Side One: Mint Minus Minus (a little noisier in parts)
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus (a little noisier in parts)
- A KILLER sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last
- Both of these sides are incredibly rich, warm and dynamic with TONS of Tubey Magic and a big meaty bottom end
- 4 1/2 stars: "Back to Oakland had tougher, funkier and better-produced cuts, stronger vocals from Lenny Williams, and included an excellent ballad in "Time Will Tell," and a rousing tempo in "Don't Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream)."
- We're keeping the price down not this one due to some condition issues, see below
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- On side one, there's a mark about 1/8" into track 5 that plays 5 times at a moderate level and once loudly
- On side two, there's a stitch that plays across the whole side but it's only audible between the tracks
Oftentimes the copy with the best sound is not the copy with the quietest vinyl. The best sounding copy is always going to win the shootout, the condition of its vinyl not withstanding. If you can tolerate the problems on this pressing you are in for some amazing music and sound. If for any reason you are not happy with the sound or condition of the album we are of course happy to take it back for a full refund, including the domestic return postage.
We love this funky music and have long been delighted with how wonderful the best pressings can sound. This may be Tower of Power’s best; certainly it’s one of their most consistent and well-recorded.
When you hear it on a Hot Stamper like this, there is little in the recording to criticize. The brass is textured with just the right amount of bite (but not to the point of sounding gritty). In addition, the soundstage is wide and three-dimensional, with the kind of transparency that allows you to hear into the music all the way to the back wall of the studio (assuming your system resolves that kind of information).
The most obvious effect is that all the horns are separated out from one another, not all smeared together, with plenty of space around the drums, guitars and vocals as well. The sound is freely flowing from the speakers, not stuck inside them.
A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space
One of the qualities that we don't talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record's presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small -- they don't extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don't seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies -- my notes for these copies often read "BIG and BOLD" -- create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They're not brighter, they're not more aggressive, they're not hyped-up in any way, they're just bigger and clearer.
And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that -- a copy like this one -- it's an entirely different listening experience.
The biggest problems we found in our shootout were:
Some edge to the horn sound (the kind of "detail" that some audiophiles might prefer but that to our ears would be a source of listener fatigue in the long run);
Stuck in the speakers low-resolution sound, by far the most typical, wherein the ambience and spaciousness of the studio are noticeably compromised;
And lack of bass, which either takes the rhythmic quality out of the music, the drive so to speak, or makes the horns sound thin, which is a not a sound we tend to like, on this album or any other, although most of the audiophiles that I've met seem not to mind it all that much.
The Wrong Kind of Clarity
Much of what passes for clarity in some systems is just a lack of lower mids and thin bass response -- woofers too small, not enough of them, the same old story. There are many commentaries on the site concerning this very issue and I recommend you check a few out when you have the time.
Music like this needs full-bodied sound to do what it's trying to do; you need to be able to move lots of air in your lvingroom to bring this music to life. You can be sure this band full of horn players was moving huge amounts of air in the studio. Would have loved to be there!
The Sheffield Record -- So Dry
Some of you no doubt know that there is a Direct to Disc on Sheffield by this band. I can tell you without question that this particular LP is clearly better sounding than that one, which tends to be annoyingly dry. This band's recordings as a rule tend to be on the dry side, with little in the way of studio echo or ambience. The Sheffield is even more dryly recorded than their other albums, at least on the copies that I have played.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better 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 other 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 originals.
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.
Don't Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream)
Just When We Start Makin' It
Can't You See (You Doin' Me Wrong)
Time Will Tell
Man From the Past
Love's Been Gone So Long
I Got the Chop
Below Us, All the City Lights
Tower of Power followed their self-titled gold album with an even better album that didn't enjoy similar sales success. Back to Oakland had tougher, funkier and better-produced cuts, stronger vocals from Lenny Williams (who was more comfortable as their lead singer), and included an excellent ballad in "Time Will Tell," and a rousing tempo in "Don't Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream)." The Tower of Power horn section reaffirmed its reputation in both soul and pop circles, and the album included a powerhouse instrumental.
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