Masterpieces of Rock and Jazz

George Benson – Breezin’ – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Excellent sound for George Benson’s 1976 classic Breezin’! This copy should blow the doors off your old copy or any MoFi pressing — guaranteed. It’s got all the elements this smooth masterpiece needs to come to life today, almost 40 years later if you can believe it. There’s tons of energy, strong presence, excellent bass and a huge soundfield with real depth. You can hear right into the music, something just not possible on most copies out there.   

This album features the huge hit “This Masquerade” and lots of other strong material as well. Benson is at the top of his game, with blazing guitar lines accompanied by his scat vocals at many times. No one else ever did music like this so well again, in our humble opinion.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Breezin’ 
This Masquerade 
Six to Four

Side Two

Affirmation 
So This Is Love? 
Lady

AMG Review

All of a sudden, George Benson became a pop superstar with this album, thanks to its least representative track. Most of Breezin’ is a softer-focused variation of Benson’s R&B/jazz-flavored CTI work, his guitar as assured and fluid as ever with Claus Ogerman providing the suave orchestral backdrops and his crack then-working band (including Ronnie Foster on keyboards and sparkplug Phil Upchurch on rhythm guitar) pumping up the funk element. Yet it is the sole vocal track (his first in many years), Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade” — where George unveiled his new trademark, scatting along with a single-string guitar solo — that reached number ten on the pop singles chart and drove the album all the way to number one on the pop (!) LP chart.

Carole King – Tapestry – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Tapestry.

Notice how the third track on side two, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, which Carole wrote when she was only eighteen and which became a big hit for The Shirelles, is actually the best sounding song on the entire album.

I have a theory that this song was recorded toward the end of the sessions, and the reason it sounds so good is that it took them until then to figure out how to do it. This is no Demo Disc by any means. The recording itself seems to have shortcomings of every kind from track to track. Perhaps as they made their way through the sessions they were learning from their mistakes, mistakes that no one could go back and fix without starting from scratch all over again, and by the time they got to this track they had it all figured out. Of course that is just a guess, nothing but speculation on my part. Regardless of the cause, see if you don’t hear what I’m talking about. 

What to Listen For (WTLF)

One of the most telling qualities that the best copies displayed is the ability to hear through the mix to Carole’s piano, which is often placed toward the back of the mix, underpinning the music, not playing a prominent role. The best copies really let you follow her all the way through every song, no matter how quietly she is playing or how far back in the mix she may be. If the pressing has a thinner sound, obviously it’s easy to pick up on the precussive nature of the instrument. The trick is to hear the full range of notes, and for that you need fullness and transparency.

Carole, We Love You

We went nuts for this album during our big shootout. Since most of the time we’re playing testosterone-fueled, raging classic rock, it was a nice change of pace for us — and certainly easier on our poor eardrums! Our man JT makes an appearance playing acoustic guitar on a number of tracks, most notably You’ve Got A Friend, and his pals Russ Kunkel and Danny Kootch turn up too, with Kootch handling most of the electric guitar duties.

What’s surprising, if you haven’t played this album in a while, is how good non-hit tracks like “Home Again” can be. But there aren’t many of those non-hits on this album, and that’s a good thing; almost every song was a hit or received a lot of radio play. The quality of the material is that good.

Loggins & Messina – Sittin’ In – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Sittin’ In. 

Practically any copy you find will have a bit of a boost in the bottom end. The kick drum really kicks on this album, more than it should in fact.

And almost all copies have too much top end right around 10k. The ones with the worst case of boosted highs and boosted bass sound like they were mastered by Stan Ricker and pressed in Japan, much like those put out by a famous label back in the ’70s.

Oddly enough, many audiophiles to this day do not seem to know that this particular label has been responsible for a slough of the phoniest sounding audiophile records ever pressed.

There is also a sibilance problem with the recording. Some copies keep it under control, while other, more crudely mastered and pressed ones, suffer greatly from spitty vocals, especially noticeable on Danny’s Song. The better copies will tend to have the “cleanest”, least-objectionable sibilance.

The best copies manage to keep the EQ anomalies within bounds, while giving us full-bodied pianos; rich, lively vocals, full of presence and brimming with enthusiasm; harmonically-rich guitars; and a three-dimensional soundstage, revealing the space around them all.



Further Reading

We have a large number of entries in our new Listening in Depth series.

We discuss the issue of Sibilance in these listings.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in Hot Stamper Shootouts — The Four Pillars of Success.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

This debut album was credited to Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina because the project had begun as a solo record by Loggins being produced by Messina. By the time it was finished, however, Messina had written or co-written six of the 11 songs, contributed “first guitar,” and shared lead vocals on many tracks. Messina’s “Nobody but You” and “Vahevala,” co-written by Loggins’ second cousin, Dave Loggins, were the singles chart entries, but today everybody remembers the album for Loggins’ “House at Pooh Corner,” which had earned Loggins his record contract, and “Danny’s Song,” which Anne Murray took into the Top Ten the following year.

The only thing wrong with this record is that it was too perfect — with their infectious blend of country, folk, rock and Caribbean music, L&M started out at the top of their game, and although they were able to match some of the material and performances on later records, the team never got any better than this.

Robert Palmer – Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley – His Best Album By Far

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

TWO EXCELLENT SIDES on this British Sunray Island pressing. SSTTA is very hard to find nowadays, but we managed to put together a big enough stack to make a shootout possible, and this copy acquited very well indeed — it was miles ahead of the typical pressing. As is usually the case with these originals, the vinyl is a bit noisier than ideal at Mint Minus Minus.

No doubt this is the best album Robert Palmer ever made. With Lowell George’s unmistakable slide guitar and members of the Meters providing backup, as well as the amazing Bernard Purdie on drums, it’s the only Robert Palmer release that consistently works all the way through as an album. The entire first side is excellent from top to bottom, with the title track being our favorite RP song of all time.  (more…)

John Coltrane – Giant Steps on Real Atlantic Vinyl

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

As you might expect, the original Blue and Green label pressings have — potentially — superb sound on Giant Steps, but somewhat surprisingly — assuming you’ve heard a White Hot original copy — the Red and Green label pressings can sound every bit as good.

The Tubey Magical richness and warmth carried over into the ’70s, at least on some copies of this title, and we’re very glad they did, as finding clean original Coltrane albums from the early ’60s is not so easy these days.

If you know anything about this music you know that Coltrane builds up a head of steam on practically every track on the album. He is blasting away here and it is a thrill to be sure. The soundfield opens up naturally, with real depth.

The clarity does not come at the expense of brightness or thinness of any kind. In fact, just the opposite is the case, the sound is so rich and tubey you will be practically bowled over by it.

The extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum is one of the qualities that often sets the better copies apart from the pack. All the top end and the deep bottom end weight and fullness that are so essential to the sound are simply not to be found on most pressings — but here they are.

Superb Engineering

The engineering duties were handled by Phil Iehle, a man who went on to record a few of Coltrane’s most iconic albums for Atlantic (My Favorite Things, Coltrane Jazz) and the venerable Tom Dowd, who also did Coltrane Jazz in 1961, Coltrane’s Sound in 1964 and many others.

Phil Iehle also helped engineer Buffalo Springfield’s Last Time Around, as well as albums by Mose Allison, Jerry Jeff Walker, Charles Mingus, the MJQ, Herbie Mann, Eddie Harris, Hank Crawford and dozens of others. Staff engineer at Atlantic? That’s my guess. But a supremely talented one nonetheless.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Giant Steps 
Cousin Mary 
Countdown 
Spiral

Side Two

Syeeda’s Song Flute 
Naima 
Mr. P.C

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

Giant Steps bore the double-edged sword of furthering the cause of the music as well as delivering it to an increasingly mainstream audience. Although this was John Coltrane’s debut for Atlantic, he was concurrently performing and recording with Miles Davis… He was, in essence, beginning to rewrite the jazz canon with material that would be centered on solos — the 180-degree antithesis of the art form up to that point. These arrangements would create a place for the solo to become infinitely more compelling. This would culminate in a frenetic performance style that noted jazz journalist Ira Gitler accurately dubbed “sheets of sound.” Coltrane’s polytonal torrents extricate the amicable and otherwise cordial solos that had begun decaying the very exigency of the genre — turning it into the equivalent of easy listening.

Dave Brubeck – Time Out

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  • An exceptional pressing – Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) on side one, an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two, big and open, with note-like bass and huge amounts of studio space
  • Original Six Eye stereo LPs in playable condition are getting tough to find nowadays – even this one has issues
  • 5 stars on Allmusic, an audiophile favorite and a great example of what’s phenomenally good about 1959 All Tube Analog recordings
  • “Dave Brubeck’s defining masterpiece, Time Out is one of the most rhythmically innovative albums in jazz history, the first to consciously explore time signatures outside of the standard 4/4 beat or 3/4 waltz time.”

Spacious and transparent, this copy has the big three-dimensional soundstage that makes this record such a joy to listen to. The piano has weight and heft, the drums are big and dynamic, and everything is relaxed and sweet — in short, this copy is doing pretty much everything we want a top quality Time Out to do.  (more…)

The Band’s Second Album – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of The Band’s second album.

The best copies have no trace of phony sound from top to bottom. They’re raw and real in a way that makes most pop records sound processed and wrong. Our best Hot Stampers have plenty of the qualities we look for in The Band. Energy, presence, transparency, Tubey Magic… you name it — you will find it there. The biggest strength of this recording is its wonderful, natural midrange. And tons of bass.

Despite what anyone might tell you, it’s no mean feat to find good sounding copies of this record. There are good originals and bad originals, as well as good reissues and bad reissues. Folks, we’ve said it many times — the label can’t tell you how a record sounds, but there’s a sure way to find out that information. You’ve got to clean ’em and play ’em to find out which ones have Hot Stampers, and we seem to be the only record dealers who are doing that, in the process making unusually good pressings available to you, the music-loving audiophile. (more…)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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DEJA VU is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it.

We love the album and we hope you do too. If you have some time on your hands — maybe a bit too much time on your hands — please feel free to check out our commentaries.

This link will take you to all of our other Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young albums.

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Deja Vu. (more…)

Jimmy Smith – Bashin’

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

Bashin’ is back after a two and a half year hiatus, and it’s back with a vengence — both sides here are Super Hot, with some of the best sound we have ever heard for the album. In the past we’ve complained about “Rudy Van Gelder’s somewhat over the top echo-drenched brass”, but on a copy such as this there is nothing to complain about!

All that reverb on the brass sounds RIGHT. If you have a top quality front end (and the system that goes with it), this recording will be amazingly spacious, three-dimensional, transparent, dynamic, and open.

With a bit more weight and whomp down low this copy would have been competitive with the best we played. Everything above two hundred cycles is here!

Copies of this album are sometimes so SOUR or dull (or both) that they go right in the trade pile. Add to that the difficulty of finding copies that are scratch-free and not too noisy and you have one tough shootout. Inner Groove Distortion caused by the non-anti-skate-equipped turntables of the day is a chronic problem with vintage jazz records, and this title is typically no exception — except in this case! The record has no IGD and plays mostly Mint Minus, as quiet an original as we have ever heard. (more…)

Phil Collins – Face Value – Whomp Factor

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album. 

Until we heard some of the better copies we were simply not able to appreciate just how important good bass definition and serious weight down low are to the sound of this record. When the bass is wooly or thin, as it is on so many copies — not clear, not deep, not full enough — it throws the rest of the mix off. When the bass is huge and powerful the music itself becomes huge and powerful.

The copies with the big bottom end are the only ones that really make you sit up and take notice of just how good these songs are. (more…)