Top Engineers – Lee Herschberg

Ry Cooder / Jazz

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ry Cooder

  • 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
  • If you’re a fan of Ry Cooder’s, this classic from 1978 belongs in your collection.

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…)

Rickie Lee Jones – Self-Titled

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Reviews and Commentaries for Rickie Lee Jones’ First Album

  • Exceptionally present, real and resolving, this pressing is guaranteed to murder any remastering undertaken by anyone, past, present and future
  • The superbly talented musicians and engineers deserve much of the credit for making this album a Grammy Winning Must Own Audiophile Favorite
  • 4 stars: “One of the most impressive debuts for a singer/songwriter ever, this infectious mixture of styles not only features a strong collection of original songs but also a singer with a savvy, distinctive voice that can be streetwise, childlike, and sophisticated, sometimes all in the same song.”
  • Another Must Own Title from 1979. Other recommended titles from 1979 can be found here.

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Listening in Depth to Rickie Lee Jones

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

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

On the best of the Hot Stamper copies it becomes abundantly clear just how well the string bass was recorded — assuming you like the close-miked, maximum-presence quality they were after. You hear all the fingering, the wood of the body resonating; all the stuff you could never hear live unless you were ten feet from the guy. Natural it’s not, but natural is not what most hit records are all about anyway.

Credit — or blame — belongs squarely with LEE HERSCHBERG.  There’s no question that he knew exactly what he was doing, he’s the pro’s pro, so let’s give him credit for making the sound of the record really POP. (more…)

Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington – Francis A. & Edward K.

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  • Sinatra is both natural and present – he actually sounds like he is standing on the same stage as Ellington’s band
  • “Recorded on Sinatra’s birthday in 1967, this collaboration between America’s most popular singing icon and pre-eminent jazz composer still endures as one of Sinatra’s most enjoyable Reprise-era albums.” – Amazon

Recorded one year after the remarkable Sinatra-Jobim record that we treasure here at Better Records, Sinatra takes the opportunity to work with one of the greatest bandleaders in the history of jazz, the Duke himself. We had good luck with the stereo originals on the lovely Blue and Green Reprise labels — they can be as big, rich and warm as Sinatra’s legendary Capitol recordings when you find the right pressing, and that’s really saying something.

You Are There

The presence and immediacy here are really something. Turn it up and Frank is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime.

The sound is big, open, rich and full. The highs are extended and silky sweet. The bass is tight and punchy. And this copy gives you more life and energy than most by a long shot. Very few Sinatra records offer the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing.

He’s no longer a recording — he’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. His voice is so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you. (more…)

Michael McDonald / If That’s What It Takes – A Masterpiece of Blue-Eyed Soul

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  • One of the All Time Great Jeff Porcaro Drum Exhibition Records (with the equally amazing Steve Gadd handling the other tracks)
  • Some of the best Pop Rock engineering of all time, courtesy of Lee Herschberg and Donn Landee
  • 4 1/2 stars on Allmusic – more importantly, this is a dramatically better album than anything the Doobies ever released

I’m proud to count Michael McDonald among my favorite recording artists. He made this Desert Island Disc and single-handedly turned the Doobie Brothers into a band I could enjoy and even respect. This is a Must Own if you like the later Doobies and the kind of highly-polished but heartfelt and intelligent pop records the major labels excelled at in the ’70s.

With the right pressing the highs open up and his vocals JUMP out of the speakers. He’s RIGHT THERE. The next step is to check to see if you have punchy, well-defined bass, a key element in this rhythmically complex music. With plenty of presence in the vocals and punch down below, you have a copy that can hold its head high, with sound that really brings this music to life. (more…)

Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant

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  • This superb original stereo pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides of Arlo Guthrie’s classic debut – unusually quiet vinyl too
  • These rare, original Tri-Color Reprise pressings are practically impossible to find with surfaces this quiet, but we found this one, don’t ask me how
  • The 18 minute plus title song sounds wonderful here – natural, Tubey Magical, and tonally correct, as befits any top quality vintage pressing, especially one with Lee Herschberg handling the engineering duties
  • 4 stars: “… provide[s] an insight into his uniformly outstanding — yet astoundingly overlooked — early sides on Warner Bros.”

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Ry Cooder – Self-Titled

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More Debut Albums of Interest

  • 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…)

James Taylor – Gorilla

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More Personal Favorites

  • 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…)

Rickie Lee Jones on Rhino Heavy Vinyl – Not Our Idea of Good Sound, and We Hope Not Yours

Sonic Grade: C

We were fairly unimpressed with the Rickie Lee Jones on Warners that came out a few years back. It has that phony Modern Mastering sound we find so unappealing on the Rhino reissue of 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. Hey, play The Blue Game and maybe you’ll see why.)

We liked the new Sweet Baby James Hoffman and Gray cut. We note in our review that “Hoffman and Gray can take pride in this Sweet Baby James. It’s some of the best work I’ve heard from them to date. If more DCC and Heavy Vinyl reissues sounded like this, we wouldn’t be so critical of them. Unfortunately they don’t, and there are scores of pages of commentary on the site to back up that statement for those of you interested in the subject.”

We went on to say “The amazing transparency and dynamic energy of the best originals will probably never be equaled by an audiophile pressing like this. (It hasn’t happened yet and we remain skeptical of the possibility.) Considering that this pressing is sure to beat most reissues, imports and such like, we have no problem heartily recommending it to our customers, especially at the price.”

So, What’s Wrong With Rickie Lee?

Simple. They took a somewhat artificial, hi-fi-ish, close-miked, heavy-on-the-reverb recording and made it sound even more artificial, phony and hi-fi-ish (but less-heavy-on-the-reverb; there is always a noticeable loss of resolution in these modern mastering jobs). What were they thinking?

The best copies have warmth, richness and sweetness to balance out the more unnatural elements in the recording. Copies with these qualities are few and far between but we have run across them in our shootouts and proudly put them up, where of course they sold quickly for lots of money. Major league audiophile appeal, this one. In its day it was heavily demo’ed in every stereo store in town, and for good reason — the sound positively jumps out of the speakers. (more…)

The Doobie Brothers – What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits

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  • A superb pressing with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from top to bottom – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Forget the cardboardy reissues and whatever crappy Heavy Vinyl pressing they’re making now – if you want to hear all the Tubey Magic and energy of these recordings, you need a vintage Hot Stamper pressing like this one
  • Black Water was the big hit on their breakthrough fourth album, and it sounds wonderful here – Eyes of Silver and Another Park, Another Sunday are killer too
  • “The Doobies team up with the Memphis Horns for an even more Southern-flavored album than usual…”

These songs sound every bit as good now as they did thirty-plus years ago when they came out. Better, because we can clean these old records and play them so much better than we could back then. I’ll be the first to admit that back in the day I was a bit of a snob when it came to bands like this. Too mainstream. Too radio-friendly.

Now I realize that the best of this kind of pop rock has stood the test of time very well. One listen and we think you’ll agree: this is good music that belongs in your collection. (more…)