Top Artists – Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens Albums – Lee Hulko Cut Them All – Good, Bad and Otherwise

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Is the Pink Label Island original pressing THE way to go? That’s what Harry Pearson — not to mention most audiophile record dealers — would have you believe.

But it’s just not true. And that’s good news for you, Dear (Record Loving Audiophile) Reader.

HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM JOHN BARLEYCORN

Since that’s a Lee Hulko cutting just like Tea here, the same insights, if you can call them that, apply. Here’s what we wrote: (more…)

Thinking About the Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars of Bread and Cat Stevens

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Manna

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

In many ways this recording is state-of-the-art. Listening to the Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars on the best copies brings back memories of my first encounter with an original Pink Label Tea for the Tillerman. Rich, sweet, full-bodied, effortlessly dynamic– that sound knocked me out twenty-odd years ago, and here it is again. 

Of course I’ve always been a sucker for this kind of well-crafted pop. If you are too then a Hot Stamper copy of Manna will no doubt become a treasured demo disc in your home as well.

Audiophiles with high quality turntables literally have an endless supply of good recordings such as this to discover and enjoy. No matter how many records you own, you can’t possibly have even scratched the surface of the vast recorded legacy of the last sixty years. (The first stereo recordings date from 1954, the year of my birth, good timing on the part of my parents.) That’s the positive thought for the day.

We here at Better Records look forward to helping you find recordings that do justice to the music you have yet to hear. (more…)

Cat Stevens- Tea for the Tillerman – Making Progress in Audio

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The following comments were written in 2004.

Hard Headed Woman is a song that has evolved dramatically over the last 20 years. If you’ve been making regular upgrades to your equipment and taking advantage of all the new technologies available at the front end, such as: vibration control, electromagnetic stabilization, better arms, better cartridges, better phono stages, better motors, fly wheels, Synchronous Drive Systems, better power cords, better power conditioning, to name just a few, you are no doubt able to reproduce this song much better than you were in the old days.Speaking of congestion, it had previously been our experience that every copy of the record had at least some congestion in the loudest parts, typically the later parts of songs where Cat is singing at the top of his lungs, the acoustic guitars are strumming like crazy, and big drums are pounding away are jumping out of both speakers. 

I used to think that Cat’s voice got hard and harsh when he got loud on the passage that starts with “I know…many fine feathered friends…”. Now he gets even louder, the drums are much more powerful, and yet he still sounds like a real person, not an overdriven recording. (more…)

Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon – Listening in Depth

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

When you hear I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on a Hot Stamper copy you will be convinced, as I am, that this is one of the greatest popular recordings in the history of the world. I don’t know of ANY other album that has more LIFE and MUSICAL ENERGY than this one. 

Right off the bat I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folk-pop, Mona Bone Jakon, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better. (more…)

Bad MoFi Mastering – Part One – Tea for the Tillerman – Cat Stevens and His Sparkling Acoustic Guitars?

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Tea for the Tillerman

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In the commentary for America’s first album we noted that:

The guitars on this record are a true test of stereo fidelity. … most of the pressings of this record do not get the guitars to sound right. … on a copy with a bit too much top end they will have an unnatural hi-fi-ish sparkle. 

This kind of sparkle can be heard on practically every record Mobile Fidelity made in the ’70s and ’80s. Tea for the Tillerman, Sundown, Year of the Cat, Finger Paintings, Byrd at the Gate, Quarter Moon in a 10 Cent Town — the list of sparkling MoFis would be very long indeed, and these are just the records with prominent acoustic guitars!

Next time you drop the needle on a Mobile Fidelity record — one of the ones pressed in Japan; the Anadisq series tends to have the opposite problem, no top end at all — listen carefully to the acoustic guitars and tell me if you don’t think they sound a tad sparkly.

We’ve all heard acoustic guitars up close, at parties and coffee shops and what-have-you. Do they really sound like that?

 

Cat Stevens Catch Bull at Four – Congestion? What Congestion?

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Catch Bull at Four

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The story of our latest shootout is what real Progress in Audio is all about. Many copies were gritty, some were congested in the louder sections, some never got big, some were thin and lacking the lovely analog richness of the best — we heard plenty of copies whose faults were obvious when played against two top sides such as these. 

Speaking of congestion, it had previously been our experience that every copy of the record had at least some congestion in the loudest parts, typically the later parts of songs where Cat is singing at the top of his lungs, the acoustic guitars are strumming like crazy, and big drums are pounding away are jumping out of both speakers.

The best import copies in our shootout this time around managed to reproduce all these elements cleanly, on a larger soundstage, with dynamically more energy, sonic firepower the likes of which we have never heard on this album before. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Tea for the Tillerman and CSN

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,  

I want to say a big THANK YOU for the Hot Stamper’s you sent to me. Two of them are now top ten titles in my collection: Cat Stevens Tillerman: I’m so amazed and lucky – I can’t describe it. The sound is so natural and beat my expectations in many ways – it sounds out of this world. This copy has sweet, breathy vocals, well-defined bass (!!), stunning clarity, warmth and richness, immediacy, astonishing transparency (it burns direct in your DNA – I’ll never forget!) and loads of ambience and more. It murders my pink Island original UK copies. It was a privileg to be able to hear this copy – a HIGHLIGHT event. It’s a DemoDisc of the highest order. And it’s worth the price.

The other big winner is CSN’s first album. This is one of the few LP’s with a sound that you won’t soon forget. I live since a week with this good feeling and I can’t hear or rate any other LP at this time (‘til Tillerman arrived).

Erik S.  (more…)

Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon

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  • With Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second, this copy of Cat Stevens’ brilliant third album will be very hard to beat
  • So transparent, open, and spacious, nuances and subtleties that escaped you are now revealed as never before 
  • When you play I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on this vintage pressing, we think you will agree with us that this is one of the greatest Folk Rock albums of them all
  • “A delight, and because it never achieved the Top 40 radio ubiquity of later albums, it sounds fresh and distinct.”

So many copies excel in some areas but fall flat in others. This one has it ALL going on — all the tubey magic, all the energy, all the presence and so on. The sound is high resolution yet so natural, free from the phony hi-fi-ish quality that you hear on many pressings. (more…)

Cat Stevens – Mona Bone Jakon – Notes from an Early Shootout (2007)

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This album is one of Cat’s top four titles both musically and sonically. Tea and Teaser are in a league of their own, but this album and Catch Bull At Four are close behind. The music is WONDERFUL — the best tracks (including I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light) rank right up there with anything from his catalog. Sonically, it’s not an epic recording on the scale of Tea or Teaser [WRONG] but with Paul Samwell-Smith at the helm you can be sure it’s an excellent sounding album — on the right pressing.

Both sides here are AMAZING! From the moment the needle hit the grooves, we heard superior clarity, better bass, and silkier highs than we had heard all day. It’s super full-bodied with more weight and whomp down low than the average copy. The presence and immediacy are staggering — play it loud and it will be as if Cat is strumming his guitar and belting out the heartfelt tunes right there in your living room.

Trouble sounds OUT OF THIS WORLD here — it’s rich and sweet with a lovely delicate quality to the acoustic guitar. Just listen to all that room around Cat’s voice! (more…)

Cat Stevens – Catch Bull At Four Magic Stampers

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  • With two shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, this early UK pressing is As Good As It Gets!
  • Bigger, more dynamic, more lively, more present and just plain more EXCITING than anything we heard – that’s why it won our shootout  
  • This one can show you the sweeter, tubier Midrange Magic that we is the hallmark of all the best Cat Stevens’ recordings
  • Many of Cat’s best songs are here – Can’t Keep It In, Angelsea, 18th Avenue, Freezing Steel and more
  • “Celebrated and adored for his sanguine lyrics and irresistible hooks, Cat Stevens was one of the rare singer-songwriters capable of composing genuinely optimistic songs that didn’t leave a sappy residue in listeners’ ears.”

The Magic Stampers

As is sometimes the case, there is one and only one set of stamper numbers that consistently wins our Catch Bull At Four shootouts. We stumbled upon an out-of-this-world copy of the right pressing about two years ago, a copy took the recording to a level we had no idea could even be possible. (We were going to give it Four Pluses, and probably should have, but cooler heads prevailed.)

Since then we have had many copies come in, but none that could compete with the Magic Stamper pressings. And the best part of this story is that, no, the best stampers are not 1U, or 2U, or even 3U. In other words they are far from the stampers found on the earliest pressings. That’s one reason it took us so long to discover them, because they are much less commonly found than pressings with the earlier stampers. By the time these later pressings were mastered, pressed and released, the album’s biggest selling days were over. For all we know this cutting may have been done just to keep the record in print, possibly undertaken many years after its initial release. (more…)