Side One: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
- An absolutely magical copy, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides - exceptionally quiet vinyl too, as quiet as we can find them
- Turn this one up good and loud (which you can do when the sound is right) and you'll have a living, breathing Jennifer Warnes standing right between your speakers
- The space, resolution, and clarity here are wonderful - for evidence just look to the rosiny texture on the string arrangement of the Song of Bernadette
- 4 1/2 stars: "The high point may have been the Warnes-Cohen duet on "Joan of Arc," but the album was consistently impressive."
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We're big fans of this album here at Better Records. It's the only thing Jennifer Warnes ever did that we would consider a Must Own recording or Desert Island Disc. In my humble opinion it's clearly both.
This copy showed us the Famous Blue Raincoat Magic we know and love. The drums are big and punchy with plenty of WHOMP and the sound of skins being THWACKED. Jennifer's voice is clear and breathy. If you know the record well you will surely be amazed at just how good this music can sound on a pressing as hot as this one.
What outstanding sides such as these 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 1986
- 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 studio space
Key Test for Side One
Listen to the snare drum on Bird on a Wire. On most copies, it sounds thin and bright, not very much like a real snare. Let's face it: most copies of this record are thin and bright, and that's just not our sound here at Better Records. If the snare on Bird sounds solid and meaty, at the very least you have a copy that is probably not too bright, and on this album that puts it well ahead of the pack.
While you're listening for the sound of that snare, notice the amazing drum work of Vinnie Colaiuta, session drummer extraordinaire. The guy's work on this track -- especially with the high hat -- is GENIUS.
Key Test for Side Two
Listen to the sound of the piano on Song of Bernadette. If it's rich and full-bodied with the weight of a real piano, you might just have yourself a winner. At the very least you won't have to suffer through the anemically thin sound of the average copy.
What to Listen For (WTLF)
Less grit - smoother and sweeter sound, something that is not easy to come by on Famous Blue Raincoat.
A bigger presentation - more size, more space, more room for all the instruments and voices to occupy. The bigger the speakers you have to play this record the better.
More bass and tighter bass. This is fundamentally a rock record. It needs weight down low to rock the way the artists, engineers and producers wanted it to.
Present, breathy vocals. A veiled midrange is the rule, not the exception.
Good top end extension to reproduce the harmonics of the instruments and details of the recording including the studio ambience.
Last but not least, balance. All the elements from top to bottom should be heard in harmony with each other. Take our word for it, assuming you haven't played a pile of these yourself, balance is not that easy to find.
Our best copies will have it though, of that there is no doubt.
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 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 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.
The Track Listing tab above will take you to an extensive song by song breakdown for each side, with plenty of What to Listen for advice.
First We Take Manhattan
Don't expect this song to ever be tonally correct. It runs the gamut from bright to too bright to excrutiatingly bright. Steve Hoffman told me that he took out something like 6 DB at 6K, and I'm guessing that that's the minimum that would need to come out. It's made to be a hit single, and like so many hit single wannabes, it's mixed bright.
Bird on a Wire
Those big drum thwacks make this song work -- if you don't have a big system, forget about ever hearing this song do what it's supposed to.
Famous Blue Raincoat
The saxophone should sound perfect on a properly mastered version of this record: full-bodied, yet lively.
Joan of Arc
This is a good test for transparency -- the clarity of the little bells and the amount of ambience surrounding the guitar are a good indication of how resolving your system is. Of course, brighter and thinner pressings will emphasize the clarity of these instruments, so it's easy to be fooled by this sort of thing as well.
When the voices come in, they should sound tonally correct. Whatever changes you make in your stereo to hear those opening bells more clearly, just make sure that the voices still sound right when you are done.
One of the best songs on the album. It builds to a truly powerful climax.
Ain't No Cure for Love
This song tends to be bright and somewhat spitty.
Coming Back to You
This one too.
Song of Bernadette
One of the most emotionally powerful songs on the record.
A Singer Must Die
The multi-tracked chorus of voices should be amazing sounding if you have a good copy and a big room to play your stereo. I once heard this at a stereo store where the room was about 30 feet square with a 20 foot (!) ceiling, the speakers well out into the middle of the room. Even though the tonality was a bit wrong, each of a half or dozen or more singers clearly was occupying his or her own space. I remember it to this day; it was breathtaking.
But like most audiophile systems, it got some things right and some things ridiculously wrong. Jennifer -- the person whose name is on the album -- didn't sound right. She sounded like she had a blanket over head. The owner of the audio store did not seem to be bothered by that fact, or to notice it all for that matter.
Came So Far for Beauty
Another one of the best tracks. The last three songs on this side are as good as it gets.
Warnes wisely took a tougher, more contemporary approach to the arrangements than such past Cohen interpreters as Judy Collins used to. Where other singers tended to geld Cohen's often disturbingly revealing poetry, Warnes, working with the composer himself and introducing a couple of great new songs matched his own versions...
The high point may have been the Warnes-Cohen duet on "Joan of Arc," but the album was consistently impressive.
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