Personal Favorites – Soul, R’n’B, Blues

Sly and The Family Stone – Stand

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  • Tired of the crude, congested, hard, harsh and otherwise unpleasant sound of most pressings? The solution is right here!
  • Stand, I Want To Take You Higher, Everyday People, You Can Make It If You Try — what a killer lineup of songs
  • 5 stars: “Stand! is the pinnacle of Sly & the Family Stone’s early work, a record that represents a culmination of the group’s musical vision and accomplishment. …everything simply gels here, resulting in no separation between the astounding funk, effervescent irresistible melodies, psychedelicized guitars, and deep rhythms.”
  • This is a Must Own Soul 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.

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Bill Withers / Still Bill – Surprisingly Well Recorded Soul

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  • Some of the best soul sound you’ll ever hear – natural, full-bodied and present, with the kind of richness and smoothness you only get from vintage analog
  • It’s Withers’ most consistent album, with outstanding sound for the two big hits – “Lean On Me” and “Use Me”
  • 5 stars: “It’s warm and easily accessible, but it has a depth and complexity that reveals itself over numerous plays — and, given the sound and feel of the music, from the lush arrangements to his comforting voice, it’s easy to want to play this again and again… the greatest testament to his considerable gifts.”
  • If you’re a Withers fan, this is a Must Own Classic from 1972 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Many of Withers’ best songs are here, classics of the ’70s canon such as ’Use Me,’ ‘Who Is He (And What Is He To You)? and ‘Lean On Me.’

This killer early Sussex pressing was one of the best from our recent shootout. It beat practically every other copy we put up against it (on side one anyway) with superb presence, top-notch clarity, full-bodied vocals and serious energy. I don’t think you could find a better sounding Bill Withers album no matter what you did. I wish there were more ’70s soul albums that sounded as good as this one does.

The vinyl is about as quiet as any Sussex pressing ever is. Finding these good sounding early pressings in audiophile playing condition is not easy as I’m sure you can imagine. (more…)

Michael Jackson / Thriller – A Rock, Pop and Soul Masterpiece

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Reviews and Commentaries for Thriller

  • With outstanding grades throughout, this pressing of Michael Jackson’s Masterpiece of Funky Rock Pop will be very hard to beat 
  • The sound is huge – big, wide, deep, and open, with a punchy bottom end and rhythmic energy to spare, as well as cleaner, smoother, sweeter upper mids and a more extended top
  • Billie Jean and Beat It sound out of this world, but that’s not fair, since every track does
  • A Top 100 and 5 Stars on AMG: “This was a record that had something for everybody, building on the basic blueprint of Off the Wall by adding harder funk, hard rock, softer ballads, and smoother soul — expanding the approach to have something for every audience.”

This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’80s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of Thriller is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, The Who, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and far too many of our favorites to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

Sound that came Jumping-out-of-the-speakers coupled with driving rhythmic energy were the hallmarks of the best copies. These qualities really brought this complex music to life, gave it room to breathe, and made it possible for us to enjoy the hell out of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music. (more…)

Earth, Wind and Fire – Gratitude

  • A superb copy of this 2-LP set with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all FOUR sides
  • My personal favorite EWF song of all time, “Can’t Hide Love,” sounds INCREDIBLE on this Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side four, where you will also find “Sing a Song,” “Gratitude,” and “Celebrate”
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more richness, fullness, vocal presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard, and that’s especially true if you made the mistake of buying whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently on the market
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Gratitude brilliantly captures the excitement EWF generated on-stage at its creative peak… Neither hardcore EWF devotees nor more casual listeners should deprive themselves of the joys of the live versions of “Shining Star” and “Yearnin’ Learnin’.”

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Stevie Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale

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  • Finding the right balance between Tubey Magical Richness and Transparency is the trick, and we think this copy strikes that balance as well as any pressing we’ve heard
  • Boogie On Reggae Woman and You Haven’t Done Nothing were the big hits but the other tracks on the album are where the real Stevie Wonder MAGIC can be found
  • 4 1/2 stars [but we give it 5]: “The songs and arrangements are the warmest since Talking Book, and Stevie positively caresses his vocals on this set, encompassing the vagaries of love, from dreaming of it (“Creepin'”) to being bashful of it (“Too Shy to Say”) to knowing when it’s over (“It Ain’t No Use”).”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. Fulfillingness’ First Finale is a good example of a record most audiophiles don’t know well but should.
  • If you’re a Stevie Wonder fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1974 is clearly one of his best, his two best in our opinion, just a tad behind his masterpiece, Inner Visions
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

We’re big fans of Stevie here at Better Records, but it’s always a challenge to find good sound for his albums. Tons of great songs here, including the ones everybody knows, Boogie On Reggae Woman and You Haven’t Done Nothing. Both sound WONDERFUL on this pressing.

But…

For the first time in my life, over the course of the last five years or so I’ve really gotten to know the album well, having found a CD at a local store to play in the car (and now I also have a cassette to play in my Walkman while working out).

I’ve listened to Fulfillingness’ First Finale scores of times. I now see that it is some of the best work Stevie Wonder ever did, right up there with Innervisions and ahead of any other Stevie Wonder album, including Talking Book and Songs in the Key of Life.

The best songs on the album to my mind are the quieter, more heartfelt and emotional ones, not the rockers or funky workouts. My personal favorites on side one are: Smile Please. Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, Too Shy to Say and Creepin’, which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are all the songs that weren’t hits.

On side two the two slowest songs are the ones I now like best: It Ain’t No Use & They Won’t Go When I Go (famously and brilliantly covered by George Michael on Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 in 1990). (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone – Greatest Hits

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  • An INCREDIBLE pressing of this nearly perfect Sly record, with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • The sound is huge – big, wide, deep, and open, with a punchy bottom end and rhythmic energy to spare, as well as cleaner, smoother, sweeter upper mids and a more extended top
  • You will find real high-resolution sound on this pressing, not the congestion, opacity and smear you would expect from a greatest hits compilation
  • 4 1/2 stars: “This summarizes their first four albums perfectly, adding the singles ‘Hot Fun in the Summertime,’ ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),’ and ‘Everybody Is a Star,’ possibly the loveliest thing they ever recorded… Greatest hits don’t come better than this — in fact, music rarely does.”

Both sides here have lively punchy drums; a big soundfield, front to back and side to side; tonally correct vocals (which obviously are key and sound edgy and thin on most copies), and real resolution to the sound overall, not the opacity and blur you would expect from a greatest hits compilation.

Also, and just as importantly, you lose the sibilance most copies suffer from and the smear on the horns goes away, thank goodness.

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Flack / Hathaway – Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

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  • An outstanding copy, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades throughout, making this the best copy to hit the site in many years!
  • There’s Tubey Magic, sweetness and spaciousness all over this recording – when it all comes together on Where Is The Love, you won’t believe how good it sounds
  • One of our favorite duet albums, Flack and the woefully underrated Soul Man Donny Hathaway are in top form here
  • Allmusic raves: “A duet classic, and perhaps the most popular album Roberta Flack made. ‘Where Is the Love’ dominated urban contemporary radio for almost the entire year, while ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ was just as influential…”

These soulful duets sound wonderful. The best sides are big, bold, open and transparent with a huge three-dimensional soundfield, strong presence, good rhythmic energy, and wonderfully dynamic leads and choruses. (more…)

Ray Charles – Ingredients In A Recipe For Soul

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  • An outstanding pressing of Charles’ 1963 release, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • These sides are doing it all right — richer, fuller, better bass, more Tubey Magic, and the list goes on
  • Ray Charles was a genius and the music on this record is just more proof of the undeniability of that fact
  • 4 stars: “The high points are very high — ‘Busted,’ his hit reworking of a composition by country songwriter Harlan Howard, is jazzy and tough, and one of his best early-’60s singles…”

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Michael Jackson – Off The Wall

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Reviews and Commentaries for Off the Wall

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this MJ classic with some of the most heartfelt, emotional and powerful music he ever recorded
  • Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, more relaxed and more ANALOG than any other Michael Jackson album
  • We’re constantly blown away by just how good the best copies of Off the Wall sound – what a recording!
  • Clearly MJ’s best sounding release – 5 stars: “This was a visionary album … part of a colorful tapestry of lush ballads and strings, smooth soul and pop, soft rock, and alluring funk.”

As consistently brilliant as Thriller may be musically — it is the biggest selling album of all time after all [scratch that, the Eagles Greatest Hits just took the top spot away from Thriller recently] — speaking strictly in terms of sonics the sound of the best copies of Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, and more ANALOG than Thriller.

Thriller is clearly more aggressive and processed-sounding than Off the Wall. The Girl Is Mine or Human Nature from Thriller would fit just fine anywhere on Off the Wall, but could the same be said for Beat It or Thriller? Just thinking about them you can hear the artificiality of the sound of both those songs in your head. Think about the snare that opens Beat It. I’ve never heard a snare sound like that in my life. Practically no instrument on Off the Wall has that kind of overly processed EQ’d sound.

Normally when you have a copy with plenty of presence, it can be somewhat sibilant in places. Sibilance is hardly a problem here. For some reason this copy has all the highs, but it’s cut so clean it practically doesn’t spit at all. Even on the song I Can’t Help It, which normally has a problem in that respect. Since that’s my favorite song on this album, and probably my favorite MJ song of all time, hearing it sound so good was a revelation. (more…)

Average White Band – Self-Titled

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  • Big, rich, and open – we guarantee you have never heard this album sound even remotely as good as this copy sounds
  • Pick Up The Pieces is rockin’ like it should, finally, but really, there’s not a weak track on the album
  • “AWB embraced soul and funk with so much conviction that it was clear this was anything but an “average” white band.” 4 1/2 Stars

Having done this shootout a number of times since we first discovered a hot sounding copy all the way back in 2007, it’s hard to imagine this music sounding any better than it does on this very copy. It’s smooth, sweet, airy, open, spacious and ALIVE. The best sounding songs here truly have Master Tape Sound.

We’ve been playing this record for years, but until finding a very Hot copy back in 2007 we had no idea what a sonic monster it could be. We didn’t have enough clean copies around to do a full shootout at that time for a very good reason — we’d NEVER heard this record sound particularly good before. The typical copy tends to be smeary, with sour horns and not very much energy.

The overall sound on both sides is lively and energetic with superb transparency. The bass is deep, rich, and tight — just what this funky music demands. The brass sounds wonderful — it has just the right amount of bite and you can really hear the air moving through the horns. (more…)