Older Reviews – Vocals

Willie Nelson / Pretty Paper – A Forgotten Vocal Classic

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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.

Yet Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Againbook

Some records never justified the time and money required to find Hot Stamper pressings of them in order to make it worth our while to give them a second go around. This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more.

Frank Sinatra – All The Way

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

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…)

Frank Sinatra – A Swingin’ Affair!

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This is a very nice looking original Capitol Grey/Black Label LP. As for sonics, the record starts off a little problematically but things really start cookin’ by track two when the sound becomes sweet and warm. By the way, this Capitol Label was only used from 1956 until 1957. This record plays Mint Minus Minus about as quiet as any early Capitol pressing you’re likely to ever hear.

The record was number one in the UK for 7 straight weeks! (more…)

Frank Sinatra – That’s Life

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This original Reprise LP has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from the later reissues. It gives you the sense that Frank Sinatra is right in front of you. 

He’s no longer a recording — he’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. His voice is rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality. You immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

Reprise pressings — like every label’s pressings — are all over the map. When you find a good one, you can be pretty sure it’s the exception, not the rule. (more…)

Mel Torme – Back in Town – Reviewed in 2011

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

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…)

Billie Holiday – Songs for Distingue Lovers – Classic Records Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B?

Probably a fairly good Classic Records jazz album.

Back in the day we noted that: “This is one of the best Billie Holiday records around” and we provisionally stand by that statement.

By the way, we have never had a Hot Stamper pressing of the album on the site because we simply cannot find enough clean copies with which to do a shootout!

For thirty bucks the price of this Heavy Vinyl pressing has to be seen as a bargain. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – Moonlight Sinatra

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

Out of this world Triple Triple (A+++) sound – this is sure to be one of the best Sinatra records you’ll ever hear. Both of these Shootout Winning stereo sides are unbelievably rich and Tubey Magical – this is some killer Frank Sinatra sound. We’ve been working on this shootout for years – this is the first – and best – copy we have to show for our efforts.

This Blue Green Label LP also has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s missing from the later reissues. As good as some of them can be, this one is dramatically more REAL SOUNDING. It gives you the sense that Frank Sinatra is right in front of you.

He’s no longer a recording — he’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. His voice is so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you.

Reprise pressings — like every label’s pressings — are all over the map. When you find a good one, you can be pretty sure it’s the exception, not the rule. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

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

The sound is EXTRAORDINARILY rich, smooth, full-bodied and natural on both sides. We have never heard What’s New sound like this.

With two White Hot sides this pressing gets two critically important elements of the recording more right than any copies we have ever heard: the strings in the orchestra, and, even more importantly for obvious reasons, Linda’s voice. Both sides give you a much more natural sounding Linda than you have ever heard. She’s fuller, sweeter, breathier, less spitty (some tracks more than others) and just plain less artificial than any others we played.

We’ve criticized the engineer George Massenburg on this site in the past, but with this copy we almost want to take it all back.

What he gets right on this recording is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with various jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio. The sound stretches far to Linda’s left, far to her right, as well as back far behind her in a huge semi-circle. She is of course singing in a vocal booth, with her vocal placed front and center in the soundstage.

As an aside, George Massenburg went on to record the Trio album with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. The analog sound he produced was shockingly rich, smooth and sweet — and in 1987 no less! (more…)

Frank Sinatra – Look To Your Heart

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

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

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A killer 360 original stereo pressing with Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – the first copy to hit the site in many years. We recently did a shootout for this album and were thrilled at how natural and immediate the sound on the best copies can be. Good Ol’ Babs (actually, a very young Babs here) sounds LOVELY on this pressing — her voice is rich, breathy and textured with stellar presence. The orchestra backing her sounds wonderful and there’s plenty of bass to set a nice foundation for the music.

Excellent, natural, unprocessed sound. And she does a very nice job with this set of standards. This, and the album Guilty, are the two Streisand records I’m most likely to play. (more…)