Well Recorded Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums – The Core Collection

Willie Nelson / Stardust – A Copy This Good Deserves to Be on the TAS List

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Reviews and Commentaries for Stardust

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  • You’ll find superb Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides of this exceptionally well-recorded album – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • 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…”

These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top-quality sound that’s often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers (“relative” meaning relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don’t agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.

Georgia On My Mind is a DEMO QUALITY track on this album. You aren’t going to believe all the ambience on this copy. The top end is gorgeous — sweet, delicate, and silky with loads of extension. The sound is extremely hi-res without sacrificing any of the warmth that makes this music so special.

Just listen to the rimshots and the bell in Georgia On My Mind — we guarantee you have NEVER heard those instruments sound so present, clear, and immediate.

Willie’s voice is natural and tonally correct, with all the breathy texture you could ever hope to hear. The acoustic guitars and Booker T.’s organ are perfection. (more…)

Frank Sinatra – Strangers In The Night

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  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, this Sinatra title surprised us with its DEMO DISC sound
  • Clearly one of the better sounding Reprise-era Sinatra pressings we have ever played
  • Credit must given to the extraordinarily inventive arrangements of Nelson Riddle and the All Tube engineering of Lee Herschberg
  • “Sinatra’s singing is relaxed, confident, and surprisingly jazzy, as he plays with the melody of “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and delivers a knockout punch with the assured, breathtaking “Summer Wind.”

We cannot recommend this pressing highly enough. If you want to know what the best sounding Sinatra records sound like, this is your chance. Folks, in my opinion it simply does not get any better than a killer White Hot Stamper of Strangers In The Night.

These originals are the only way to go for ’60s Sinatra, but finding them in good shape on quiet vinyl is no picnic and only a few of them actually sound the way we want them to. It’s a real treat to be in the presence of the Chairman Of The Board, in his prime, working his magic — but only an exceptional copy like this one has the power to put him right in the room with you.

What to Listen For

The Tubey Magic has to be heard to be believed. I cannot recall hearing a richer, smoother, tubier Frank Sinatra album in all my born days.

Weighty brass is key to the sound of more than just the horn section. Any leanness or thinness in the brass is instantly heard as Sinatra without weight and richness to his voice. This is the instantly recognizable sound of most reissues, the main reason we stopped buying them years ago. Having played so many amazing original stereo pressings for our shootouts over the years we don’t think that will change anytime soon. There simply is no substitute for a clean stereo pressing on the original label.

Full, Rich, Breathy, Present vocals are obviously critically important as well. This copy delivers some of the best we heard.

On this copy the orchestra and band are putting out plenty of low end, reaching down well into whomp land. It’s a thrill to hear to hear that sound on these swinging arrangements coming out of my speakers.

And of course the copies that are rich and tubey but also big, clear and open did the best in our shootout. (more…)

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

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  • An outstanding copy of this classic Jazz Vocal album, with superb Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is huge and spacious with richness and Tubey Magic like nothing you’ve heard
  • I defy you to find a Male Vocal record produced in the last thirty years that can hold a candle to this one, sonically or musically
  • A wonderful collaboration between a horn player and a singer, perhaps the greatest one of all time
  • 5 stars: “John Coltrane’s matchup with singer Johnny Hartman works extremely well. Hartman was in prime form on the six ballads, and his versions of ‘Lush Life’ and ‘My One and Only Love’ have never been topped. Classic, essential for all jazz collections”

This could very well be the greatest collaboration between a horn player and a singer in the history of music. I honestly cannot think of another to rank with it. Ella and Louis has the same feel — two giants who work together so sympathetically it’s close to magic, producing definitive performances of enduring standards that have not been equaled in the fifty plus years since they were recorded. And, on the better copies, or should we say the better sides of the better copies, RVG’s sound is stunning. (His mastering, not so much.)

Hats off to Rudy Van Gelder! Here’s an album that justifies his reputation. Not all of them, you know, or should know, but try telling that to the average jazz-loving audiophile. (more…)

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…)

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…)

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie – Sinatra At The Sands

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  • This original Blue and Green Reprise Stereo pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on all four sides
  • Truly one of the greatest live albums of all time, recorded late at night in the big room at the Sands Hotel in Vegas
  • This is Basie and Sinatra in their natural habitat and in their prime, putting on the show of a lifetime
  • On the right system this is about as close as you get to hearing Sinatra singing live in your listening room, with the added realism of a live Vegas show
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Basie and the orchestra are swinging and dynamic, inspiring a textured, dramatic, and thoroughly enjoyable performance from Sinatra … the definitive portrait of Frank Sinatra in the ’60s.”

*NOTE: On side three, a mark makes 10 light ticks at the end of Track 3 and 10 moderate pops at the beginning of Track 4.

This double album presents Sinatra and Basie at the height of their powers, in a setting especially conducive to both men’s music, the big room at the Sands Hotel in Vegas. If you missed it — and I’m sure most all of us did — here’s your chance to go back in time and be seated with the beautiful people front row center. This two-disc all tube-mastered analog set is practically the only way you’ll ever be able to hear the greatest vocalist of his generation — in his prime no less — fronting one of the swingingest big bands of the time.

The presence and immediacy here are staggering. 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 records out there offer the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing. (more…)