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Top 500 SuperSonic List - Part 37

07-31-2023 | By Claude Lemaire | Issue 128

This is an ongoing project by Claude Lemaire of Soundevaluations

221. Billie Holiday, Songs For Distingué Lovers. Verve Records – MG VS-6021 (1958), Classic Records MG VS-6021 (180g) (1995), Verve Records, UMe, Acoustic Sound Series B0036831-01 (2023) 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: jazz, vocal jazz, small-ensemble swing, bluesy ballads.

If ever there was such a thing as a perfect jazz record, this has got to be it. Recorded in January 1957, and released a year later—not long before her premature death at age 44–the brooding mood of many of the songs is reflective of her struggles with hard drugs and the bottle. Some find her voice diminished compared to her early years; on the contrary, I find it fitting and deeply emotional. The six standards pulled from the Great American Songbook include "Day In, Day Out," "A Foggy Day," "Stars Fell on Alabama," "One For My Baby (And One More For the Road)," "Just One of Those Things," and "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." Though we've heard them countless times interpreted by many great singers, Billie brings a very personal touch. She is in very good company with the likes of Ben Webster on tenor sax, Harry Edison on trumpet, Barney Kessel on guitar, Red Mitchell on bass, Jimmy Rowles on piano, and Alvin Stoller on drums. Verve's Norman Granz produced and supervised the album. Unfortunately there seems to be no engineering credits on any of the issues out there, but whoever did it, sure knew what he was doing. Billie is dead center, while the drum, bass, piano, and guitar are on the left, with the brass and room reverbs on the right. This on paper may appear overloaded on the left while too light on the right but when listening it sounds awesomely majestic, magical, and intimate. I don't have an original pressing but do have the 1995 Classic Records on 180g and their 2001 version on 200g done by Bernie Grundman, and was able to compare them with the 2023 UMe Acoustic Sound Series on 180g marketed as remastered by Ryan Smith. First of all this has always been one of my favorite Classic Records nailing it on every track, and though sounding nearly identical, preferred my 180g to my 200g pressing. When came time to compare with the latest Acoustic Sound QRP pressing, I noticed that both record's 'dead waxes' were visually the same size but did not initially read any matrix info. Keeping everything identical during my A/B comparison, my trusted audiophile friend and I both confirmed hearing the same slight sonic differences between both pressings, and ever so slightly preferred this new 2023 version, thinking Ryan Smith was the winner. Well it turns out that the latter is false, as after checking Discogs' info and the Acoustic Sound's dead wax more thoroughly, we see that 'BG' (and not 'RKS') is inscribed, matching my old Classic Records release, and meaning they used the same metal mother parts. So this confirmed once again that even similar quality identical weight pressings from the same mother can exhibit small but significant sonic differences. The 2023 version mainly had a bit more bass weight and definition, while the guitar and brass had a tad less midrange making them warmer and smaller-sized. Also the L-C-R imaging in the soundstage was a fraction wider and better defined. Lastly the QRP pressing was dead silent, more so than the still excellent 180g RTI pressing (the 200g was noisier). If you want only one Billie Holiday in your collection, this is the one to get, musically and sonically, but you should not limit yourself to one.

222. Diana Ross & the Supremes with The Temptations, Together. Motown – MS-692 (1969), Tamla Motown – MS-692 (Can.), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: Motown Sound, soul, funk.

Within the Motown roster, the Supremes and their male counterparts The Temptations, not only ruled the AM airwaves in the US but the roadshow revue circuit in the UK as well. A tight knit family, it seems only normal that both super hit-maker groups unite forces in the studio for one duet LP. In fact it wasn't the first time they collaborated, the latter took place a year earlier on Diana Ross & the Supremes Join The Temptations (Motown MS-679) as well as the original sound track from TCB (Motown MS-682) in November and December 1968 respectively. Highlights from Together include the Ashford & Simpson-penned "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," Stevie Wonder's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," Sly Stone's "Sing a Simple Song," Bob Crewe's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," and an interesting medley mixing "My Guy" and "My Girl." In addition to both groups' vocals are The Andantes, the female trio that sang on so many of Motown's top-charting singles since 1962. Frank Wilson produced the album. No engineering credits are given but the sound is excellent with a roundish bass, crisp mids, clear snare, superb rendition for all vocal parts, nice dynamic shadings and fine soundstage. Together is truly a Motown match made in heaven.

223. The Temptations, Live at London's Talk of the Town. Gordy – GLPS-953 (1970), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: Motown Sound, soul, psychedelic soul, funk.

Following in the Motor city lineage, Live at London's Talk of theTown showcases the talented Temptations performing at the Talk of the Town nightclub—originally the Hippodrome situated in the City of Westminster in London, England. Released in July 1970, it was the third Temptations live LP following Temptations Live! (Gordy S-921) in march 1967, and Live at the Copa (Gordy GS938) in December 1968. What makes this album particularly noteworthy is that the quintet had already built up an impressive repertoire of great songs during the last five years in studio and touring. Side A starts out strong with an eight-minute introductory medley featuring among others "Get Ready," "My Girl," and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," "The Impossible Dream," "Runaway Child, Running Wild," "Don't Let the Joneses Get You Down" come next. Side B features such classics as "I Can't Get Next to You," "I Know I'm Losing You," and "Cloud Nine," as well as their take on the Bacharach-David hit "This Guy's in Love with You." Known to have worked on many Beatles recordings, Norman Smith produced the album. The recording engineer is not mentioned. Randy Kling cut the lacquer. The interpretations with the tight live band are rousingly exciting, fresh, and dynamic, and the recorded sound is up to the challenge. Tonal balance, vocal clarity, dynamic range, and soundstage dimensions are all mightily realistic and impressive!

224. James Brown, Slaughter's Big Rip-Off. Polydor – PD 6015 (US or Can.) (1973), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: jazz-funk, funk, blaxploitation-style soul.

Brown had previously participated in the blaxploitation movie soundtrack Black Caesar (Polydor PD 6014) released in February 1973. He followed a similar recipe seven months later with Slaughter's Big Rip-Off. Famous funk trombonist Fred Wesley—known for his work with The J.B.'s throughout the 1970s—joins James with "Happy for the Poor" sounding nearly identical to "Gimme Some More" from Food for Thought (People PE5601). Because it's a soundtrack, many of the thirteen tracks are under the three-minute mark. Brown, Wesley, and Dave Matthews musically arranged the album. Sadly no engineering is credited but all of the tracks are funky fantastic, and sound killer terrific. I don't have the original US pressing but do have the Canadian first press which I based my sonic impressions Tonal balance is warm and spot on with groovy bass, crisp brass and rhythm guitar, impressive dynamics and top end finesse and precision. Definitely demo-worthy!

225. Spinners, Pick of the Litter. Atlantic – SD 18141 (1975), 33 1/3 rpm. Genre: Philly soul.

This is the Spinners sixth and last great studio album released in August 1975, though Happiness Is Being with the Spinners, a year later, does contain the funky "The Rubberband Man" (Atlantic DSKO 76) worth having. While the chart-topping single "They Just Can't Stop It The (Games People Play)" remains the best known track from Pick of the Litter, other songs such as the opening track "Honest I Do" with its signature Philly soul backbeat—recalling the groups major hits "I'll Be Around" and "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love"—"Love or Leave," and "All That Glitter's Ain't Gold" are nearly as good. Even the ballads, which I often skip over, are so well recorded with the strong vocal presence, that I left the needle run its course. Thom Bell produced, arranged, and conducted the album. MFSB's orchestra provided the backbone, embellished by Don Renaldo & His Swinging Strings and Horns. Larry Washington played the congas while Bob Babbitt played bass and Bobby Eli played guitar. Not credited, Dionne Warwick contributes a few lines on the last track "Just as Long as We Have Love". Engineers Don Murray and Jim (Reds) Gallagher recorded them at Sigma Sound Studios; Nimitr Sarikananda mastered it at Frankford/Wayne Recording Labs, both in Philadelphia, Pa. Both technical teams did an outstanding job. Tonal balance is warm and perfect with rich bass, non-fatiguing mids, top end treble finesse, and very low compression for a non-audiophile release.

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