Top Artists – Ry Cooder

Ry Cooder – Self-Titled

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this vintage Reprise pressing of Cooder’s debut album from 1970 – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • If you want to hear the brilliant Lee Herschberg’s All Analog Recording skills brought to bear on so many different instruments serving an assortment of sonic textures, this is the copy that will let you do it
  • 4 stars: “Cooder’s debut creates an intriguing fusion of blues, folk, rock & roll, and pop, filtered through his own intricate, syncopated guitar; Van Dyke Parks and Lenny Waronker’s idiosyncratic production… Cooder puts this unique blend across with a combination of terrific songs, virtuosic playing, and quirky, yet imaginative, arrangements.”

The music reminds me a lot of early Little Feat, which is a good thing. The sound is somewhat similar as well, which is to say that it is natural and musical, nothing like the hyped-up hi-fi sound of his TAS-listed album Jazz — and that’s a good thing as well.

There are some great songs here, including My Old Kentucky Home, One Meat Ball and How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live. It may even be his best album. (more…)

Ry Cooder / Jazz

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  • With two nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this copy is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner
  • These are the stampers that always win our shootouts, and when you hear them you will know why – the sound is big, rich and clear
  • “The complexity of the material on Jazz, as well as the arrangements by Joseph Byrd, dictate that this is Cooder’s most polished and orchestrated effort to date.” — Allmusic

We’re big fans of Ry Cooder here at Better Records, and it’s always fun to hear the eccentric instruments and arrangements he and his cohorts cook up. Of course, it’s even more fun when you have a great sounding pressing like this one that lets you hear what the musicians were up to. (more…)

Ry Cooder – Paradise and Lunch

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  • You’ll feel like you are right in the studio with Ry and his top-notch crew as they kick out the jams, the sound is so present, rich, full-bodied and transparent
  • I can’t think of another Ry Cooder album with such consistently good material, or better sound
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Like his three previous records, Paradise and Lunch is filled with treasures which become part of a world where eras and styles converge without ever sounding forced or contrived… Eclectic, intelligent, and thoroughly entertaining, Paradise and Lunch remains Ry Cooder’s masterpiece.”

Ry and his pals have plenty of interesting and unusual ideas to bring to the consistently good material found on the album, so there’s a lot here for audiophiles to appreciate.

Take for example the version of Burt Bacharach’s song Mexican Divorce. You’ve got timbales in the left channel, a conga in the right channel, a marimba somewhere in the background, and for good measure, a wonderful sounding mandolin takes center stage!

But the variety of instruments alone are not what makes it so enjoyable. It’s that Cooder has a knack for knowing exactly what elements will work musically in a song. Anyone can find a few exotic elements and throw them together, but our man Ry has the good sense to use only the ideas and instruments that sound just right. It’s why Jazz, Chicken Skin Music, and even Buena Vista Social Club are all such successful albums. Plenty of people could do these things, but only Ry could do them this well.

This vintage Reprise 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 outstanding sides such as these 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 1974
    • 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.

We played a stack of these recently, and wouldn’t you know it, they all sound different. The better copies (like this one) are transparent, with a three-dimensional soundfield. You’ll be shocked at how big, wide, and deep the sound gets.

As mentioned above, there’s a lot going on with these songs, so it really kicks up the enjoyment factor when you can hear INTO the music.

What We Listen For on Paradise and Lunch

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Lee Herschberg, Engineer Extraordinaire

One of the top guys at Warners, Lee recorded and mixed this album (with the help of other engineers) as well as a number of others by Ry Cooder. You’ll also find his name in the credits for many of the best releases by the Doobie Brothers, Gordon Lightfoot and Frank Sinatra, albums we know to have outstanding sound (potentially anyway; you have to have an outstanding pressing to hear outstanding sound). And of course we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the album most audiophiles know all too well, Rickie Lee Jones’ debut. Herschberg’s pop and rock engineering credits run for pages. Won the Grammy for Strangers in the Night even.

The album that gets my vote for Herschberg’s Pop Engineering Masterpiece would have to be Michael McDonald’s If That’s What It Takes. On the best copies the sound is out of this world.

The most amazing jazz piano trio recording we know of is Herschberg’s as well: The Three (with Shelly Manne, Ray Brown and Joe Sample).

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Tamp ‘Em up Solid 
Tattler 
A Married Man’s a Fool 
Jesus on the Mainline 
It’s All Over Now

Side Two

Medley: Fool for a Cigarette/Feelin’ Good 
If Walls Could Talk 
Mexican Divorce 
Ditty Wah Ditty

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

Like his three previous records, Paradise and Lunch is filled with treasures which become part of a world where eras and styles converge without ever sounding forced or contrived. One may think that an album that contains a traditional railroad song, tunes by assorted blues greats, and a Negro spiritual alongside selections by the likes of Bobby Womack, Burt Bacharach, and Little Milton may lack cohesiveness or merely come across as a history lesson, but to Cooder this music is all part of the same fabric and is as relevant and accessible as anything else that may be happening at the time… Eclectic, intelligent, and thoroughly entertaining, Paradise and Lunch remains Ry Cooder’s masterpiece.

Ry Cooder / Jazz – Transparency Is Key

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The best copies realistically convey the live-in-the-studio quality of the sound. This is a tight ensemble working at the top of their game, no surprise there; Ry surrounds himself with nothing but the best.

But the better copies have such amazingly transparent sound you can’t help feeling as though you really are in the presence of live human beings You really get the sense of actual fingers plucking those guitar strings. You hear mouths blowing air through horns and woodwinds. (more…)

Ry Cooder – Into the Purple Valley – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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TUBEY MAGICAL A+++ MASTER TAPE SOUND (and relatively quiet vinyl) ON BOTH SIDES. All of the elements you could ask for from this kind of music are here: superb clarity; amazing richness and warmth; correct tonality; serious energy and immediacy; texture to the vocals and so on. I don’t think you could do anything to these songs to make them sound any better.

We’ve become pretty big Ry Cooder fans here at Better Records, and an amazing pressing like this one will show you exactly why. We played a big stack of these this week, and you’re going to have a very difficult time finding a copy that can keep up with this one!

This copy was Right On The Money from top to bottom and from start to finish. It’s got the kind of presence and energy needed to bring these old songs to life. Most copies we played suffered from an overly clean quality, lacking richness and warmth almost entirely. Not this one though — it’s full of that old analog tubey magic, the kind that keeps guys like you and me digging in bins and spinning dusty old records instead of going digital.

There’s A Good Reason Audiophiles Love Ry

Ry’s music holds special appeal to us audiophiles, as he’s always throwing instruments into the mix that you hardly ever hear on your standard rock album. I wish I could tell you everything he plays on this album, but I’d just be guessing if I tried. (Wikipedia credits him for guitar, bass, and mandolin, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that there’s more to it than that.) This I can tell you — when the man picks up an instrument, he can sure play the heck out of it, and it’s an audiophile’s treat to hear how naturally he incorporates these sounds into his songs. (more…)

Ry Cooder – Chicken Skin Music – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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Side two of this Reprise pressing is OUT OF THIS WORLD. From the moment the needle hit the groove we were blown away by the huge soundfield, the unbelievable presence and the massive amount of energy. It sounded like Ry and his crew were right there in the room with us, playing their hearts out. The two tracks featuring Hawaiian musicians (steel guitarist and singer Gabby Pahinui and slack key guitar master Atta Isaacs) are both on side two and they sound AMAZING on this copy. (more…)

Ry Cooder / Jazz – MoFi Adds Plenty of Sparkle to these Acoustic Guitars

Sonic Grade: D

As you probably know, the MoFi of Jazz goes for big bucks nowadays — $500 and up. Is it worth it? 

Are you kidding? It’s a nice record as far as it goes, but it suffers from the same shortcomings as just about every Mobile Fidelity pressing we take the time to play these days (with some obvious exceptions of course). We have a test pressing, and knowing that the MoFi is the standard against which many audiophiles would prefer to judge our Hot Stampers, we listened to it first before going about our comparison test.

Our MoFi copy is actually tonally correct, which was a bit of a surprise. (Yours of course could very well be otherwise.) Right away we could hear exactly what people like about it, the same thing that audiophiles have always liked about half-speeds: their amazing transparency. Jazz on MoFi has zero-distortion, utterly clear, spacious, see-through sound.

But listen past that and what do you hear. Don’t those guitars seem to have that MoFi Tea-for-the-Tillerman-like quality you hate: all pluck and no body, all detail and no substance? Nothing has any weight. Nothing has any solidity. Nothing has any real life. It’s pretty, but it ain’t right. It’s the kind of sound that shouts out to the world “Hey, look at me, I’m an audiophile record! See how I sound? Clear and sparkling clean.”

Which isn’t bad for about two minutes, and then it’s insufferable.

Ry Cooder – Boomer’s Story – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

This is a QUIET Reprise Tan Label LP with a good side one and a GREAT side two. It’s not the best copy we’ve ever heard but it’s a step up from most of what’s out there. Side two is very natural and incredibly clean. The presence is wonderful, the top end is sweet, and the transparency is top-notch. Side one is similar but a bit smooth for our tastes.

We’re big Ry Cooder fans here at Better Records, and this is one of our favorites. Make sure to check out the lovely reading of Dark End Of The Street that opens side two. (more…)

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Safe as Milk – Reviewed in 2007

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This very nice looking Buddha reissue LP is not an audiophile recording, but of course it was never meant to be one. It reminds me quite a bit of Frank Zappa’s first album ’Freak Out.’ This copy sounds as good as any copy we’ve ever played.

And it was produced by Richard Perry way back in ’67! (more…)

Ry Cooder / Jazz – Was This Really a TAS List Superdisc?

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The typical pressing of this record doesn’t even hint at how magical this album can sound. If your copy isn’t exceptionally full-bodied, rich, and sweet, you can bet that it will sound edgy and irritating with the kind of repeated listenings required to fully appreciate and enjoy this music.

THE TAS LIST

There’s a reason this record is on the TAS list, but you’d never know it by playing the average Warner Brothers pressing. Most copies of this record just sound like an old record. You would never even know how magical this recording is by playing a copy that, for all intents and purposes, appears to be the pressing Harry Pearson is recommending on his Super Disc list.

The catalog number is the same, the sound is not. Unless you have at least a dozen copies of this record you have very little chance of finding even one exceptional side.

This has always been the problem with the TAS list. The pressing variations on a record like this are HUGE and DRAMATIC. There is a world of difference between this copy and what the typical audiophile owns based on HP’s list. I’ve been complaining for years that the catalog number that Harry supplies has very little benefit to the typical audiophile record lover.

Without at least the right stampers, the amount of work required to find a copy that deserves a Super Disc ranking is daunting, requiring the kind of time and effort that few audiophiles could ever devote to such a difficult and frustrating project.

Transparency Is Key

The best copies realistically convey the live-in-the-studio quality of the music. This is a tight ensemble working at the top of their game, no surprise there; Ry surrounds himself with nothing but the best.

But the better copies have such amazingly transparent sound you can’t help feeling as though you really are in the presence of live human beings You really get the sense of actual fingers plucking those guitar strings. You hear mouths blowing air through horns and woodwinds.

These are sounds that most recordings pretend to capture, and like hypnotist’s subjects, we go along for the ride. This recording has the potential to actually bring forth that living, breathing musician sound, no imagination required.