Labels We Love – Vanguard

Junior Wells – It’s My Life

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  • A superb copy of Junior Wells’ recording from Chicago in ’66 (this is the read deal, folks!) with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound – just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Bigger and bolder, with more bass, more energy, and more of that “you-are-there-immediacy” of a live performance that set the best vintage pressings apart from reissues, CDs, and whatever else might be out there
  • “Cut from the same cloth as Wells’ classic Hoodoo Man Blues LP from the same period, It’s My Life, Baby! captured the Junior Wells-Buddy Guy team in great form, both in the studio and live at Pepper’s Lounge on 43rd Street. This album tends a bit more towards slow blues, including a rare example of Wells’ chromatic harmonica playing on ‘Slow, Slow,’ but there are fine uptempo pieces…”

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Mississippi John Hurt – Today!

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  • Hurt’s superb sophomore release makes its Hot Stamper debut with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • Smooth, relaxed and full-bodied – practically no other copy in our shootout had this kind of exceptionally natural, analog sound
  • Hard to imagine any reissue, vintage or otherwise, can beat the sound of this LP – we sure couldn’t find one
  • 4 stars: “Today is Mississippi John Hurt’s first and finest studio release since his “rediscovery” on his Avalon farm by folklorist Tom Hoskins in 1963… his voice retains its characteristic Buddha-esque warmth and it is still difficult to believe that there is just one man playing on the seemingly effortless guitar work… A truly essential album of the folk revival, unrivaled in its beauty and warmth.”

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The Weavers – The Weavers At Carnegie Hall

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

This is a wonderful Weavers album, recorded in Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve, 1955 — when and if you can find one that’s properly mastered and not too scratched up. This is not easy, as most copies of the album — now fifty plus years old — have not survived in very good condition. This copy is the exception to that rule, with reasonably quiet surfaces (Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus, about as quiet as they come) and EXCELLENT SOUND.  

What do we listen for on this album? Pretty much the same things we listen for on most albums (with the exception of Whomp Factor I suppose; acoustic guitars, banjos and voices don’t produce much whomp in real life).

You clearly need transparency to make all the vocal and instrumental parts clear. There is not a trace of phony Hi-Fi sound anywhere to be found on the album, so bringing out as much information as possible from the record has to be an important goal. (On phony records a bit of smear or opacity can actually be a good thing.)

Those of you with very highly resolving speaker systems — electrostatics, screens and the like — will find this record much easier to reproduce than others. (Including us: Our big dynamic speakers do many things well but no speaker can do everything right. We have had to sacrifice some transparency for other qualities necessary to play the wide range of recordings we must evaluate.) (more…)

The Weavers – The Weavers’ Almanac

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

White Hot stamper sound on side two – a Demo Disc for acoustic folk music. Better than Super Hot on side one – sound that’s sweeter than wine. This copy is stereo, and for good reason: the mono pressings are full of vocal distortion. Reasonably quiet vinyl for an early Vanguard pressing.

This early pressing on the early Black and Silver Vanguard label has glorious sound! It’s right up there with the best we have ever heard The Weavers.

Side One

Superb air and space, with a very extended top. Sweet vocals. Big, rich, tubey and clear, this side will be hard to beat. Play track three to hear the kind of guitar harmonics and vocal intimacy that are simply no longer possible on modern vinyl.

Side Two

The huge reverb sounds just right – very rich and tubey and smooth.

Listen to how rich the bass is on the third track. It’s not perfect but it’s right for this era and right for this music. (more…)

Jerry Jeff Walker – Driftin’ Way of Life

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

This copy, which has a variation of the maroon early Vanguard label, not sure exactly when it was pressed, or where, was the best copy we played in our shootout. So tubey and natural, why don’t more records sound like this? The recording itself is superb, with audiophile quality sound all the way. And the music is just as good, fully deserving the 4 1/2 Stars All Music Guide gave it.

Over the last few years you’ve seen rave reviews for many Vanguard recordings – Joan Baez, The Weavers, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, etc.

You can confidently add Jerry Jeff Walker’s Driftin’ Way of Life to that list. (more…)

Judy Collins – Judy Collins #3

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two, this pressing will be very hard to beat – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too  
  • The “breath of life” is alive and well on these old LPs, the best reason for the truly serious audiophile to stay committed to analog
  • “Having established herself as one of the foremost interpreters of traditional material, Collins did the same for contemporary folk songwriters on this album, which mixed standards with pristine covers of compositions by Dylan, Pete Seeger and Shel Silverstein. With Jim (Roger) McGuinn arranging and playing second guitar and banjo, this album, which included a fine version of Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” had a clear (if overlooked) influence on the folk-rock he pioneered with the Byrds.”

We had a devil of a time finding clean, quiet, good sounding copies of this album. The mono pressings, which are far more common than the stereo pressings, didn’t sound right to us, and everything produced after the Big Red E label era is a joke, which leaves the Folksinger label pressings from 1963 and the Gold Label pressings from 1965. Both can be good. This LP was by far the quietest we played, which makes it very special indeed. (more…)

Odetta – At Town Hall in Mono

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  • Stunning sound throughout for this mono original pressing of At Town Hall, boasting Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Captured live in New York City in 1963, this superb pressing will transport a living, breathing Odetta right into your listening room
  • Forget whatever dead-on-arrival Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magical, you-are-there immediacy of this Odetta concert, this is the only way to go
  • The album features a wonderful mix of folk and blues, including “Let Me Ride,” “Hound Dog,” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”

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Odetta – At Town Hall in Stereo

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  • Here is an outstanding early stereo pressing of Odetta performing live – it boasts superb Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout and plays as quietly as these Vanguard LPs ever do
  • Captured live in New York City in 1963, this superb pressing will transport a living, breathing Odetta right into your listening room
  • Forget whatever dead-on-arrival Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magical, you-are-there immediacy of this Odetta concert, this is the only way to go
  • The album features a wonderful mix of folk and blues, including “Let Me Ride,” “Hound Dog,” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”

This vintage Vanguard pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.).

Hot Stamper sound is rarely about the details of a given recording. In the case of this album, more than anything else a Hot Stamper must succeed at recreating a solid, palpable, real Odetta singing live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played over the years can serve as a guide. (more…)

Prokofiev / Peter & The Wolf / Rossi

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This performance of Peter and the Wolf from 1957 is our single favorite recording of the work. This copy is a DEMO DISC of the highest order, suitable for permanently destroying the rationale for every audiophile record ever made, simply on the grounds that none of them sound remotely as good as this one does.  

The immediacy and unerringly realistic presentation of the solo instruments — bassoon, oboe, flute, etc. (each of which serves to represent a character in the story) — are so lifelike that I defy anyone to name a recording to challenge our assertion that this is positively As Good As It Gets.

  • Our favorite performance, with wonderful narration by no less than film legend Boris Karloff
  • With WHITE HOT Stamper sound, this copy is a DEMO DISC of the highest order
  • Tubey Magically rich, yet realistic, which is of course an impossibility
  • And it plays Mint Minus – an exceptionally quiet Vanguard pressing

And did I mention that it was made in 1957? You couldn’t even buy it on stereo disc back then! (more…)

Joan Baez – Joan Baez

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  • Stunning sound on this original Vanguard stereo pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to it
  • Glorious All Tube chain recording quality, kicked up a few levels on this pressing because it beat all comers on side one and came in close on side two, with vinyl that is going to play as quietly as any early pressing ever will
  • One of Joan Baez’s best sounding albums in our experience, shockingly free of artificiality – play it against your favorite female vocal to hear the difference
  • 140 weeks on the charts and Five AMG Stars: “…a brace of traditional songs (most notably “East Virginia” and “Mary Hamilton”) with an urgency and sincerity that makes the listener feel as though they were being sung for the first time…”

This former member of the TAS list is the kind of recording that has everything going for it: Golden Age equipment in a live acoustic with a simple arrangement for voice and guitar (or two).

The voice and the material come together nicely. If I were to recommend only one Joan Baez record it would surely have to be this one. Diamonds and Rust is a nice pop album but I think if you go back and play it today you will find that it sounds somewhat dated. Good folk tunes like the ones found on this album, however, never seem to go out of style.

The record sound like a live demo session because that is exactly what it is:

In 1983 Baez described the making of the album to Rolling Stone’s Kurt Loder:”…It took four days. We recorded it in the ballroom of some hotel in New York, way up by the river. We could use the room every day except Tuesday, because they played Bingo there on Tuesdays. It was just me on this filthy rug. There were two microphones, one for the voice and one for the guitar. I just did my set. It was probably all I knew how to do at that point. I did ‘Mary Hamilton’ once and that was it…That’s the way we made ’em in the old days. As long as a dog didn’t run through the room or something, you had it…”

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