Labels We Love – Reprise/Bizarre

Fleetwood Mac – Bare Trees

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Reviews and Commentaries for Fleetwood Mac

  • With two Double Plus (A++) or BETTER sides, you’ll have a hard time finding a Bare Trees that sounds remotely as good as this vintage UK import
  • It’s the impossibly rare copy that’s this lively, solid and rich… drop the needle on the title track and you’ll see what we mean
  • Many copies were gritty, some were congested in the louder sections, some never got big, some were thin and lacking the lovely analog richness of the best — we heard plenty of copies whose faults were obvious when played against two superb sides such as these
  • “Arguably the first consistently strong album Fleetwood Mac ever recorded [not true, Kiln House is] … 1972’s Bare Trees is also the album where the band finally defines its post-blues musical personality.”

This period of Fleetwood Mac, from Kiln House (1970) through Mystery to Me (1973) — both are albums I would put at the top of my list to take to my Desert Island — has always been my favorite of the band. I grew up on this stuff, and I can tell you from personal experience that it is a positive THRILL to hear the albums from this era sound so good.

Until not that many years ago we simply were not able to successfully shootout Bare Trees, Fleetwood Mac’s wonderful album from 1972. The pressings we were playing just didn’t sound very much like Hot Stampers to us. British, German, Japanese, domestic originals, domestic reissues; all of them left much too much to be desired.

Thankfully we can tell you that the best copies sound a whole lot better now than they did then. (more…)

Ry Cooder – Self-Titled

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More Debut Albums of Interest

  • A vintage Reprise pressing of Ry Cooder’s 1970 debut with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • If you want to hear the brilliant Lee Herschberg‘s All Analog Recording skills brought to bear on so many different instruments serving an assortment of sonic textures, this is the copy that will let you do it
  • 4 stars: “Cooder’s debut creates an intriguing fusion of blues, folk, rock & roll, and pop, filtered through his own intricate, syncopated guitar; Van Dyke Parks and Lenny Waronker’s idiosyncratic production… Cooder puts this unique blend across with a combination of terrific songs, virtuosic playing, and quirky, yet imaginative, arrangements.”
  • This is clearly George Harrison’s best sounding album. Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group (sounds like a Grammy Awards category, doesn’t it?) can be found here.
  • This is a Must Own Title from 1970, a great year for Rock and Pop music, perhaps the best ever
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

The music reminds me a lot of early Little Feat, which is a good thing. The sound is somewhat similar as well, which is to say that it is natural and musical, nothing like the hyped-up hi-fi sound of his TAS-listed album Jazz — and that’s a good thing as well.

There are some great songs here, including My Old Kentucky Home, One Meat Ball and How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live. It may even be his best album. (more…)

Ben Webster – The Reissue Is So Good, How Can the Original Be Better?

Our review from years ago for the Discovery reissue of The Warm Moods from 1961 can be found below.

We loved the sound, so much so that we thought it was hard to fault. Imagine our surprise when we found out that the original was clearly better. Much better. At least a full grade better.

The rare (in stereo anyway) original Reprise showed us just how wrong we were. The best original pressing we found took the sound of The Warm Moods to another level, and a pretty high one at that.

Yet another case of Compared to What?  Who knew the recording could sound any better than the wonderful Discovery pressing that we’d played?

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Neil Young – Time Fades Away

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  • An early Reprise pressing with seriously good Double Plus (A++) Front Row Center sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This copy is full-bodied, smooth and musical – the classic sound of Neil Young at his performing peak
  • 4 stars: “[I]t sounds very much of a piece with Tonight’s the Night and On the Beach, albums that explored the troubled zeitgeist of America in the mid-’70s in a way few rockers had the courage to face. If the performances are often loose and ragged, they’re also brimming with emotional force… Time Fades Away ranks with the bravest and most painfully honest albums of his career… it isn’t for everyone, but you may be surprised by its powerful effects.”

Unlike most “live” albums this one was made direct to tape, with no fixes or overdubs, and on the best pressings that warts-and-all approach really pays off. There’s good weight, real openness, and the tonality on these better copies is both rich and sweet. This kind of sound can put you right in the front row.

Finding a copy like this is no walk in the park. The stamper numbers are all over the map, providing little if any guidance. Also, since the album didn’t sell all that well and was never released on CD, there just aren’t that many clean copies floating around. Complicating matters even further, the eight songs here were recorded at seven different shows, so the sound, of course, varies a bit from track to track. It took a long time and a lot of work to make sense of it all, but you Neil Young fanatics are going to get a thrill out of the sound on a Hot Stamper copy — guaranteed. (more…)

For the Best Kinks Sound, Stick with the Tri-Color Mono Pressings

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Kinks

This Pink and Green Reprise original MONO pressing is lively, balanced and vibrant, with a healthy dose of the Tubey Magical Richness The Kinks’ recordings need in order to sound the way we want them to, which is less irritatingly bright, thin and harsh.

“Tired of Waiting For You” is the big hit here, and like most Kinks albums from back in the day, they put the hit at the end of the side, so you had better make sure whatever copy you find has not been played much or it will be full of Inner Groove Distortion.

Inner Groove Distortion caused by the non-anti-skate-equipped turntables of the day is a chronic problem with rock and pop records from this era. We check all our records for Inner Groove Damage (IGD) as a matter of course when condition checking the surface quality of the vinyl.

The Poster Boy for Inner Groove Distortion is the song “Thank You” on this album from 1969. That record got played a lot back in the day, on the only turntables that we had available to us at the time, crappy ones.

My first “audiophile” table was the extremely plasticky Garrard 40B. I think I bought mine in 1973  and I probably paid about $69 for it. As I recall, this was their entry level model. If any table had been cheaper I would have bought it, which shows you what my starving-college-student budget must have been. Sounded just fine to me, though. What did I know about sound in 1973?

By 1976 I would have some of the best audiophile electronics in the world and the massive speakers you see below. That’s some head-spinning progress if you ask me. Once I had heard how good all my favorite albums were sounding, I got very motivated. For real progress to occur, you must let music do the driving.

The mystery is why it took me until 2007 to get my system, room, electricity and tweaks to a level advanced enough that the shortcomings of the Modern Heavy Vinyl Record became obvious.

Actually, it’s not really all that mysterious. Audio is hard. It took me decades to learn how to do it right, and if you work hard at it, you can expect it to take you decades too. [1]


Consider taking our Moderately Helpful Advice concerning the pressings that tend to win shootouts. In our experience, this record sounds best this way:

In Mono 

On the Right Early Pressing


[1] When I got started in audio in the early- to mid- ’70s, the following important elements of the modern stereo system did not exist:

  • Stand-alone phono stages.
  • Modern cabling and power cords.
  • Vibration controlling platforms for turntables and equipment.
  • Synchronous Drive Systems for turntable motors.
  • Carbon fiber mats for massive turntable platters.
  • Highly adjustable tonearms (for VTA, etc.) with extremely delicate adjustments and precision bearings.
  • Modern record cleaning machines and fluids.
  • And there wasn’t much in the way of innovative room treatments like the Hallographs we use.

A lot of things had to change in order for us to reproduce records at the level we needed to in order to do our record shootouts, and be confident about our findings, and we pursued every one of them about as far as time and money allowed. For a more complete discussion of these issues, please click here.

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Listening in Depth to Bare Trees

More of the Music of Fleetwood Mac

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Fleetwood Mac

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Bare Trees.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Child of Mine

A real rocker from Danny Kirwan. If the electric piano is rich on your copy and you have some top end and space you are probably off to a very good start.

The Ghost
Homeward Bound
Sunny Side of Heaven

A wonderfully poignant, even melancholy instrumental track by Bob Welch. Not sure if that’s him on guitar but the playing is beautiful. The high point of side one.

Side Two

This is where most of the best music on Bare Trees can be found. We like every song on this side.

Bare Trees

If this song doesn’t get your blood pumping, you need to turn up the volume another click or two. There is tremendous energy and joy in this song, and it needs to be played loud to get those feelings across.

Sentimental Lady
Danny’s Chant
Spare Me a Little of Your Love

This is a tough track to get right. The Brit is smoother and sweeter, which works on this song. Bad copies can sound hard on Christine’s vocals as well as the chorus.

Dust

One of my all time favorite Fleetwood Mac songs. On a good copy this track sounds so sweet. The texture to the voices is right on the money — neither grainy nor dull.

Thoughts on a Grey Day (more…)

Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington – Francis A. & Edward K.

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More Duke Ellington

  • An original Reprise stereo pressing with a STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated to an excellent Double Plus (A++) side one – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Sinatra is both natural and present – he actually sounds like he is standing on the same stage as Ellington’s band
  • The highs are extended and silky sweet, the bass is tight and punchy – this copy gives you more life and energy than most by a long shot
  • “Recorded on Sinatra’s birthday in 1967, this collaboration between America’s most popular singing icon and pre-eminent jazz composer still endures as one of Sinatra’s most enjoyable Reprise-era albums.” – Amazon
  • If you’re a fan of either of these two fine gentlemen, this early pressing from 1967 surely belong in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Recorded one year after the remarkable Sinatra-Jobim record that we treasure here at Better Records, Sinatra takes the opportunity to work with one of the greatest bandleaders in the history of jazz, the Duke himself. We had good luck with the stereo originals on the lovely Blue and Green Reprise labels — they can be as big, rich and warm as Sinatra’s legendary Capitol recordings when you find the right pressing, and that’s really saying something.

You Are There

The presence and immediacy here are really something. Turn it up and Frank is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime.

The sound is big, open, rich and full. The highs are extended and silky sweet. The bass is tight and punchy. And this copy gives you more life and energy than most by a long shot. Very few Sinatra records offer the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing.

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 so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you. (more…)

Neil Young – Hawks and Doves

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  • The trick on this album is to find rich, smooth, edge-free sound, and this copy delivers those qualities like few that we played all day
  • “Hawks and Doves has a homey feel. “Little Wing,” bare and haltingly lyrical with its miked harp and unaccompanied acoustic, is simpler than anything on the folky Comes a Time, and the rest of the music is defined by Ben Keith’s laconic dobro and steel and Rufus Thobodeaux’s sawing fiddle.” Robert Christgau (A-)

On side one, the second track, The Old Homestead, has an especially intimate vocal worth checking out.

Flip the record over and listen to how full-bodied the piano is on the first track on side two, Stayin’ Power.

This is the sound of ANALOG. So many copies are dry and edgy, as is the CD, I would guess, but here the sound is smooth, natural and enjoyable.

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Gram Parsons – Grievous Angel

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More Country and Country Rock

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades throughout, this vintage Reprise pressing of Parson’s country rock classic is doing just about everything right
  • The sound here is rich, full and Tubey Magical with plenty of presence and none of the harshness that plagues most copies
  • It’s tough (and getting tougher) to find clean early pressings of this album, which is why only a handful of copies have hit the site in the last few years
  • 5 stars: “… one would be hard pressed to name an artist who made an album this strong only a few weeks before their death — or at any time of their life, for that matter.”

It’s tough to find clean early pressings of this album, let alone copies that have excellent sound and quiet surfaces on both sides. We just had our first big shootout for this album in a number of years and found a lot to like about this pressing. The sound here is big, rich and open with excellent clarity and transparency. Gram’s voice sounds just right here, as does Emmylou Harris’s. Most copies have some grit and edge that really hurts the uptempo numbers, but this copy remains smooth and sweet enough to work throughout.

The music on this record is some of the finest Parsons ever laid to wax. There never was a true “solo” Gram Parsons record and Grievous Angel is full of wonderful collaborations, especially with Emmylou Harris, whose nuanced vocal performance perfectly compliments Parsons on nearly every song. Though The Gilded Palace of Sin and Sweetheart of the Rodeo may be Parsons’ most influential LPs, he never made another record quite as personal and effortlessly understated as Grievous Angel.

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Gordon Lightfoot – Cold On The Shoulder

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More Singer-Songwriter Albums

  • With seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, this early Reprise pressing is doing just about everything right – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The vocals are wonderfully breathy, smooth and sweet here – this recording is the very definition of Midrange Magic, thanks to the engineering of Lee Herschberg
  • “The strings and/or steel guitars are genteelly laid over the strumming of Lightfoot’s 12-string guitar; the rhythm section churns lightly underneath while the singer pours his winter-brandy voice through original songs depicting an ever lonely, ever rambling rustic.” – Rolling Stone
  • If you’re a fan of Gordon’s, this 1975 release is one that surely belongs in your collection

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