Older Reviews – Folk

Grossman & Renbourn on East World Direct to Disc

More British Folk Rock

This is an East World Direct-To-Disc Japanese Import LP.

Lovely acoustic music; the best cuts are the first two tracks on side two. They sound like a classic Vanguard recording from the ’60s. One of the best East World titles.

The record comes complete with the tablature/lyric sheet and extensive liner notes on the recording process. 

Al Stewart – Zero She Flies

This is an AMAZINGLY RARE CBS Import LP.  We were pleasantly surprised when we flipped to side two and heard lots of tubey magic. The sound was rich and full with Al’s voice both present and natural.

It’s very unlikely that I will find another copy anytime soon and who knows if it would sound as good as this one does anyway. It’s certainly not likely to be in this kind of IMMACULATE condition either. Side two is where the real Hot Stamper action is on this record. If it were part of a Hot Stamper shootout we guess that side two would rate about A++. (more…)

The Weavers – The Weavers At Carnegie Hall

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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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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…)

Peter, Paul & Mary – In The Wind

More Peter, Paul and Mary

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The sound is big, open, rich and full, with the performers front and center (as well as left and right). The highs are extended and silky sweet. The bass is tight and punchy. And this copy gives you more life and energy than others by a long shot. Very few folk records offer the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing, on both sides!

This original Gold Label stereo LP also has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s no doubt missing from whatever 180g reissue has been made from the 50+ year old tapes. As good as that pressing may be, we guarantee that this one is dramatically more REAL SOUNDING. It gives you the sense that Peter, Paul and Mary are right in the room with you.

They’re no longer a representation — they’re living, breathing persons. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. Their voices are so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

’Very Last Day’, Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right’, and ’Freight Train’ sound particularly nice here. (more…)

Peter, Paul & Mary / Moving – The Hit Is Not Especially Good Sounding

More Peter, Paul and Mary

More Records with Individual Tracks that Are Dubby Sounding

As amazing as this copy is, a perfect record it is not. The vinyl isn’t silent, but it’s pretty darn quiet for an old Warner Bros. Gold Label record — mostly Mint Minus for side one, between Mint Minus and Mint Minus Minus for side two.

Puff The Magic Dragon is unfortunately *not* one of the better sounding songs. Every last copy we played suffered from a touch of compressor distortion that adds a bit of grain to the vocals. We initially thought it was mild groove damage, but we heard the same thing on copy after copy we played. Still, if the choice is between a little grain on a tubey magical Gold Label copy or no grain on an overly smooth reissue, we’d take this one every last time.

It’s All About The Midrange Magic

Peter, Paul & Mary records live and die by the quality of their midrange reproduction. These are not big-budget, high-concept multi-track recordings. They’re simple, innocent folk songs featuring exquisite vocal harmonies, backed by straightforward guitar accompaniment. If the voices aren’t silky sweet and delicate, while at the same time full-bodied and present, let’s face it — you might as well be listening to something else.

The Breath Of Life

Steve Hoffman’s famous phrase is key here: we want to hear The Breath Of Life. If P, P & M don’t sound like living breathing human beings standing right between your speakers, toss yours and buy this copy, because that’s exactly what they sound like here. The TUBEY MAGIC of the MIDRANGE is practically off the scale. Until you hear it like this you almost can’t really even imagine it. It’s a bit disconcerting to hear each and every nuance of their singing reproduced so faithfully.

This is high-rez ’60s style; not phony and forced like so much of what passes for audiophile sound these days, but relaxed and real, as if the recording were doing its best to get out of the way of the music, not call attention to itself. This, to us, is the goal, the prize we must constantly strive to keep our eyes on. Find the music, leave the rest.

Demo Quality!

This one sounds AMAZING — a real Demo Disc. Somehow this copy alone, out of all our many Gold Labels, came out just right. It really conveys the power of the group’s performance in the studio. When they start to sing good and loud, not only can you really hear them belting it out, you FEEL IT too.

The vocal clarity is wonderful, allowing you to appreciate every last detail of the trio’s performance. No other copy we played had the kind of presence, palpability and immediacy we heard here — it was as if the trio were singing their hearts out right here in our listening room. It sure felt like they were. Both sides rate A+++ — As Good As It Gets (AGAIG).

Joan Baez – 5

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Natural, unprocessed, clear, breathy vocal reproduction is the key to any Joan Baez album, and this side two will clearly demonstrate just how well-recorded Joan’s voice (and guitar) were by the Vanguard engineering team. We heard immediately that this side one was excellent. We had no idea the sound could get as good as it is on side two. It takes the sound and music to an entirely new level.

With just guitar, vocal and occasional cello, the “truth” of recording quality is hard to fault. After only a few moments there’s really no sound, only music. (more…)

Joan Baez – Farewell, Angelina – Our Hot Copy from 2005

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Very nice fairly original Vanguard LP with EXCELLENT SOUND.

These early Black Label Vanguard pressings are actually better in some ways than the 180 gram reissue, as good as that one is. Of course, they all vary in their sound. But listen especially to tracks two and six on the first side to hear a more natural sounding Joan. (more…)