Top Producers – Peter Asher

James Taylor – JT

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  • It’s a superb recording – a member of our Top 100, in fact – but it takes a pressing like this to show you just how BIG and LIVELY it can sound
  • This and Sweet Baby James are the man’s best recordings, and his best albums too, but he has so many great albums that it almost seems unfair to him to point that out
  • The big hits Your Smiling Face and Handy Man both sound great here – thanks Val Garay!
  • 4 stars: “JT was James Taylor’s best album since Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon because it acknowledged the darkness of his earlier work while explaining the deliberate lightness of his current viewpoint, and because it was his most consistent collection in years.”

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James Taylor / One Man Dog – Watch Out for Bass Blockage

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Reviews and Commentaries for One Man Dog

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Play Chili Dog here, one of our favorite tracks, and note not only the clarity and spaciousness, but the PUNCH and LIFE of the music. This song is supposed to be fun. The average somewhat compressed and dull copy only hints at that fact.

Then skip on down to the hit at the end of the side, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, another favorite track for testing.

There’s a lot of bass in the mix on this track, but the best copies keep it under control.

When it gets loose and starts blurring the midrange, the vocals and guitars seem “blocked.” The best copies let you hear all that meaty bass, as well as letting you hear into the midrange too. (more…)

James Taylor / One Man Dog – A Personal Favorite and Forgotten Gem

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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.

  • KILLER sound throughout with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • Big, rich and solid on both sides, with an especially relaxed, musical quality – it also has the transparency and clarity that most of the copies we played could not offer
  • There is not a false note to be found on side one: it’s brilliant from start to finish and side two is almost as good – we love the Abbey Road-like medley that makes up most of it
  • “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.” Rolling Stone

Play Chili Dog here, one of our favorite tracks, and note not only the clarity and spaciousness, but the PUNCH and LIFE of the music. This song is supposed to be fun. The average compressed dull copy only hints at that fact.

Then skip on down to the hit at the end of the side, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, another favorite track for testing. There’s a lot of bass in the mix on this track, but the best copies keep it under control. When it gets loose and starts blurring the midrange, the vocals and guitars seem “blocked”. The best copies let you hear all that meaty bass, as well as into the midrange.

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 one like this, 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 much of that stuff is, up high. Most copies don’t have nearly enough of it, but thankfully this one does.

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this recording. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and especially from modern remasterings). (more…)

James Taylor / One Man Dog – Quick Listening Tests

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Reviews and Commentaries for One Man Dog

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 subtle cues to separate the White Hot copies from the merely Hot, but if the sound doesn’t come to life right from the get go, it never will.

Side Two Has Bells

The first track is a bit dull on even the best copies, so don’t lose hope if your first track sounds rolled off. They almost all do. One Morning in May, the second track and the one featuring Linda Ronstadt on background vocals, is a much better test, as is track three, Instrumental II, the one with the lovely bells.

We paid a lot of attention to the bells on Instrumental II to help us get a handle on the top end. Sure enough, those bells are key to the best copies.

Fanfare is one of the few songs here with horns, so it became another key track. The horns need to have bite and texture, with the best copies really bringing out the breath in the sax. Any smearing or dulling of the sound and the horns go south in a hurry, along with the rest of the instruments. (more…)

James Taylor / Sweet Baby James

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Reviews and Commentaries for Sweet Baby James

  • All that lovely echo is a dead giveaway that this pressing has resolution far beyond that of the others you may have heard (and of course the Rhino Heavy Vinyl)
  • Top 100, inarguably a Masterpiece – Fire and Rain and Suite for 20 G (one of JT’s All Time Best) are killer here
  • 5 stars: “Sweet Baby James launched not only Taylor’s career as a pop superstar but also the entire singer/songwriter movement of the early ’70s that included Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, and others…”

Vocal reproduction is key to the best sounding copies of Sweet Baby James, as it is on so many Singer Songwriter albums from the era.

To find a copy where Taylor’s vocals are front and center — which is exactly where they should be — but still rich, sweet, tonally correct and Tubey Magical is no mean feat. Only the best copies manage to pull it off.

Out of the dozen or more Green Label early pressings we play every year, relatively few have the full complement of midrange magic we know the best copies can have. As a rule of thumb, the hotter the stamper, the better the vocal reproduction on that copy.

Hot Stamper sound is rarely about the details of a given recording. In the case of this album, more than anything else a Hot Stamper must succeed at recreating a solid, palpable, real James Taylor singing live in your listening room. The better copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Living In The USA

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  • This Shootout Winning copy has Triple Plus (A+++) Demo Disc Linda Ronstadt sound throughout, and some of her biggest hits to boot!
  • Both sides are rich, Tubey Magical and spacious – Linda’s vocals on Alison are breathy and present like nothing else we played
  • Smokey Robinson’s “Ooh Baby Baby” with blistering sax work by David Sanborn has to be the highlight of the album for us

Do you have a copy that’s hard and lean in the midrange, lacking in bass down low and Tubey Magic everywhere else? We do too, more than one in fact.

Ah, but the good copies are rich, smooth, sweet and clear, precisely the kind of sound we’ve come to expect from the team of Val Garay and Peter Asher in the ’70s. The bass is deep and punchy, the keyboards tubey rich, and the whole of the ensemble displays both energy and conviction on this top quality batch of songs.

Check out the best of them, tracks that still get airplay today:

  1. Back in the U.S.A.
  2. Just One Look
  3. Alison
  4. All That You Dream
  5. Oh Baby Baby
  6. Blowing Away
  7. Love Me Tender

That’s a lot of great songs on one album! (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Get Closer

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  • Superb sound on both sides of this Asylum pressing from 1982 with each earning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades, right up there with our Shootout Winner
  • Engineering prowess provided by Val Garay and George Massenburg, which means the sound is full-bodied, dynamic and lively, with plenty of bottom end punch
  • “Linda Ronstadt’s voice has never sounded better than it does on Get Closer… [her] ringing soprano vibrates with clarity and authority on the record’s best songs…” Rolling Stone, 4 Stars

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Linda Ronstadt – Lush Life

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  • An outstanding copy of Ronstadt’s 1984 release with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides were doing everything right — clean, clear, full-bodied and dynamic with wonderfully breathy vocals and a solid bottom end
  • “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 / Heart Like A Wheel – Does Bernie Ever Get Bored?

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Linda Ronstadt

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Years ago we wrote:

One thing we noted with interest while doing this shootout was how compressed the first track is. When the chorus comes in, and Linda seems to be singing louder — should be singing louder, with a substantial coterie of vocalists backing her up — the volume is actually lower. In the verse immediately following you can hear that not only is she singing louder, but the amount of dynamic contrast in her voice is greater. Go figure.

The compression also means that that song will never sound the way we would wish it to. But that doesn’t mean it won’t sound good. It means it will sound good in more of a radio-friendly way. On a good copy, one with relatively little grain and plenty of bass, the music can still be very enjoyable, and that includes a Number One Pop Hit like “You’re No Good.”

Do we still see things this way? Well, yes and no. It’s not exactly that we were wrong, but that better cleaning and better playback (all that revolutions in audio stuff) have now allowed us to hear that some copies are actually much more dynamic on this track than others. Quite dynamic in fact.

Think about it. Bernie Grundman is going to cut this record many, many times, maybe more times than he wants to. Is he always going to apply exactly the same amount of compression to each cutting, or is he going to experiment a bit and see what works better over time? Or maybe he just learned a thing or two as he went along.

Which is pretty much what we do when playing copy after copy. The best pressings show us precisely what it is they are doing when they actually work. We can’t know that in advance; we’re learning on the job so to speak. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Prisoner In Disguise

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  • Insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this copy of Prisoner, the followup to Linda’s Masterpiece, Heart Like a Wheel
  • This is an amazing recording, but it takes a special copy like this one to reveal all the magic that we know must be on the tape
  • 4 1/2 stars – Love Is a Rose, Tracks of My Tears and Heat Wave were hits, but Linda really pours her heart into Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox
  • Andrew Gold (so critical to the success of HLAW) is still heavily involved, along with Emmylou Harris, James Taylor, Lowell George, David Lindley, JD Souther, and of course Peter Asher

The soundfield has a three-dimensional quality that was nonexistent on some of the other copies we played. Drop the needle on Many Rivers To Cross and check out the amazing sound of the organ coming from the back of the room. Only the highest resolution copies give you that kind of soundstage depth.

The piano sounds natural and weighty. The fiddle on The Sweetest Gift (played by our man David Lindley) is full of rosiny texture.

Emmylou Harris, dueting here with Linda, sings beautifully.

All in all, you will find truly Demonstration Quality Sound on the best copies. (more…)