Top Artists – Helen Humes

Helen Humes – A Forgotten Jazz Vocal Classic

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Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists

  • This vintage Contemporary pressing is close to the best we have ever heard, with stunning Nearly Master Tape sound from start to finish, just shy of our Shootout Winner – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Both of these sides are amazingly Tubey Magical, yet incredibly clean and clear — something you can’t get from the tube-mastered originals
  • Helen’s voice is PERFECTION — breathy, full, and sweet; and the orchestra sounds JUST RIGHT — just listen to the nice bite of the brass
  • 5 stars: “One of the high points of Helen Humes’ career, this Contemporary set features superior songs, superb backup, and very suitable and swinging arrangements by Marty Paich. Humes’ versions of ‘If I Could Be With You,’ ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy,’ and ‘Million Dollar Secret,’ in particular, are definitive… This classic release is essential and shows just how appealing a singer Helen Humes could be.”

This vintage Contemporary pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What The Best Sides Of Songs I Like To Sing! Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1961
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Later Pressings Have The Real Sound

We prefer later pressings of this album to the Black Label originals, which sound tube mastered and have a bit of echo added to them. The later pressings offer superior clarity and resolution. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than the other, but this seems to be the more accurate reproduction of what happened in the recording session, and I know this is the one I would rather listen to.

Without a doubt it’s one of my all time favorite jazz albums. The amazing Marty Paich (Art Pepper Plus Eleven) did the arrangements for this group of top musicians, which includes Art PepperBen WebsterBarney KesselShelly ManneJack Sheldon and Leroy Vinnegar, just to name the ones whose work I know well. Does it get any better?

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Helen Humes – Getting the Balance Right on Mean to Me

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Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists

Mean to Me is a favorite test track for side one, with real Demo Disc quality sound. Roy DuNann at Contemporary was able to get all his brass players together in one room, sounding right as a group as well as individual voices. The piano, bass, and drums that accompany them are perfectly woven into the fabric of the arrangement. What makes this song so good is that when the brass really starts to let loose later in the song, with the right equipment and the right room you can get the kind of sound that is so powerful you would almost swear it’s live.

Helen was recorded in a booth for this album, and her voice is slightly veiled relative to the other musicians playing in the much larger room required for so many players. When you get the brass correct, the trick is to get her voice to become as transparent and palpable as possible without screwing up the tonality of the brass instruments.

The natural inclination is to brighten the sound up to make her voice more clear. But you will be made painfully aware that brighter is not better when the brass gets too “hot” and practically tears your head off. The balance between voice and brass is key to the proper reproduction of this album.

Once you have achieved that balance, tweak for transparency while guarding against too much upper midrange or top end. (Which means watch out for audiophile wires that can fool you!)

Black, Green, Yellow, Orange – Which Contemporary Label Has the Best Sound?

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Contemporary Jazz

Our Hot Stamper commentary from a long-ago shootout we had done for the wonderful Helen Humes album Songs I Like to Sing discusses the sonic characteristics we find most commonly associated with the various Contemporary labels.

This Contemporary Black Label Original LP has that classic tube-mastered sound — warmer, smoother, and sweeter than the later pressings, with more breath of life. Overall the sound is well-balanced and tonally correct from top to bottom, which is rare for a black label Contemporary, as they are usually dull and bass-heavy.

We won’t buy them locally anymore unless they can be returned. I’ve got a box full of Contemporarys with bloated bass and no top end that I don’t know what to do with.

Like most mediocre-to-bad sounding records around here, they just sit in a box taking up space. All of our time and effort goes into putting good pressings on the site and in the mailings. It’s hard to get motivated to do anything with the leftovers. We paid plenty for them, so we don’t want to give them away, but they don’t sound good, so most of our customers won’t buy them.

What to do, what to do? Ebay I guess, but that’s a long way down the road. It’s too much fun doing listings for good records these days to want to stop now. The average record is just average, and nothing is ever going to change that!

We shot this out against a variety of later pressings. The Black Label copies have a bit of echo added to the vocals and have the attributes listed above — warmth, sweetness, presence, and immediacy. The later pressings offer superior clarity and resolution. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily better than the other; it’s really more a matter of taste.

More on the subject of Record Labels.

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Helen Humes – Swingin’ With Humes – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists

SUPERB SOUND AND MUSIC! We’ve been finding great copies of Helen’s Songs I Like To Sing! for some time, but this is the first knockout copy we’ve ever found of this great title from 1961. Both sides have A+++ sound, As Good As It Gets (AGAIG).  

Whoever takes this one home is in for a treat. Make sure your electricity is really cookin’, turn down the lights, and turn up the volume — Helen and her top-notch backing band will be RIGHT THERE IN THE ROOM WITH YOU! The other copies we played sounded pretty good, but this one is MAGICAL.

Both sides have mindblowing clarity and transparency — something that you wouldn’t likely find on an earlier pressing — matched with the kind of tubey magic that’s almost always missing from OJC pressings. (more…)

Helen Humes / Songs I Like to Sing – Our Black Label Copy from Way Back

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists

This Contemporary Black Label Original LP has AMAZING SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! It has that classic tube-mastered sound — warmer, smoother, and sweeter than the later pressings, with more breath of life.   

Overall the sound is well-balanced and tonally correct from top to bottom, which is rare for a black label Contemporary, as they are usually dull and bass-heavy.

I won’t buy them locally anymore unless they can be returned. I’ve got a box full of Contemporarys with bloated bass and no top end that I don’t know what to do with! Like most mediocre-to-bad sounding records around here, they just sit in a box taking up space. All our time and effort goes into putting good pressings on the site and in the emailings. It’s hard to get motivated to do anything with the leftovers. We paid plenty for them, so we don’t want to give them away. But they don’t sound good, so our customers won’t buy them. What to do, what to do? Ebay I guess, but that’s a long way down the road. It’s too more fun doing listings for good records these days to want to stop now. The average record is just average, and nothing is ever going to change that. (more…)

Helen Humes – ’Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

Reviews of Some of Our Favorite Albums by Female Vocalists

This EXCEPTIONALLY QUIET Contemporary Recording has wonderful sound on both sides. It’s got SHOCKINGLY DYNAMIC VOCALS — just listen to Miss Humes really belting it out on a great reading of Stardust! The sound is really rich and full with a BIG punchy bottom end. The clarity and transparency are superb, and you can really hear the leading edge transients on the various horns (Carter on trumpet, Rosolino on trombone). (more…)