Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sam Cooke's Night Beat on Analogue Productions 45rpm LP

When Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds tells you that a record will change your life, you tend to reach for your wallet. That's exactly what I did last week at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest after Colleen and I visited Chad at the AS booth in one of the big ballrooms on the ground floor. Colleen and Chad have known each other for years, so I started rummaging through the bins for LPs--I like to blow my allowance for one really nice LP at every trade show I attend--while they caught up.

I had it narrowed down to about thirty or forty awesome possibilities when suddenly I found Sam Cooke's Night Beat in one of the bins (the $50 bin, natch). I had rekindled my love and admiration for Mr. Soul last year when I reviewed the HDTracks download of Ain't That Good News for Stereolist, so naturally I picked up Night Beat and noticed it was the 2009 Analogue Productions 2-LP reissue cut at 45 rpm. That's when Chad stopped talking to Colleen and looked over at me as if I'd just picked up a loose Faberge Egg off the carpet. That's when he said what I said he said. And that's when I broke out the credit card.

We took it back to our RMAF room and showed everyone else what I had purchased, ostensibly for demonstration in our system. Everyone nodded solemnly in agreement. Bob Clarke, who has a gift for understatement, said, "Yeah, that's a great one." My copy of Night Beat lost its virginity on one of the best-sounding analog rigs I've had the privilege to play: Unison Research Giro turntable and arm, Transfiguration Phoenix cartridge and PureAudio Vinyl phono preamplifier. By the end of the first song, "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," I realized that this 1963 classic was going to be used at a lot of trade shows from that point on. In fact, it was the only LP I played during the last hour or two of the show.

While Night Beat ranks among the most amazing vintage albums in my collection, right up there with my DCC pressing of Nat King Cole's Love Is the Thing and the Classic Record reissue of The Royal Ballet Gala Performances, at times this album shrugs off the studio artifacts from fifty years ago and sounds absolutely modern in its clarity and immediacy. The Nat King Cole album, for example, truly shines in the way it projects Nat's vocals into the room with authority and presence, but the string orchestra sounds compact and slightly canned in contrast.

But listen to the round, full double bass in songs such as "Lost and Lookin'" and "Fool's Paradise" and you can feel the flesh on the strings and the air inside of the wooden body of the instrument. In "Mean Old World," the tiny bell rings true as if the percussionist was sitting next to you, keeping time in person. I haven't even mentioned Sam's hopeful, transcendent voice. Suffice it to say that it's relaxed and effortless within the mix and doesn't sound shoved forward as in many recordings of the time.

Fifty bucks isn't exactly cheap, but this is one of the rare instances where I've laid down some serious green for an LP, listened to it and said, "It was worth every penny." Think about every time you bought something rare on eBay or at a used record store and then sighed in disappointment once the needle hit the groove. This is a sure thing, and if you're an audiophile who doesn't already own this, you should. Thanks, Chad.

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