Older Reviews – Pop and Jazz Vocals

Ella Fitzgerald / Whisper Not and Comments on Her Pablo Period

Hot Stamper Pressings of Ella Fitzgerald’s Albums Available Now

Ella Fitzgerald Albums We’ve Reviewed

Our commentary from ten or fifteen years ago. Please to enjoy.

Whisper Not is one of the best Ella records we’ve played in a very long time. I’m telling you, this is Ella at her best! Having just played a lovely sounding copy of Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie, an album that tends to err on the bright side, I now realize that this album has the opposite problem — it’s a little bit smoother in places than it should be. Of course that’s a much more tolerable problem than the reverse.  

These are the comments for the last copy we had on the site.

For whatever reason, I’ve never stumbled upon a clean copy of this record. Consequently, I’d never heard it up until recently.

But my local record store had one sitting in the bin one day in lovely condition, which presented me with the perfect opportunity to find out whether this album presented the early “good” Ella or the later “bad” Ella.

Because some time in the ’60s she started making bad records. I know. I’ve played them. Misty Blue comes to mind but there are more than a dozen that we used to have on this blog in the Hall of Shame, and we will be putting them back up here at some point.

Everything she ever did for Pablo comes to mind. Some of you out there have told me that you actually like some of her Pablo material, but I cannot share your enthusiasm for those recordings. In my opinion she had completely lost it by the time she hooked up with her old buddy Norman Granz in the ’70s.

On the cover of this record she looks a little frumpy, and I was afraid this album was going to be frumpy too. I’m glad to say that the opposite is true. This album swings with the best she’s ever recorded. A lot of the credit much go to Marty Paich, one of my all-time favorite arrangers. Ever since I heard what he did for Art Pepper on his Modern Jazz Classics record for Contemporary I have been a big fan. This album just solidifies my love for the guy.

A couple of high points on this record: Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, the song Ella sang on her masterpiece, Clap Hands, is here rearranged for the players at hand, and the interpretation is fresh and moving. The song I Said No is filled with silly double entendres and is a hoot.

But I have to say those are two high points picked almost at random. Every track on this album is wonderful. I think this is one of her three or four best recordings ever. (Another is the Johnny Mercer songbook album.)

Anyway, take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one.

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Mel Torme & Buddy Rich – Together Again For The First Time on Direct to Disc

More of the Music of Mel Torme

Mel Torme Albums We’ve Reviewed

More Reviews of Century Direct to Disc Records

This is a Century Direct-to-Disc featuring Mel Torme fronting the Buddy Rich Big Band. And it’s a pretty big band with four trumpets, three trombones, five saxes and a tuba! One of the best tracks is “Here’s That Rainy Day”, with guest soloist Phil Woods. The beginning is just Mel and Phil, a duet of sorts, with a lovely sense of melancholy.

However, both men seem tired and the session doesn’t swing much.

Or could it be that they’re playing it safe, afraid to make a mistake and then have to start the live-to-disc session over from the top?

Hard to know, but that’s the problem with direct to disc recordings — avoiding mistakes, even engineering ones, can suck the life right out of the music.

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Ella Fitzgerald & Count Basie – An Import in 2004 Killed the Speakers Corner Reissue

More of the Music of Count Basie

More of the Music of Ella Fitzgerald

This review was written in 2004. We had never heard a clean, domestic original copy up to that time, mostly because they were always in such poor condition. Eventually we did, figured out how to clean it, and never looked back.

You might consider this a Wake Up Call. By 2007 we were awake enough to stop buying Heavy Vinyl to resale. The better our system became, the less competitive those modern remasters sounded. It was yet another Milestone Event in the History of Better Records.

Please to enjoy our commentary.

This early British import (similar to the one you see on the left) KILLS the Speakers Corner 180 gram reissue.

I still like their version, but this is what it should have sounded like: tonally much fuller and richer. The 180 gram copy suffers from the standard reissue MO — brighter is not necessarily better, and definitely not when you have a big band and a vocalist, as is the case here.

I’ve never heard this album sound better and I doubt that it really can sound much better than this. This copy makes me want to turn it up as loud as the stereo will go and let those wonderful Quincy Jones arrangements come to life. (more…)

Willie Nelson / Pretty Paper – A Forgotten Vocal Classic

Imagine the sound of a Hot Stamper Stardust, but instead of Pop Standards you hear Willie, his voice still in its prime, singing Christmas songs, backed by similarly tasteful and understated arrangements. That’s what you get on this copy of Pretty Paper in a nutshell.

Released just a year after Stardust in 1979, many of the same musicians are featured, as well as the same producer, the amazing Booker T.. And the most shocking thing of all is just how good the sound is.

Next to Stardust I’d have to say this is the best sound Willie has ever had. It’s so rich, smooth and natural — in other words, analog sounding — that it puts to shame what has come to be expected from pop recordings over the course of the last thirty years.

Yes, records used to actually sound like this, as hard as that may be to believe after playing so many dismal sounding modern recordings, modern reissues and audiophile “product”. A good pressing of this album is one of the best reasons I can think of to own a high quality turntable these days. I find it hard to imagine that the CD would sound remotely as good.

Note that this record sounds even better when played loud, the result no doubt of having no trace of phony top end boost and very little processing throughout, unlike — you guessed it — much of the vinyl product being produced today.

And of course all digital releases, which should go without saying to anyone reading this commentary. Many if not most pressings of the legendary Stardust album have some phony top added to the sound.

The good ones — meaning the Hot Stamper copies — are the ones that sound more like this: natural up top and and throughout the midrange.

A Very Good Sounding Record from Perry Como on Living Stereo

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

A very good sounding Living Stereo record from 1961, engineered by Bob Simpson. One problem. Where are you going to find enough clean copies with which to do the shootout and, more importantly, who’s going to buy them?

If you see one locally in clean condition and you like Perry Como, pick it up and give it a listen. We liked the one we played.

FURTHER READING

Pressings with Excellent Sound Quality 

Pressings with Middling Sound Quality 

Pressings with Mind-Blowing Sound Quality 

Pressings with Weak Sound Quality or Music 

Frank Sinatra – All The Way

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This vintage ’60s Capitol pressing was our clear winner, with Triple Plus sound on both sides. It has the all the Tubey Magic one could ask for, allowing Sinatra’s rich baritone to work its magic on every phrase. As you can well imagine, finding clean, scratch-free ’60s Sinatra records like this one, in stereo no less, is no walk in the park.

This group of singles and B-sides was recorded from 1957 to 1960 – it contain some of Sinatra’s better known songs arranged by Nelson Riddle. (more…)

Mel Torme – Back in Town – Reviewed in 2011

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This is a nice looking Verve LP with relatively quiet vinyl and surprisingly good sound. Natural, smooth and sweet, I doubt there are copies out there that sound much better. The music itself is great fun. Hearing Mel sing with the female vocalists is really a treat. (more…)

Frank Sinatra / Moonlight Sinatra – Lowell Frank Is The Man

Credit engineer Lowell Frank for correctly capturing the sound of every instrument here: the guitars, piano, strings, drums, percussion instruments — everything has the natural timbre of the real thing.

One of the best sounding Frank Sinatra records is his as well: September Of My Years, from 1965, also on Reprise and only good on the original label and only good in stereo, like this title. There must be plenty of Tubey Magic on the tapes. It’s key to the best pressings. Without it, you might as well be playing a CD.

And let’s not forget the amazing (when you find a good one) Sinatra At The Sands, a record that blew my mind the first time I heard it back in the early ’70s.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Moonlight Becomes You
Moon Song
Moonlight Serenade
Reaching For The Moon
I Wished On The Moon

Side Two

Oh, You Crazy Moon
The Moon Got In My Eyes
Moonlight Mood
Moon Love
The Moon Was Yellow (And The Night Was Young)

AMG  Review

Driven by a set of lush, sparkling Nelson Riddle arrangements, Moonlight Sinatra is a low-key, charming collection. Although the basic concept is somewhat nebulous — all of the songs have the word “moon” in the title — Riddle wrote a series of charts that suggest a warm, lovely evening with a variety of tones and moods, from light Latin rhythms to sweet ballads… An enjoyable, romantic listen.

Frank Sinatra – Look To Your Heart

Triple Plus (A+++) on side one, with a side two that is right up there with it – outstanding sound quality from first note to last. This copy was the fullest, richest and smoothest, with the best bass and most natural vocals of any we played. Recorded from 1953-1955, this mono collection of singles and such gives us Old Blue Eyes in his Capitol-period prime.

The sound is big, open, rich and full. The highs are extended and silky sweet. The bass is tight and punchy. And this copy gives you more life and energy than most.

This Hot Stamper pressing has the kind of ’50’s Tubey Magical Analog Sound that’s been lost to the world of recorded music for decades — decades I tell you! Nobody can manage to get a recording to sound like this anymore and it seems as if no one can even remaster a recording like this anymore, if our direct experience with scores of such albums counts as any sort of evidence.

Steve Hoffman is the guy that can get the closest in this regard, but the difference between The Real Thing and even the best of his Remasters is not the slightest bit hard to hear. (more…)

Barbra Streisand – The Barbra Streisand Album

More Barbra Streisand

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this 360 original stereo pressing was one of the best sounding copies we played in our recent shootout
  • Amazingly Tubey Magical and intimate, this copy will teleport a living, breathing Barbra Streisand directly into your listening room like no album of hers you have ever heard
  • Another superb recording by Fred Plaut at Columbia’s legendary 30 St. studio
  • 5 stars: “Of course, the first thing that strikes you listening to the first Barbra Streisand album, recorded and released before the singer’s 21st birthday, is that great voice. And it isn’t just the sheer quality of the voice, its purity and its strength throughout its register, it’s also the mastery of vocal effects that produce dramatic readings of the lyrics — each song is like a one-act musical.”

Excellent, natural, unprocessed sound. And Babs does a very nice job with this set of standards. This, her debut, and the album Guilty, are the two Streisand records I’m likely to play.

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