I finally gave the new "Blue" a listen tonight.
I warmed up the system playing Coltrane's A love Supreme, Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else and for female vocals, the perennial favorite West Of Oz by Amanda McBroom and Lincoln Mayorga.
Ok, now some impressions of the new record:
Overall the sound is very smooth, with tremendous vocal presence while the various instruments, specially strings, seem to be more palpable and fleshed out, compared to the original 1971 pressing.
Following the advice of several fellow members, I washed the record with my usual record formula. However, I still noticed some surface noise. As with other RTI pressings, the noise may be reduced with further playings. Only time will tell.
The surface noise on this particular recording is hard to miss given the low level passages, the simple acoustic setting and the overall dynamics of the recording. This is no compressed Rock N' Roll recording!
I took some small notes while listening to the album.
Here are the expanded notes for each cut:
All I Want: Great cut, some wandering of Joni's image at the beginning of the song, then it centers quite nicely. I'm figuring she was swaying a bit around the microphone or something…
My Old Man: Some pregroove echo heard. Great, strong piano reproduction. Was this a Bosendorfer? I can imagine Donald Fagen listening to this in '71 and wanting to reproduce this sound on his Steely Dan albums!
Excellent vocals on this cut as well.
Little Green: The vocal here has more body than on the original pressing. This also reflects on the instrumentation which has a nice weight to it. Not overblown but just enough to provide a good foundation to the song.
Carey: Pretty good bass and natural sounding instrumentation giving the cut some extra warmth. The original record was a little shrill here.
The background vocals are quite easy to follow, another plus.
Blue: Vocal is quite deep and intimate here, very "breathy" quality at times. Nicely showcased. The effect of Joni's stepping away from the mike at the end of the song, indicates good dynamic contrast. Piano decay at the end also good.
California: Side 2 opens with a very strong track, the best so far. Great bass, dynamics and detail. Guitar resonances and harmonics are very convincing. A very strong vocal performance and reproduction as well.
This Flight Tonight: This is a challenging track. It has a lot of things going on at the same time. Clearly the most complex arrangement on the record. It has a period "trippy" quality to it. Joni's Vocal sounds more subdued here with less "bite". Plenty of warmth.
I'm guessing there was quite a lot of overdubbing on this, compared to the more sparse tracks with just piano and vocals. Therefore, the sound quality suffers a bit here. The weakest track in terms of absolute fidelity, IMO.
There's an intermittent and short duration "swirl" heard on the right channel, which at first, I thought it was a sound effect of some sort. I'm convinced it's just some noise that crept in the mixing process.
This is not really distracting, since I've heard the song for years and it never bothered me. However, when listening critically, such as for this review, it's plainly evident.
Also evident is some distortion on Joni's vocals right at the last verse of the song. Ms. Mitchell is reaching the climax of the song and her voice climbs in the high registers causing the distortion. I'm guessing the mike just couldn't take it.
To confirm my findings, I played a "needledrop" of the original pressing through my Squeezebox music player, and there it was. Same distortion artifacts.
So my conclusion is that this is all master tape related and nothing Kevin or Steve could do about it.
River: This is just Joni and the piano. As simple as it can get. Surface noise gets a little in the way here, quite predictably. Again some pregroove echo. I can hear the piano very faintly before the track begins.
The piano, by the way, is as commanding as it should be. The vocal has nice presence as well. A tough track to play well on the old pressings, specially in case of "thrift store" specials. The piano would generally distort or crack on the well worn records. Nice to hear it cleanly reproduced on a brand new pressing.
Case Of You: This has become my favorite song on this recording as of late. Tremendous emotional energy. Joni's performance gave me goosebumps. As good as it gets!
The subtle guitar string "squeaks" more clearly audible in this version, giving it a more realistic feel. The subtle percussion and taps on the guitar body are clearly defined and contribute to a solid foundation of the song. This one is a winner and clearly worth the price of admission!
The best track on this record in terms of both sonics and performance, in my humble opinion.
Last Time I Saw Richard: The test for inner groove performance. Excellent way to close the album. Never falters. Resolution is excellent despite the smaller groove diameter, the sign of a good mastering job. Very intimate vocal with good dynamic contrast.
Marantz 7C, 8B and 10B