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Monday, May 10, 2021

SIX-PACK SPRING SUGGESTIONS

Chosen by Claude Lemaire 

For this first spring installment, I selected six albums from three different eras and genres. What they have in common is that they are all musically excellent in their own right, but save for the first selection, they deserve much better sound quality. 

As always, if you find my recommended pressings too expensive, you can usually replace them by other more affordable pressings but be aware that the sound quality may differ quite a lot from my sonic descriptions and be wary of any digital intermediates in the complex chain.


1- Donna Summer – Four Seasons of Love. Casablanca, Bellaphon – NB 7036 (Ger.), Durium Marche Estere – D.AI. 30257 (Ital.), Casablanca – NBLP 7038 (Oct. 1976), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: Euro disco.

What better way to start off this Six-Pack Spring Suggestions' edition than with Donna Summer sensuously singing "Spring Affair" from her fourth LP Four Seasons of Love. Now most people presume this is her third release which is quite understandable given that her debut Lady of the Night was never pressed or released worlwide, and once you hear it, you'll probably agree why they chose so. Having no disco or ground-breaking tracks per see, I suggest skipping over it. One thing that is not in dispute is that FSOL was the first of four concept albums, generally well received, though not as transformative and popular as the previous two, nor subsequent four. It no doubt draws inspiration, at least conceptually, to Vivaldi's famous four concerti The Four Seasons, composed around 1717. The original pressing included a four-fold calendar for 1977 depicting Donna in seasonable attire. Another departure from the previous two LPs–where one 17 minute or so hit song occupied the entirety of side A–here we have two tracks sharing side A, with three others sharing the second side, and in both instances, the songs segued into the next. The best track remains "Spring Affair", but "Summer Fever", Autumn Changes", and the country-tinged soul ballad "Winter Melody"–released as a second single from the LP–are all quite excellent in their own right. This is followed by a reprise of the main track in shorter form mimicking the return of spring after a full year. Accompanied by The Munich Machine, it was produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Belotte, and arranged by Thor Baldursson. Engineer Juergen Koppers recorded it in August and September 1976 at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany, while Giorgio handled the mixing. My copy is the US first press, probably cut by Alan Zentz, which sounds nicely balanced with just a slight lack of top octave energy, leading to a roundish bass and warm low-mid. I do not have the original German–which I speculate would be more defined but perhaps cooler-sounding–nor the Italian pressing on Durium which I often prefer overall.
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2- Donna Summer – Once Upon a Time.... Atlantic – ATL 60 132, NBLP 7078-2 (Ger.), Casablanca – CA. LP 5010, CA. LP 5011 (distributed by Durium S.p.A) (Ital.), Casablanca – NBLP 7078-2 (Nov. 1977), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: progressive Euro disco, electro disco.

Once upon a time there was... an extraordinary musical fairy tail high, that unfortunately was hampered by disappointing sound quality. Such is the case with Donna Summer's sixth, and most progressive, pioneering album of her career. She developed the idea with Joyce Bogart–Casablanca founder Neil Bogart's wife–and manager Susan Munao. This was the first, and one of the rare disco double-LP releases ever conceived. Though not uncommon in the rock arena–especially for "live albums" or prog projects–but almost non-existant within disco. Donna would duplicate the feat on two other occasions; excluding Greatest Hits compilations of course. The fact that she did pull off this outstanding release at the time is noteworthy. Three out of the four sides is monumental material, about as daring and progressive as the genre permitted while still remaining disco at its core, and most of the songs seamlessly segue into the next on the three disco sides–side C being boring ballads, and is the exception. The title track opens the Cinderella story with a slow majestic instrumental intro comprising piano and sweeping strings until the rapid-paced rhythm explodes with Donna delivering the goods, walking us "Faster and Faster to Nowhere". Side two is definitely the most ambitious avant-garde electro disco material she ever put forth. Of course the latter was only possible thanks to Giorgio's visionary mindset and extraordinary talent. Following in the footsteps of his ground-breaking "I Feel Love" and "From Here to Eternity", released a few months prior; here he presents us with the cathedralesque "Now I Need You" segueing into the typewriter-organ-wall of sound "Working the Midnight Shift". Surprisingly and unfortunately the following "Queen for a Day" disconnects from the former two tracks, which breaks the electronic vibe. The final side beautifully culminates with "Rumour Has It", "I Love You", and no surprise "Happily Ever After" as any great fairy tail must end. Engineer Juergen "Quantity" Koppers, assisted by Gerhard Vates, recorded and mixed it–presumably between December 1976 and April 1977–at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany. Günther F. Pfanz lacquer cut the German Atlantic pressing–a German Casablanca pressing also exists. Chris Bellman and Brian Gardner mastered and cut the US pressing at Alan Zentz Mastering in California. The Italian pressing is non-credited. I have all three of the above plus a UK [Casablanca CALD 5003] and a Canadian [NBLP 7078] and all are below average in sound for a Summer or disco release, showing signs of compression,  and lacking warmth and punch in the bass and kick drum. The least compromised of the lot in tonal balance and top end detail is the Italian pressing, followed by the US. If ever there was a superb disco album in need of a decent all-analog remastering, this is it. Unfortunately I wouldn't hold by breath waiting for such a reissue to surface. MoFi, Analogue Productions, Craft? Anybody listening?
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3- The Savage Resurrection – The Savage Resurrection. Mercury – SR 61156 (March 1968), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: psychedelic, acid rock, garage rock, blues rock, hard rhythm and blues.

The self-titled debut and sole album by this San Francisco Bay area quintet is striking not only for its psychedelic sound but also its relative obscurity from fame. Then again, the years 1966 to 1969 offered so many outstanding rock albums and emerging new trends, that these young savages–some even teenagers at the time–got overlooked by the bigger guns in the business. I happened to fall upon the group sporting the colorful psy-artwork, bin-browsing back in the mid-1980s, fetching it brand new for a dollar or two. Though certainly sounding more amateur than the better-known Bay area bands, this perhaps adds to their charm including the raw, unpolished sound. Most of the tracks are excellent, starting with "Thing in E"–the sole single–sounding very groovy and heavily Hendrix-inspired instrumentally, though the vocals lean more towards The Who's "I Can See for Miles" from fall 1967. "Every Little Song" sounds a bit like early-Pink Floyd period–think "Arnold Layne" from March 1967. "Talking to You" taps into Hendrix' heavy blues rock style once again. As its gong fades in plus delicate use of wah-wah pedal, "Tahitian Melody" prepares us for a slow meditative Idian-inspired psychedelic voyage predating Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" from their second album A Saucerful of Secrets from June 1968 [Columbia SCX 6158]. "Jammin'" starts off blues rock, then progresses into more heavily-distorted sound, approaching proto early-Led Zep territory. "Fox is Sick" reminds me of early Cream. "Appeal to the Happy" breaks a bit from the rest, and will appeal more to hard energetic R&B/rock and roll aficianados than the usual LSD crowd. "Expectation"'s intro foresees The Guess Who's "American Woman" from 1970, turning very acidic-psy with the two guitars sounding full fuzztone with lots of presence, dialoguing in each channel playing Arabic scales, making it one of my favorites of the album. Produced by Abe "Voco" Kesh–originally a San Francisco-based deejay–who also produced Blue Cheer's debut and second album, both from 1968. I don't have the original US pressing, mine being the first-press stereo Canadian black label Mercury copy. The sound is fairly good but is a bit compressed and mid-centered, lacking both frequency extremes. Would welcome an all-analog remastering by MoFi or K. Gray's 'touch'.
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4- Alice Cooper – Pretties for You. Straight – STS 1051 (June 1969), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: psychedelic, acid rock, experimental, hard rock, art rock.

Detroit-based singer Vincent Furnier, better known by his shock rock stage persona and original band name Alice Cooper got his first big break in 1969 signing with Frank Zappa's Straight Records–a small short-lived independant label distributed by Warner Bros. Records. The band's debut LP, sporting the slightly provocative Pulp Fiction cover, did not garner great commercial success when first released in June of that year; remaining under the radar ever since. Things would turn two years later with their third album Love It to Death [Straight WS 1883]. The LP comprises thirteen mostly short tracks . "Titanic Overture" opens the bizarre ride with a short symphonic instrumental intro that could be found on some late-1960s, early-1970s symphonic rock or prog albums. "10 Minutes Before the Worm" is very experimental psychedelic, kind of what you'd expect from the earliest Pink Floyd material such as the middle part of "Interstellar Overdrive" from 1967's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn [Columbia SCX 6157] then transitions to Beatle-type melodies and harmonies laced with strong dissonance. "Swing Low, Sweet Cheerio" changes styles completely, evoking jazzy chords in the vain of The Zombies and The Doors. "Today Mueller" sounds more like mid-60s Beatles. "Living" goes off in another direction making it harder to pin down. "Fields of Regret" gets heavier, experimental-Doorsy, and quite cacophonous some places. The short but excellent "No Longer Umpire" sounds again like The Beatles, but on a bad trip. The eerie "Levity Ball (Live at the Cheetah)" borrows heavily from Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" found on their debut LP, almost proto space rock. "B.B. on Mars" last a mere minute but is in constant flux. "Reflected" was the band's first and sole single released from the album, and bears some foresight into their 1973 hit "Elected" from Billion Dollar Babies [Warner Bros. BS 2685] but the electric guitars have better bite, crunching the psychedelic solos. "Earwigs to Eternity" in its sprint surprises by constantly modulating its pace with vocals doubling the guitar. Lastly, as the title suggests "Changing Arranging" has interesting vocal arrangements lifting the spirit of the song as the drum pummels away alternating between very slow and energetically away. Engineer Dick Kunc is credited. Mastered at Customatrix, a subsidiary of CBS. Pressed at Columbia Records Pressing Plant, Santa Maria in California. The original US pressing is an all-orange label but there are several variations on the pink label, all within the same year–1969. My copy is the 'pink' Canadian first-press. The sound is not that good, being mid-concentrated and compressed, and quite curtailed in the lows and top end. Definitely NOT DEMO-worthy.
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5- Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. Cherry Red – B RED 10 (UK) (Sept. 1980), I.R.S. Records – SP 70014 (1981), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: punk, hardcore.

Bridging the gap between Britain's Sex Pistols in the mid-1970s, and America's Rage Against the Machine in the 1990s, California's Dead Kennedys carved out a reputation in the 1980s reuniting aggressive performances with provocative, political, and controversial lyrics. Formed in San Francisco in 1978, the quintet led by singer Eric Reed Boucher better known as Jello Biafra released four studio albums between 1980 and 1986 starting with Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables–perhaps my preferred dish picking from the musical menu. Of course it contains their debut single, the delightfully sarcastic "California über alles"–originally composed for Biafra's former band The Healers–first released on seven-inch format in June 1979 [Alternative Tentacles 95-41]. It centers around a satirical-fictive song based on then-Governer of California Jerry Brown, intertwined with Nazism, and encapsulates the best elements of the group–high-octane energy, powerful guitar, strong vocal delivery, multiple tempo and groovy rhythmic shifts within a same song. The fourteen-track LP includes also their second and third single releases, "Holiday in Cambodia" and "Kill the Poor". All songs range between a minute and a half, and just over four minutes long. Engineer Oliver Dicicco (Norm) produced and recorded them in May and June 1980 at Mobius Music in San Francisco, CA. The first UK pressing was mastered by Kevin Metcalfe, and lacquer cut by George "Porky" Peckham. Plated by Maxwell 'MAX' Anandappa, and pressed by Lyntone Recordings Ltd. in London. The first US pressing on I.R.S. Records was remastered by Paul Stubblebine at A&M Mastering Studios in Los Angeles, CA., and pressed by Columbia Records Pressing Plant, Santa Maria in California. My version is the 1981 red vinyl UK pressing. The sound lacks bass and punch unfortunately. I don't know if the US corrects this problem, which is possible for it was remastered and pressed by different engineers and facilities. This again could make a killer reissue!
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6- Anthrax – Among the Living. Island Records, Megaforce Worldwide – 90584-1 (March 1987), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: thrash metal.

Among the Living is among my all-time favorite metal albums, and in my book, best Anthrax LP period. Pushing forth exciting toe-tapping, aggressive yet catchy metal riffs, the New York City quintet distinguish themselves by reuniting raw elements of speed metal, hard rock, and hardcore punk, all rolled into one. For their third LP, the group alongside executive producer Jon Zazula, joined forces with producer, engineer extraordinaire Eddie Kramer–responsible for some of the best-sounding and important rock releases of the likes of Hendrix, Led Zep, and Kiss–lead singer Joe Belladonna does remind me of Paul Stanley's energy at times. There is never a dull moment in this nine track thrash triumph. Engineers Chris Rutherford assisted by Chip Schane recorded the tracks at Quadridial Studios in North Miami, Florida, while Francis McSweeney mixed it at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. Although Paul Hamingson and Kramer create a driving mean mix, the mastering by George Marino at Sterling Sound in New York is a bit mid-emphasized with some frequency curtailing in both directions, perhaps attributed by the DMM cutting instead of using a lacquer. It is pressed at Specialty Records Corporation in Olyphant, PA. Another album that would greatly benefit from a top-notch analog remastering.
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Thursday, October 29, 2020

SIX-PACK FALL & WINTER SUGGESTIONS

Chosen by Claude Lemaire 
Part-1

For this first fall installment, I selected six album compilations. Usually I am not a big fan of the "Best-of" or "Greatest Hits" compilation format, but if well done, they do serve a pleasant purpose of presenting the music lover with a quick perspective on an artist's or group's vast repertoire when such is the case. 

 As always, if you find my recommended pressings too expensive, you can usually replace them by other more affordable pressings but be aware that the sound quality may differ quite a lot from my sonic descriptions and be wary of any digital intermediates in the complex chain.


1- Elvis Presley – 24 Karat Hits!. DCC Compact Classics – LPZ(2)-2040 (1997), 2x33 1/3 rpm. Genre: rockabilly, rock and roll, blues, rhythm and blues, ballads, gospel, country.

Let's kick off things with the "King of Rock and Roll". Reunited mostly in chronological order on one double-LP–and spanning his RCA Victor period from January 1956 with "Heartbreak Hotel" through "Suspicious Minds" from August 1969–24 Karat Hits! is the perfect Elvis compilation if one wishes only the top hit singles delivered in excellent sound. Remastered and cut by the DCC duo of Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray, they went to great lengths to use the true mono, two, and three-track tapes to transfer to the master-lacquer instead of cutting from a second or third generation assembly work tape which would have saved time and trouble for them, though therefore paying the sonic price in transparency and presence. Many music lovers may be astonished to hear how well recorded the King can sound when well transferred and played on a good audio rig. Now you would expect that his voice would come out well and naturally it does but what really surprises is the rendering of the back vocal quartet The Jordanaires–almost sounding spooky such is their realism. Along with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, the trio formed The Blue Moon Boys in 1954 at Sam Phillips' Sun Studios, soon joined by drummer D.J. Fontana, making rock and roll history. Renowned engineer Bill Porter and Thorne Nogar share most of the recording credits. Severall studios listed including RCA-Victor Studio B, Nashville, TN; RCA-Victor East 24th Street Studio, NYC; Radio Recorders Studio B, Hollywood, CA; American Sound Studio, Memphis, TN, and MGM Scoring Stage, Culver City, CA. The tonal balance is slightly forward in the upper mids giving good presence but may prove a bit problematic on some systems. I did not hear Analogue Production's tripple-LP cut at 45 rpm by George Marino to compare with. The faster speed is theoretically superior and should advantage the latter. I don't know if he remastered it differently than DCC's earlier release but generally he does a great job, and the forum consensus seems to slightly favor the AP over the DCC for having a bit more bass tonally.
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2- Aretha Franklin – Aretha's Gold. Atlantic – SD-8227 (Aug. 1969), Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 2-479 (Sept. 2017), 2x45 rpm. Genre: soul, southern soul, R&B, blues, black gospel and spiritual roots, churchy.

If ever there was a Greatest Hits package earning my RESPECT, this has got to be it. Unless you are a devoted die-hard Aretha fan, you'll probably find this compilation of her earliest Atlantic material fits the bill just fine–the only single I felt missing was the funky "Rock Steady" from 1971, recorded nearly two years after this initial release. In effect, between her first signing to the legendary label in early-1967 until barely a year and a half later, the "Queen of Soul" delivered in spades: "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)", "Respect", Dr. Feelgood", "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", "Chain of Fools", "Think", "You Send Me", "I Say a Little Prayer"; they are all here–in chronological order–and that's just about half of the fourteen memorable classics assembled. Backed by Cissy Houston, and sisters Carolyn and Erma, Aretha is already shining at her peak performance. Engineered by Fame Studio's Rick Hall in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Atlantic's Tom Dowd in New York, the incredible sound captured and mixed on the studio's vintage Ampex 8-track is breathtakingly vivid, with punch, presence, and energetic force. Contrary to Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" awash in reverb and purposely monophonic, here the sound is intimate, closely palpable, warm, dry, dynamic, and sharply hard-panned for maximum musical clarity–more akin to Roy DuNann's sonic presentation for Contemporary Records in jazz. Of course this revelatory level of sonic bliss was only lately realized by MoFi's magnificent double 45 rpm release, remastered and cut by 'engineer-Kings' Krieg Wunderlich and Rob LoVerde, and plated and pressed by RTI in California. I don't have the original US pressing but there is no doubt whatsoever that it cannot compete with the MoFi's multiple strengths and technical advantages. Simply put, and strictly confined to this version, this is the best Greatest Hits release you can get for music and sound combined.
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3- James Brown –  James Brown Soul Classics. Polydor – 2391 037, Polydor – SC 5401 (Can.) (Aug. 1972), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: funk, soul, ballad.
 
Why not follow up the "Queen of Soul" with the "Godfather of Soul" or Father of Funk, with James Brown's best original compilation on vinyl. Though there have been numerous other more complete compilations available since in different formats, I believe this one here holds the advantage in time and sonics, representing the transition from his mid-1960s funky soul hits to the early-1970s true funk material plus respectively, remaining pure analog–which is not necessarily the case post mid-1980s. Released in August 1972, Brown–and funk for that matter–was arguably at or near the peak of his/its popularity before disco would sweep over the dance floor just two years later, leaving him and many others scrambling to adapt to the changing times where sultry strings and four to the floor would replace tight horns and syncopation. Opening up with his 1970 seminal single "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine (Part 1)", it includes major funk classics like "Make It Funky - Part 1", "My Part / Make it Funky - Part 3", "Call Me Superbad", "Soul Power", "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose", and 1967's "Cold Sweat" that all sound fantastic with vivid vocal presence, clean funky guitar, and articulated bass, brass, and drums. Plus earlier hits from 1965 like "I Got You (I Feel Good)", "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", and a year later, the bluesy soul balad "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" which all suffer from excess reverb on the instruments and especially his vocals, giving it a dated cavernous effect. I don't have the original US pressing but my old Canadian first press remains impressive minus the latter noted caveats. Produced by Brown, unfortunately there is no engineering credits listed on the cover.
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4- The Beatles – 1962-1966. Apple Records – PCSP 717 (UK), Capitol Records SKBO 3403 (Can.) (Apr. 1973), 2x33 1/3 rpm. Genre: beat, Merseybeat, pop music, rock, ballad. 

When it comes to die-hard fans, experts, and historians reflecting on a given subject, you'll probably have a hard day's night finding anything more musically dissected than The Beatles–just take the opening chord to the latter song referral for example, which shows how solid, well-founded opinions can strongly differ. Believe me I am none of the above. Don't get me wrong for I do appreciate them for many reasons–none the leasts given their originality in conjunction with several studio advancements aided by producer George Martin–but I am no Fab Four expert. Keeping that in mind, I do have some sonic preferences for certain pressings over others that surely will stun some. Case in point is the 1973 singles compilation of the group's roughly first half-period spanning the years October 1962 to August 1966, aka "The Red Album"–the second-half being covered by the 1967-1970 "Blue Album". One of the things that stirs controversy is the different mixes and EQ choices on some songs between the UK pressings, and the US and Canadian pressings. The majority of the songs are in stereo but a few of the earliest ones are either in fake stereo or re-EQed mono depending on which country edition we are dealing with. Having only the –post 1976–Capitol Canadian pressing at my disposal, I cannot compare with the many other versions, but I can say that putting aside the five or six songs that sound a bit bizarre because of the tricked mixes, I tend to like a lot the EQ choices. Granted they seem boosted in the lows and highs–some characterizing them as having the polarizing "smiley face" curve–but I find the tonal balance better suited to explore the many musical arrangements and details that seem obscured in the mono mixes as well as the more mid-pronounced pressings out there. Sonics aside, the fact that the track selection is choreographed in chronological order illustrates even more the magnitude of sheer creativity, superb song craftsmanship, and tight vocal harmonies the quartet carried out in constant (r)evolution. Having only the top hit singles–pre-1967–reuited on a double-LP and listening in one shot from start to finish is the aural equivalent to binge watching an entire season of a groundbreaking series; shall we call it binge-listening in this case? I am less fond of "The Blue Album" simply because I prefer listening to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper in their entirety being my two favorites, and more album-oriented-conceived or concept than an album of singles. In addition I feel less attached to the post Pepper material.
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5- Pink Floyd – Relics (A Bizarre Collection of Antiques & Curios). Starline – SRS 5071, IE 048 o 04775 (UK), (May 1971), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: psychedelic, acid-rock, experimental, heavy rock, space rock, jazz-rock.
 
The Beatles were the biggest band coming out of the 1960s. As the latter four went their separate ways, another famous British band pursuing in popularity and originality was Pink Floyd. Formed in London back in 1965, the once quintet turned quartet really grew to greatness, maturity, and prosperity the following decade. Decidedly the 1970s were more associated with the concept album, and Floyd crafted and conquered that market segment with impressive technical wizardry. Prior to these progressive artistic achievements, the group–including for a short span, singer, songwriter, guitarist Syd Barrett–explored experimental psychedelic rock and pop playing at the underground UFO Club along side Soft Machine in Swinging London. Released in May 1971, Relics puts forth a few of the earlier material while the masterful Meddle [Harvest SHVL 795] was being recorded. Appropriately it opens with their debut single, the Barrett-penned "Arnold Layne" from March 1967–which predated–and did not appear on–their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn [Columbia SCX 6157] released later in August. It is followed by the lengthier, experimental, and instrumental "Interstellar Overdrive" taken from the latter LP. Back to Barrett with the shorter "See Emily Play", their second single issued in June. Jumping to side B, among others it contains "Careful with That Axe, Eugene"–a nearly-instrumental acid rock trip, loosely similar to "The End" by The Doors in mood and structure, using the Phrygian mode–as well as "The Nile Song", the band's heaviest song, taken from the 1969 soundtrack More. The sound in generally good, generous in the bass, but begs for more top end energy to air things out, which in turn would provide better stereophonic separation and definition. Regarding the latter, two of the earliest singles–originally only in mono–are reprocessed here in "Duophonic stereo". So this is certainly not demo-worthy but thankfully nor is it thin or aggressive, making it enjoyable just the same.
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6- Various – Disco Gold. Scepter Records – SPS 5120, (June 1975), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: soulful disco, Philly soul, Chicago soul.

Between 1970 and 1974, several songs soon found favor among the nascent discothèque scene, sounding towards some sort of musical hybrid–mostly mixing soul, funk, and Philly Sound in different degrees, thus creating proto-disco underground hits. Disco Gold gathers eight such songs on one album, licensed under the steering Scepter label. The selection is particularly palpitating because of the scarcity of many of the tracks that oftentimes only existed in small run seven-inch singles. In addition, these are longer versions–sometimes twice the original single length–remixed or re-edited by maestro Tom Moulton. The three that stand out most are the Norman Harris-penned and produced "We're on the Right Track" by Ultra High Frequency dating from 1973, along with two incredible penned-productions from Curtis Mayfield–"Make Me Believe in You", obviously borrowing from The Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone", and "Ain't No Love Lost", both by protégé Patti Jo, from 1973 and 1972 respectively. Moulton's golden touch takes it to another level, making these extended versions, seamlessly combining vocal and instrumental parts, far superior to the shorter singles. Keep in mind that the tracks are kept separate and not intermixed like in a club deejay set, and all are worthy of inclusion. Mastered by José Rodriguez, the sound is uniformly well balanced throughout both sides with good but not outstanding bass, surprising treble transparency for the genre, and a wide soundstage.
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Part-2

For this second fall-winter installment, I selected six soul albums to warm us up through these cooler temperatures and difficult challenging times. Peace to all.

As always, if you find my recommended pressings too expensive, you can usually replace them by other more affordable pressings but be aware that the sound quality may differ quite a lot from my sonic descriptions and be wary of any digital intermediates in the complex chain.


1- Jr. Walker & the All Stars – Road Runner. Soul – SLS 703 (Sept. 1966), Tamla Motown – SS-703 (Can.), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: funky R&B, Motown Sound, soul.

Walker, well known for his first big hit single "Shotgun" in February 1965, followed up with "(I'm a) Road Runner"–originally on his debut album but now reappearing as the title-track of his second LP. The tenor saxophone reprises also Motown mate Marvin Gaye's 1964 hit "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)". Mixing funky soul with R&B, he solidifies his signature sax sound and style over eleven entertaining short songs. Legendary bassist James Jamerson joins Junior along with James Graves on drums, Willie Woods on guitar, and Vic Thomas on keyboards. A slew of producers contributed, including Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Berry Gordy, Harvey Fuqua, and future soulful disco singer Johnny Bristol, better known for his 1974 hit "Hang On in There Baby". No engineer is credited but the overall sound is seriously appealing on my Canadian Tamla 'Phonodisc Limited' first pressing with generous warm bass and crisp guitars, sax, and vocals. I don't have the original US Soul pressing to compare with.
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2- Isaac Hayes – Presenting Isaac Hayes. Enterprise – S 13-100, Atlantic – SD 13-100 (Feb. 1968), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: sultry soul, blues, jazz.

Hailing from Tennessee, the self-taught singer, songwriter, producer, musician, and actor was one of the principle architects of the Memphis sound and Southern soul, spearheaded by Stax, Volt, and Hi records. Along with writing partner David Porter, they composed and arranged some of the biggest soul hits of the 1960s and early-1970s including Sam & Dave's 1967 smash single "Soul Man" to name but one. The following year, Hayes released his debut album–a totally improvised session combining a blend of blues, jazz, and sultry soul–organically original and a precursor to symphonic soul maestro Barry White, a full five years prior to. Produced and supervised by Alvertis Isbell–aka Al Bell–and recorded no doubt 'live' without overdub at Stax Studios in Memphis, TN; the relaxed atmosphere has him talking, singing, and sparsely playing piano, while bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and drummer Al Jackson Jr.–both from Stax' house band Booker T. & The M.G.'s–spontaneously enter and exit, accompanying him along the way. The latter group's guitarist Steve Cropper and Atlantic's Arif Martin mixed the album's five tracks, keeping the raw realistic recording very intimate, and highly dynamic. It is very impressive-sounding, especially the lightning fast drum strokes panned to the right of the piano which have a natural tom skin resonance rarely heard on record. The only minor quibble would be a slight cymbal lack of finesse. It was released both with the Enterprise logo on the front cover as well as the Atlantic logo at the same time. My copy is the latter, probably pressed by Presswell in Ancora, New Jersey.
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3- Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul. Enterprise – ENS-1001 (May 1969), MoFi – MFSL 1-273 (2005), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: cinematic soul, symphonic soul, sultry soul, psychedelic soul.

Hayes turned up the heat on Hot Buttered Soul the following year with what many consider to be his finest musical moment, along with the Shaft soundtrack in summer of 1971. Indeed, it marks a major musical milestone and evolution in creativity and production aesthetic; not only for Hayes as an artist but for the future of soul music in style, direction, and coming to full fruition in the fast-approaching new decade–not discounting the trip hop movement of the 1990s which would sample his downtempo material. The first thing that surely struck the listener back then was that it featured only four tracks lasting between 5 and 18 minutes long–an unheard practice at the time when most soul songs were still under the four and a half way mark, though this would soon change just a couple of years later. Instead of the unpolished and unapologetic looseness of the preceding debut album, here we encounter something much more structured and varnished, commensurate in scope with a glossy Ian Fleming flick–in fact the hard-panned staccato brass, bolster the wide and deep scene with a shiny Goldfinger ambiance...Mr. Bond. On it, he brings his unique slower interpretation of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Walk On By"–originally sung by Dionne Warwick in 1964–and solidly nails it. Harold Beane's fuzzy guitar solo evokes the psychedelic sounds of the period. Hayes also offers his version of Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"–a 1967 hit by Glen Campbell. Produced by Al Bell, Allen Jones, and keyboardist Marvell Thomas, and accompanied by The Bar-Kays, it was engineered by Ed Wolfrum and Terry Manning, and remixed by Russ Terrana, Jr. at Ardent Studios in Memphis, TN and United Sound Systems in Detroit, MI. Paul Richmond cut the lacquer at Mastercraft in Memphis, TN. The tonal balance is quite good but has a small tendency towards the treble taking on more emphasis than the bass registers resulting in a sharp sound with great depth and detail but a bit more bass punch would be welcome. Nonetheless, still very pleasant. If my memory is intact, the 2005 MoFi remastered by Krieg Wunderlich was good also, though I can't recall that it was superior, simply an interesting alternative I believe. I have not heard the 2018 Craft remaster [CR00034] by Dave Cooley and cut by Chris Noel to compare and comment.
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4- Barbara Acklin – Love Makes a Woman. Brunswick – BL 754137 (July 1968), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: Chicago soul, Northern soul, romantic soul, sentimental soul, R&B, ballads.

Isaac Hayes isn't the only soul singer songwriter that reappropriates Bacharach-David compositions. In effect, the album opens with two of these–a cover of Jackie DeShannon's "What the World Needs Now Is Love", followed by Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love". On her debut album released in summer 1968, the Oakland-born, Brunswick-signed artist, presents eleven soulful songs incorporating beautiful bass, brass, piano, and string arrangements. She sings with great control and class, and her voice is very well captured with wide natural range. Produced by Carl Davis and Chi-Lites lead vocalist Eugene Record, the uncredited musicians and backup singers recall Aretha Franklin's early-Atlantic period in style and engineering choices such as hard-panned drums, bass, guitars, strings, and vocals, bringing great clarity to the musical phrases which I always welcome. The Brunswick tonal balance is simply lovely as is so often the case with this truly historic label going back to the beginning of the twentieth century and recording era. It is pressed by MCA Pressing Plant, Gloversville in NY. Simply an incredible album and ambiance. Barbara Acklin continued to release musically interesting material into the early-1970s until leaving Brunswick in 1973.
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5- The Impressions – This Is My Country. Curtom – CRS 8001 (Nov. 1968), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: Chicago soul.

Before launching a successful solo singing, producing, and composing career, Curtis Mayfield was the main driving force behind the The Impressions. Stemming from Chattanooga, TN, in 1958, the group soon switched to Chicago whilst for a brief stint, singer Jerry Butler was the lead with Mayfield taking over when Butler began his own solo path two years later. Throughout the myriad membership, they recorded twenty albums during a two-decade run, releasing This Is My Country smack in the middle of the pack in november 1968–the first LP featured on Curtis' own Curtom label. I was lucky to find a second hand copy twenty years ago in a country thrift shop during a sunday stroll where I stumbled upon the Pusherman's prior period. Nine out of the ten short tracks are written and produced by maestro Mayfield, creating a musically-rich driven album. No recording engineer is credited. It was mastered at the Customatrix plant with the lacquer cut at Bell Sound Studios in New York. The sound falls in line with the production style of the late-1960s and what you could expect from a Motown release, which is slighly light in the bass registers while the rest of the spectrum is quite nicely rendered, especially so regarding Mayfield's distinctive vocals. A sleeper of an album worth seeking out.
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6- Stevie Wonder – My Cherie Amour. Tamla – TS 296 (Aug. 1969), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: soul, pop.

Released August 1969, this was Wonder's eleventh studio album following For Once in My Life [Tamla TS 291]. Of course this is far from his best album, but it is worth having just the same, and is the kind of LP that I like to pull out on occasion when feeling more sentimental than purely funky. The title-track is my favorite song along with his interpretations of The Doors' "Light My Fire", as well as the Johnny Mandel-penned "The Shadow of Your Smile". On some of the twelve tracks he plays his signature harmonica that fameously sealed the deal with Motown signing him at age eleven, and finding success two years later with his first hit single "Fingertips" found on his debut album, 1962's The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie [Tamla TM 233]–as he was known at that time. Produced by Henry Cosby. Funk Brothers' Benny Benjamin on drums and James Jamerson on bass are on the left while guitar, strings and conga are on the right, accompanying Stevie center stage. The sound presentation is kept simple and breathes easily with a natural tone balance and dymamic range for the genre. No recording engineers are credited. Larry Kling cut the lacquer and my copy was pressed by RCA Records Pressing Plant, Indianapolis in IN.
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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

TOP 500 SUPERSONIC LIST #150+

 Chosen by Claude Lemaire

"This is a journey into sound. A journey which along the way will bring to you new colour, new dimension, new value..."

For selections #1 to 50, please click here:
http://soundevaluations.blogspot.com/2017/01/top-500-supersonic-list.html

For selections #51 to 100, please click here:
http://soundevaluations.blogspot.com/2018/03/top-500-supersonic-list-50.html

For selections #101 to 150, please click here:  http://soundevaluations.blogspot.com/2019/08/top-500-supersonic-list-100.html 

BATTLE OF THE BIG BANDS!

The late-1930s to mid-1940s–it was the height of the big band era, as well as the second world war. Call me foolishly nostalgic perhaps but at least during that arduous period, we could lovingly hug and comfort each other, as opposed to now having to keep our distance for our safety and the people around us. The five selections below try to bring back that lost warmth through the music, arrangements, and sonic textures they transmit.

151- Tuxedo Junction – Tuxedo Junction. Butterfly Records – FLY 007 (1977), 33 1/3 rpm, black or gold-yellow clear colored vinyl. Genre: disco, big band swing, sweet band, latin.

"Boooard!..."

Taking its name from Glenn Miller's popular repertoire, Tuxedo Junction was a short-lived studio project produced by W. Michael Lewis & Laurin Rinder–the duo behind such disco formations as El Coco and Le Pamplemousse to mention but two. This is their self-titled debut released in January 1978. After a short intro spent at the train station, the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" departs with a thrusting pulse led by the punchy four-on-the-floor pounding away at just over 130 BPM of force. The piano is the powerful engine driving the main rhythm riff, with the brass blaring and building to a crescendo up until the vocal quartet of Jamie Edlin, Marilyn Jackson, Marti McCall, and Sue Allen chime in unison the well known lyrics. Near the end of the journey the train seems to jump over the tracks or segues rather clumsily onto "Rainy Night in Rio", and ditto into Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" which ends the first side. The flip side maintains the same high level of musicality, sophistication, and sound quality right up to the final slow track–Duke Ellington's excellent composition, "I Didn't Know About You". Recorded at Producers Workshop in Hollywood, California, engineer Joe Bellamy did a superb job capturing and remixing the band. The tonal balance is nearly spot on with a strong articulate kick drum accompanied by rich-sounding horns, and just the right amount of top end detail to keep things sharp; the only minor quibble being the upper mids feeling a fraction forward in the mix that on some systems could bother some listeners. Allen Zentz cut the lacquer at his mastering suite in California. I based my sonic impressions on my first press gold-yellow clear vinyl but did not compare it with the regular black pressing which could slightly alter in sound. 
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152- Tuxedo Junction – "Moonlight Serenade"/"Rainy Night in Rio". Century Records – CRDD-1140 (1978), 12", 45 rpm. Genre: big band swing, sweet band, latin, disco. ­(Direct Disc Phase II) D2D lacquer cutting. 

Both sides of this twelve-inch single comprise songs found on their self-titled debut LP discussed previously but presented in a slighltly different interpretation, and cut direct-to-disc at 45 rpm for maximum dynamics, rise time, and clarity. Though pretty close in performance, these versions are a bit more exciting in pace and superior in sound with unsurprisingly greater dynamics, punch, and even tonal balance. In fact the latter is perfect with no signs of the mild upper mid forwardness noted above. Glen Glancy directed the recording at Capitol Records, Studio B in Hollywood, California while engineers Galen Senogles mixed it with Bill Lightner supervising the direct-to-disc mastering and cutting. Highly recommended demo-worthy.
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153- The Glenn Miller Orchestra – The Direct Disc Sound of The Glenn Miller Orchestra. The Great American Gramophone Company – GADD-1020 (1977), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: big band swing, sweet band. ­Direct-to-disc lacquer cutting.
 
When the name Glenn Miller comes up, there is a good chance that the word big band soon follows rather than jazz. Whether you consider big band music a genre in and of itself or simply one of several steps or links along the rich vast path of jazz history, certainly swing is the common denominator. Basie had it in spades and Benny was crowned the King, but Miller's orchestra occupied that middle ground between "In the Mood"'s repetitive swing style precursing jump blues and early rock and roll, and "Moonlight Serenade's sweet band's smooth arrangements. Tragically, his life was cut short at age forty as his airplane disappeared in bad weather during the war. Fortunately for fans of his, from 1956 onwards the Glenn Miller Orchestra continued the late Trombonist' tradition of recording and playing for audiences. In August 1977, its eighteen musicians entered Capitol Record's legendary studio A in Hollywood California to cut a direct-to-disc master for The Great American Gramophone Company label. Ten tracks including five of their biggest hits are featured in absolutely stunning sound like the band has never been captured before. Directed by trombonist Jimmy Henderson and produced by Glen Glancy, engineers Hugh Davies and Wally Heider nailed it from start to finish. As expected from this purist recording approach harking back to the days of cutting to wax–like was the norm during the original Miller band–the dynamics and purity of tone and timbre are through the roof and to die for. No matter how great magnetic tape can be for recording–and it can be astoundingly good given the numerous fantastic-sounding albums out there–it remains there is always a certain amount of alteration to the real thing especially in transient speed and focus that D2D cutting seems to not suffer as much. But what really sets it apart from the similar and better known Harry James D2D recordings done for Sheffield Lab circa the same period, is the grainless sweetness of the brass and cymbals, making for a fatigue-free nostalgic ride of highest demo caliber, rivalled only by the 1978 M&K D2D Duke Ellington's tribute by Bill Berry and His Ellington All-Stars [RT-101] described in selection #106.
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154- Les Brown and His Band of Renown – Goes Direct to Disc. The Great American Gramophone Company – GADD-1010 (1977), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: big band swing, sweet band, disco. ­Direct-to-disc lacquer cutting. 

Barely two weeks after discovering the Glenn Miller selection above, I fell upon this other D2D release sharing the same label and year date in the same record store, also in mint condition for under ten bucks. Once again produced by Century Record Co.'s president Glen Glancy, and engineered by Hugh Davies and Wally Heider, it was cut by Bill Lightner, Bill Smith, Bill Tennis, Dave Ellsworth, Eugene Thompson, and Ken Perry. Brown's Band of Renown, which reaches back to 1938–coinciding with Miller's first single release–regroups twenty-five musicians for this date, interpreting a mixture of jazz standards plus a couple of mid-1970s pop covers such as Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" and Bill Conti's Theme from Rocky, "Gonna Fly Now". The sound is on par with the previous entry while the music is somewhat less captivating due to the high reliance on covers, it nevertheless is pleasant enough to have in a collection at such a low price on the second hand market.
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155- Count Basie... – Chairman of the Board. Roulette – SR 52032 Birdland Series (1959), Classic Records – SR 52032 (1998?) 33 1/3 rpm, 180g Quiex SV. Genre: jazz, big band swing, Kansas City style.

Don't be confused by the title, this is not a Sinatra album nor is the Chairman joining the Count on this occasion–though both gentlemen wonderfully worked together at the Sands on the Vegas Strip, and paired for a few recordings. This is pure Basie accompanied by his orchestra of sixteen musicians including trumpeter Thad Jones, trombonist Benny Powell, and guitarist Freddie Green. Produced by Terry Reig, the ten tracks were superbly recorded at Universal Studios, Chicago in March, and Capital Studios, New York in April and December 1958. Unfortunately the recording engineer is left uncredited. Typical of Roulette of that era, and similar to Riverside recordings, the soundstage's spread and dept is spectacular and cinemascope in presentation with the brass exchanging voices forwardly between left and right extremes, and the drums, bass, and Basie anchoring centrally far back, throwing a triangular-like soundfield. Being Basie, the piano playing is sparse and never dominates, preferring to share rather than steal the spotlight with his fellow musicians. It goes without saying that these sessions swing, and true to form, blues is never far behind, characteristic of Kansas City jazz with not a dull moment to spare. I don't have an original Roulette release but Bernie Grundman's remastering and cutting for Classic Records is impressive in scale and pretty spot on in tonal balance, very wide bandwidth, crisp brass and trombone blat, clean distinct measured piano timbre, agile bass presence with natural weight, and tight percussive drums, making it one of his top big band jazz remasterings. There is more room reverberation than on a Roy DuNann-engineered Contemporary but it is not over the top like some recordings of that same era, so we still can enjoy the great instrument precision. My version is the first very quiet background 180g Quiex SV pressed by RTI that Classic released and not the later 200g Quiex SV-P which may slightly differ in sound.
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156- Jackie McLean – It's Time!. Blue Note – BST 84179 (1965), Tone Poet Series – B0031655-01 (2020), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: jazz, hard bop, post bop, free jazz leanings.

Previously I had suggested that Tone Poet's remastering of Wayne Shorter's excellent Etcetera [Blue Note LT-1056, B0029357-01] pretty much put it at the top of my favorite Blue Note releases at least regarding sonic matters (see #146 HERE: http://soundevaluations.blogspot.com/2019/08/top-500-supersonic-list-100.html). I am happy to report that it has now been surpassed sonically, and musically by Jackie McLean's It's Time!. This appears to be his 14th LP for Blue Note out of a total of 21, and that is aside from his prior 9 LPs for Prestige, and at leasts 20 or so releases on either SteepleChase or other various labels. Produced by Alfred Lion and recorded in August 1964 at Van Gelder's Studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, the fiery session features Jackie on alto on the left counterbalanced by Charles Tolliver on trumpet on the right, racing in unison from the starting line with the track "Cancellation". From the get-go the former takes charge and sprints ahead up to the halfway point where the trumpet takes up the torch, both backed by Herbie Hancock improvising on the ivories, dissonantly dialoguing with great dexterity, paired up with the unrelenting rhythm section comprised of drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Cecil McBee. The level of musicianship, precision, and drive is out of this world. As is often the case with RVG, the bass lacks some palpability and precision–the only quibble to a perfect recording. Though not reaching down low, the piano does blend well within the quintet. The drums display fine midrange snap in the snare with agile dynamics to boot, but it is really the two horns that steal the show with such an exquisite tone, combining a burnish forceful cutting presence that transcends the speakers and the listening room. On that front alone Rudy and Kevin Gray outdid themselves on this one. If all Blue Notes sounded this great, jazz-loving audiophiles worldwide would be in heaven. The remaining five tracks of the album are nearly as good on all levels. As usual, Tone Poet's deluxe artwork and RTI's dead silent pressing are second to none in the industry. Friends, it doesn't get any better than this–classic mid-1960s Blue Note hard bop, flirting with free jazz blowing in stunning sound!
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157- The Horace Silver Quintet – Further Explorations. Blue Note – BLP 1589 (mono) (1958), BST 81589 (1967), Tone Poet Series – B0031884-01 (2020), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: jazz, hard bop.

This is another fantastic Blue Note reissue from Tone Poet that I find slightly surpasses this mainly excellent-sounding series. Recorded January 1958 by RVG at his previous place in Hackensack, NJ before moving to Englewood in mid-July 1959. Louis Hayes' drums are well captured. Teddy Kotick's bass typically suffers a bit being a Blue Note recording. Horace's piano fortunately is much better rendered than the average Van Gelder gig, being beautifully natural, articulated, and transparent in timbre. Finally Cliff Jordan and Art Farmer on tenor and trumpet respectively, are both terrific in tone color–the only frustrating caveat is that they share the same left channel and often play in unison instead of occupying opposite channels as is often the case with RVG's winning setup. On top of that, the piano is mostly situated on the left also, creating an unbalanced acoustic vacuum on the right where only the drums and weakish bass resonate–a very similar problem found on Lee Morgan's The Cooker [Tone Poet B0031577-01]–perhaps related to this earlier stereo period where Rudy was still experimenting with the new format. There are six tracks which five are signed Silver. Upon first listen, it reminded me of his previous LP, The Stylings of Silver [Blue Note 81562 or Music Matters Ltd MMBLP-1562], which is well worth seeking out also. Kevin Gray's remastering and cutting really got the tone balance spot on. Again Tone Poet's glossy cover art, Francis Wolf's photography, and RTI's perfect pressing makes this another no-brainer.
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158- Sacred Reich – The American Way. Roadracer Records, Metal Blade Records, Enigma – RO 9392 1 (Hol.) (1990), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: thrash metal, speed metal, funk metal.

Formed in Phoenix, Arizona in 1985, Sacred Reich carved out a niche among the trash metal bands of the era, building a bridge between Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax from the first wave of the 1980s, and Death Angel and Pantera through the second wave of the 1990s. The American Way follows their incredibly-strong debut–1987's Ignorance [Metal Blade, Enigma Records ST-73306]–and in tandem with the cover art and title, reflects the band's socio-political side of speed metal. Whereas the latter bore striking resemblance with Slayer's brutal Reign in Blood [Def Jam Recordings GHS 24131] released a year earlier; on this album, the riffs and more moderate tempos align more towards Anthrax's Among the Living [Island, Megaforce Worlwide 90584-1] and Metallica's sound circa 1988-1991. Produced and engineered by Bill Metoyer and assisted by Scott Cambell, the eight-track album was recorded and mixed at Cornerstone Studios in Chatsworth, Los Angeles, CA and Track Record in Hollywood, CA. The mix is magnifically executed, giving each of the four members perfect power, precision, and aggression for this metal genre. Greg's drums definitely stand out as superbly and skilfully miked along with Jason and Wiley's guitars combining a combo of crunch and warmth, with Phil's bass and vocals driving an energetic pace. The tonal balance is spot on; combined with the appropriate punch and dynamics, makes it one of the top sounding speed metal releases. Strangely the very last song–"31 Flavors"–features the funky sounds of The Unity Horns; with sax, trombone, and trumpet twisting the vibe completely to a groovier metal flavor. Released in May 1990 towards the nadir of vinyl's popularity, it was never pressed in the United States, so I acquired it upon its first release as a thin 120 gram or so European import, pressed by CBS, Haarlem in the Netherlands.
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159- Patsy Gallant – "Sugar Daddy"/"Back to the City". Attic – ATT.1201 (Can.) (1976), 12", 45 rpm. Genre: disco, funky jazzy pop.

Canadian singer Patsy Gallant's long musical career stems back to the 1950s at a very young age in both French and English, landing her first single in 1967. Nearly a decade later, she like many, embraced the disco craze, where in the province of Québec–more so in Montreal–disco fever was running high in temperature in the discothèques, radio stations, and local charts. Paired with producer and manager Ian Robertson, they released her first disco-flavored album Are You Ready for Love ­­­[Attic LAT 1017] in 1976–her French counterpart being Besoin d'Amour ­­­[Attic LATF 5000] out just mere months later. The twelve-inch version of "Sugar Daddy" selected here is sung in English only–a slightly shorter French version came out as a seven-inch single at the time also [Attic ATF 501]. Following the trend started by Donna Summer with her cover version of Barry Manilow's "Could It Be Magic" as well as Diana Ross with "Love Hangover" both in early-1976, and later that year with Thelma Houston's cover of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes' "Don't Leave Me This Way", Patsy begins the track with a short soft acapella intro before the mid-tempo beat comes in. Close to the midpoint, there is a superb percussive break based heavily on drums, congas, and alternating-channel hi-hat, nicely panned, and slightly spiced up with moderate reverb that resembles the percussion intro and breaks to Gloria Gaynor's cover of The Four Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There"–as such making a nice mix possibility. The vocals start to add on during the break's build up. The last minute mutes the vocals, and we are simply left with the instrumental, slowly fading finale, which has great warm arrangements by Yves Lapierre, somewhat similar to The Black Light Orchestra's style of that same era. Recorded and mixed by engineer Paul Pagé, and assisted by Billy Slawlowski at Studio Tempo, Montreal. Bill Kipper at Disques SNB Ltée in Montreal mastered and lacquer cut it. The sound is impressively balanced from top to bottom, good clean punch, dynamic for the genre, with wide and tall soundstage. Side B's "Back to the City" is another genre completely–rather than disco it is more a funky jazzy pop song, more akin to a simplified Steely Dan leftover track. That said, being very short in duration, and cut on a twelve-inch single by the same team as side A, it is very dymamic, with a fast punchy articulated kick and poppy snare; so worth at least a listen for sonics alone. 
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160- Melba Moore – "Standing Right Here"/"This Is It". Buddah Records – DSC 128 (1977), 12", 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: soulful disco. 

This is by far my favorite Melba Moore record for it contains two of her biggest hits reunited on one twelve-inch single plus outstanding sound for the main track on side A. "Standing Right Here" is a classy mid-tempo smooth soulful disco song penned and produced by Philly trio Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, and Victor Carstarphen, part of the Mighty Three Music publishing company instigated by Gamble & Huff, and Tom Bell. From the opening hi-hat and bass line structure, every subsequent 8-bar phrase adds layers of cowbell, conga, keyboard plus rhythm guitar, vocals, harp, and brass to the very refined uncluttered mix done by Richie Rivera. The bass has just the right combo of crunch, cushion, and warmth while the harp is utterly lithe, nimble, and transparent. Melba's voice is sweet, soulful, melodic, agile, yet powerful when called upon, and coming through the mix at just the right level. Towards the halfway mark, it turns instrumental for a few minutes before some back vocals come in later on, right until the final thirty seconds where only the lone conga remains present, making it perfect for mixing into the next song. Truly, one of the finest sounding disco track ever released. Side B features her previous hit from the year before, this one composed by disco producer Van McCoy, and mixed by Tom Moulton which was originally released as an early promo twelve-inch single [Buddah Records DISCO 103] and sounds quite good but not up to the same level of the newer song just described. The lacquer was cut at Sterling Sound in New York and pressed at Columbia Records Pressing Plant, Pitman in New Jersey. Melba had two following 12-inch singles worth getting–the Bee Gees composed "You Stepped Into My Life" [Epic 28-50601] in September 1978, and "Pick Me Up, I'll Dance" [Epic 28-50665] the same year, which also sound excellent.
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161- Diahann Carroll and The André Previn Trio – Porgy and Bess. United Artists Records – UAS 5021, United Artists Records – UAS 4021 (mono) (Can.) (1959), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: jazz, musical. 

I loves you Porgy... let me count the ways. There are several interpretations of Gershwin's work–originally considered by the composer as a "folk opera" in 1935, while later adapted as a musical for broadway, and finally for film in 1959. Of course "Summertime" is the best known song of the work, being covered by so many great artists such as Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and Janis Joplin just to name a few. On this particular LP released the same year as the film, singer, actress, and model Diahann Carroll joins German-American pianist, composer, and conductor André Previn with bassists Joe Mondragon and Keith Mitchell, and drummers Larry Bunker and Frank Capp forming his trio. The latter keep a low profile, preferring to let her shine through the ten tracks. I don't have the original US pressing so I cannot comment on that release but I do have two Canadian first pressings, both mono and stereo. The mono version is very pleasant sounding with incredibly delicate and refined treble. This lends the vocals an uncanny intimate presence as does a harpsichord-like instrument–or piano perhaps–on one track tingling the top end. The dynamic expressiveness is fantastic. The bass is just a tad shy in a near-perfect tonal balance. As can be expected the stereo version is quite wider with Previn's piano panned to the left side, and Diahann steered towards the right, making that type of soundstage situation somewhat unorthodox vs the common convention of centering the singer while the accompanying band spread out to the sides. The bass and lower notes of the piano are more plump and present with the stereo. Though each presentation is interesting, in the end I preferred the mono for the intimacy and imaging, with the singer directly in the middle instead of to my right. Produced by Jack Lewis, there are no engineering and studio credits listed unfortunately.
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162- Ray Charles & Cleo Laine – Porgy & Bess. RCA – CPL 2-1831 (1976), Classic Records – JP1831 (1998), 2x33 1/3 rpm. Genre: jazz, musical.

Another very different and interesting interpretation of Porgy was the 1976 orchestral jazz adaptation, arranged and conducted by Frank De Vol. The double album encompasses the most memorable songs from Gershwin's original score but refreshed with rich orchestrations offering new textures to discover. Cleo and Ray are superbly paired, their voices complementing each other so well, displaying passionate intensity and interplay throughout the tracks. He also lends himself to the ivories on some songs. They are accompanied by Joe Sample on organ, Harry Edison on trumpet, while Joe Pass and Lee Ritenour share guitar licks. Drums, bass, vibraphone, strings, and brass build up a very dynamic presentation. The remaining swinging musicians manning the band are not credited. Prolific producer Norman Granz granted name recognition to the project. Engineer Grover Helsley recorded them at RCA Studios in Hollywood on all analog large format multitrack giving it that mid-1970s sound vibe. I don't have the original RCA pressing but rather Classic Records' reissue, remastered by Bernie Grundman first in 1998 on 180g–though not the 200g released in 2005. This is one of the truly terrific remasterings by Bernie. Be it tonal balance, brass bite, treble texture and extension, cymbal definition, agile close-mic'd drum toms, transparency, vocal realism, and finally warm intimacy without falling into any overfat sludge sound. 
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163- Belle Epoque – Miss Broadway (France), Black Is Black (Italy). Carrere – 67. 169 (France) (1977), EMI – 3C 064-18225 (Italy) (1976), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: disco, Euro-disco, electro and funky flirtings. 

File it under nostalgia perhaps but winter 1976-77 seemed like La Belle Époque at leasts to me for getting my first sound system as well as Montreal's nightlife entering disco's most intense and interesting period. Formed in Paris, France, the female trio had two minor hits with "Miss Broadway" along with their discofied version of Los Bravos' "Black Is Black" hit single [Columbia CP 9.003], originally from 1966. Coincidentally French compatriot Cerrone also covered the latter on his debut album [Alligator J 1611], released just about the same time. Strangely the Italian EMI first pressing differs from the original French and North American releases in cover art, album title, and side order, i.e. A/B are reversed. Arranged and conducted by Albert Weyman, and produced by Roberto Conrado, the sound of my Italian pressing is fantastic with generous hefty lows, sufficient sweet highs, and perfect warm tonal balance, especially so on "Miss Broadway", which combines the main funky synth bass line riff, a traditional-like fiddle melody, and some quirky, scratchy vocals. The "Black Is Black" track is incorporated into a 14 minute medley occupying a whole side joined by the tracks "Disco Sound" and "Why Don't You Lay". This side is a bit less sweet in the treble but it slams pretty hard in the unrelenting momentous drive with its faster tempo, panned percussion, and processed-vocals. It is evident by the song structure and sonorities that they drew heavy inspiration from Donna Summer's "Try Me, I Know We Can Make It" [Durium D. AI. 30248] released earlier in March. I didn't have the original French Carrere pressing to compare with but can confirm that the Canadian copy–and even its twelve-inch single counterpart [Carrere CA-001]–is not as impressive as this Italian pressing. This is a killer pressing!
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164- Nature Zone – "Porcupine"/"Nobody Can Love Me (Like You Do)". London Disco – 5N - Disco 3000 (1976), 45 rpm. Genre: disco.

There is very little information on this group. I had never heard this twelve-inch single scheduled for release around June 1976 on the radio nor in clubs, and just newly discovered them finding a reasonably-priced near mint copy from a nearby record store. Composed, arranged, and produced by Steve Feldman, Tom Dawes, and John Lissauer. Both songs are kept close to the four minute mark ensuring plenty of groove space even at 45 rpm for superb sound quality. The music is nothing to go wild over, being mostly melodic-driven disco featuring a rhythm section, strings, strong piano participation, and very minimal vocals on side A, while side B is faster-paced, and has male and female vocals sharing duties. The sonic aspects are close to "one-step territory" or "direct-to-disc" in sonic immediacy especially so on side A where a rhythm guitar on the right is so clearly defined. The bass, mid, and treble reproduction are stunningly clean and powerful. The dynamics and 3D soundstage in all directions are close to mind-boggling. Mastered by Sterling Sound in New York, and pressed by Bestway Products Inc. in Mountainside New Jersey. Even if it's not a dancefloor stomper, definitely demo-worthy sonic-wise!
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165- Samba Soul – "Chove Chuva/Mas Que Nada"/"Mambo No.5". RCA Victor – PD-11092 (1977), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: latin disco, samba soul, mambo, minor afrobeat influences.

With the exception of a few hit singles in the late-1950s such as "La Bamba" and "Tequila", latin elements infusing popular music mainly manifested itself a full decade later in rock, soul, and funk formations such as Santana, War, and Barrabás. Spanish Harlem musician and singer Joe Bataan–who first came out with the term "salsoul", and soon rebranded it for disco's most important independant label–also had a string of hits blending boogaloo, salsa, and soul. Unlike Salsoul Records, where sound quality was consistently high across the board–employing mostly the same high caliber personnel every time–the giant RCA conglomerate understandably did not produce such a uniform sound. As such, there are some awesome, as well as awfull sounding records in their vast catalogue covering the whole gamut between both extremes. Samba Soul from Brazil fall into the former fortunately. Coordinated and directed by Osmar Navarro, and created by director Osmar Zan. Arranged and conducted by French trumpeter Jean-Pierre Soarez Here they reprise and fuse together two classic latin hits orginally sung by Brazilian singer-musician Jorge Ben, and found on his 1963 debut album Samba Esquema Novo [Philips P 632.161 L]–"Chove Chuva" and "Mas Que Nada", the latter a huge hit for Sérgio Mendes in 1966 [A&M Records SP-4116]. Side B reprises the Cuban classic "Mambo No.5" originally by Pérez Prado in 1950. Recorded at RCA Studios in Brazil and mixed by Warren Schatz at RCA Studios in New York in 1977, the tonal balance is spot on, with firm clean bouncy bass, panned clear guitars, string sweeps and/or string-sounding synth, and crisp brass alternating between trombone, trumpet, and sax. The multiple percussive chunky breaks of drums and conga encourage many mix possibilities with other disco tracks such as Larry Page Ork.'s "Erotic Soul" from 1976 [Penny Farthing PD 100]. 
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166- The Doors – Strange Days. Elektra – EKS-74014 (1967), DCC Compact Classics – LPZ-2045 (1992), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: acid rock, psychedelia, psychedelic rock, blues rock, musique concrète (in small doses).

The last track on The Doors debut album is titled "The End" but nothing could be further from the truth. The Los Angeles-based band forged ahead with five future studio releases within five consecutive years, unlocking the doors with the key of their imagination that would make Rod Serling proud. Inspired in part by beat poet and novelist Jack Kerouac, and writer-philosopher Aldous Huxley–whose book The Doors of Perception provided the group with a haunting name–the quartet of Morrison, Manzarek, Krieger, and Densmore drew liberally from blues, rock, psychedelia, early-twentieth century German music, Indian and Turkish influences, circus-type music, and flirting with jazzy instrumentation and improvisation. Strictly in terms of musical merit, the self-titled debut recorded in late-summer 1966, and released in January 1967 represents if not the best, then certainly one of the three best the band brought forth before Morrison's untimely death in July 1971. Unfortunately the sonics do not reach the same high level of musicianship for inclusion in this List, perhaps constrained by the 4-track recorder–still the industry norm at the time. On the other hand, with their second LP Strange Days, released in September, recording engineer Bruce Botnick benefited from the greater flexibility afforded by the brand new 8-track installed at Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood, California. This not only improved greatly the sound quality but opened up more artistic experimentation in the studio to create strange sounds and textures. Producer Paul A. Rothchild reprises his role. Among the ten tracks are some of the most memorable melodies lining their catalogue: the psychedelia and nearly dystopian mood of "Strange Days" introducing the Moog synthesizer to rock; the delicate and sensual "You're Lost Little Girl", with the walking bass intro augmented by the clean guitar, Morrison's subtly dissonant vocals, Densmore's drums, Manzarek's keyboards, and Krieger's incredibly dreamy guitar solo; the groovy bluesy rock riff of "Love Me Two Times" inventively incorporating a harpsichord into the mix; "People Are Strange"; and the most acidic track drenched in fuzzy psychedelic solos, "When the Music's Over" which revisits snippets of "Light My Fire" combined with "The End", and aptly ends the album. I don't have the original US pressing but do have a gold black-lettering DG Elektra first Canadian pressing which sounds fairly good though a bit thin in the bass and compressed but my DCC remastered and tube lacquer cut by Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman is awesome sounding combining the perfect mixture of warmth and fine transparency with pleasant tonal balance and organic mid presence.
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167- The Doors – L.A. Woman. Elektra – EKS-75011 (1971), Elektra, DCC Compact Classics – LPZ-2050 (1998), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: funk rock, blues rock, psychedelic solos, jazzy overtones.

Released in April 1971, nearly three months prior to Morrison's death, L.A. Woman is considered by most fans, the last true Doors album, despite the fact the remaining trio released two subsequent albums exploring other musical directions. It is the third essential album to accompany the aforementioned two in the preceding selection; as well as probably being the best sounding of the lot. As to be expected, given the rapidly moving musical landscapes of that era–the late-1960s switching into the early-1970s– the compositions, and song structures rely less on psychedelia, and more on blues rock than the previous LPs, with even a funky riff flavor thrown in, courtesy of James Brown's rising influence. Such is the case with the opening track, "The Changeling"–which by the way makes a magnificent mix with Lipps Inc.'s "Funkytown" [Casablanca NBD 20207 DJ] from December 1979–and one can only speculate, were it not for the Lizard King's demise, did the band consider pursuing in that vein on future releases, as Jimi Hendrix with Band of Gypsys was heading towards before his premature passing. "Love Her Madly" goes in another direction, fitting more towards an old Western saloon scene playing jangling ragtime on an upright piano. In fact Manzarek used a tack piano to that effect. "Being Down So Long" is pure stomping hard blues rock with crunchy guitar licks. The title track travels yet another route and shifts gears and tempo several times on the freeway–starting with the rhodes at a fast and furious 170 bpm–incorporating rhythm and blues elements, some "questions and answers" soul lines a la "What'd I Say"–Ray borrowing from "Brother Ray"–hard rock, and saloon-esque southern rock, thanks to the honky-tonk piano playing. The ten track LP ends with their masterpiece "Riders on the Storm", a dreamy, jazzy seven-minute psychedelic piece partly about a 'killer on the road', interspersed with thunder and rainfall trickling down Manzarek's keyboard. It is inspired by the country westen classic "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" written in 1948, and popularized by Vaughn Monroe a year later. It turned out to be not only the last song of the album but the last ever recorded by all four. In addition to the latter, bassist Jerry Scheff and rhythm guitar Marc Benno lended a hand on some tracks. Unlike the previous releases, Rothchild did not produce it because of a falling-out with the group. Instead Bruce Botnick was kept on as engineer and co-producer with the band. Beautifully recorded with minimum overdubs on 8-track at The Doors Workshop in West Hollywood, CA, that served double duty as a rehearsal space and head office. Perfectly mixed and balanced. It is intimate and the guitars are so well rendered. Originally mastered at Artisan Sound Recorders in Southern California. I don't have the original Elektra pressing to compare with but my DCC remastered and cut by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray is incredible-sounding, appropriately dynamic, quite warm, with toneful mids, and full-bodied. Like the preceding Doors selection, I have not heard the 2012 Analogue Productions double-45 rpm [APP 75011-45], remastered and cut by Doug Sax and Sangwook "Sunny" Nam, and pressed at QRP on 200g so cannot comment but I do have their debut done by the same team from the same series [APP 74007-45] and despite the superior glossy gatefold artwork, I much prefer the 1992 single 33 1/3 rpm DCC [LPZ-2046] because of the groovier Gray-Hoffman EQ choices and organic sound. That cutting duo really rocked the (Hyacinth) House!  
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168- T. Rex – Electric Warrior. Fly Records – HIFLY 6 (UK) (1971), 33 1/3 rpm, MoFi – MFSL 2-490 (2020), (2x45 rpm). Genre: glam rock, art rock, art folk overtones.

In reaction to the burgeoning British progressive music scene nascent in the early-1970s, Marc (Feld) Bolan–a contraction of Bob Dylan some surmise, as the poet, singer, and songwriter, sourced inspiration from the original troubadour–brought forth a breath of fresh air by harnessing harder rock sounds with psychedelic folk art rock, along shorter, simpler song structures. Transforming Tyrannosaurus Rex into simply T. Rex reinvigorated Bolan and the band. Through daring fashion choices and songs like "Ride a White Swan", he ushered in the new decade, creating glam rock in the process. David Bowie would soon sway to the decadence, glitter, and androgyny of the times. Tony Visconti produced this album, and was also the thin white duke's producer on many of his key albums. In fact, exploring Electric Warrior–their second or sixth release, depending if you divide both group iterations–you can clearly hear Major Tom and Ziggy spidering down from Mars. Meshed into this theropod beast, is the classic "Get It On", sometimes retitled "Bang a Gong (Get It On)", by far the band's best known track. Not too far behind, and eventually appearing on The Slider [T. REX BLN 5001] would be "Telegram Sam" released the following year, and later covered by Bauhaus in 1980. Warrior is rich in song craftmanship, canvassing varied musical terrain, teetering between acoustic and electric. Saxophonist Ian McDonald, who worked on King Crimson's debut album two years prior, played baritone and alto. Engineers Malcolm Cicel, Martin Rushent, Rik Pekkonen, and Roy T. Baker recorded it from March to June 1971 at Mediasound in Manhattan, New York, Wally Heider Recording Studio in Los Angeles, Trident Studios and Advision Studios in London, England. George 'Pecko' Peckham mastered and lacquer cut the original UK pressing on independent Fly Records released that September, which I have not heard to comment on. Krieg Wunderlich remastered and lacquer cut it on double-45 rpm at Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab in Sebastopol, and pressed it at RTI in Camarillo, both in California. The sound from MoFi is excellent, tending towards the thicker and warmer side of neutral with moderate analog compression which is what to expect given the period and 16-track recorder. Drums and bass are solid; acoustic and electric guitars, clean and dirty respectively. Vocals are adequately present but sadly marred with strong sibilance in several songs. Multiple comments on sound forums seem to suggest that the original UK is equally affected by this, and leads one to conclude that it is present on the original master tape. The soundstage is wide, and instruments instill nice density over RTI's dead silent background.  
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169- Witch Queen – Witch Queen. Unison – UN-7903 (1979), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: disco, hints of rock and electro.
 
Equally banging Bolan's gong were Witch Queen, a Canadian one-off project stemming from Montréal, Québec, produced and created by keyboard wizard Gino Soccio and Peter Alves. First dabbling into disco in spring 1977 behind Kebekelektrik's single "Journey Into Love" [Les Disques Direction Records DD-8004]–in reality a cover of Space's "Magic Fly" [Vogue 45. V-G 01] from France–Soccio later released under his own name the twelve-inch singles "The Visitors"/"Les Visiteurs" [Celebration CEL 5] and "Dancer" [Celebration CEL 11 or Warner Bros., RFC RCSD 8788] in February 1979. Jumping to June 1979, Witch Queen opens with the title-track, a cover and rebranding of Redbone's 1971 hit "The Witch Queen of New Orleans" [Epic KE 30815]. It is paired up with another British early hard rock number–a cover of Free's 1970 hit "All Right Now" [Island Reocrds ILPS 9120]. Side B features the aforementioned T. Rex track, though rebranded as "Bang a Gong" instead of the initial UK title, followed by "Got the Time", the only original composition by both producers. All three discofied versions are really excellent reinterpretations, as worthy as the originals. Engineers David Yates, Gabriel Boucher, Gregg Hamm, Mick Walsh, Philippe Espantoso, and Steve Melton recorded the album at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Alabama, Phase One Studios in Toronto, Ontario, and mixed at Studio Six in Montréal, Québec, both in Canada. The lacquer was cut at Sterling Sound in New York. Toulouse singer Heather Gauthier lends her voice as does future Lime member Denis Lepage is credited for keyboards. The sound is superbly good, punchy in the bass with just the right ratio of overall mids and detailed highs to keep it interesting.
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170- Gloria Gaynor – I've Got You. Polydor – PD-1-6063, – 2391 218 (1976), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: disco.
 
Second only to disco diva Donna Summer, Gloria Fowles better known as Glorious Gloria Gaynor was once hailed as the rival Queen of Disco to the dancefloor throne. The New Jersey singer accumulated a string of hits from the mid to late-1970s. Beginning briefly in 1973 with the Norman Harris-arranged single "Honeybee" [Columbia 4-45909], things really took off in October 1974 with her energetic discofied version of The Jackson 5's soul ballad "Never Can Say Goodbye", greatly improved and extended upon by Tom (maestro) Moulton with the release of her debut album [MGM M3G 4982] in January 1975. Released that September and following in the same mould, Moulton mixed her second album Experience Gloria Gaynor [MGM M3G 4997], containing "Cassanova Brown" and the 1940s jazz standard "How High the Moon". All of the above are musically rich disco classics worth having. Sadly, though the sonics are fairly good, they do suffer from some form of compression tilting the tonal balance towards the high mids and treble; thus my reluctance to include them officially in this List. Fortunately such is not the case with her third album I've Got You selected here and released in July 1976. This was the last album to feature Moulton as mixer along with Meco Monardo–of later "Star Wars" fame–as producer who had presided over the previous two LP's under the DCA–Disco Corporation of America–production banner comprising Tony Bongiovi, and Jay Ellis. It is also the final release to repeat the winning formula of joining together three tracks in a non-stop fashion occupying all of side A. Starting with "Let's Make a Deal", then blending with the Cole Porter-penned "I've Got You Under My Skin" from the 1936 movie Born to Dance with arrangements by Charlie Callelo, culminating with "Be Mine", a lesser known track arranded by Harold Wheeler. Side B are separate tracks, and not much worth mentioning. Engineers Bob Hasell, Bob Valicenti, and Tony Bongiovi recorded it at Mediasound in Manhattan New York, Dimensional Sound Studios, N.Y., and Track Recorders in Silver Spring, Maryland. Mastered by Jose Rodriguez as well as lacquer cut by him and Moulton. Pressed by All Disc Records, Inc. in Roselle, New Jersey. This is without doubt the best sounding Gaynor album and tracks to get, featuring a perfect Moulton mix with punchy kick drum, moderate compression, and overall warm tonal balance with just a hint of crispy congas, brass, and guitar.
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