Debut Albums of Interest

Crosby / Nash – Graham Nash / David Crosby

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  • An early Atlantic pressing with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The vocals are wonderfully breathy, smooth and sweet here – this recording is the very definition of Midrange Magic, thanks to the brilliant engineering of Bill Halverson
  • 4 stars: “This self-titled release is one of most impressive side project to arise from CSN. The best elements of each are readily available here, punctuated at every turn by their complicated vocal arrangements and air-lock harmonies.”

Where in the world did all the Midrange Magic that we were hearing on this copy of the album 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. 

I was in high school when I first played this album and I remember being disappointed with it, mostly because I was expecting another Deja Vu. As I grow older I appreciate other qualities in a recording; I’ve come to appreciate this album for what it is: not the Grand Musical Statement that Deja Vu is, but a simpler, more intimate portrait of two artists at the start of a lifelong harmonious collaboration. With a damn fine batch of songs to sing.

Top Quality Sound

The Midrange Magic on some of these tracks is off the scale. The transparency is also remarkable, with richness and sweetness matched by few copies in our huge shootout.

Listen to the three-dimensional quality of the piano on the first track of side two. Skip to the second track and you will hear some of the best bass to be found on the side. The song is not about the bass, obviously, so we hasten to point out the vocals and harmonies — the sine qua non of any CSN or Y record — are Truly Right On The Money as well. (more…)

Whitney Houston – Self-Titled

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  • A stunning early Arista pressing, this copy earned killer grades throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This album has the kind of smooth, rich, tonally correct analog sound we thought they had forgotten how to record by 1985 – but here it is, thank goodness
  • Consistently strong material: You Give Good Love, Saving All My Love for You, How Will I Know, All at Once, and Greatest Love of All (the last of seven (!) singles released from the album)
  • “…introduced the world to ‘The Voice,’ an octave-spanning, gravity-defying melismatic marvel.”

Having done this for so long — 2020 marks our 33rd year in the record business — we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound — even as late as 1985! — is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.).

The music is not so much about the details in the recording; rather it lives or dies by its ability to recreate a solid, palpable, Whitney Houston singing live in your listening room. The best copies had an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)

Ry Cooder – Self-Titled

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  • A vintage Reprise pressing of Ry Cooder’s 1970 debut with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • If you want to hear the brilliant Lee Herschberg‘s All Analog Recording skills brought to bear on so many different instruments serving an assortment of sonic textures, this is the copy that will let you do it
  • 4 stars: “Cooder’s debut creates an intriguing fusion of blues, folk, rock & roll, and pop, filtered through his own intricate, syncopated guitar; Van Dyke Parks and Lenny Waronker’s idiosyncratic production… Cooder puts this unique blend across with a combination of terrific songs, virtuosic playing, and quirky, yet imaginative, arrangements.”
  • This is clearly George Harrison’s best sounding album. Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group (sounds like a Grammy Awards category, doesn’t it?) can be found here.
  • This is a Must Own Title from 1970, a great year for Rock and Pop music, perhaps the best ever
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

The music reminds me a lot of early Little Feat, which is a good thing. The sound is somewhat similar as well, which is to say that it is natural and musical, nothing like the hyped-up hi-fi sound of his TAS-listed album Jazz — and that’s a good thing as well.

There are some great songs here, including My Old Kentucky Home, One Meat Ball and How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live. It may even be his best album. (more…)

Phil Collins – Face Value

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  • An early UK copy of Phil Collins’ killer solo debut with superb Double (A++) sound from start to finish
  • The recording quality of this album is still analog and can be excellent, thanks to hugely talented engineer and producer Hugh Padgham (Peter Gabriel, Genesis, The Police, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, etc.)
  • We’ve tried his other albums, but nothing we’ve played has struck us as being remotely as well recorded as his debut
  • 5 stars: “. . . Collins’ most honest, most compelling work. He went on to become a huge star, with loads more hits, but Face Value stands as his masterpiece and one of the finest moments of the ’80s musical landscape.”
  • If you’re a fan of Phil’s, this has to be seen as a Top Title from 1981 that belongs in your collection
  • It’s without a doubt his best sounding album, and, to our way of thinking, his only essential one
  • The sound may be heavily processed, but that kind of sound works surprisingly well on the best sounding pressings (played at good, loud levels on big dynamic speakers in a large, heavily-treated room, of course)

Song after song, Collins’ songwriting and musicianship shine with this breakout record, the first and clearly the best of all his solo albums. The sound on the best copies, like this one, is VIBRANT, with SUPERB extension on the top, PUNCHY BASS, and excellent texture on the drums and percussion, as well as spacious strings and vocals.

There may be some hope for Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982), but Phil’s third album, 1985’s No Jacket Required, is digital and ridiculously processed sounding. I suppose not many albums from 1985 weren’t, but it’s still an unfortunate development for us audiophile types who might’ve wanted to enjoy these albums but are just not able to get past the bad sound.

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Loggins & Messina – Sittin’ In

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  • An outstanding copy of L&M’s debut Masterpiece with Double Plus (A++) grades from first note to last
  • The sound is big, lively, open and clear with Tubey Magical richness that only the best vintage pressings can show you
  • One of our favorite albums, and with every improvement in the system this one just keeps getting better and better
  • Every track on side one is brilliant, from “Nobody But You,” to “Danny’s Song,” to “Vahevala,” to the ending of the ‘Trilogy’ with “Peace of Mind”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “With their infectious blend of country, folk, rock and Caribbean music, L&M started out at the top of their game”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life. L&Ms first album is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.
  • If you’re a fan of this remarkable duo, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1971 is clearly one of their best
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

We love this album and have been playing it regularly since it came out in 1971. That’s a long time, and the good news is it just keeps getting better and better, like all the best records in your collection should. (more…)

Dave Grusin – Discovered Again!

  • This Sheffield Direct to Disc pressing boasts outstanding  sound from first note to last
  • 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
  • Side one of this copy is OUT of polarity, one of the few we found that way, and not a copy you should be if you can’t switch
  • “Everything about this project is just right from the gentle contemporary feel of the music to the superb sound of the [album] itself.”

We are on record as being big fans of this album. Unlike most Direct to Disc recordings, Discovered Again actually contains real music worth listening to. During our all-day shootout, the more we played the record, the more we appreciated it. These are top quality players totally in the groove on this material. When it’s played well, and the sound is as good as it is here, there’s nothing dated about this kind of jazz. Hey, what can we say — it works.

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Elvis Costello / My Aim Is True

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Letters and Commentaries for My Aim Is True

  • An outstanding pressing of Costello’s debut LP with Double Plus (A++) grades throughout – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is lively, punchy, and powerful – with all due respect, it should MURDER whatever copies you may have
  • A massive step up sonically from most domestic pressings, early or otherwise, and guaranteed to handily beat the imports as well
  • 5 stars: “A phenomenal debut, capturing a songwriter and musician whose words were as rich and clever as his music.”
  • Our favorite “unprocessed-sounding” rock recording – with virtually none of the glossy artificiality you might hear on most of the rock records we sell
  • There’s nothing wrong with that sound, mind you, but this recording captures much more of what the real instruments sound like in the studio

Yes, it’s lively and has that driving punk rock bass, but what sets this copy apart from the average pressing is the top end — it’s extended, silky and correct. As a consequence, the vocals end up being much more present and natural, with almost none of the grit and spit common to most of the copies anyone is ever likely to come across.

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Listening in Depth to Layla

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The best copies of Layla are Tubey Magical, energetic, and tonally balanced. Most importantly, they sound RIGHT. You get the sense that you are hearing the music exactly as the band intended. The best sounding tracks have presence, clarity, and transparency like you have never heard — that is, unless you’ve gone through a pile of copies the way we did.

Like Blind Faith or Surrealistic Pillow, this is no demo disc by any stretch of the imagination, but that should hardly keep us or anyone else from enjoying the music, and now we have the record that lets us do it.

That’s not to say it’s going to blow your mind sonically from start to finish. This ain’t Tea For The Tillerman, to say the least. Many tracks can sound amazing, but a few (such as the title track) may leave you cold. It’s yet another hit and miss Tom Dowd production, much like Wheels of Fire and Disraeli Gears.

Allow me to point the way to the tracks that we think have the best sound on each side.

Side One

I Looked Away
Bell Bottom Blues

One of the better sounding tracks on the album. If you’re going to critically make judgments about the sound of this or any other side one, Bell Bottom Blues is probably your best bet. It’s usually less dry, richer and bigger than the other tracks on this side, with notably more correct vocal reproduction.

Keep On Growing
Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down And Out)

Side Two

I Am Yours
Anyday

One of the better sounding tracks on the album. The notes for Bell Bottom Blues above apply. The best copies have superb Tubey Magical grungy guitar tone and energy to spare — they can really rock.

Key To The Highway

Side Three

Tell The Truth

One of the better sounding tracks on the album. If you’re going to critically make judgements about the sound of this or any other side three, Tell The Truth is probably your best bet. Listen for big guitars, lots of energy, plenty of bass (not always easy to come by on this album) and choruses that get big and loud without distorting.

Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
Have You Ever Loved A Woman?

Another one of the better sounding tracks on Layla. Much more space than most, with more Tubey Magic, less congestion, less compression and less distortion.

Side Four

Little Wing

There’s huge, wall to wall and floor to ceiling sound on the best copies. Listen for how energetic and present the vocals are, and how emotional the singing is. And the soaring guitars on this track are really something, arguably the best playing on the album.

If you play this song good and loud and it doesn’t knock you out, something is very wrong somewhere.

It’s Too Late
Layla

As you may know, some of the songs on Layla are just never going to sound especially good. Unfortunately, one of those songs is the title track. We’ve played it on our British originals, our domestic originals, later pressings, and the actually-pretty-good Simply Vinyl reissue [not sure if we would still agree with that assessment in 2022], and we were never favorably impressed. There’s just too much distortion, and it’s clearly got to be on the master tape as well since you can hear it on the CD. (Some other records where the hit sounds bad can be found here.)

These guys weren’t trying to record an audiophile-quality Demo Disc, but thankfully the best sounding tracks can sound wonderful on the right pressings.

Thorn Tree In The Garden

Airto / Free

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Hot Stamper Pressings of Jazz Fusion Albums Available Now

This CTI LP has VERY GOOD SOUND. 

We’re on a winning streak with RVG these days (September 2006), three in a row, in fact: Chet Baker (She Was Too Good To Me), Freddie Hubbard (Red Clay), and now this wonderful Airto record.

The best music is found on side two, especially the last two tracks.

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Bad Company – Self-Titled

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  • This vintage UK Island pressing of Bad Company’s ’70s classic debut boasts outstanding sound from first note to last
  • Both sides are huge, present, punchy, lively, and solid as a rock – this is some of engineer Ron Nevison’s cleanest work
  • Here you will find none of the glossy artificiality you might hear on so many of the rock records we sell — there’s nothing wrong with that sound, mind you, but this recording captures much more of what the real instruments sound like in the studio
  • A member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Top 100, and a Must Own Classic Rock title from 1974
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Bad Company’s 1974 self-titled release stands as one of the most important and accomplished debut hard rock albums from the ’70s … it was one of the most successful steps in the continuing evolution of rock & roll.”
  • If you’re a Classic Rock fan, then Bad Company’s killer debut album from 1974 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This one’s got what you’re looking for from this kind of Classic Rock album — clarity, punchy bass, big drums, and lots of energy. The guitars sound right: grungy and distorted with loads of tubey richness.

You’re going to want to play this one good and loud to let it REALLY ROCK!

And, if you’re playing it good and loud, you’ll feel like you’re in the room with the boys as they kick out the jams. “Ready For Love” sounds great here — shocking clarity, tons of ambience, and silky sweet highs. The overall sound on both sides is lively, full-bodied, and transparent with Tubey Magical guitars and good weight to the bottom end.

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