Top Artists – Emmylou Harris

Linda Ronstadt – Simple Dreams

More Linda Ronstadt

More Women Who Rock

  • An original Asylum pressing with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Linda’s best sounding recording and a proud member of our Top 100 – this is the album that showed us she could do it all
  • Val Garay does it again, filling the grooves with his trademark super-punchy, jump-out-the-speakers, rich and smooth ANALOG sound
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…reconfirms [Rondstadt’s] substantial talents as an interpretive singer…and [her] powerful performance makes the record rival Heart Like a Wheel in sheer overall quality.”
  • If you’re a Linda Ronstadt fan, this undeniable classic from 1977 is surely a Must Own
  • Simple Dreams is our pick for Linda’s best sounding album. Roughly 150 other listings for the Best Recording by an Artist or Group can be found here.

This is clearly one of Linda’s best albums and I would have to say, based on my fairly extensive experience with her recorded output, that it is in fact the best sounding record she ever made. I love Heart Like a Wheel, but it sure doesn’t sound like this, not even on the Triple Plus copies that win our shootouts. (It is her best album, though.)

I confess to having never taken the album seriously, dismissing it as a commercial collection of pop hits with about as much depth as the L.A. River — but I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

This is a great sounding album on the right pressing, not the compressed piece of grainy cardboard we’ve all been playing for years, unaware of the tremendous sound quality lurking in the grooves of other copies; the ones that were blessed with the right stampers, the right vinyl and a healthy amount of fairy dust wafting over the press that day.

That’s what Hot Stamper shootouts are all about — finding those copies, the ones no one knows exist. (No one but us it seems; who else would think to put this album in their Top 100?)

(more…)

Listening in Depth to Heart Like a Wheel

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Linda Ronstadt

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on precisely what to listen for 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, drums and singing in the background.

If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

Our In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

You’re No Good

Right from the git-go, if the opening drum and bass intro on this one doesn’t get your foot tapping, something definitely ain’t right. Check to make sure your stereo is working up to par with a record you know well. If it is, your copy of HLAW belongs on the reject pile along with the other 90% of the copies ever pressed.

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Amazing acoustic guitars! Lots of tubey magic for a mid-’70s pop album. And just listen to the breathy quality of Linda’s voice. She’s swimming in echo, but it’s a good kind of echo. Being able to hear so much of it tells you that your pressing is one of the few with tremendous transparency and high resolution.

Faithless Love

Another superb arrangement with excellent sound. The banjo that opens this track is key — the picking should have a very strong plucky quality, with lovely trailing harmonics, even some fret buzz.

So many copies are veiled or blunted sounding; this clearly demonstrates a lack of transient information.

The copies without the trailing harmonics lack resolution.

Once you hear either of these problems on the banjo, you can be sure to find them on the voices and guitars throughout the side.

That the Cisco pressing doesn’t do a very good job reproducing the banjo should be clear for all to hear. If you want the sound of the real thing, only the best Capitol pressings are going to be able to give it to you.

The Dark End of the Street

We love the meaty, dark and distorted guitars at the opening of this one — really sets the tone.

Side Two

When Will I Be Loved?

This presumptive Hit Single has lots of multi-tracked instruments crammed into its mix, a mix which is ready for radio and plenty processed and compressed to suit the Top 40 format. What that means for us audiophiles is not that the sound will be bad, rather that it will have a set of sonic characteristics common to most of the original pressings: a little grit, yes, that is to be expected, but what one hears more often than not is a murky, dark, muddy quality to the midrange.

It’s the rare copy that presents a breathy, present, clear Linda Ronstadt on this track. Which is why it’s a great test track for midrange presence. If this track sounds right you can be pretty sure that everything that follows will too (up to a point, naturally).

Willin’
I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)

This track has the lovely and talented Emmylou Harris on harmony vocal. Between her and Linda cthere is a great deal of midrange and upper midrange energy on this track which will tend to strain on most copies.

Is that strain the result of bad mastering? Bad pressing quality? Bad vinyl? Some combination of all three? No one can say, and what difference does it make anyway? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The proof of a good sounding side two is right there on track three. If there’s anything unnatural in the midrange, this song will not be a pleasant listening experience for you, dear reader.

Keep Me from Blowing Away

Linda’s voice here is sweet as honey. On the best copies this one should sound transparent and quite natural. Linda excels at this kind of song, but she stopped doing material like this soon after this album came out. That’s about the time I lost interest in her.

You Can Close Your Eyes

This is one of my all time favorite James Taylor songs. Linda does a lovely version of it here; a superb arrangement with sound to match. What a great ending for the album, with her old buddies The Eagles backing her up. It really takes you out on a high note.

Click on this link to the Classic Tracks entry for the album to read about it in real depth.

This record is good for testing a number of very important aspects of the sound of the copies we play in our shootouts.  The links below will take you to other records that are good for testing these qualities, or lack thereof, as the case may be.

More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain 

More Records that Are Good for Testing Midrange Presence 

More Records that Are Good for Testing Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars

(more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel

More Linda Ronstadt

More Women Who Rock

  • 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
  • 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.

I’ve been playing HLAW since the year it came out, roughly 48 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 – Evangeline

More Emmylou Harris

  • You’ll find superb Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this original Warner Bros. pressing
  • Both of these sides are clean, clear and spacious with deep punchy bass and plenty of energy
  • The best copies have the kind of analog richness, warmth, and smoothness that make listening to records so involving
  • “…a perky ‘Mr. Sandman’ … was a minor pop hit and a reworking of Robbie Robertson’s haunting ‘Evangeline’ … are outstanding…”

(more…)

Gram Parsons – Grievous Angel

More Gram Parsons

More Country and Country Rock

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades throughout, this vintage Reprise pressing of Parson’s country rock classic is doing just about everything right
  • The sound here is rich, full and Tubey Magical with plenty of presence and none of the harshness that plagues most copies
  • It’s tough (and getting tougher) to find clean early pressings of this album, which is why only a handful of copies have hit the site in the last few years
  • 5 stars: “… one would be hard pressed to name an artist who made an album this strong only a few weeks before their death — or at any time of their life, for that matter.”

It’s tough to find clean early pressings of this album, let alone copies that have excellent sound and quiet surfaces on both sides. We just had our first big shootout for this album in a number of years and found a lot to like about this pressing. The sound here is big, rich and open with excellent clarity and transparency. Gram’s voice sounds just right here, as does Emmylou Harris’s. Most copies have some grit and edge that really hurts the uptempo numbers, but this copy remains smooth and sweet enough to work throughout.

The music on this record is some of the finest Parsons ever laid to wax. There never was a true “solo” Gram Parsons record and Grievous Angel is full of wonderful collaborations, especially with Emmylou Harris, whose nuanced vocal performance perfectly compliments Parsons on nearly every song. Though The Gilded Palace of Sin and Sweetheart of the Rodeo may be Parsons’ most influential LPs, he never made another record quite as personal and effortlessly understated as Grievous Angel.

(more…)

Linda Ronstadt – The Middle of the Midrange Is Key

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

More Records that Are Good for Testing Midrange Tonality

Here’s what we learned when doing our recent shootout: many copies sounded like they were half-speed mastered. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a lot of things. In this case, these half-speed sounding ones had a little something phony added to the top of Linda’s voice, they had a little bit of suckout right in the middle of the midrange, the middle of her voice, and they had an overall diffuse, vague quality, with sound that lacked the SOLIDITY we heard on the best pressings. 

These hi-fi-ish qualities that we heard on so many copies reminded us of the audiophile sound we decry at every turn. We’ve played literally hundreds and hundreds of MoFi’s and other half-speed mastered records over the course of the last twenty years, and one thing we know well is THAT SOUND.

Wait a Minute

But stop and think about it for a moment. What if you only had one copy of the album — why would you have more than one anyway? — and it had that Half-Speed Sound? You’d simply assume the recording had those qualities, assuming you could even recognize them in the first place. (Let’s face it, most audiophiles can’t, or all these companies that use this approach to mastering would have gone out of business and stayed out of business, and their out of print records would sell for peanuts, not the collector prices they bring on ebay and audiophile web sites.) (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – An Album You Need to Hear

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

Reviews and Commentaries for Heart Like a Wheel

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.

Heart Like A Wheel

I’ve been playing HLAW since the year it came out, roughly 48 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.

A Must Own Pop Record

Linda’s Masterpiece, and a recording that should be part of any serious Popular Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

What We Listen For on Don’t Cry Now

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

Hot Stamper Pressings on the Asylum Label

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:

  1. Note how breathy her voice is in the quiet passages. Only the least smeared, most transparent copies reproduce that breathy quality in her voice.
  2. 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.

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 is that there will usually be some coarsening of her vocal.

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

(more…)

Emmylou Harris – Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town

More Emmylou Harris

More Country and Country Rock

  • 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…)

Linda Ronstadt – Don’t Cry Now

More Linda Ronstadt

Asylum – A Label We Love

  • The transparency and vocal presence here are wonderful – the piano is solid and Linda’s vocals are breathy and heartfelt
  • We love her emotionally powerful interpretations of Desperado, Sail Away and Neil Young’s achingly sublime I Believe in You
  • She really belts it out on this album – it’s what she does best – but only the best copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing
  • Rolling Stone raves it’s “the Ronstadt album for which we’ve been waiting.”
  • If you’re a Linda Ronstadt fan, this has to be considered a Must Own Title of hers from 1973.
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

(more…)