Top Artists – James Taylor

James Taylor – Gorilla

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  • Two insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides for one of James Taylor’s best softer rock albums
  • Soulful JT at his best, an underappreciated album by our man and one that belongs in your collection
  • Mexico, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) and I Was A Fool To Care are standouts – there are no weak tracks here
  • Rolling Stone notes, “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”

*NOTE: On side one, a mark makes 12 light ticks at the beginning of Track 1, Mexico.

This is soft rock at its best, made up primarily of love songs, and helped immensely by the harmonically-gifted backing vocals of Graham Nash and David Crosby.

Rolling Stone notes that “With Gorilla, Taylor is well on his way to staking out new ground. What he’s hit upon is the unlikely mating of his familiar low-keyed, acoustic guitar-dominated style with L.A. harmony rock and the sweet, sexy school of rhythm and blues.”

To be honest, the recording of Gorilla itself cannot compete with the likes of Sweet Baby James or JT, both of which are Top 100 Titles. It can be a good sounding record, not a great one, certainly not in the same league as those two. (more…)

James Taylor / One Man Dog – Quick Listening Tests

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If you have a Hot Side One for One Man Dog you will know it in a hurry. The guitars and congas will leap out of your speakers at the beginning of One Man Parade.

If they don’t, forget it, move along to the next copy and keep going until you find one in which they do. There are plenty of subtle cues to separate the White Hot copies from the merely Hot, but if the sound doesn’t come to life right from the get go, it never will.

Side Two Has Bells

The first track is a bit dull on even the best copies, so don’t lose hope if your first track sounds rolled off. They almost all do. One Morning in May, the second track and the one featuring Linda Ronstadt on background vocals, is a much better test, as is track three, Instrumental II, the one with the lovely bells.

Wte paid a lot of attention to the bells on Instrumental II to help us get a handle on the top end. Sure enough, those bells are key to the best copies.

Fanfare is one of the few songs here with horns, so it became another key track. The horns need to have bite and texture, with the best copies really bringing out the breath in the sax. Any smearing or dulling of the sound and the horns go south in a hurry, along with the rest of the instruments. (more…)

James Taylor / Sweet Baby James

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Reviews and Commentaries for Sweet Baby James

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  • This STUNNING copy of Sweet Baby James boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too, especially for this album
  • All that lovely echo is a dead giveaway that this pressing has resolution far beyond that of the others you may have heard (and of course the Rhino Heavy Vinyl)
  • Top 100, inarguably a Masterpiece – Fire and Rain and Suite for 20 G (one of JT’s All Time Best) are killer here
  • 5 stars: “Sweet Baby James launched not only Taylor’s career as a pop superstar but also the entire singer/songwriter movement of the early ’70s that included Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and others…”

Vocal reproduction is key to the best sounding copies of Sweet Baby James, as it is on so many Singer Songwriter albums from the era.

To find a copy where Taylor’s vocals are front and center — which is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet, tonally correct and Tubey Magical is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off.

Out of the dozen or more Green Label early pressings we play every year, relatively few have the full complement of midrange magic we know the best copies can have. As a rule of thumb, the hotter the stamper, the better the vocal reproduction on that copy.

Hot Stamper sound is rarely about the details of a given recording. In the case of this album, more than anything else a Hot Stamper must succeed at recreating a solid, palpable, real James Taylor singing live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)

James Taylor – In The Pocket

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  • Stunning sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it
  • Both of these sides are SUPERB in all respects; there’s plenty of Tubey Magic, and that’s one quality that’s hard to come by on this album
  • Rich, sweet, and lively — Woman’s Gotta Have It sounds fantastic here
  • An underappreciated album that we’re big fans of here at Better Records!

The quality of the songwriting is what makes this album such a moving listening experience. These songs are superb, individually and collectively, and can hold their own up against those found on Gorilla, an album with which In the Pocket has much in common.

Just as they did on Gorilla, Taylor and his multi-talented, multi-tracking production team polish these songs into three and four minute gems of popcraft, and they do so without ever compromising the emotional heart of the material. I’ve searched and I honestly cannot find a bad song on the album. Better than that, not even a weak one.

Both of these sides are SUPERB in all respects. There’s plenty of Tubey Magic, and that’s one quality that’s hard to come by on this album. They’re super rich, smooth, yet transparent and high-rez. The vocals are breathy, and again, that is not something we heard nearly enough of in our shootout.

And no hardness. This is key. And the best tonal balance, which is also key. (more…)

James Taylor / Sweet Baby James on Warners-Rhino 180g Vinyl EQ Anomaly Test

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Reviews and Commentaries for Sweet Baby James

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There is one obvious and somewhat bothersome fault with this new pressing, an EQ issue. Anybody care to guess what it is? Send us an email if you think you know. Hint: it’s the kind of thing that sticks out like a sore thumb, the kind of obvious EQ error I can’t ever recall hearing on an original.

This Warner Brothers 180g LP is the BEST SOUNDING Heavy Vinyl reissue to come our way in a long long time. Those of you who’ve been with us for a while know that that’s really not saying much, but it doesn’t make it any less true either, now does it? Let’s look at what it doesn’t do wrong first.

It doesn’t sound opaque, compressed, dry and just plain dead as a doornail like so many new reissues do. It doesn’t have the phony modern mastering sound we hate about the sound of the new Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it.)

The new Sweet Baby James actually sounds like a — gulp — fairly decent original.
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James Taylor – JT

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  • This KILLER copy of an exceptionally well-recorded album boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • It’s a superb recording – a member of our Top 100, in fact – but it takes a pressing like this to show you just how BIG and LIVELY it can sound
  • The big hits Your Smiling Face and Handy Man both sound great here – thanks Val Garay!
  • 4 stars: “JT was James Taylor’s best album since Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon because it acknowledged the darkness of his earlier work while explaining the deliberate lightness of his current viewpoint, and because it was his most consistent collection in years.”

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Letter of the Week – There Are Two Kinds of Audiophiles…

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently (and one that is still on its way to him):

  Hey Tom, 

So I go on YouTube to refresh my memory and listen and James Taylor that could be good, Toto, what a feel good album brings back memories, Wish You Were Here already have a pretty good copy, Sinatra-Basie what’s that?

So I go to YouTube and first track HOLY CRAP! You know it’s good when you’re throwing a sound stage off your lap-top! Basie orchestra, perfect. Frank comes in swinging and man that guy was so freaking cool, people today have no idea how unbelievably cool he was, and so like 20 seconds if that I am SOLD!!!😂😂😂

Francis A and Edward K was a fave for years. You turned me onto Mel Torme Swings Schubert Alley. Fabulous voice. What I love most of all though is the sense of live flowing swinging music of FA&EK and with Basie. Gets me even off the laptop!

You know there’s two kinds of audiophiles, the ones who want a vast array of new music, and the ones who are happy with only a small amount of high quality music.

I am definitely in the second group. Love new music but when it comes to what I will sit and listen, very hard to please. When I do find something new though man do I ever appreciate it. Got a good feeling about Sinatra-Basie. Thanks!

I replied:

One quick thought. I used to say that you have to buy twenty albums to find the one you will fall in love with, and without those other 19 you will never discover the one. There is no way to predict any of this music stuff. Or sound stuff. You have to experience it, and to experience it you have to do the work and spend the money.

The “work” is supposed to be fun, and most of the time it is, but it is definitely work to buy hundreds of records and set aside the time to play them. I’ve been doing it since I was about 17; I can still remember the converted house of a record store I used to shop at in Leucadia right off the coast highway. Bought Loggins and Messina’s first album there the year it came out, 1971, because I was already a big Poco fan and Buffalo Springfield fan and Jim Messina was in both. Bought Frampton’s Wind of Change from the same store the next year.

Both became favorites and have been played many hundreds of times in the intervening five decades. (We have a section for these kinds of records which can be found here.)

I had to buy 2000 records to find my top 100. Being in the record business for 30+ years has let me play 10,000 records or more and find my top 500, but the ratio is the same. (more…)

James Taylor aka Mud Slide Slim – Is He in a Booth or Isn’t He?

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Midrange Presence is tough to come by on Mud Slide; most of the time JT’s voice is recessed, dark, veiled and has a slightly hollow quality. To find a copy where his vocals are front and center — which of course is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet and tonally correct is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off. Out of the dozens of copies we played in our most recent shootout few had the midrange we were looking for and knew existed. 

One thing we noticed this time around was that for some tracks James’ vocals are recorded in a booth and for others they are not. Listen to the first track — there is no ambience, no room around his voice whatsoever. He’s in a padded booth, and they sure padded the hell out of it. Now play Long Ago and Far Away on side two. No booth! Lots of studio space around the vocal. MUCH more natural acoustic.

We don’t have the luxury of playing every track on both sides for these shootouts. We pick two or three songs that have specific qualities we know to look for and play them on every copy. (Shootouts like this almost always involve at least a dozen pressings, sometimes more, and it’s impossible to keep them all straight with more copies than that.)

So here’s a potentially fun exercise — assuming you find this sort of thing fun — that we thought about doing but just don’t have the time to devote to at present, with so many other shootouts waiting in the wings. Take your own copy, assuming you have at least a decent one, and play each track listening for only one thing: does James sound like he is in a booth, or does he sound like he is in an open space in the studio? If you have the typical original WB pressing you will probably not be able to get very far and will be quickly tempted to give up, the frustration of a murky midrange being more than most of us audiophiles can bear.

But maybe you have a good copy; the possibility certainly exists. And if you find much success with this exercise we encourage you to drop us a line, we will be more than happy to print it. (more…)

James Taylor / JT – Listening in Depth

Musically this is one of Taylor’s best. Every track is good and many are wonderful. There are five or six James Taylor records that are Desert Island Discs for me. I know they probably wouldn’t let me take six of the same artists’ records to my island, but I would hope they would make an exception for James Taylor, because his albums really do set a standard that few other singer/songwriters’s albums can meet.

Start with Sweet Baby James, the first album (which we can’t find for you because only the British ones sound good and they are just to hard to find in clean condition) and JT. The next group to pursue would contain Mud Slide Slim, One Man Dog and Dad Loves His Work, and then maybe Flag.

As audiophiles we all know that sound and music are inseparable. After dropping the needle on a dozen or so copies, all originals by the way, you KNOW when the music is working its magic and when it’s not. As with any pop album there are always some songs that sound better than others, but when you find yourself marvelling at how well-written and well-produced a song is, you know that the sound is doing what it needs to do. It’s communicating the Musical Values of the material.

The most important of all these Musical Values is ENERGY, and boy do the best copies have it


In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Your Smiling Face

Our favorite test track for side one. The best copies have bass and drums that are hard to beat!

There We Are
Honey Don’t Leave L.A.

One of the toughest tests for side one is the sax solo in this song. You want the sax to be breathy and full with just the right amount of bite. If it doesn’t have enough bite, the sound is going to be overly smooth elsewhere.

Another Grey Morning

You’ll almost always be battling at least a bit of surface noise on this quiet track. On the best copies the sound will be tubey-magical, with plenty of warmth, richness, and sweetness.

Bartender’s Blues
Secret O’ Life

Side Two (more…)

James Taylor / In The Pocket – A Personal Favorite

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

The quality of the songwriting is what makes this album such a moving listening experience. These songs are superb, individually and collectively, and can hold their own up against those found on Gorilla, an album with which In the Pocket has much in common.

Just as they did on Gorilla, Taylor and his multi-talented, multi-tracking production team polish these songs into three and four minute gems of popcraft, and they do so without ever compromising the emotional heart of the material. I’ve searched and I honestly cannot find a bad song on the album. Better than that, not even a weak one.

Side Two

The best we heard and SUPERB in all respects. It’s got Tubey Magic, and that’s one quality that’s hard to come by on this album. It’s fairly rich, smooth, yet transparent and high-rez. The vocals are breathy, and again, that is not something we heard nearly enough of in our shootout.

And no hardness. This is key. And the best tonal balance, which is also key. White Hot all the way.

Side One

Big and clear with lots of studio space and reverb. A bit shifted up tonally but very good this way.

We’re No Snobs

The critics have never had much love for In The Pocket, but I’ve always felt just the opposite — it’s one of my favorites of the JT canon, an absolute joy from first track to last. As a James Taylor fan I bought a copy as soon as it came out and proceeded to play it practically to death. At the time Rolling Stone magazine gave it a scathingly negative review, accusing Taylor of selling out for making a carefully-produced, sophisticated Soulful Pop Album. Plenty have derisively labeled it “slick”, but to my ear the material is very strong, with all the heart of his earlier albums. Glossy production values and a cast of the L.A. assembled multitudes is hardly cause to dismiss the emotional power of these songs. (more…)