Top Artists – Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris – Blue Kentucky Girl

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  • These sides have the kind of rich, natural sound we found on far too few copies and little of the vocal edginess that many EH albums suffer from
  • Surprisingly full-bodied and not overly detailed for a recording from 1979 – they still knew what they were doing then
  • “In response to criticism that her records weren’t country enough, Harris recorded Blue Kentucky Girl, one of her most traditional outings. Relying on a more acoustic sound, the album largely forsakes contemporary pop songs in favor of standard country fare, including the Louvin Brothers’ “Everytime You Leave” and Leon Payne’s “They’ll Never Take His Love from Me.”

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Emmylou Harris – Luxury Liner

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  • Luxury Liner makes its Hot Stamper debut here with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • This copy is full-bodied and natural, with a nicely extended top end, plenty of space around the instruments and vocals, and few of the problems that plagued many pressings we played
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Luxury Liner ranks as Emmylou Harris’ best-selling solo record to date, and it’s one of her most engaging efforts as well; her Hot Band is in peak form, and the songs are even more far afield than usual”

The sound that Emmylou and her producers were going for here is clean, detailed and low distortion, which is exactly what the best pressings like this one deliver. What really sets the good copies apart, though, is a natural, relaxed quality in the midrange. Emmylou sounds like a real person, with none of the too-clean, too-modern, tube-free sound that ruins many of the pressings of her records.  (more…)

Linda Ronstadt / Heart Like A Wheel – Does Bernie Ever Get Bored?

Years ago we wrote:

One thing we noted with interest while doing this shootout was how compressed the first track is. When the chorus comes in, and Linda seems to be singing louder — should be singing louder, with a substantial coterie of vocalists backing her up — the volume is actually lower. In the verse immediately following you can hear that not only is she singing louder, but the amount of dynamic contrast in her voice is greater. Go figure.

The compression also means that that song will never sound the way we would wish it to. But that doesn’t mean it won’t sound good. It means it will sound good in more of a radio-friendly way. On a good copy, one with relatively little grain and plenty of bass, the music can still be very enjoyable, and that includes a Number One Pop Hit like “You’re No Good.”

Do we still see things this way? Well, yes and no. It’s not exactly that we were wrong, but that better cleaning and better playback (all that revolutions in audio stuff) have now allowed us to hear that some copies are actually much more dynamic on this track than others. Quite dynamic in fact.

Think about it. Bernie Grundman is going to cut this record many, many times, maybe more times than he wants to. Is he always going to apply exactly the same amount of compression to each cutting, or is he going to experiment a bit and see what works better over time? Or maybe he just learned a thing or two as he went along.

Which is pretty much what we do when playing copy after copy. The best pressings show us precisely what it is they are doing when they actually work. We can’t know that in advance; we’re learning on the job so to speak.

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Linda Ronstadt

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

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For 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.

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.

Side One

The vocals on side one are often recessed and a bit dark on this album.

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Linda’s Problems in the ’70s

The most common problem with these Ronstadt records from the ’70s is grainy, upper-midrangy sound. 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.

Every copy we played had problems on the last track of side one, Don’t Cry Now. Linda is singing at the top of her lungs practically from beginning to end, so both cutting the record and playing back the record would be difficult. The result: there will be some coarsening of her vocal.

Some copies had the same problem on side two for I Believe in You, but not all.

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Linda Ronstadt – Prisoner In Disguise

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  • Insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this copy of Prisoner, the followup to Linda’s Masterpiece, Heart Like a Wheel
  • This is an amazing recording, but it takes a special copy like this one to reveal all the magic that we know must be on the tape
  • 4 1/2 stars – Love Is a Rose, Tracks of My Tears and Heat Wave were hits, but Linda really pours her heart into Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox
  • Andrew Gold (so critical to the success of HLAW) is still heavily involved, along with Emmylou Harris, James Taylor, Lowell George, David Lindley, JD Souther, and of course Peter Asher

The soundfield has a three-dimensional quality that was nonexistent on some of the other copies we played. Drop the needle on Many Rivers To Cross and check out the amazing sound of the organ coming from the back of the room. Only the highest resolution copies give you that kind of soundstage depth.

The piano sounds natural and weighty. The fiddle on The Sweetest Gift (played by our man David Lindley) is full of rosiny texture.

Emmylou Harris, dueting here with Linda, sings beautifully.

All in all, you will find truly Demonstration Quality Sound on the best copies. (more…)

Emmylou Harris – Roses In The Snow

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  • Roses in the Snow finally returns to the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The immediacy of the vocals is startling — Emmylou is IN THE ROOM with you, belting out these heartfelt, emotional songs. If that doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will!
  • We’ve done several shootouts for this album now, and we’ve completely fallen in love with both the music and the sound – when you hear a copy like this, it’s easy to see why
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Combining acoustic bluegrass with traditional Appalachian melodies (and tossing one contemporary tune, Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” into the mix), Roses in the Snow ranks among Emmylou Harris’ riskiest — and most satisfying — gambits.”

Both sides have wonderful clarity and transparency. Emmylou’s vocals are breathy with lots of texture, the stringed instruments have the proper amount of pluck and twang, and the bass is Right On The Money. Yee-haw! (more…)

Emmylou Harris – Elite Hotel

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from top to bottom
  • The best sides are doing most everything right — they’re cleaner, clearer, with better bass, more energy, better midrange presence, and the list goes on
  • 4 1/2 stars: “While Emmylou Harris spent much of her career carrying on the legacy of Gram Parsons, Elite Hotel ranks among her most overt tributes to his genius, thanks to its covers of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘Sin City’ and ‘Wheels,’ along with ‘Ooh Las Vegas’ from the Grievous Angel album.”

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 wonderful 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.

The biggest problems with the typical copy of this album are grit, grain, and break-up on the voices. Every single copy we played had these unfortunate qualities to at least some degree, but the few Hot Stampers we managed to find did enough things right to let the music work well for us. The third track on side one is a good example of this — on just about any copy out there, Emmylou’s voice is going to break-up a bit when she gets loud. We’re used to this when dealing with especially dynamic vocalists such as Emmylou, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and Aretha Franklin. When these ladies start really beltin’ it out, it’s hard to get it on a record cleanly, particularly in the inner grooves.

This copy was cut much cleaner than many of them we played — less grit, less grain, and not too much break-up. As mentioned above, the third track on side one and the inner grooves are always going to be a little rough, but other than that the vocals sound lovely — breathy, sweet and present. The overall sound is clean and clear with good transparency and lots of energy.

The music here is wonderful, one of Emmylou’s finest. She knocks out a wonderful cover of the Beatles’ Here There And Everywhere on side two, and there are also great versions of songs from Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers and the great Hank Williams. If you’re a fan of this music, it should be a real treat to hear a copy like this one! (more…)

Emmylou Harris – Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town

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  • Old Timers like me remember the ridiculously bright and phony-sounding Mobile Fidelity pressing of the album as being one of their much-too-frequent embarrassments from back in the day
  • Our Hot Stampers will of course sound dramatically different, with tonally correct mids and highs and none of the blobby bass that is the unavoidable sonic signature of half-speed mastering
  • 4 stars: “Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town is a transitional effort that bridges the curveballs of Emmylou Harris’ earliest solo work with the more traditional country albums that comprise the bulk of the second phase of her career.”
  • If you’re a fan of Emmylou’s, this one from 1978 is surely one of her better albums

The sound that Emmylou and her producers were going for here is clean, detailed and low distortion, which is exactly what the best pressings like this one deliver! What really sets the good copies apart, though, is the natural, relaxed quality of the vocals. Emmylou sounds like a real person, with none of the harsh, sterile sound that ruins so many pressings. Check out the duet with Willie Nelson on “One Paper Kid” — both vocalists sound wonderful. That’s the sound you want. (more…)

Emmylou Harris – Evangeline

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this original Warner Bros. pressing
  • Both of these sides clean, clear and spacious ton of deep punchy bass and plenty of energy
  • “Two recordings from the then-unreleased Trio sessions with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, a perky “Mr. Sandman” that was a minor pop hit and a reworking of Robbie Robertson’s haunting “Evangeline” featuring some outstanding harmonies from Parton, are outstanding, as are “Spanish Johnny,” a Springsteen-ish ballad sung with Waylon Jennings, and a dazzling version of the standard “How High the Moon”…

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Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel

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  • With two outstanding sides, this vintage Capital pressing was giving us the sound we were looking for on Linda Ronstadt’s Best Album
  • “You’re No Good” was the hit but “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “Faithless Love” and “The Dark End of the Street” are every bit as good – and that’s just side one!
  • A Must Own Classic, the best album Ms Ronstadt ever made, and a True Country Rock Masterpiece practically without peer and
  • 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.”
  • If you’re a Country Rock fan, then Linda’s Masterpiece from 1974 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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 accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.

The list is purposely wide-ranging. It includes some famous titles (Tumbleweed Connection, The Yes Album), but for the most part I have gone out of way to choose titles from talented artists that are less well known (Atlantic Crossing, Kiln House, Dad Loves His Work), which simply means that you won’t find Every Picture Tells a Story or Rumours or Sweet Baby James on this list because masterpieces of that caliber should already be in your collection and don’t need me to recommend them.

Which is not to say there aren’t some well known masterpieces on the list, because not every well known record is necessarily well known to audiophiles, and some records are just too good not to put on a list of records we think every audiophile ought to get to know better.

Out of the thousands of records we have auditioned and reviewed, there are a couple of hundred that have stood the test of time for us and we feel are deserving of a listen. Many of these will not be to your taste, but they were to mine.

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