The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus
- This superb 2-pack offers outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last on ridiculously-difficult-to-find original British vinyl
- Engineered by Andy and Glyn Johns, this is Leon's best sounding album, especially on a copy that sounds as good as this one does
- No other Leon Russell album has the richness, the sweetness, and the Tubey Magic of this, his second release from 1971
- "Russell practically invented what might as well be called Okie rock -- with that shit-kicker Gospel sound, heavy on Baptist-revival piano and chorus [a template Elton John found more than a little useful for his first ten albums or so] - and it gets as good on this album as you'll ever hear."
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Stranger in a Strange Land, which leads off side one, might just be the best song the man ever wrote. What a joy it is to hear it sound so big and powerful.
These vintage A&M pressings have the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to "see" the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with Russell and the band, this is the record for you. It's what vintage all analog recordings are known for -- this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What the best sides of Leon Russell and the Shelter People have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1971
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
The Piano Sound
Pay special attention to the piano -- on the transparent and tonally correct copies it is clear and full-bodied. The piano in a dense recording such as this often makes for a very good test. It's in there, sure, but how easily can you see it and how much like a real piano does it sound? When the piano is right more often than not most every other instrument will be right as well.
Here the piano sounds right. And the British vinyl is high quality and quiet, which is a big help in the transparency department. Many of the copies we bought from overseas were nothing but crackle from heavy play on bad turntables. This copy has no such problems. It's one of the lucky survivors.
What We're Listening For on Leon Russell and the Shelter People
If you know Graham Nash's Song for Beginners (a permanent member of our Top 100 Rock and Pop List) and a masterpiece of engineering, that should give you a good feel for the sound of the best copies of Leon Russell and the Shelter People.
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren't "back there" somewhere, lost in the mix. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to most LPs.
- Tight punchy bass -- which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Domestic Vs. Import
The domestic pressings of Leon Russell and the Shelter People that we'd auditioned over the years always seemed flat, dry, and closed-in. We know that sound well; it's the sound you hear on records that have been made from dubbed tapes (and it's the hallmark of the modern Heavy Vinyl reissue, truth be told). It bores us to tears, and had us questioning what we could possibly have seen in the album in the first place. What happened to the glorious sound of early '70s analog we were expecting to find?
It was only when we dropped the needle on a good British copy that the scales fell from our eyes. We found ourselves dumbfounded by the truly wonderful Tubey Magical richness, space and clarity of the real master tape. Finally, the key to the mystery had been found.
American artist, American pressing? A good rule of thumb but one that breaks down badly on this album, and for two obvious reasons: the very British engineering team of Andy and Glyn Johns.
Our Famous 2-packs
Our 2-pack sets combine two copies of the same album, with at least a Super Hot Stamper sonic grade on the better of each "good" side, which simply means you have before you a pair of records that offers superb sound for the entire album.
Audiophiles are often surprised when they hear that an LP can sound amazing on one side and mediocre on the other, but since each side is pressed from different metalwork which has been aligned independently, and perhaps even cut by different mastering engineers from tapes of wildly differently quality, in our experience it happens all the time. In fact it's much more common for a record to earn different sonic grades for its two sides than it is to rate the same grade. That's just the way it goes in analog, where there's no way to know how a any given side of a record sounds until you play it, and, more importantly, in the world of sound everything is relative.
Since each of the copies in the 2-pack will have one good side and one noticeably weaker or at best more run-of-the-mill side, you'll be able to compare them on your own to hear just what it is that the Hot Stamper sides give you. This has the added benefit of helping you to improve your critical listening skills. We'll clearly mark which copy is Hot for each side, so if you don't want to bother with the other sides you certainly won't have to.
Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
Stranger in a Strange Land
Of Thee I Sing
It's a Hard Rain Gonna Fall
Crystal Closet Queen
Home Sweet Oklahoma
The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
She Smiles Like a River
Beware of Darkness
Leon Russell didn't get to be the World's Champion Hip Okie by accident. He earned it on Stones sessions, by writing "Give Peace a Chance," by teaming up with Joe Cocker -- and he's just paid more dues with Leon Russell and the Shelter People, one of the best rock albums so far this year.
Russell practically invented what might as well be called Okie rock -- with that shit-kicker Gospel sound, heavy on Baptist-revival piano and chorus -- and it gets as good on this album as you'll ever hear.
He works wonders on Dylan's "It's a Hard Rain Gonna Fall," wails through a lovingly ironic piano-pounding tribute to Little Richard on "Crystal Closet Queen" and lopes through "She Smiles like a River," a rolling hill-folky ballad apparently inspired by "Life Is like a Mountain Railway." And there's more -- much more.
- Playboy, 9/71.
Leon Russell and the Shelter People is a prime example of Russell's instrumental dexterity and ability to produce some energetic rock & roll.
Poignant and expressive tracks such as "Of Thee I Sing," "Home Sweet Oklahoma," and "She Smiles Like a River" all lay claim to Russell's soulful style and are clear-cut examples of the power that he musters through his spirited piano playing and his voice.
His Dylan covers are just as strong, especially "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "It Takes a Lot to Laugh," while "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" and "It's a Hard Rain Gonna Fall" have him sounding so forceful, they could have been Russell's own.
A hearty, full-flavored gospel sound is amassed thanks to both the Shelter People and the Tulsa Tops, who back Russell up on most of the tracks, but it's Russell alone that makes "The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen" such an expressive piece and the highlight of the album.
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