Top Artists – Joni Mitchell

For Pete’s Sake, What’s Wrong With Blue? – Thoughts on “The Definitive Vinyl” Version

xxxxx

In 2007 a customer took issue with our summary rejection of the new Blue.

Tom, 

I find it curious you are not carrying the new Joni Mitchell Blue vinyl issue. Even to the point of saying you can do better… for 25 bucks? After clicking on the LP cover and reading the comments from over the years it makes me wonder what your agenda really is. I paid $250 for a wonderful WLP and this Rhino issue smokes it, even as good as it is. I even have a Cd cut from this mastering session off the analog FLAT, not Dolby tapes and this vinyl even beats it…. of course just my opinion.

I have listened on $100,000 systems, all the way down to portable units, solid state and tube and there is no denying this is the definitive vinyl version….. and again for 25.00. What a bargain.

Maybe all you did was look at that Rhino sticker and think back to the Grateful Dead records they did a few years ago (horrible) and just assumed this wasn’t up to Better Records standards.

Thanks for reading. I enjoy your e mails and store….

Tom

Tom,

We don’t review records based on their labels or stickers. And of course we never assume anything about the sound of a record. We talk about this stuff all the time. Here’s a relevant quote:

My approach to reviewing records is pure skepticism: a record sounds good if it sounds good, regardless of how it was made, who made it, or why. I’ve heard lots of expensive so-called audiophile equipment do a pretty poor job of making music over the years, the owners of which had an armful of reasons for why the sound should be truly awe-inspiring. But it just wasn’t. Most fancy gold faceplates are nothing but lipstick on a pig in my opinion.

I heard Blue poorly reproduced at a friend’s house, and this is probably the best explanation for this letter writer’s inability to understand our position on Blue.

And paying $250 for a White Label Demo that apparently doesn’t sound good is the height of audiophile collector foolishness. That money should have gone for better equipment or room treatments or tweaks, something, anything, to make this guy’s stereo and room work better than they do.

Actually this brings up a good point. If I had to choose one record that separates the men from the boys, the stereos that really work from the phony, lifeless audiophile systems you might read about in the magazines or hear at an audio show, Blue would be a darn good choice.

The problem there is that you have to be one serious record collector to have a great copy of Blue. But good pressings are out there, if you can clean and play them properly. This is why we created the Blue Game. It can be done, and we can help you get there, but most of the work has to be done by you.

Naturally we are happy to do the shootouts for you and charge you the pretty penny the winners command, but for those of you who want to find out what’s wrong with the new Blue and don’t want to buy a Hot Stamper from us, there is a third way: Blue, The Game.

Joni Mitchell – The Hissing of Summer Lawns

xxxxx

  • An outstanding pressing, with both sides earning outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them
  • Lots of Tubey Magic, textured synths, big bass and breathy vocals – this copy brings Joni’s jazzy folky fusion to life
  • Check out the big bottom end on The Jungle Line, which features the Drummers Of Burundi
  • Who made a more original, forward looking and interesting album in 1975 than this? I can’t think of anyone, can you?
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Joni Mitchell evolved from the smooth jazz-pop of Court and Spark to the radical Hissing of Summer Lawns, an adventurous work that remains among her most difficult records [as difficult as it is brilliant] … a strange and beautiful fusion of jazz and shimmering avant pop.”

Both sides here are airy, open, and spacious, with plenty of ambience. The bottom end is tight and punchy throughout with good solid weight, and the top end is silky sweet. Many copies of this album have a phony hi-fi “glare” that made us wince, but the sound here is warm and natural.

After hearing a few copies that bored us to tears years ago we had pretty much given up on finding good sound for this album, but once we found some truly hot Hot Stampers we found ourselves really enjoying this sophisticated Jazzy Folk Pop music. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – For The Roses – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

xxx
A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame that sold for $600 in 2008.

OFF THE CHARTS breathiness, delicacy, warmth and sweetness, and that’s just Joni’s voice. The sound of the ensemble throughout is amazingly natural, the recording so spacious. You may have noticed that there were no Joni records on our Top 100 List, but after hearing this wonderful LP on the original white label Asylum pressing we knew we had to add it to that very special list. [Since replaced by other titles.]

Let’s face it, we love Blue but it has its share of problems, as does Ladies of the Canyon. Court and Spark is up at the top up the list as well, but Roses seems to have the most folky recording purity. Perhaps the engineers saw this as an opportunity to address the problems with Blue on this, the followup. By the time she had fully adopted her new jazzy style with the album after this one, Court — with the multi-tracking that that music required — some of the recording quality got lost in the quest for slicker production values.

AGAIG on Side One

This copy has it all: the kind of transparency that allows you to see into the soundfield like never before; presence and immediacy in Joni’s breathy, emotional vocals; air and ambience around all the instruments; and tubey magical guitars. (Listen especially to the acoustic guitar on Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire. That’s the sound we love here at Better Records! Even if your system is all transistor (ouch), that guitar will sound like you own the most tubey magical equipment in the world.)

This copy also had REAL ENERGY and dynamics not found on the typical pressing. With dynamics AND the warmth and richness found here, we’re pretty sure this copy can’t be beat on side one. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Clouds

xxxxx

  • Triple Triple! A stunning copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish- this is As Good As It Gets, folks! 
  • Check out the clear transients on Joni’s guitar — you can really hear her moving her hands around the fretboard and pulling on the strings
  • It’s tough to find this album in clean shape with this kind of warm, natural sound (something the new reissue is no doubt profoundly lacking)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Clouds is a stark stunner, a great leap forward for Joni Mitchell. Vocals here are more forthright and assured than on her debut and exhibit a remarkable level of subtle expressiveness. Guitar alone is used in accompaniment, and the variety of playing approaches and sounds gotten here is most impressive.”

The best sounding copies of Clouds are the ones that put Joni and her guitar right there in your living room. The copies with veiled vocals really don’t allow the music to come to life, and the copies where her voice is too forward come across as unnatural and hi-fi-ish. It takes an exceptional copy to strike the right balance and put both the voice and guitar right between your speakers, not under a blanket or in your lap.

The intimacy of the recording is simply breathtaking, but most pressing can’t begin to do it justice, especially the reissues, which tend to be thin and edgy and sorely lacking in Tubey Magic. You have not begun to hear these songs with this kind of realism and power unless, like us, you’ve cleaned and played plenty of copies and lucked into a truly killer Hot Stamper. (more…)

Why Own a Turntable if You’re Going to Play Mediocrities Like These?

xxxxx

This commentary was posted in 2007 and amended later with the statement that we would no longer be ordering new heavy vinyl titles starting in 2010. By 2011 we had eliminated them completely from our site. If you bought any Heavy Vinyl pressing from us, ever, now is the time to get rid of it and hear what a Hot Stamper can do for your musical enjoyment. 


Three of the Top Five sellers this week (8/22/07) at Acoustic Sounds are records we found hard to like: AjaAqualung and Blue. Can you really defend the expense and hassle of analog LP playback with records that sound as mediocre as this Rhino pressing of Blue? 

Why own a turntable if you’re going to play records like these? I have boxes of CDs that sound more musically involving and I don’t even bother to play those. Why would I take the time to throw on some 180 gram record that sounds worse than a good CD? (more…)

Letter of the Week – Steve Winwood

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

Hey Tom, 

Yesterday I was marveling at the bottom-end and overall clarity of my new Stevie Winwood album. I think it’s right up there with Miles of Aisles, which sounded so good it made my wife cry (seriously) . But as always, I came up with a dark thought: Are Hot Stampers the only way to get my system to sound this good? I have VERY few personally-selected LPs that can compete with a Hot Stamper. Even though I usually buy the “Budget” stampers, it looks like a future of hundred-buck-plus albums for me. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Blue – Rhino / Warners Reviewed

More Joni Mitchell

More Blue

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: B-

In March of 2007 we remarked that we would not be carrying the new 180 gram Rhino pressing of Blue. We noted at the time: 

Since Kevin and Steve are [perhaps erstwhile] friends of mine I won’t belabor its shortcomings. Let’s just say I think you can do better.

The following is an excerpt from our first successful Hot Stamper shootout back in 2007. Blue has only gotten better — dramatically better, if I may be so bold — since then.

The copy of Blue we are offering today is one of the few that sounded good before. Now it sounds really good. It got much quieter after applying some of our new cleaning techniques, and the sound became even warmer, richer, sweeter and more transparent.

Both sides sound wonderful — rich, sweet, and delicate. The warmth, breath, and presence of Joni’s vocals take this copy to a place light years beyond the typical copy, not to mention any reissue. The guitars sound amazing, particularly on side two, and the piano has weight without hardness. There’s tons of energy and lots of ambience, plus real depth to the soundfield — you really hear INTO this copy. Try that with your Rhino LP.

The best pressings (and better playback equipment) have revealed nuances in this recording — and of course the performances of all the players along with it — that made us fall in love with the music all over again. Of all the tough nuts to crack, this was the toughest, yet somehow copies emerged that allowed us to appreciate the sonic merits of Blue and ignore its shortcomings. Hot Stampers have a way of doing that. You forget it’s a record; now it’s just Music. The right record and the right playback will bring Blue to life in a way that you cannot imagine until you hear it. That is our guarantee on Blue — better than you ever thought possible or your money back.

Joni Mitchell – Miles of Aisles

More Joni Mitchell

Miles of Aisles

xxxxx

  • This Joni Mitchell classic boasts STUNNING Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on all four sides
  • The sound is incredibly rich, warm and Tubey Magical with huge amounts of space and breathy presence on her vocals
  • Joni reworks all her material here, giving the songs new arrangements and making them fresh again – it’s got a cool Court and Spark vibe
  • “It’s a strong album of her best songs performed mostly informally… Much of the material here is beautiful, replete with the patented Mitchell tension. And a word for engineer Henry Lewy—the sound is terrific, the best reproduced concert album I’ve heard.” Rolling Stone

(more…)

Joni Mitchell – Mingus

More Joni Mitchell

More Mingus

xxxxx

  • An outstanding copy of this wonderful collaboration from 1979 with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Rich, dynamic and natural sounding with low end weight, midrange smoothness and powerful, punchy bass
  • If you’re a fan of Joni’s more adventurous work you’ll find a lot to like here
  • Features “luminaries” including Herbie Hancock and some of Weather Report, who join Mingus in helping Joni bring these jazzy works to life
  • “… Mitchell could not have chosen any finer musicians than the sextet she ultimately incorporated into this work.”

Two of Joni’s more famous late ’70s songs are on here — God Must Be A Boogie Man and The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey. If you like the more adventurous music that Joni produced at different stages of her career, this should make a wonderful addition to your collection.

This vintage LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings cannot BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – Ladies Of The Canyon – What To Listen For

More Joni Mitchell

More Ladies Of The Canyon

xxxxx

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

The growl of the cello on Rainy Night House can clearly be heard behind Joni, with the wood of the instrument sounding real and correct. The kind of You Are There immediacy and transparency of the best copies has to be heard to be believed. 

Listen to the piano Joni plays throughout the album: this is not the thin and hard-sounding instrument that accompanies her on practically every LP you have ever had the misfortune to audition, hoping against hope that someday you would find that “elusive disc” with sound worthy of such extraordinary music. No, this piano has real weight; it has body; and it’s surrounded by real, three-dimensional studio space. (more…)