REVIEW: 'HOLY GRAIL' LPs -- MILES DAVIS, MUDDY WATERS AND THE COWBOY JUNKIES
You don’t need to know anything about sports or baseball to know that Mickey Mantle’s debut on a baseball card is worth a lot of money. The world of vinyl also has its share of “holy grail” items, not always based on scarcity.
There’s an elite segment of certain LPs issued through the years where the songs, the music and the recording quality have magically collided to provide an incomparable listening experience. Here’s a look at just a few of the numerous “holy grail” LPs that make audiophiles and vinyl collectors dreamy-eyed.
Kind of Blue
Classic Records—1995 Reissue (2LPs) (CS8163)
Music Grade: A+
180 Gram Pressing Grade: A+
Widely believed to be the greatest jazz album ever, it’s no surprise “Kind of Blue” has been reissued on vinyl more than 200 times across the world since its 1959 debut.
This Classic Records 1995 edition caused quite a stir in the vinyl community because it offered the original album in a high quality pressing with some unique bonuses -- one being the release of three of the album’s songs at “corrected speed.”
In 1992, when the original session tapes were first “exhumed,” it was discovered that due to a faulty tape recorder used at the time, three of the albums’ beloved tracks had actually been heard for decades in a slightly wrong pitch. Who knew??
This LP presents both the originals and the 3 songs in “corrected speed.” In addition, a previously unreleased alternate take of “Flamenco Sketches” was included at 45RPM speed on the second 12” record in this vinyl thrill package. 45RPM kicks the sound quality up a notch when used in a 12” format. Why? Because the higher the RPMs, the more vinyl that passes under the playback stylus per second. And a more accurate reproduction of the sound stored in the grooves can be gained.
The sound is to die for on this limited run 2 LP set! With some studious shopping, you can pick it up for about $125 on the collectors market. But there are also plenty of wonderful “Kind of Blue” pressings out there for less. I’d just warn that the LP release pictured below is one of the most mocked by discerning collectors.
I’ll admit to having owned it at one time, and there’s no doubt it was a rush job by Columbia Records. Many collectors swear this LP was mastered from a digital source. But, the alternate front cover might appeal to Miles Davis completists.
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 1993 (MFSL 1-201)
Limited Edition, Numbered
Music Grade: A+
Pressing Grade: A+
Never mind that no one has ever thought of blues giant Muddy Waters as a “folk singer,” this wonderfully intimate 1964 blues recording presented the idea of bringing the listener closer to the performers by going “unplugged” decades before MTV latched on to the idea.
The “living room” feel of this no-frills recording set a very high bar that has been pretty much unreachable five decades later. You also get the rare pleasure of hearing a very young Buddy Guy accompanying Muddy on acoustic guitar as well as Willie Dixon on standup bass. Muddy gives his best here, too—on “My Home is in the Delta,” you’ll hear his commanding voice make the studio walls rattle.
Mobile Fidelity’s masterful “gold standard” 1993 LP version of this classic can be hunted down for about $125-$150, but if you’ll settle for almost the best, a superb 1987 reissue on Chess Records can be snagged for about $35.
“The Trinity Session”
Classic Records 45 RPM Series 2004 (RTH-8568-45)
Music Grade: A+
Pressing Grade: A+
Initially, the FM radio success of The Cowboy Junkies version of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” put the group on the musical map, but anyone buying the entire album quickly noticed a sonic intimacy not found in anything else being released in the late 1980’s. The album was recorded at Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity in 1987, with the band circled around a single microphone.
The group’s inspired recording approach captured lightning in a bottle, as the cliché goes, and this record allows you to plunge deep into the music, which is delivered through your speakers from an acoustically ideal setting.The buzz of greatness surrounding this record—the songs, the performances, its richness in musical detail—has continued for decades among serious music collectors.
In an attempt to recapture the magic, the group even went back to the church twenty years later to record “The Trinity Session Revisited.” Though it was also a sublime recording, the original LP still stands tall.
The 2004 45 RPM audiophile edition of this album, spread across four 12-inch records, is the crown jewel to own. The prices vary wildly for this rare LP set, ranging from $100 to $200 on the secondary market. But a good first pressing of the original LP on RCA, which launched the audio respect this album deserves, can be snagged for under $20.