Top Producers – Peter Asher

Listening in Depth to James Taylor’s Forgotten Classic – Mud Slide Slim

More of the Music of James Taylor

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of James Taylor

Mud Slide Slim is one of those albums that we think should be more popular with audiophiles, at least the ones looking for timeless music with top quality sound.

It has some of the man’s strongest material:

  • You’ve Got a Friend;
  • You Can Close Your Eyes;
  • Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox, and one of his best and most underrated,
  • Love Has Brought Me Around.

If you’ve got a top copy of the album, this song, the leadoff on side one, can really rock. It’s yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

Side One

Love Has Brought Me Around

One of my all-time favorite James Taylor tracks. When you get a good copy, this music comes ALIVE! This is not your typical sad sack, touchy feely James Taylor song. This song ROCKS!

You’ve Got a Friend

Listen to Carole King’s piano. On the best copies the transparency allows her playing to be heard clearly. Her style is unmistakable. (more…)

James Taylor – Energy Is Key to the Best Copies

More of the Music of James Taylor

More of Our Favorite Artists’ Best Sounding Albums

The good copies REALLY ROCK on songs like Honey Don’t Leave L.A. or I Was Only Telling A Lie, yet have lovely transparent, delicate sound on the ballads, songs such as Another Grey Morning or There We Are.

Just turn up the volume and play the opening to Honey Don’t Leave L.A. — this is James Taylor and his super tight studio band at the peak of their powers. Russ Kunkel hits the drum twice, then clicks his sticks together so quickly you can hardly notice it, then goes back to the drums for the rest of the intro. On a superb copy like this one, the subtleties of his performance are clearly on display.

Until copies like this one came along, we had never even noticed that stick trick. Now it’s the high point of the whole intro.

Sound Equals Music

As audiophiles, we all know that sound and music are inseparable. In our shootout, after dropping the needle on a dozen or so copies, all originals by the way, we 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’s supposed 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 of JT have it going on.

Val Garay is the man behind so many of our favorite recordings: JT (a Top 100 title), Simple Dreams (also a Top 100 title), Andrew Gold, Prisoner In Disguise, etc.

They all share his trademark super-punchy, jump-out-the-speakers, rich and smooth ANALOG sound.

With BIG drums — can’t forget those. (To be clear, only the best copies share it. Most copies only hint at it.)

I don’t think Mr Garay gets anything like his due with audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them. This is a shame; the guy makes Demo Disc Quality Pop Records about as good as those kinds of records can be made.

If you have a Big System that really rocks, you owe it to yourself to get to know his work. This is truly a KNOCKOUT disc if you have the equipment designed to play it.

We do, and it’s records like this that make the effort and expense of building a full-range dynamic system worthwhile.

taylojt_x20

The Best Later James Taylor Music

Musically this is one of Taylor’s best. Every track is at least 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 popular musicians 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.

NEWSFLASH

James Taylor’s first album is in stock as of 5/1/23

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Linda Ronstadt – Lush Life

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More Nelson Riddle

  • An outstanding copy of Ronstadt’s 1984 release with Double Plus (A++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Getting the strings to sound sweet and rosiny, not smeary and hard, is no mean feat, but it’s the kind of thing the better Hot Stamper pressings are guaranteed to give you on any of Linda’s American Songbook albums
  • “What’s New illustrated that Linda Ronstadt was no longer interested in contemporary pop, and since it was a surprise success, there was no reason not to repeat the formula on Lush Life. Working again with Nelson Riddle, Ronstadt runs through several pop standards — ‘When I Fall in Love,’ ‘Sophisticated Lady,’ ‘Falling in Love Again,’ ‘It Never Entered My Mind’…”

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Linda Ronstadt – Simple Dreams

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  • An original Asylum pressing with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Linda’s best sounding recording and a proud member of our Top 100 – this is the album that showed us she could do it all
  • Val Garay does it again, filling the grooves with his trademark super-punchy, jump-out-the-speakers, rich and smooth ANALOG sound
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…reconfirms [Rondstadt’s] substantial talents as an interpretive singer…and [her] powerful performance makes the record rival Heart Like a Wheel in sheer overall quality.”
  • If you’re a Linda Ronstadt fan, this undeniable classic from 1977 is surely a Must Own
  • Simple Dreams is our pick for Linda’s best sounding album. Roughly 150 other listings for the Best Recording by an Artist or Group can be found here.

This is clearly one of Linda’s best albums and I would have to say, based on my fairly extensive experience with her recorded output, that it is in fact the best sounding record she ever made. I love Heart Like a Wheel, but it sure doesn’t sound like this, not even on the Triple Plus copies that win our shootouts. (It is her best album, though.)

I confess to having never taken the album seriously, dismissing it as a commercial collection of pop hits with about as much depth as the L.A. River — but I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

This is a great sounding album on the right pressing, not the compressed piece of grainy cardboard we’ve all been playing for years, unaware of the tremendous sound quality lurking in the grooves of other copies; the ones that were blessed with the right stampers, the right vinyl and a healthy amount of fairy dust wafting over the press that day.

That’s what Hot Stamper shootouts are all about — finding those copies, the ones no one knows exist. (No one but us it seems; who else would think to put this album in their Top 100?)

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Listening in Depth to Heart Like a Wheel

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Linda Ronstadt

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

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, drums and singing in the background.

If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

Our In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

You’re No Good

Right from the git-go, if the opening drum and bass intro on this one doesn’t get your foot tapping, something definitely ain’t right. Check to make sure your stereo is working up to par with a record you know well. If it is, your copy of HLAW belongs on the reject pile along with the other 90% of the copies ever pressed.

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Amazing acoustic guitars! Lots of tubey magic for a mid-’70s pop album. And just listen to the breathy quality of Linda’s voice. She’s swimming in echo, but it’s a good kind of echo. Being able to hear so much of it tells you that your pressing is one of the few with tremendous transparency and high resolution.

Faithless Love

Another superb arrangement with excellent sound. The banjo that opens this track is key — the picking should have a very strong plucky quality, with lovely trailing harmonics, even some fret buzz.

So many copies are veiled or blunted sounding; this clearly demonstrates a lack of transient information.

The copies without the trailing harmonics lack resolution.

Once you hear either of these problems on the banjo, you can be sure to find them on the voices and guitars throughout the side.

That the Cisco pressing doesn’t do a very good job reproducing the banjo should be clear for all to hear. If you want the sound of the real thing, only the best Capitol pressings are going to be able to give it to you.

The Dark End of the Street

We love the meaty, dark and distorted guitars at the opening of this one — really sets the tone.

Side Two

When Will I Be Loved?

This presumptive Hit Single has lots of multi-tracked instruments crammed into its mix, a mix which is ready for radio and plenty processed and compressed to suit the Top 40 format. What that means for us audiophiles is not that the sound will be bad, rather that it will have a set of sonic characteristics common to most of the original pressings: a little grit, yes, that is to be expected, but what one hears more often than not is a murky, dark, muddy quality to the midrange.

It’s the rare copy that presents a breathy, present, clear Linda Ronstadt on this track. Which is why it’s a great test track for midrange presence. If this track sounds right you can be pretty sure that everything that follows will too (up to a point, naturally).

Willin’
I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)

This track has the lovely and talented Emmylou Harris on harmony vocal. Between her and Linda cthere is a great deal of midrange and upper midrange energy on this track which will tend to strain on most copies.

Is that strain the result of bad mastering? Bad pressing quality? Bad vinyl? Some combination of all three? No one can say, and what difference does it make anyway? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The proof of a good sounding side two is right there on track three. If there’s anything unnatural in the midrange, this song will not be a pleasant listening experience for you, dear reader.

Keep Me from Blowing Away

Linda’s voice here is sweet as honey. On the best copies this one should sound transparent and quite natural. Linda excels at this kind of song, but she stopped doing material like this soon after this album came out. That’s about the time I lost interest in her.

You Can Close Your Eyes

This is one of my all time favorite James Taylor songs. Linda does a lovely version of it here; a superb arrangement with sound to match. What a great ending for the album, with her old buddies The Eagles backing her up. It really takes you out on a high note.

Click on this link to the Classic Tracks entry for the album to read about it in real depth.

This record is good for testing a number of very important aspects of the sound of the copies we play in our shootouts.  The links below will take you to other records that are good for testing these qualities, or lack thereof, as the case may be.

More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain 

More Records that Are Good for Testing Midrange Presence 

More Records that Are Good for Testing Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars

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James Taylor – This Copy Rocked Like No Other

More of the Music of James Taylor

Reviews and Commentaries for Mud Slide Slim

This Shootout Winning copy from 2008 or thereabouts showed us a Mud Slide Slim we had no idea could possibly exist. We have a name for records like this. We call them Breakthrough Pressings. They are one of the reasons we play so many thousands of records every year. We’re looking for records that sound like this. Experience has taught us they cannot be found any other way. 

As you will see from our commentary, the first track on side one, Love Has Brought Me Around, is a great test for energy.

If your copy does not seem very energetic to you, then we recommend you keep buying every green label original you see until you find one that does.

Our commentary from the early days of shootouts can be seen below.

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Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel

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More Women Who Rock

  • With two outstanding sides, this vintage Capital pressing was giving us the sound we were looking for on Linda Ronstadt’s Best Album
  • “You’re No Good” was the hit but “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “Faithless Love” and “The Dark End of the Street” are every bit as good – and that’s just side one!
  • A Must Own Classic, the best album Ms Ronstadt ever made, and a True Country Rock Masterpiece practically without peer
  • 5 stars: “What really makes HLAW a breakthrough is the inventive arrangements that producer Peter Asher, Ronstadt, and the studio musicians have developed. …[they] help turn Heart Like a Wheel into a veritable catalog of Californian soft rock, and it stands as a landmark of ’70s mainstream pop/rock.”
  • If you’re a Country Rock fan, then Linda’s Masterpiece from 1974 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

I’ve been playing HLAW since the year it came out, roughly 48 years by my calculation, and I can tell you it is no easy task to find this kind of smooth, sweet, analog sound on the album. Folks, we heard it for ourselves: the Heart Like A Wheel magic is here on practically every song.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold‘s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing.

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Listening in Depth to JT

More of the Music of James Taylor

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

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’ 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 [not true, we did the shootout in 2022], 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 plenty of it.

Side One

Your Smiling Face

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

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James Taylor – Another Good Conga Tester Title

More of the Music of James Taylor

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of James Taylor

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 other, more subtle cues to separate the White Hots from the Supers and Hots, but if the sound doesn’t come to life right from the get go, it never will.

This reminded me of another record that can be judged by the jump-out-the-speaker energy of it congas, Teaser and the Firecat. An excerpt:

The congas are what drive the high-energy songs, songs like Tuesday’s Dead and Changes IV.

Here is how we stumbled upon their critically important contribution.

We were listening to one of the better copies during a recent shootout. The first track on side one, The Wind, was especially gorgeous; Cat and his acoustic guitar were right there in the room with us. The transparency, tonal neutrality, presence and all the rest were just superb. Then came time to move to the other test track on side one, which is Changes IV, one of the higher energy songs we like to play.

But the energy we expected to hear was nowhere to be found. The powerful rhythmic drive of the best copies of the album just wasn’t happening. The more we listened the more it became clear that the congas were not doing what they normally do. The midbass to lower midrange area of the LP lacked energy, weight and power, and this prevented the song from coming to LIFE the way the truly Hot Stamper pressings do.

The sound of the congas on many of the records we audition is a good test for some of the most important qualities we listen for: energy, rhythmic drive, presence and weight.

Congas, like drums and pianos, are good for testing records. If these instruments get lost in the mix, or sound smeary or thin, it’s usually fairly easy to hear those problems if you are listening for them. Most of what you will read on this blog is dedicated to helping you do that.

The richness of analog is where much of its appeal lies. Lean congas and pianos are what you more often than not get with CDs.

All three of these instruments are also exceptionally good for helping you to choose what kind of speakers to buy. (We recommend big ones with dynamic drivers.)

Warner Bros. House Sound

One Man Dog, like many early WB pressings, has a tendency to be dull and opaque. (Most side twos have a real problem in that respect.) When you get a good one, with more of an extended top end, it tends to come with much more space, size, texture, transparency, ambience and openness.

Of course it does; that’s where a lot of that stuff is, up high.


Which of these copies has Hot Stampers?  That’s easy – just check the notes!

Of course this is far too many copies to have in one shootout, so some quick and dirty triage is the only way to get this group down to a manageable number, typically ten to twelve.


Rolling Stone Review (excerpts)

By Jon Landau

January 18, 1973

By recording in his house, he seems to have gotten a freer instrumental sound than before, although Russ Kunkel’s drums regrettably lack the depth of tone found on earlier recordings. As if by compensation, either Danny Kortchmar is finally coming into his own with his jazz-soul-folk-rock guitar playing or I’m just hearing him better. More importantly, Taylor turns in his best singing performance, running through the songs with fire, force, and enthusiasm, the qualities most notable by their absence on earlier recordings.

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James Taylor / Mud Slide Slim

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Mud Slide Slim

  • A wonderful 2-pack of JT’s classic followup to Sweet Baby James that boasts STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side two of the second disc and outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on side one of the first disc
  • These early WB Green Label pressings demonstrate the Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records almost never reproduce
  • Some of old JT’s strongest material: “You’ve Got a Friend,” “You Can Close Your Eyes,” “Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox” and more
  • 4 stars on Allmusic – it destroys the recent reissue, which lacks the texture and warmth you get in abundance on these killer originals
  • If you’re a James Taylor fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1971 is clearly one of his best
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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