Top Artists – Emmylou Harris

Linda Ronstadt / Heart Like A Wheel – Truly a Country Rock Masterpiece

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  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them, this copy was giving us KILLER sound for Linda Ronstadt’s Best Album
  • Both sides here are rich, full-bodied and warm, with harmonically rich guitars and real immediacy to Linda’s heartfelt vocals
  • A Must Own Classic, the best album Ms Ronstadt ever made, and a True Country Rock Masterpiece virtually without peer
  • 5 stars: “What really makes HLAW a breakthrough is the inventive arrangements that producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt, and the studio musicians have developed. …[they] help turn Heart Like a Wheel into a veritable catalog of Californian soft rock, and it stands as a landmark of ’70s mainstream pop/rock.”

I’ve been playing HLAW since the year it came out, roughly 46 years by my calculation, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on the album. Folks, we heard it for ourselves: the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here on practically every song.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing. (more…)

Emmylou Harris – Luxury Liner – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

TWO IMPRESSIVE A+++ SIDES for this White Hot Stamper 2-pack! We just finished our first-ever shootout for this album, and we’re pleased to report that the sound on the best sides is right up there with Emmylou’s best — clear, open and transparent with tons of texture and detail. We’ve bundled our best side one and our best side two together to give you As Good As It Gets sound for the entire album!

And if you want to hear exactly what you’re paying for in a White Hot Stamper, just flip either one of these copies over. (Or you could leave playing average sounding sides to us.)

As is usually the case with Harris’ albums, the sound they’re going for here is clean and clear with plenty of detail. Only a handful of copies really nail that sound, with most being either dull and recessed or pinched and edgy. When you get one that manges to have a punchy low end, full mids AND the open, extended top end, the sound gets out of the way and you can really enjoy the MUSIC. After all, isn’t that what this crazy hobby is about? (more…)

Listening in Depth to Heart Like a Wheel

 

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Heart Like a Wheel

and click on this link to the

Classic Tracks

entry for the album to read about it in real  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 Heart Like a Wheel.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Don’t Cry Now – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

WOW! This White Hot Stamper Asylum pressing has TWO AMAZING A+++ SIDES — better than every other copy we played it against. Side one is huge, rich and full. The sound is absolutely jumpin’ out of the speakers and Linda’s vocals are wonderfully present and breathy. Side two is every bit as good. It’s nice and clear with a great top end, present vocals and lovely sounding pianos.

Linda really belts it out on this album — face it, it’s what she does best — and only the rarest copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing

Another key to recognizing the best copies is the fact that they tend to be highly resolving. Two places to check:

Note how breathy her voice is in the quiet passages. Only the least smeared, most transparent copies reproduce that breathy quality in her voice

Next check out the tambourine on Silver Threads and Golden Needles. If the sound is delicate, not gritty or transistory, you have yourself a winner in the resolution department.

NOTE: the balance on side two is slightly off the left on most copies.

Linda’s Problems in the ’70s

The most common problem with these Ronstadt records from the ’70s is grainy, upper-midrangy sound. The average copy of Heart Like a Wheel, the album that followed this one, is pure transistory grain on most copies, making it practically unlistenable.

The average copy of Don’t Cry Now, though not quite as bad as HLAW, shares many of its shortcomings. The smooth copies that still have plenty of presence, life, energy and top end extension are the ones that really get this music sounding RIGHT.

Mobile Fidelity (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

This original Capitol Orange Label LP has TWO SUPERB sides, with side two earning our top grade of A+++ for its White Hot sound! And side one was nearly as good at A++ to A+++. These are the highest grades we are awarding to any copy on the site, folks. It doesn’t get any better. The sound is uncharacteristically smooth, sweet, clear and Tubey Magical, light years from the grungy grit and grain that plagues most copies of Heart Like a Wheel.

Things are different since our last big shootout back in 2009. We learned a lot about the record and have added plenty of new commentary to back it up. If you’re a fan check it out.

Let’s be honest: the average copy of this album is an audio disaster. Those of you who love this album as much as we do are going to be shocked when you hear how wonderful it can sound. We bet you never imagined it could be this good, and we happily back up that bet with a full money back guarantee!

This shootout was no small project — we dropped the needle on more than a DOZEN copies.This is the only one to earn better than a Super Hot Stamper grade (A++) on both sides. I’ve been playing this album for years, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on HLAW. On top of that it’s also full-bodied, lively, and super-transparent. The vocals are breathy and full with incredible immediacy. Folks, the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here. (more…)

Emmylou Harris – Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

I comment below about the ridiculous sound of the MoFi pressing. When you have a recording that is already plenty bright, adding more top end and taking out more lower midrange is the last thing in the world you should be doing. Since that is standard operating procedure for MoFi (and other Half-Speed mastering outfits), that’s exactly the approach they ended up taking.

The sound that Emmylou and her producers were going for here is clean, detailed and low distortion, which is exactly what the best pressings, the “hottest stampers”, deliver.

Those of you who have had the opportunity to play the Mobile Fidelity pressing of this record should know what a disaster it is.

Is brighter better? Apparently Mobile Fidelity thinks so. And they did the same thing to Gordon Lightfoot’s album. His voice sounds so phony on the MoFi that you’d swear it’s a bad CD. But it’s not a bad CD. It’s an expensive audiophile record! (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Don’t Cry Now – What to Listen For

More Linda Ronstadt

More Don’t Cry Now

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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.

Her vocals on both sides can be very DYNAMIC, but only the best copies will present them with no hint of STRAIN or GRAIN, two problems that make most pressings positively painful to listen to at the loud volumes we prefer.

Linda really belts it out on this album — face it, it’s what she does best — and only the rarest copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing. (more…)

Emmylou Harris – Pieces Of The Sky – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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Pieces Of The Sky

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

This album has the real Country Sound, with plenty of top players sitting in on these sessions, musicians who know country music as well as anyone alive. The legendary guitarist for Elvis (and half the stars of Nashville), James Burton, lends a hand on Electric and Dobro. On vocals and guitar Herb Pederson, who still plays locally. (Together with Chris Hillman they put on a great show of old Country and Honky Tonk favorites. If they come to your town check them out.) Ricky Skaggs on fiddle, Billy Payne on piano, Bernie Leadon on banjo — no doubt a good time was had by all in the studio and that spirit of like-minded musicians who love this music comes through in the recording. 

The presence of the vocals here is startling — Emmylou is IN THE ROOM with you, belting out these heartfelt, emotional songs. If her voice here doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will!

Dynamic Vocals!

One quality we heard on this album really took us by surprise. The vocals are shockingly DYNAMIC — it’s almost as if Emmylou’s mic has no limiter on it at all. If there’s any compression on her track it is very very subtle, that’s for sure. (more…)

Emmylou Harris – Elite Hotel – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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Elite Hote

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

TWO EXCELLENT SIDES, including an AMAZING A+++ SIDE ONE! It is TOUGH to find great sound for this album, but this copy really nailed it. Emmylou’s voice, obviously the key element, is just killer here. Most copies we play have their fair share of problems, but when you get one like this the sonic issues fade into the background, letting you focus on one thing — the MUSIC.   (more…)

Emmylou Harris – Blue Kentucky Girl

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Blue Kentucky Girl

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

One of the best copies to come out of our recent shootout. Very present and dynamic vocals, with no phony EQ or accentuated detail (a big problem with Emmylou’s recordings as a whole).  

Note how natural, clear and transparent the sound is — believe me, we didn’t hear too many do what these two sides were doing.

Breathy clear vocals and guitars, with none of the edge that plagues so many of her recordings. (more…)