Well Recorded Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums – The Core Collection

Willie Nelson – Stardust

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  • With Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides of this exceptionally well-recorded album, this copy surely qualifies as an Audiophile Demo Disc, the best copy to hit the site in years!
  • From the first few moments of the title track you’ll be blown away by the in-the-room immediacy of The Man himself
  • This copy is hi-res without sacrificing the Analog warmth that makes the recording so exceptional, especially for one from 1978
  • 5 stars: “Stardust showcases Nelson’s skills as a musician and his entire aesthetic — where there is nothing separating classic American musical forms, it can all be played together — perhaps better than any other album…”

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Julie London – Julie Is Her Name

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  • Julie’s debut finally arrives on the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • The vocal naturalness and immediacy of this early Liberty pressing will put Julie in the room with you – more than anything else, it lets her performance come to life
  • The naturalness of the presentation puts this album right at the top of best-sounding female vocal albums of all time
  • 4 stars: “Her debut is her best, a set of fairly basic interpretations of standards in which she is accompanied tastefully by guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Ray Leatherwood.”

Listen to how rich the bottom end is on Barney Kessel’s guitar. The Tubey Magic here is off the charts. Some copies can be dry, but that is clearly not a problem on this one.

To take nothing away from her performance, which got better with every copy we played. Julie’s rendition of Cry Me a River may be definitive.

If only Ella Fitzgerald on Clap Hands got this kind of sound! As good as the best copies of that album are, this record takes the concept of intimate female vocals to an entirely new level. (more…)

Sinatra / Swing Along With Me – A Top Sinatra Title (You Probably Never Heard Of)

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Yet Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

  • KILLER sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sonic grades
  • These vintage stereo sides are As Good As It Gets — rich, smooth and full-bodied with wonderfully present vocals and all of the Tubey Magic that’s missing from most copies
  • This album is very tough to come by in stereo in anything but beat condition, let alone with this kind of sound
  • “Twelve of the most uninhibited Sinatra things ever recorded!”
  • “Recorded with Billy May, Sinatra Swings was Frank Sinatra’s first straight swing album for Reprise Records. In terms of content and approach, the record is remarkably similar to his final Capitol swing effort, Come Swing with Me.”

Also known as Sinatra Swings.

Five for Five in 1961

Of the five records Sinatra released in 1961 (Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!!; Come Swing with Me!; Ring-a-Ding-Ding!; Swing Along with Me; and I Remember Tommy), this is clearly one of our favorites. (And by the way, what’s with all the exclamation marks?)

Billy May deserves much of the credit for the “swing” that’s all over the album. His band is jumpin’, and on the best pressings — such as this one — the sound conveys the energy with virtually none of the grit and hardness you hear on so many of Sinatra’s other albums (Sinatra at the Sands comes immediately to mind, but there are far too many others). You may recall that Billy May was the arranger for some of Sinatra’s best Capitol work, and certainly the three swingingest: Come Fly with Me, Come Dance with Me and Come Swing with Me.

This is 1961, and tubes and ribbon mics are in charge of the live-in-the-studio proceedings. With a vintage original pressing such as this one, you hear the kind of sound they heard. (And if you play the record at ear-splitting levels you will hear even more of that sound. Can you imagine how loud this band was playing?)

We were especially impressed with the large dynamic swings of the arrangements. And the fact that the best pressings never get aggressive even during their most dynamic passages. (more…)

Peggy Lee – Mink Jazz

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  • Mink Jazz finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • The vocal naturalness and immediacy of this early pressing will put Peggy in the room with you – more than anything else, it lets her performance come to life
  • These sides are exceptionally spacious and three-dimensional, as well as relaxed and full-bodied
  • “Peggy was, of course, in her element on the slow, seductive songs which were her trademark . . . The musicianship throughout the album is masterful, yet always secondary to Peggy’s lovely voice.”

John Krauss engineered this album, and brilliantly. You know him from many of Julie London‘s best recordings, albums such as Julie Is Her Name, Calendar Girl, Julie… At Home and Around Midnight.

This is some awfully good company if you ask me! (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis

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  • Stunning sound on this early Verve Mono LP with both sides rating a Triple Plus (A+++) and playing reasonably quietly
  • As Good As It Gets – no modern pressing can hope to put Ella and Louis right in the room with you the way this one from 1956 can
  • One of the greatest duet albums of all time, if not THE GREATEST – a Desert Island Disc to beat them all
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Ella and Louis is an inspired collaboration, masterminded by producer Norman Granz… Gentle and sincere, this is deserving of a place in every home.”

Click and pop counters might want to give this one a miss. It’s not as quiet as a modern pressing would be, but it’s as quiet as this title can be found on vintage ’50s Verve vinyl. If you have a top quality, heavily tweaked front end and a quiet cartridge, you might be good to go, but if you are picky about your surfaces, we recommend you give this one a miss.

Those of you looking for a cheaper, quieter alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on one of our Hot Stampers should look into the original Speakers Corner pressing or the CD, both of which we’ve played and both of which are quite good. (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Porgy and Bess

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  • STUNNING sound throughout this Ella & Louis classic with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on three sides matched with outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on the fourth
  • Spacious, full-bodied and Tubey Magical, with Ella and Louis front and center, this is the sound you want for their brilliant collaboration from 1958
  • Two vocal giants came together to perform Gershwin’s timeless opera, revered by both music lovers and audiophiles to this day
  • 4 1/2 stars: “What’s really great about the Ella and Louis version is Ella, who handles each aria with disarming delicacy, clarion intensity, or usually a blend of both.”

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Ella Fitzgerald – Whisper Not

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  • A superb pressing of Ella’s wonderful 1967 release with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • This one is doing everything right– it’s bigger, bolder, richer and more clean, clear and open than nearly almost everything else we played
  • Superb engineering from the man behind so many great sounding Verve records, Val Valentin
  • 4 stars: “Whoever decided to put pianist Marty Paich and Ella Fitzgerald together in the studio in 1966 deserves a bit of credit for the great music on Whisper Not. Together, Fitzgerald and Paich deliver a dozen beautifully sung, carefully arranged standards.”

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Julie London – Julie Is Her Name, Volume 2

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  • The superb follow-up to Julie’s stunning debut finally arrives on the site with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • No marks are audible, and the vinyl is about as quiet as any Black Label Liberty stereo pressing we’ve ever played, which makes this a very special copy indeed
  • On a copy this good, London will appear as a living, breathing (albeit disembodied) person right in your very own listening room. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades
  • Every three to five years or so we run into a copy that plays this quietly and sounds this good – the last one was in 2018, so if you have a few years to wait, you can be sure there will be another coming down the pike
  • 4 stars: ” London’s breathy vocals aren’t that different [from her debut], but she seems more confident and she swings more, even on the ballads. . . This album was also better recorded than London’s debut and the release has a fuller, richer sound to it.”

The reliably brilliant Ted Keep was the engineer for these sessions from 1958. The stereo tape came out in 1958, along with the mono LP, but those of you who wanted a stereo record had to wait until 1959! (more…)

Julie London / Whatever Julie Wants

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  • What Julie Wants finally arrives on the site with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus side two married with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These Liberty pressings are overflowing with it
  • This may be the last good sounding Julie London record we know of – she still had it going on in 1961, and so did her engineers
  • “. . . a fun album and one that can be enjoyed for its individual songs or its narrative thrust. . . undeniably entertaining and it offers a Technicolor sex comedy break from her usual world of shadowy film noir.”

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Ella Fitzgerald – Like Someone In Love

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  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this MONO original pressing from 1957 (the only way to fly) will be hard to beat
  • Ella’s voice is noticeably breathier, fuller, more relaxed and more musical here than it is on most of the other copies we played
  • An album that is beyond difficult to find with decent surfaces and undamaged inner grooves – most copies we get in are just trashed
  • “Most of the songs are veteran standards, Stan Getz’s warm tenor helps out on four tunes, and her voice was so strong and appealing during this era that all of her recordings from the mid- to late ’50s are enjoyable and easily recommended.”

*A mark makes 9 medium then 7 medium-light pops at the end of track 1, There’s A Lull In My Life
**A mark makes 20 very light pops near the end of track 5, What’s New

Take it from an Ella fan, you can’t go wrong with this one, assuming you can put up with some ticky vinyl. This is about as quiet as we can find them. Like Someone in Love is five times rarer than Clap Hands, and twice as likely to be noisy.

The sound is rich and full-bodied in the best tradition of a classic vintage jazz vocal album. You could easily demonstrate your stereo with a record this good, but what you would really be demonstrating is music that the listener probably hasn’t heard, and that’s the best reason to demonstrate a stereo!

The space is huge and the sound so rich. The vocals have dramatically less hardness and the orchestra — especially on side two — is not brash for once.

Prodigious amounts of Tubey Magic as well, which is key to the best sounding copies. The sound needs weight, warmth and tubes or you might as well be playing a CD. (more…)