Shootout Winners – 2015

Marty Robbins – Hawaii’s Calling Me

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Vocal Classics

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Marty Robbins – Hawaii’s Calling Me

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

Hearing this kind of Tubey Magical, tonally correct, rich, sweet, spacious sound is nothing less than a THRILL. The Analog sound of this pressing makes a mockery of even the most advanced digital playback systems, including the ones that haven’t been invented yet. I’d love to play this for Neil Young so he can see what he’s up against. Good Luck, Neil, you’re going to need it.

More Marty Robbins

We’ve been through dozens of Columbia albums from the ’60s over the last year or two since we discovered how good the Marty Robbins titles on Columbia can sound. Most of the popular vocal and country albums we play have an overall distorted sound, are swimming in reverb, and come with hard, edgy, smeary vocals to boot.

To find an album with freakishly good sound such as this involves a healthy dose of pure luck. You will need to dig through an awful big pile of vinyl to uncover a gem of this beauty.

Side Two

Like any good Elvis or Nat “King” Cole record, the quality that is far and away the most important is that the vocals must be full-bodied, rich and smooth. Without that sound you might as well be playing a CD. This is precisely what side two here gives you – Tubey Magical Richness in spades. (more…)

Carlos Montoya – From St. Lous to Seville

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Carlos Montoya – From St. Lous to Seville

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

Ed Begley is the engineer here and he knocked this one out of the park. What an amazing sounding Living Stereo recording. Need a refresher course in tubey magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? This record is overflowing with it. Rich, clear, natural, sweet, overflowing with space and ambience, absolutely correct tonality — it’s all here.

The Rhythm Accompaniment is made up of three top players from New York. Sally Montoya noted at the time: “Carlos just recorded the first Flamenco jazz record for Victor, with Osie Johnson and Milt Hinton and Barry Galbraith on electric guitar. A most relaxed and informal session. The other musicians said it was unique in their experience.”

. A stunning Triple Plus side one backed with a better than Double Plus side two
. Flamenco Meets Jazz in this extraordinary recording, and it works
. The Three-Dimensional space and Tubey Magic are jaw-dropping on this copy
. An amazing Webster Hall Living Stereo All Analog recording from 1958 – nothing        else sounds like it

It’s certainly a unique record in my experience, with mind-blowingly good sound and engaging music.

If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1959 Analog sound can be, this killer copy may be just the record for you. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so big, full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone in the music industry seriously contemplated trying to improve it. (more…)

Count Basie – Basie Plays Hefti

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Count Basie – Basie Plays Hefti

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

This is the followup to the smash Basie album The Atomic Mr. Basie, an album we would love to make available if we could ever find a clean, good sounding copy to play.

Side one is rich, tubey and lively, right up there with some of the best pressings we played.

Side two tends to start out a bit hot but by the second track it’s fuller, smoother, and every bit as dynamic as anything on the album. The sound just keeps getting better from there, with the next track coming across especially big and clear.

More Count Basie

. Superb Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides – what a great Basie album this is!
. Basie Plays Hefti catches Basie’s band at the peak of their powers in 1958
. Rich, tubey, dynamic and clear, we know of no better vintage Basie album than this
. “The Count Basie Orchestra was in top form for this set of Neal Hefti                       arrangements.”|

The liner notes tell the story of this album well; go to the bottom of this listing to read them.

Not Your Typical Vintage Basie Album

Basie was recording like a madman back in the late ’50s and even all through the ’60s. In 1958, the year of this release, he put out seven (7!) albums on the Roulette label. We’ve played quite a number of them over the years and found relatively few with audiophile quality sound.

Including the original Roulette pressing of this very title. We’ve only heard a few, and had only one for our shootout, but it was awful enough to make us swear off buying more, especially considering the prices vintage jazz albums are going for these days. Hard and sour brass, no real top or bottom, it’s the sound of a poorly mastered Old Jazz Record, fine for the consoles of the day, not so good on today’s advanced stereo systems. Emus seems to be the only way to go.

And of course we absolutely loved the music. I had a chance to see the Basie Big Band perform not long ago at Disney Hall and a fairly large chunk of the music and arrangements they play these days are Neal’s, practically half I would venture to guess. Meaning simply that Hefti’s music has clearly stood the test of time. Play this album and you’re sure to see what I mean.

Art Pepper – Today

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Art Pepper – Today

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

Side two is huge, rich and energetic like no other. Side one was nearly as good, with especially rich, Tubey Magical sound. Musically this is the best of Pepper’s later period, and exceptionally well recorded by Baker Bigsby. Today has been a personal favorite of mine for close to 30 years.

Side two of this copy is White Hot, which is where the extended ballad Patricia is, in our opinion the single most beautiful song Art Pepper ever recorded. It’s ten solid minutes of emotion, at the end of which you may be as exhausted as he no doubt was. The big finish for the song is unbelievable on this copy.

More Art Pepper

There’s an interesting story behind this record which I’d like to relate in some detail, but it’s fairly long so I’ve put it at the end of this copy’s description. You can find it below under the heading The Story of Today.

By the second track on side one the sound is doing it all — it’s bigger, richer and more spacious, and there’s plenty of Tubey Magic to go around. Nearly White Hot.

Truly White Hot – -huge, with the most extension up top, the biggest bass, the most energy, the greatest dynamic contrasts, you name it, this side is doing it. Demo Disc Quality sound and then some. (more…)

Kenny Burrell – God Bless The Child

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

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Kenny Burrell – God Bless The Child

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

This is one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz records here at Better Records. A few others off the top of my head would be Wes Montgomery’s California Dreaming (1966, and also Sebesky-arranged), Grover Washington’s All the King’s Horses (1973) and Deodato’s Prelude (also 1973, with brilliant arrangements by the man himself).

On a killer copy like this the sound is out of this world. Rich and full, open and transparent, this one defeated all comers in our shootout, taking the Top Prize for sound and earning all Three Pluses.

More Kenny Burrell

What’s especially notable is how well-recorded the orchestra’s string sections are. They have just the right amount of texture and immediacy without being forced or shrill. They’re also very well integrated into the mix. I wouldn’t have expected RVG to pull it off so well — I’ve heard other CTI records where the orchestration was abominable — but here it works as well as on any album I know of.

Both sides blew us away with a deep, wide soundstage and full extension on both the top and the bottom.

The bass is deep and defined; the tonality of the guitar and its overall harmonic richness are Right On The Money. The piano has the weight and heft of the real thing.

This kind of warm, rich, Tubey Magical analog sound is gone forever. You have to go back to 1971 to find it!

The Music

The high point for side one is clearly the first track. It’s got a Midnight Blue relaxed groove going on, the kind that Kenny Burrell seems to be able to bring to any session he plays on. Or maybe it’s the rhythms Ray Barretto works out in the songs that make them so relaxed and swinging at the same time.

Side two is magical from start to finish. The two extended songs, both more than eight minutes in length, leave plenty of room for the band and the orchestra to stretch out.

The “Not-So-Golden-Age” of RCA, Mercury, London and more

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Our Shootout Winner from 2015

Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings.

We ran into a number of copies of this title that had what we like to call that “Old Record” sound, which is surprisingly common on even the most revered Golden Age labels, RCA included.

No top, no real bottom, congested climaxes and an overall shrillness to the sound — we’ve played Living Stereos by the dozens that have these shortcomings and many more. Some audiophiles may be impressed by the average Shaded Dog pressing, but I can assure you that we here at Better Records are decidedly not of that persuasion. Something in the range of ten to fifteen per cent of the major label Golden Age recordings we play will eventually make it to the site. The vast majority just don’t sound all that good to us.

OUR HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FOR THE BEST COPY WE PLAYED

Breathtaking 1961 Living Stereo sound on side two – huge, open and Tubey Magical as all get out. Living Stereo Hot Stampers mean the hall is huge, the strings rich and sweetly textured. Vaughan Williams’ arrangement of Fantasia On “Greensleeves” is especially lovely here. Fiedler and his Boston Pops play these 8 shorter pieces with great gusto and skill.

This Shaded Dog had precisely the right sound on side two, and very close to that sound on side one, making some of the best sound we have ever heard on this album. I’ve known about this recording for twenty years or more; it’s taken us a while to get around to it, there being so many wonderful (and frankly more famous) Fiedler records to play in the pipeline.

There are other recordings with Fiedler at the helm from 1961 but this is clearly the best of the batch, some of them being not very good at all, or good only intermittently. Practically every track on this title is excellent and some of them are superb. Take home this copy and you will quickly see what I mean. (more…)

Dave Brubeck’s Bossa Nova USA – Who Knew?

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

Who knew? Not us and not anybody else it seems. We are not aware that any of the audiophile cognoscenti have ever taken this recording seriously, but that just goes to show how uninformed — or perhaps more likely underinformed — they’ve always been.

Gems such as this sit undiscovered even after thousands of pages of audiophile record reviews have been written. Then, along come a handful of guys in Thousand Oaks, California many years later, 52 to be exact, and reveal to the world a heretofore all but unknown yet nonetheless amazing Brubeck record.

And they back up everything they say with actual records that sound as good as they say they will.

But wait just a minute. We sold an early pressing ourselves back in 2010 for $30 as a “nice sounding” record, nothing more, so who are we to talk?

Which simply goes to show that the decade we spent perfecting the Record Shootout has finally paid off for Bossa Nova U.S.A. Now we can clean them better, play them better, hear them better, and, with a big stack to work with, find one that sounds as good as this one does.

See all of our Dave Brubeck albums in stock


Further Reading

Other recordings that we have found to be especially Tubey Magical can be found here.

Transparency, the other side of the Tubey Magical coin, is also key to the better pressings of this album as well as many of our other favorite demo discs.

Graham Nash / David Crosby

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More by C, S, N and/or Y

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

This album has some of the BEST SOUND Crosby and Nash ever recorded, but you’d never know that listening to the average pressing. You need plenty of deliciously rich Tubey Magic if this music is going to work, and on that count this copy certainly delivers.

BILL HALVERSON was the engineer for this album, the man behind the first CSN album and many others.

We asked ourselves: Where in the world did all the midrange magic we were hearing on Graham Nash / David Crosby come from?

On a song like Where Will I Be the sound is so unbelievably transparent, open and intimate, it sounds like an outtake from David Crosby’s first album, one of the ten best sounding rock records ever made. How did Bill Halverson learn how to record as well as Stephen Barncard all of a sudden?

This Copy Is Killer

When you drop the needle on side one, you’ll know very quickly why we went so crazy for it — especially if you’ve been playing the kind of copies that we tend to run into, with veiled, hard, gritty voices — the kiss of death for a record that lives or dies by its vocal reproduction. (This is true for all CSN albums of course.)

This one is a whole different story, with wonderful clarity (listen to the acoustic guitar transients throughout) and silky sweet vocals. It’s got the kind of weight down low and extension up top needed to give the midrange the space — the room, if you like — to present itself properly and not get lost in the mix. The transparency is incredible, with richness and sweetness you have never heard on this album, guaranteed or your money back! (more…)

Maybe the Best Sounding Album Geoff Emerick Ever Recorded

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Bridge of Sighs

We’ve been wandering around in the dark for more than a decade with Bridge of Sighs — that is, until we found a clean early UK Chrysalis pressing. Now we know just how good this album can sound, and that means ASTOUNDINGLY good. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any Geoff Emerick album that sounds as big and clear as this one. The three dimensional space is really something else on the better UK copies.

There is a substantial amount of Tubey Magic and liquidity on the tape, recalling the kind of hi-rez vintage analog sound that makes the luminous A Space in Time such a mind-expanding experience. Recorded a few years earlier, both albums have the kind of High Production Value sound that we go crazy for here at Better Records. You can find many of our favorites in our Rock and Pop Top 100, and if we can find more of this title, it will surely be on the list as well.

No domestic pressing could touch our better British imports I’m sorry to say, and I’m sorry to say it because finding the right Brit copies in good condition is going to be a very expensive proposition going forward. I expect I shall be paying much too much to get a fairly high percentage of noisy, heavily played old records shipped to me. But that’s the business we’re in.

Fortunately for our Rock Guitar loving customers, when the sound and the music are this good, it’s more than worth all the effort and expense.

Size and Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center. (more…)

Leonard Bernstein – Conducts Symphonic Dances…

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.
One of the great Columbia recordings. I suspected it might have been done at the legendary 30th St studios in New York but I was wrong, Manhattan Center’s huge stage served as the venue. Either way the sound is no less glorious.

More of the music of (or music conducted or performed by) Leonard Bernstein
  • Side one is White Hot, with the richest, widest and deepest sound we heard in our shootout
  • Side two is Super Hot, bringing into view the clear, clean sound of a ‘live recording” from Manhattan Center in 1961
  • The music is wonderful of course, with the Suites giving you all the best parts and none of the filler
  • Vibrant orchestrations, top quality sound and fairly quiet surfaces combine for an engrossing listening experience

Side One

The big advantage this side had over most is the fullness of the brass. The shrill sound of the brass on most Columbia albums is what gets them tossed in the trade pile. Fortunately the sound here is rich and clean, with solid deep bass.

The stage is huge, with the multi-miking kept to a minimum so that you can really hear the space.

Side Two

Very similar sound to side one, with a huge stage and very clean cutting. It’s big and lively, but side one has an advantage in the weight department, so we are calling this side Super Hot.


On the Waterfront

When he was asked to compose the score for On the Waterfront in 1954, Leonard Bernstein was 35 and already a major celebrity, but otherwise an unlikely candidate for the job. He had never written a movie score, and was not enthusiastic about doing it. In his 1959 book The Joy of Music [highly recommended by the way] (in a chapter whimsically titled “Interlude: Upper Dubbing, California”) Bernstein wrote:

When I was first shown a rough cut of the picture I thought it a masterpiece of direction; and Marlon Brando seemed to me to be giving the greatest performance I had ever seen him give, which is saying a good deal. I was swept by my enthusiasm into accepting the commission to write the score, although I had [until then] resisted all such offers on the grounds that it is a musically unsatisfactory experience for a composer to write a score whose chief merit ought to be its unobtrusiveness.”

Bernstein contributed compelling, distinctive music that gave the film much of its intensity, and received one of On the Waterfront’s12 Academy Award nominations (he didn’t win). Still, being a novice, he was shocked at the way his music was chopped up to serve the film: entire scenes were cut, music was turned abruptly on and off, and a piece “planned as a composition, with a beginning, middle and end, would be silenced seven bars before the end.” Kazan used music sparingly (typically when there wasn’t much dialogue), and only 35 minutes of Bernstein’s music made it into the 107-minute film. Wrote Bernstein:

And so the composer sits by, protesting as he can, but ultimately accepting, be it with heavy heart, the inevitable loss of a good part of his score. Everyone tries to comfort him. ‘You can always use it in a suite.’ Cold comfort. It is for the good of the picture, he repeats numbly to himself.

The Symphonic Suite in which he used it is in five connected sections. The slow first section is the prelude to the movie, accompanying the very stark-looking credits that begin the film. The succeeding Presto barbaro, ushered in by percussion (as it is at the start of the film’s action) contains music that accompanies the frequent violence in the film. A central Andante largamente is based on the love-interest music. The fourth and fifth sections are from the final scenes, in which the hero fights with the mobsters and then staggers, bloody and bruised, to lead the dock workers (physically) into the warehouse and (symbolically) out of the domination of the gangsters.

LA Phil

More Shootout Winners from 2015

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