

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  • With two insanely good sides, each earning Shotoout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades, this copy KILLED all of the competition
  • Dramatically fuller and smoother than the average pressing
  • 5 Stars: “Good Old Boys is one of Newman’s finest albums; it’s also one of his most provocative and infuriating, and that’s probably just the way he wanted it.”

With Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelman producing, and Lee Herschberg and Donn Landee engineering, this album has the smooth, rich, analog sound you would expect, and it just happens to be a sound we love here at Better Records. It’s vintage 1974 Reprise. (more…)

The Kinks – The Great Lost Kinks Album

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  • An outstanding copy of the band’s 1973 release with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • This one knocks it out of the park – it’s lively and rich, with plenty of deep punchy bass, a nicely extended top and a huge three-dimensional soundfield
  • If you enjoy the classic late ’60s Kinks albums such as Village Green, Arthur, and Lola, you are going to love this album
  • 4 1/2 stars: “An aptly titled collection; out of print for many years, there are even some Kinks cultists who have never been able to hear this ragtag but worthy collection of late-’60s and early-’70s outtakes and rarities… Kinks fans will find it quite worthwhile, and should be on the lookout for it…”

(more…)

Sinatra / The Concert Sinatra – What to Listen For

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[Originally posted 2/2015]

There may be a touch of smear (you can most easily hear it in the strings) but the sound is so RICH and Tubey Magical that you will barely be aware of it. Your attention should be focused on the superb feel the man has for this music.

One thing to pay special attention to, especially if you have other copies of the album, is that Sinatra’s voice on both sides of this pressing always sounds natural even at its loudest. There is no strain or hardness.

That, among many other things, is what separates the best copies from the also-rans (and, of course, all the reissues, which tend to have gritty, harsh vocals which quickly get unbearably edgy in the louder parts).

For audiophiles, the amount of effort that went into the recording, effort that actually paid off, is what will impress the most about The Concert Sinatra. The 73 musicians you see stretched out across the soundstage at Samuel Goldwyn Studios behind Sinatra will give you some idea of the size and scope of the sound. With 24 mics feeding 8 tracks of 35MM recording film, this was the sonic equivalent of Gone With the Wind. No expense or effort was spared.

Fortunately for those of us who are still playing records forty-odd years on, this special project took place before the advent of the transistor, which means that all the Tubey Magic of the singer and his all-encompassing orchestra was captured on the “tape”.

Ah, but how much of that sound made it to the record itself? That’s always the rub with records isn’t it?

In this case, plenty. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – That’s Life

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This original Reprise LP has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from the later reissues. It gives you the sense that Frank Sinatra is right in front of you. 

He’s no longer a recording — he’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. His voice is rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality. You immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

Reprise pressings — like every label’s pressings — are all over the map. When you find a good one, you can be pretty sure it’s the exception, not the rule. (more…)