Top Engineers – Martin Birch

Fleetwood Mac / Bare Trees – Listening in Depth

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Reviews and Commentaries for Fleetwood Mac

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Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Bare Trees. Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Child of Mine

A real rocker from Danny Kirwan. If the electric piano is rich on your copy and you have some top end and space you are probably off to a very good start.

The Ghost
Homeward Bound
Sunny Side of Heaven

A wonderfully poignant, even melancholy instrumental track by Bob Welch. Not sure if that’s him on guitar but the playing is beautiful. The high point of side one.

Side Two

This is where most of the best music on Bare Trees can be found. We like every song on this side.

Bare Trees

If this song doesn’t get your blood pumping, you need to turn up the volume another click or two. There is tremendous energy and joy in this song, and it needs to be played loud to get those feelings across.

Sentimental Lady
Danny’s Chant
Spare Me a Little of Your Love

This is a tough track to get right. The Brit is smoother and sweeter, which works on this song. Bad copies can sound hard on Christine’s vocals as well as the chorus.

Dust

One of my all time favorite Fleetwood Mac songs. On a good copy this track sounds so sweet. The texture to the voices is right on the money — neither grainy nor dull.

Thoughts on a Grey Day (more…)

The Fleetwood Mac You Don’t Know – Kiln House

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Kiln House is one of the all-time great Fleetwood Mac albums. It’s the first they recorded after Peter Green left. With Green gone, Jeremy Spencer’s influence came to the fore. He was apparently quite a fan of Buddy Holly. His songs are straightforward and unerringly melodic.

The co-leader here is Danny Kirwan and he rocks the hell out of this album. Three of the best songs the band ever did, regardless of incarnation, are here: Tell Me All The Things You Do, Station Man and Jewel Eyed Judy, all written by Kirwan (with the help of others). His guitar work on these three songs is blistering.

Any Fleetwood Mac greatest hits collection would be a joke without these tracks. Of course they are consistently missing from all such compilations, at least the ones with which I am familiar. The sad fact is that few people miss them because few people have ever heard them.

And Let’s Not Forget Christine McVie

It’s amazing to realize that this album was made by just four guys. Actually that’s not true. Christine McVie (known as Christine Perfect at the time) not only did the lovely artwork for the cover, but she sings uncredited background vocals on some of the songs. Her contribution to Station Man is especially lovely. She would officially join the band on their next album, a personal favorite of mine, Future Games. (more…)

Deep Purple / Made In Japan – Right at the Top of the List of Great Sounding Live Albums

More Live Recordings of Interest

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Machine Head Live? That would not be far off, and the fact they brought Martin Birch along with them all the way to Japan in order to engineer a live album that was only supposed to sell to the Japanese market (!) could not have been more fortuitous for us audiophiles.

Machine Head is clearly one of the best sounding hard rock records ever made, and Made In Japan, its successor, sounds more like a top quality studio production than any live album I’ve ever heard. It’s shocking how clean and undistorted the sound is. Equally shocking is the fact that it’s every bit as big and lively as a Hard Rockin’ Live Album should be.

This is a combination the likes of which we have never heard.

We’ve raved about a number of live albums over the years. Some of the better sounding ones that come readily to mind (in alphabetical order) are

  • The Band Rock of Ages,
  • Belafonte at Carnegie Hall,
  • David Live,
  • Johnny Cash At San Quentin,
  • Cheap Trick at Budokan
  • Eric Clapton Just One Night
  • Deep Purple Made in Japan,
  • Donny Hathaway Live,
  • The Jimi Hendrix Concerts,
  • Performance – Rockin The Fillmore,
  • Live Wire – Blues Power,
  • Waiting For Columbus,
  • Lou Rawls Live!
  • Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out and
  • Live at Leeds

I would be proud to have any of them in my collection. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Future Games

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Future Games you’ve heard
  • You’ll find HUGE sound on this copy – it’s big, bold and lively – this is clearly the right sound for Future Games
  • Fleetwood Mac practically invented Space Rock, which reached its apotheosis in 1973 on Mystery to Me (my favorite by the band)
  • A criminally underrated album unlike anything you’ve heard and a Better Records favorite for more than 40 years
  • It’s also a record that has disappeared off the face of the earth – we would love to do more shootouts for the album, but we just never see them anymore (more…)

Deep Purple – Made In Japan

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More Recordings Engineered by Martin Birch

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Want to find your own shootout winner? Scroll to the bottom to see our advice on doing just that.

  • This outstanding UK pressing earned solid Double Plus (A++) grades for sound or BETTER on all four sides 
  • Surprisingly clean, undistorted sound for a live album, yet every bit as big and lively as a Hard Rockin’ Live Album should be
  • In terms of Tubey Magic, richness and naturalness, Made In Japan might just be The Best Sounding Live Album of All Time
  • Rolling Stone: “They’ve done countless shows since in countless permutations, but they’ve never sounded quite this perfect.”

Having just played a stack of copies of Made In Japan I’d put the album right up there with the best of the best. In terms of Tubey Magic, richness and naturalness — qualities that are usually in very short supply on live albums — I would have to say that the shootout winning copies of Made In Japan would be very likely to take Top Honors for Best Sounding Live Album of All Time.

Yes, the sound is that good.

Machine Head Live? That would not be far off, and the fact they brought Martin Birch along with them all the way to Japan in order to engineer a live album that was only supposed to sell to the Japanese market (!) could not have been more fortuitous for us audiophiles. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac – Penguin

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  • This early Reprise LP is a huge step up from most – this copy is full-bodied, smooth and musical – classic Fleetwood Mac sound
  • One of my favorite songs on the album is one of Christine McVie’s best from this period, Did You Ever Love Me – on this pressing it’s rich and sweet exactly the way it should be
  • “Fleetwood Mac’s first album made after the departure of Danny Kirwan features the additions of guitarist Bob Weston and singer Dave Walker… This album gave Fleetwood Mac its best U.S. chart showing yet…”

On the best pressings, the sound is positively JUMPING out of the speakers in a way that is completely unexpected. We often talk about the size of the soundfield on a particular pressing, side to side, bottom to top, and even more often about the energy found on one copy relative to another. On side one of this copy, we were surprised by a Penguin that was bigger and more energetic than most of the pressings we heard in our shootout.

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 the Best Sides of Penguin 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 1973
  • 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.

Size and Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation.

Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have ever gotten to hear a copy that sounded that open and clear. And how many even dedicated audiophiles would have more than one of two clean British original copies with which to do a shootout? These records are expensive and hard to come by in good shape. Believe us, we know whereof we speak when it comes to getting hold of top quality pressings of Classic Rock albums.

One further point needs to be made: most of the time these very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy do what this copy can, it’s an entirely different – and dare I say unforgettable — listening experience.

What We’re Listening For on Penguin

  • 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.

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 recordings.

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

Remember Me 
Bright Fire 
Dissatisfied 
(I’m A) Road Runner

Side Two

The Derelict 
Revelation 
Did You Ever Love Me 
Night Watch 
Caught in the Rain

AMG Review

Fleetwood Mac’s first album made after the departure of Danny Kirwan features the additions of guitarist Bob Weston and singer Dave Walker. By now Bob Welch and Christine McVie were the dominant forces in the band, and all traces of blues-rock were gone, replaced by Welch’s hypnotic melodies and McVie’s romantic sentiments married to uptempo pop tunes. This album gave Fleetwood Mac its best U.S. chart showing yet, but the wonder is that this phase in the band’s career wasn’t even more popular.

Fleetwood Mac – Bare Trees

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Reviews and Commentaries for Fleetwood Mac

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  • It’s the impossibly rare copy that’s this lively, solid and rich… drop the needle on the title track and you’ll see what we mean
  • “Arguably the first consistently strong album Fleetwood Mac ever recorded [not true, Kiln House is] … 1972’s Bare Trees is also the album where the band finally defines its post-blues musical personality.”

This period of Fleetwood Mac, from Kiln House (1970) through Mystery to Me (1973) — both are albums I would put at the top of my list to take to my Desert Island — has always been my favorite of the band. I grew up on this stuff, and I can tell you from personal experience that it is a positive THRILL to hear it sound so good!

Until not that many years ago we simply were not able to successfully shootout Bare Trees, Fleetwood Mac’s wonderful album from 1972. The pressings we were playing just didn’t sound very much like Hot Stampers to us. British, German, Japanese, domestic originals, domestic reissues; all of them left much too much to be desired.

Thankfully we can tell you that the best copies sound a whole lot better now than they did then. (more…)

Deep Purple – Mark I & II – Reviewed in 2009

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

This is a Minty looking EMI Import Double LP. It’s a compilation with a single LP dedicated to each era of the band’s early history. As with any compilation some tracks sound better than others here but don’t let the German sourced tapes scare you. These sound like really high quality tapes, close to, if not the actual, master tapes.

The second LP features the most recognizable and probably best lineup (Mark II) the band ever had, with songs such as Black Knight, Speed King, Smoke on the Water and Highway star, to name but a few. 

Fleetwood Mac / Mystery To Me – Whomp Factor on “Why”

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Reviews and Commentaries for Fleetwood Mac

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That bass drum tells you a lot about your deep bass reproduction, but we prize a little something called whomp here at Better Records every bit as much. It’s the WEIGHT and POWER you sense happening down below that translates into whomp factor. (This is the frequency area that screens and small dynamic drivers have the most trouble with. You need to be able to move lots of air under, say, 200 cycles to give the music a sense of real power down below. Few systems I’ve run into over the last thirty years can really pull it off.) 

That bass drum tells you a lot about your deep bass reproduction, but we prize a little something called whomp here at Better Records every bit as much. It’s the WEIGHT and POWER you sense happening down below that translates into whomp factor.

“Why”

Speaking of the song “Why,” I have to confess that it’s my favorite Fleetwood Mac song of all time. Considering how many great songs this band has recorded over the last thirty plus years, that’s really saying something. (“Need Your Love So Bad” off Pious Bird is right up there with it.) (more…)

The Faces / Long Player – Their Best Sounding Album – Best Music Too

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WA distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

We knew this album could sound good, but back in the day we sure didn’t know it could sound like this. The best pressings of this album have amazing live-in-the-studio sound that conveys completely the raw power of one of the hardest rockin’ bands of all time. 

Both musically and sonically I don’t think the group ever recorded a better album than this one.

Take the wonderful Bad ‘N’ Ruin (the opening track on side one) for example. It’s the sound of open mics in a big studio space — nothing more, nothing less. It’s totally free from any phony mastering or bad EQ, and on a Hot Stamper copy like this one, it’s absolute magic.

MARTIN BIRCH was the engineer for the first two tracks on side one. You may know him from his work with Fleetwood Mac (1969-1973) and Deep Purple (1969-1977), including the amazingly well-recorded albums Machine Head and Made In Japan. (more…)