Older Reviews – Rock and Pop

Al Stewart – Year Of The Cat – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

For the first time on our site, TRIPLE PLUS MASTER TAPE SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! We play stacks of copies of this one a few times every year, but I don’t recall ever hearing one that sounded so correct from the first song to the last.

Let me tell you — when this album sounds as bad as most copies do, the music just plain does not work. So many copies add a nasty layer of grit to the vocals, and the effect is positively painful. This copy shows you a Year Of The Cat that is just not available on the typical copy, and certainly not on the MoFi pressing either.

This White Hot Stamper is the UNDISPUTED WINNER and Current Heavyweight Champion of our latest Hot Stamper shootout for Al Stewart’s Masterpiece, Year of the Cat. How come more of these don’t turn up on the site? Simple — most copies of this record just plain SUCK. We kept asking ourselves Where is the Famous Alan Parsons’ Dark Side of the Moon Magic that’s supposed to be on this recording? This record was THE Demo Disc in every stereo store in town when it came out back in the day, but we could not find any correlation between that fact and the sound we were hearing on copy after copy. The full, rich sound we knew so well from other Alan Parsons’ productions was simply nowhere to be found.

Until this bad boy copy came along. Folks, here is the True Audiophile Demo Disc Sound you remember. It wasn’t all a dream. It was real! Rich acoustic guitars, tubey-magical sweetness on the vocals, ambience around everything and everyone, huge amounts of space revealed by the breathtaking transparency of this pressing, top and bottom extension completely unlike the average copy. Everything that this album was supposed to do was finally happening when we dropped the needle on this side one. Talk about BIG SOUND, here it was! (more…)

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – The Distance

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  • The Distance finally makes its Hot Stamper debut with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Rich, dynamic and natural sounding with low end weight, midrange smoothness and powerful, punchy bass
  • Features an A-list of rock and rollers, including Glenn Frey, Bonnie Raitt, and Don Felder, just to name a few
  • 4 stars: “The Distance was hailed as a return to form upon the time of its release and, in many ways, might be a little stronger, a little more consistent than its predecessor, Against the Wind”

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David Lee Roth – Eat ‘Em and Smile

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  • David Lee Roth’s solo debut finally arrives on the site with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The overall sound here is incredibly full-bodied, musical, clear and spacious with tons of energy and a solid bottom end
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Few would argue that David Lee Roth’s first solo EP was a complete comedy send-up, albeit a very successful one that gained him enough favor with the MTV peanut gallery to solidify his potential as a solo artist… arguably Roth’s most legitimate piece of art ever.”

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James Taylor / In The Pocket – A Personal Favorite

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

The quality of the songwriting is what makes this album such a moving listening experience. These songs are superb, individually and collectively, and can hold their own up against those found on Gorilla, an album with which In the Pocket has much in common.

Just as they did on Gorilla, Taylor and his multi-talented, multi-tracking production team polish these songs into three and four minute gems of popcraft, and they do so without ever compromising the emotional heart of the material. I’ve searched and I honestly cannot find a bad song on the album. Better than that, not even a weak one.

Side Two

The best we heard and SUPERB in all respects. It’s got Tubey Magic, and that’s one quality that’s hard to come by on this album. It’s fairly rich, smooth, yet transparent and high-rez. The vocals are breathy, and again, that is not something we heard nearly enough of in our shootout.

And no hardness. This is key. And the best tonal balance, which is also key. White Hot all the way.

Side One

Big and clear with lots of studio space and reverb. A bit shifted up tonally but very good this way.

We’re No Snobs

The critics have never had much love for In The Pocket, but I’ve always felt just the opposite — it’s one of my favorites of the JT canon, an absolute joy from first track to last. As a James Taylor fan I bought a copy as soon as it came out and proceeded to play it practically to death. At the time Rolling Stone magazine gave it a scathingly negative review, accusing Taylor of selling out for making a carefully-produced, sophisticated Soulful Pop Album. Plenty have derisively labeled it “slick”, but to my ear the material is very strong, with all the heart of his earlier albums. Glossy production values and a cast of the L.A. assembled multitudes is hardly cause to dismiss the emotional power of these songs. (more…)

Sinead O’Connor – The Lion and the Cobra – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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

Big and lively on both sides, and that’s the sound you want. All her early records are hard to find in clean condition these days. 

Side Two

A++, big, open and clear, with breathy vocals. So spacious! A little more weight would have earned this one a White Hot Stamper grade!

Side One

A+ to A++, big and lively, but a bit of smear and congestion compared to side two. (more…)

Dave Grusin – Discovered Again!

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  • This Sheffield Direct to Disc pressing boasts superb nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from first note to last – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • After critically listening to this record good and loud, I have to award the album The Greatest Direct to Disc Recording of All Time
  • The songs, the players, the arrangements, the sound – this is a record that will reward hundreds of plays for decades to come
  • “Everything about this project is just right from the gentle contemporary feel of the music to the superb sound of the [album] itself.”

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Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on The Edge Of Town

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  • This KILLER pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The piano was solid and weighty, and there’s a fair amount of Tubey Magic considering the troubled history of the project
  • The background vocals absolutely jump out of the speakers on this copy – track after track, the life and energy get bigger and better
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the size and energy of this classic from 1978, this is the only way to go
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Springsteen presented these hard truths in hard rock settings, the tracks paced by powerful drumming and searing guitar solos.”

It’s not easy to find good sound on this record — or any Springsteen album, for that matter — but copies like this prove that this is a MUCH better recording than we ever gave it credit for. It’s a rare pressing that can bring this passionate, emotionally charged music to life, but the open, spacious soundstage and full-bodied tonality here are up to the challenge. (more…)

Roy Orbison – The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison

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

The depth, the spaciousness, the richness — this one has it all. It seems as though Bill Porter just does not know how to not make an amazing recording, whether for Monument or Living Stereo. Everything the guy touches is GOLD! Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music found here are positively enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good ’60s All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy may be just the album for you. (more…)

The Who – Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy – Their Must Own Singles Compilation

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  • Both sides of this British Track original are Super Hot and rockin’
  • Superb energy and punch, with mostly rich, natural tonality — a top quality side one
  • Magic Bus on side two sounds great – big down low, smooth up top, tubey and fun
  • “…condensing their highlights to just the singles is an electrifying experience.”

Much of this material is not available on album so this compilation is essential for true Who fans. As is often the case with these compilations the tracks vary quite a bit in sound quality. That’s just the nature of the beast.

Just listen to “I Can’t Explain” on side one — the sound is Right On The Money! Rich and clear, with good top end extension, there aren’t many sides out there that get as much right as this one.

On side two check out the Tubey Magic on “Pinball Wizard”! (more…)

Steely Dan – Gaucho – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of our Better Records Hall of Fame. 

Your Steely Dan Hot Stamper Collection is far from complete without a killer copy of Gaucho, and I don’t think you’re going to be able to find a much better copy than this one no matter what you do! Both sides are wonderful, with side two boasting BIG, BOLD A+++ MASTER TAPE SOUND that’s sure to blow the minds of all you Steely Dan maniacs. From top to bottom I don’t think you could cut or press this album any better.

What do these high grades give you for this album? Mindblowing, DEMO QUALITY, Steely Dan Magic, baby! Tons of ambience, amazing richness, ‘you are there’ immediacy, note-like bass, clear guitar transients, silky highs, and truckloads of analog magic. The overall sound is airy, open, spacious, and lively. The bottom end is punchy and meaty, and even on this, their most famously laid-back album, with bass and energy like this it means these songs really ROCK!

Clarity

Every instrument taking part in this complex, richly imagined sonic tapestry sits perfectly in its own place, and, more importantly for us audiophiles, its own SPACE.

The average pressing we auditioned was opaque and compressed, throwing a veil over the vocals. Not this knock-out: the transparency and dynamics are in a league of their own, highlighting Donald Fagen’s moody, emotive singing while his ensemble of Hand-Picked Studio Cats wails away behind him with abandon (but not too much abandon; can’t lose our Steely Dan cool don’t you know). Add a handful of Oh-So-Sultry Female Vocalists to sex it up and you have one trancendent musical experience.

A Special Feeling

No other copy gave us the feeling we got from this LP — that ethereal illusion of being in the room while the band is playing. This is what we refer to as Master Tape Sound. Once you’ve experienced it you’re never the same. Read some of our testimonials. People really go crazy over this kind of sound. Records like this are few and far between, but when you find one, the effect it can have on you may make you go a little overboard too.

You might even feel the need to write us a letter. It’s the kind of experience that compels you to find some way to share it with the world. The problem there is that those reading your letter don’t have a copy with the kind of sound you have, and they therefore can’t experience the music the way you can. If they haven’t heard it for themselves, it’s all just talk, the kind of crap you can read on any internet forum about any piece-of-junk record ever made.

That’s why we love to hear from people who’ve actually played the very same record we did. We know why they’ve flipped out. We flipped out too!

When you drop the needle on a record this good, you feel like you just threaded up the master tape and hit play. You quickly become so totally IMMERSED in the musical experience that you soon forget you’re listening to a record. You’re hearing the music exactly the way the musicians intended it to sound. You can’t ask for more than that. Records like that get the Triple Plus.

Three Demo Discs

Of all the great albums Steely Dan made, and that means their seven original albums and nothing that came after, there are only three in our opinion that actually support their reputation as studio wizards and recording geniuses. Chronologically they are Pretzel Logic, Aja, and Gaucho. Every sound captured on these albums is so carefully crafted and considered that it practically brings one to tears to comtemplate what the defective DBX noise reduction system did to the work of genius that is Katy Lied, their best album and the worst sounding. (Those cymbal crashes can really mess with your mind if you let them. To get a better picture of the DBX sound just bang two trash can lids together as close to your head as possible.)

The first two albums can sound very good, as can Royal Scam, but none of those can compete with The Big Three mentioned above for sonics. A Hot Stamper copy of any of them would be a serious DEMO DISC on anyone’s system full range system.