Top Artists – Jethro Tull

Chad Has Served Poor Jethro Tull Most Barbarously

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Stand Up

With a nod to our old friend, John Barleycorn.

We were finally able to get our hands on Analogue Productions’ newly remastered Stand Up, a record we know well, having played them by the score. Our notes for the sound can be seen below.

If ever a record deserved a “no” grade, as in “not acceptable,” this new 45 RPM pressing mastered by Kevin Gray deserves such a grade, because it’s just awful.

But let’s put that grade in context. The last time a good sounding version of Stand Up was released, to our knowledge anyway, was 1989, and that version was the Mobile Fidelity Gold CD. I bought mine soon after it came out. I wasn’t even planning on buying a CD player when the Compact Disc was first invented, but then Mobile Fidelity played a dirty trick on me. Instead of releasing Loggins and Messina’s first album on vinyl, they put it out exclusively on CD as part of their Silver MFCD series.

As a die-hard MoFi fan, that sealed the deal: now I had to buy a CD player. I picked up a cheap Magnavox player, I think it ran me less than $100, and played my new Sittin’ In CD, which, as I recall, sounded pretty good. (One of my other early CD purchases was Tumbleweed Connection, the regular label release, and it was not good at all.)

I still own Stand Up on Gold CD, and I still find it superb in every way. (Many of the MFSL Gold CDs from this era are.)

It sounds nothing like this new vinyl release, and that’s a good thing.

On vinyl, Stand Up has rarely been given the care it deserved. The last version of Stand Up to have sound we would want to listen to was pressed in the UK in the early ’70s. That was close to fifty years ago.

We sold some domestic pressings of the album back in the early 2000s, describing them at the time as made from dub tapes with all the shortcomings that entails, but mastered very well from dub tapes. The best domestic pressings are rich, smooth, tonally correct and natural sounding. They’re too dubby to sell as Hot Stampers, but they are not bad records. Some later Chrysalis pressings are big and open, but often they are too thin and bass-shy for the music to work. We’ve never taken them seriously.

It wasn’t long before we’d eliminated everything but the early UK pressings for our shootouts, and we quickly discovered that the earliest of the UK pressings on the older Island label were not good at all. We wrote about the problem with some originals more than ten years ago.

What was surprising about the shootouts we had done in past years was how disappointing most of the early British pressings we played were. They were flat, lacked energy and just didn’t rock the way they should have.

We learned the hard way that most British Pink label pressings aren’t especially rich, that some are small and recessed, and some are just so smeary, thick and opaque that they frustrate the hell out of you as you’re trying to hear what any of the musicians other than Ian Anderson is doing.

So when a reviewer comes along and says something positive about the new pressing compared to some unidentified original, we appreciate the problem that is at the root of his mistaken judgments:

Here’s the deal: if the goal was to duplicate the original pink label Island sound, this reissue misses that, which is good because this new double 45 reissue is far superior to the original in every possible way.

The tape was in great shape, that’s for sure. Clarity, transparency, high frequency extension and especially transient precision are all far superior to the original. Bass is honest, not hyped up and the mastering delivers full dynamics that are somewhat (but only slightly), compressed on the original. Ian Anderson’s vocals are naturally present as if you are on the other side of the microphone. Most importantly, the overall timbral balance sounds honest and correct. But especially great is the transient clarity on top and bottom.

If you’re fortunate to have an original pink label Island, at first you might think the sound is somewhat “laid back”, but that’s only because the mids and upper mids are not hyped up as they are on the original. That adds some excitement, but it clouds the picture and greatly obscures detail.

If you scroll down to our notes, you will see what we thought of the “laid back” sound this reviewer talks about. (Keep in mind that we first read the above review mere moments ago.)

We think “smaller, thick and stuck in the speakers” may be someone’s idea of “laid back,” but, just so there is no misunderstanding, it’s our idea of “awful.”

None of these are good things. Our Hot Stamper pressings are never small, thick or stuck in the speakers. They’re the records with the opposite of those qualities. Our records are big, transparent and open. That’s why we can charge so much money for them and have people lining up to buy them.

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How Not to Conduct a Proper Shootout for Aqualung

I think this commentary was written in 2010 or thereabouts, since that’s the date on Fremer’s Aqualung review, which can be found here. I have made a few changes to the commentary below, but most of the original has been left intact.

We recently put up a Hot Stamper Aqualung that just BLEW THE DOORS OFF the CLASSIC 200g pressing. Michael Fremer may think the new reissue is the ultimate pressing, but we sure don’t. 

The Aqualung shootout on his site is priceless. He has so many silly things to say about it, let’s not waste any more time and get right to them.

His Shootout Begins

He says he “… compared Classic’s new 200g reissue with: 1) an original UK Chrysalis 2) an original American Chrysalis/Warner Brothers, 3) an original French Pink Label Island, 4) The Mobile Fidelity ½ speed mastered edition and 5) DCC’s 180g issue mastered by the team of Hoffman and Gray.”

How many of each? One, right? (All the articles in front of the nouns are singular. Assuming MF is using good grammar, how many could there be?)

Mikey, that’s your first mistake.

When it comes to the domestic release, one is a wholly inadequate sample size for pressings that were pumped out by the millions and therefore mastered multiple times. Go to Discogs if you want to see just how many different stamper numbers can be found in the original Reprise pressings. Hint: it’s a lot. Some of them are known to us to be awful, some fall into the middle of the pack, and some we like. Figuring out which are which has taken us a lifetime of work and is well beyond the ability of any single person to decode.

Maybe you got hold of a bad sounding “original American Chrysalis/Warner Brothers,” did you ever think of that? The record bins are full of them.

If you did get hold of a bad one — and all the evidence points in that direction — the value of your shootout just went flying out the window, defenestrated as some might say.

Proper shootouts cannot be carried out using a small number of pressings. Anybody who claims to know anything about records ought to know that.

This next line just floors me.

Now rather than make value judgments, let’s just compare without prejudice.

This guy may not be good for much, but he sure is good for a laugh.

Does he really expect us to believe that the comments that follow are not biased in any way, that they are The Truth, that he is able to measure “intimacy and warmth” and tell us precisely how much of each there is on any given pressing? Who in his right mind thinks like that?  (At this rate he may end up wandering about a park with snot running down his nose, greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Help is available; perhaps Stereophile has a mental health plan under which he could be covered.)

Soon enough he goes on to give his opinion as to the merits of each of the pressings noted above. I’m sorry, did I say opinion? I meant comparisons without prejudice. Sorry, my bad.

The Big Truth

And of course he is more than welcome to make any and all the comparisons he deems fit, each from that lovely sample size of one. And if he wants to add another sample (size = 1) to the mix by playing the DCC gold CD, he’s welcome to do that too, which he did. I’m guessing that his CD player is every bit as accurate as his front end (comprising turntable/ arm/ cartridge/ phono stage/ cables), which, if he were to ascribe a number to the accuracy of all the pieces that make up this chain, would have to be in the 100% or so range. Or as the late John McLaughlin might say, on a scale of one to ten: ten, meaning Metaphysically Accurate.

No colorations. No imperfections. Pure Truth, and nothing but.

I could go on like this for days, but even I’m getting tired of it. Without a basic understanding of records and the wide variation in the quality of pressings, you cannot design a testing protocol that will result in any meaningful findings.

You end up with a Pseudo Shootout, custom made for an audience of one, especially one who never wants to be wrong. If you are not trying to separate truth from falsehood, open to the possibility of overturning your preconceived notions by the proper use of the scientific method, how can you learn anything?

Pseudoscience

What you have here is a man practicing the worst sort of pseudoscience: the kind of science that looks like you know what you are doing when in fact you haven’t got a clue. His carefully controlled experiment, free from prejudice or bias of any kind, using only the finest scientific instruments (some expensive front end, with some unknown setup, in some — from the looks of it — very problematic basement listening room), playing to a listening panel of exactly one, with all of six pressings on hand, is anything but.

The results — unrepeatable of course, and why would anyone bother to follow his approach? — speak for themselves.

More to the Point

The acquisition of critical listening skills is extremely important if you want to make progress in this hobby.

But critical thinking skills are much more important, because without them you make the kind of mental errors that this reviewer makes again and again. If your thinking about records and audio is as confused as Fremer’s, your chances of learning how to do either one well are small. In the more than 25 years that I have been cataloging this fellow’s mistakes, I have seen very little evidence that he’s learned much at all.

Classic Records

The new Classic is a decent enough record. On Fremer’s scale of one to eleven, I might give it a ten for music, and about a seven for sound. (He gives it nines for each, for what that’s worth.)

The commentary for the proper shootout we did back in 2008 can be found here. We had around twenty copies of Aqualung, culled from a pool of maybe forty or so. When we get one that doesn’t sound too hot we don’t put it in the shootout pile, we put it in the shit pile and take it back to the store we got it from, or donate it to the Goodwill.

Let’s just say our results did not match Mr. Fremer’s. Anyone who would like to do the shootout for himself is welcome to buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings of Aqualung, and a Classic pressing if need be, and have at it.

Like George Michael Says, Listen Without Prejudice

But please, don’t make value judgments. Compare without prejudice. Is that really too much to ask? Mikey did it, why can’t you? Then just keep the one that sounds best. (You can get rid of the Classic on ebay easily enough.)


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Reviewers – Who Needs ‘Em?

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained 

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

How Can I Recognize What I Should Be Listening For on a Given Album?

Audiophile Wire Testing with Jethro Tull and His Friend Aqualung

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

… who seems to have a rather nasty bronchial condition…

[This commentary is from 2008 or so I’m guessing. Still holds up though.]

Like Heart’s Little Queen album, Aqualung presents us with a Demo Disc / Test Disc that really puts a stereo through its paces, assuming it’s the kind of stereo that’s designed to play an album like Aqualung.

Not many audiophile systems I’ve run across over the years were capable of reproducing the Big Rock Sound this album requires, but perhaps you have one and would like to use the album to test some of your tweaks and components. I used it to show me how bad sounding some of the audiophile wire I was testing really was.

Here’s what I wrote:

A quick note about some wire testing I was doing a while back. My favorite wire testing record at the time (2007)? None other than Aqualung!

Part One

Here’s why: Big Whomp Factor. Take the whomp out of Aqualung and the music simply doesn’t work, at all. To rock you need whomp, and much of Aqualung wants to rock.

Part Two

But not all of it. Some of it is quite pretty, so you must make sure to preserve the breathy flutes and recorders, and the delicate harmonics in the strummed acoustic guitar parts. That’s more or less the job of the top end; the whomp is the bottom end’s job. There’s no real mystery to either of those sonic elements.

Part Three

But the third and most important quality Aqualung has that makes it an ideal test disc is the honky midrange it has in places, especially in the “singing through a telephone” break in the middle of the title track. Why is this important?

Simply because many audiophile wires lean out the lower midrange and boost the upper midrange, which adds “clarity” and “detail” to the sound. (Detail can be a trap, something we discuss here.)

It’s not always easy to tell that that’s what’s really happening if you play the typical audiophile test record (whatever that may be. I don’t use them but I suspect there might be others that do.) On Aqualung that extra boost in the voice is positively ruinous. It already has a little problem there, so if that problem gets worse, it’s easy to spot.

Phony Audiophile Sound

The phony “presence” of most audiophile wire is exactly what Aqualung helps to guard against, because Aqualung doesn’t need any more presence.

It needs rich, full-bodied, punchy sound, with plenty of weight from 250 Hz on down. These are qualities found in few audiophile interconnects or speaker wires in my experience.

Come to think of it, none of the audiophile wires I’ve tried in the last two or three years [this was 15 years ago] would pass the Aqualung test. (I used different recordings before the recent discovery of the Hot Stamper Aqualung, but the recordings I used all showed up the same problems in wire after wire.)

Wire shootouts are very frustrating. Most wires do wonderful things in some part of the frequency spectrum — that’s why their inventors and proponents love them so much. They are often highly resolving and amazingly transparent.

But what they give with one hand they take away with the other — leaning out the sound, transforming rock records that used to really rock into rock records that kinda rock. When that happens I put them in their fancy boxes and ship them back from whence they came.

An Invitation

Here’s an idea. Next time you want to test some audiophile wire, invite your non-audiophile friends over to hear Aqualung with the new wires. My guess is they’re less likely to be fooled by the wire’s tricks than we audiophiles would be. They’ll know when the music works and when it doesn’t; you’ll be able to see it on their faces.

It’s easy to lose sight of what this hobby is all about when the money and the egos and the “new improved technologies” all get mixed up with the sound.

Fortunately Aqualung doesn’t care about all that crap. That’s why he’s a good guy to keep around.

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Listening in Depth to Stand Up

Reviews and Commentaries for Stand Up

Hot Stamper Pressings of Jethro Tull’s Albums Available Now

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Stand Up.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

If British Blues Rock is your thing, then Stand Up is a record that definitely belongs in your collection.

Side One

A New Day Yesterday

This is one of my favorite Jethro Tull songs of all time. (This and To Cry You a Song from Benefit are pretty darn hard to beat.) Clive Bunker’s drumming is incredibly energetic; it drives the song to levels few bands could ever hope to reach. It reminds me of the kind of all-out ASSAULT on the skins you hear in the work of Dave Grohl and John Bonham. Bunker is a highly underrated player; his bandmates Barre and Cornick don’t get the respect they deserve either, for reasons that I’ll never understand. They’re about as good as it gets in my book. (more…)

Today’s Bad Heavy Vinyl Pressing Is… Aqualung!

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

An Audiophile Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Rock LP badly mastered for the benefit of audiophiles looking for easy answers and quick fixes.

By the time the guitars at the end of the title track fade out you will be ready to take your heavy vinyl Classic Record pressing and ceremoniously drop it in a trashcan. (Actually, the best use for it is to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends that no heavy vinyl pressing can begin to compete with a Hot Stamper from Better Records. Not in a million years.)

We Was Wrong on All Counts

Over the course of the last 25 years we was wrong three ways from Sunday about our down-and-out friend Aqualung here.

We originally liked the MoFi from the early ’80s. Wrong. Proof positive that In the early ’80s I didn’t have good reproduction or know much about records, but I sure thought I did!

When the DCC 180g came along in 1997 we liked that one better. Wrong again. It didn’t have MoFi’s usual midrange suckout and sloppy bass, but it was bad in so many other ways that it is hard for me to believe I ever liked it. But I did, to some degree anyway.

Back then I was a DCC believer, a mistake I would come to recognize once a few more years had passed. See here and here.

And a few years back I was briefly enamored with some original British imports. Wrong for the third time.

After playing more than two dozen pressings of Aqualung in our recent [circa 2010] shootout, it’s pretty clear that the right early Reprise pressings KILL any and all contenders. Forget all the Green Label Chrysalis pressings. Forget the reissues. Forget the imports. It’s original domestic Reprise or nothing when it comes to Aqualung.
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Jethro Tull / Thick As a Brick – A Milestone Title from 2007

jethrthick_1410_3_1192056381

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Thick as a Brick

More Milestone Events in the History of Better Records

Until about 2007 this was the undiscovered gem (by me anyway) in the Tull catalog. The pressings we had heard up until then were nothing special, and of course the average pressing of this album is exactly that: no great shakes.

With the advent of better record cleaning fluids and much better tables, phono stages, room treatments and the like — taking full advantage of the remarkable number of revolutions in audio that have occurred over the last two or three decades –some copies of Thick As A Brick have shown themselves to be truly amazing sounding. Even the All Music Guide could hear how well-engineered the album was.

Marking Two Milestones from the Past

The 2007 commentary you see below discusses the pros and cons of both the British and Domestic original pressings. With continuing improvements to the system, room, etc., it would not be long before we realized that the British pressings were simply not competitive with the best domestic ones.

You might say this record helped us mark two important milestones in the developing history of Better Records.

The first, around 2007, was recognized by the fact that we had improved our playback to a very high level, one high enough to reproduce the album with all the clarity, size and energy we were shocked we were actually able to hear at the time.

The second milestone would result from the audio changes we continued to make for the next couple of years, from 2007 to 2010, which allowed us to recognize that the best British pressings, as good as they might be, were not in the same league as the best domestic ones. We broke down in detail exactly what we were listening for and what were hearing in this commentary, and the Brits were clearly not cutting it at the highest levels by 2010.

If you find yourself with one of more British copies of the album that you think have superior sound to the domestic, we would love to send you one of our Hot Stampers so you can hear what you are missing.

The Brit is a great sounding record, don’t get us wrong. Head to head against our killer domestic pressings, its shortcomings should be obvious. This is why we do shootouts, and why you must do them too, if owning the highest quality pressings is important to you.

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Jethro Tull – A MoFi Disaster (But Some Folks Refuse to Believe It)

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

Sonic Grade: D

[This commentary was written about fifteen years ago, perhaps more.]

We noted in our Hot Stamper review for Aqualung that the MoFi is a disaster, with the murky bloated DCC even worse. (We didn’t like the Classic either. We’re hard to please when it comes to Aqualung it seems.) 

But we used to like the MoFi and DCC just fine. What could possibly have changed?

It’s a long story, and a pretty long commentary, which we have excerpted from a customer’s letter, along with our reply. Note that we have edited our original commentary and his letter for the sake of brevity. Now the letter:

To: Tom Port,

As far as “Aqualung” is concerned, I have a Mobile Fidelity issue of this album which sounds great and being pressed on some of the best vinyl in the world by people who are known for their meticulous care with records, I don’t think that there would be much difference at all in the quality of different MoFi pressings of this or any of their records.

The key phrase here is “I don’t think that there would be much difference at all…”. You see, this is not something to think about, this is something to test. Thinking got this gentleman nowhere; testing might have had the opposite effect.

How About Abbey Road?

And speaking of MoFis all sounding the same, we had a MoFi that we called “the Killer MFSL Abbey Road of All Time” which sold for $500. Our average copy is about $75. Which one do you think sounded better? And how can there be that big of a difference in the sound of one MoFi relative to another?

Don’t ask me; we just play them and price them according to the sound. Those big questions I defer to Joe. He thinks he has the answers.

Old Hot Stampers

There were no Hot Stampers thirty years ago. This is a process that has been evolving over the course of many years, but for all practical purposes Hot Stampers as much more than a concept didn’t exist until sometime in the ’90s.

With continual improvements in our equipment, room acoustics, electrical quality, cleaning techniques and last but not least, listening skills, our audio world has turned completely upside down. 180 gram? Half-Speed Masters? Don’t make me laugh. We can beat that junk with one arm tied behind our back. It’s like taking candy from a baby.

Twenty Five Years Is a Lifetime in Audio

As for the MoFi being better than a record he used to have, ouch. Does Joe ever upgrade his equipment? Does anything ever change? I never liked the original domestic Aqualungs either, but as my stereo got better, my views changed one hundred and eighty degrees. The site is full of commentary to that effect for records too numerous to mention.

The MoFi is a forty year old record. If you’re using a forty year old system to play it, you might not notice all its faults. A stereo like that is so antiquated it can actually succeed in hiding them. But any decent modern system should make the shortcomings of that pressing woefully obvious and unbearable.

Joe, buddy, time for some new equipment. Toss that Technics and start hearing what’s really on your records. (On second thought, considering Joe’s approach to record collecting, that may not be such a good idea. Not to worry. Read below; Joe is totally on board with not doing anything.)

I’ve spent many years and good money obtaining the records in my collection. I don’t need to spend lots more replacing them with “hot stampers.”

Joe, you don’t need to replace your Aqualung or any other record you own with another copy. You don’t need to do anything, especially if you think it’s impossible for any pressing to sound better than the one you have. That seems to be the proposition you have put forth — you have the best, and that’s all there is to it. You “think” nothing can be better, therefore nothing can be better.

We, on the other hand, learn new things about records and equipment all the time; it’s what makes the hobby fun. The site is devoted to the idea that what we thought was true yesterday may not be true today.

Doing the Work

I may come across as a Know-It-All, but Know-It-Alls can’t learn anything, and I learn new things about records with every shootout. I can’t say I learn much from other audiophiles; a bit here and there.

Mainly I learn what I learn by doing the work that nobody else seems to want to do: playing scores of records against each other until the winners show their true colors.

Conducting rigorously controlled experiments with thousands of records has taught us everything we know. (Perhaps it would be better to say everything we think we know; we could be wrong. It happens a lot.) 

It’s a lot of work but how else can it be done? By thinking about which pressing should sound the best? Now do you see how silly that sounds?

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Jethro Tull – Big Speakers, Loud Levels and Plenty of Bass Work Their Magic

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Hot Stamper Pressings of British Blues Rock

It’s common for pressings of Stand Up to lack bass or highs, and more often than not the copies that we play in our shootouts, shootouts which are strictly limited to import pressings on Island or Chrysalis, lack both.

The bass-shy ones tend to be more transparent and open sounding — of course, that’s the sound you get when you take out the bass.

90-plus percent of all the audiophile stereos I’ve ever heard were bass shy, no doubt for precisely that very reason: less bass equals more detail, more openness and more transparency. Go to any stereo store or audiophile show and notice how bright the sound is. (Yet another good reason not to go to those shows. We stopped decades ago.)

Just what good is a British Classic Rock Record that lacks bass? It won’t rock, and if it don’t rock, who needs it? You might as well be playing the CD. (The average CD of Stand Up — I have a couple of them — is terrible, but the MoFi Gold CD is superb in all respects.)

The copies that lack extreme highs are often dull and thick, and usually have a smeary, blurry quality to their sound. When you can’t hear into the music, the music itself quickly becomes boring. Most Island pressings suffer from these shortcomings.

If I had to choose, I would take a copy that’s a little dull on top as long as it had a meaty, powerful, full-bodied sound over something that’s thinner and more leaned out. There are many audiophiles who can put up with that sound — I might go so far as to say the vast majority can — but I am not one of them.

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Letter of the Week – “I never owned a copy that had as much bottom end along with vocals that seem to jump out of my speakers.”

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Records that Sound Better on the Right Import Pressing 

Records that Sound Better on the Right Reissue Pressing

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

Hey Tom,   

Just a quick note to express my complete satisfaction with my latest purchase from Better Records.

I just received my copy of the WHS of Jethro Tull’s This Was LP. Needless to say, I have several copies of this album, both domestic and UK versions. One is a Pink Label UK which I purchased from you a while back.

I was so completely blown away at how much better this LP sounds. Both are great, but this one is simply unbelievable.
I never owned a copy that had as much bottom end along with vocals that seem to jump out of my speakers.

Thank you again for your work finding these superior copies of albums I never thought could sound this good!

Hope to purchase again soon,
Regards
D B

Dennis,

So glad you enjoyed this copy as much as we did, and you even had a Pink Label to play against it, a record not many audiophiles own.

Stand Up and Benefit are the same way, the original pressings are not the way to go, but try telling that to the average audiophile who only buys original pressings. They can read labels and they know which are the earliest ones, but they rarely have the equipment and the listening skills to know that the right reissues are CLEARLY better, something you heard right from the start I suspect.

Thanks for your business and enjoy your Hot Stampers. We’re thrilled to hear you are thrilled!

Best, TP


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Hot Stamper Testimonial Letters

Jethro Tull – This Was

More Jethro Tull

More British Blues Rock

thiswas

  • We’ve only had a handful of copies go up since 2013 – it’s tough to find these vintage UK pressings in clean condition with this kind of sound
  • Guaranteed to soundly trounce any Pink Label Island original you may have heard – these are the Hot Stampers and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it
  • Melody Maker thoroughly recommended the album in 1968 for being “full of excitement and emotion” and described the band as a blues ensemble “influenced by jazz music” capable of setting “the audience on fire.” Wikipedia
  • If you’re a fan of Ian and his band, this UK reissue originally recorded in 1968 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

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