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Harry Belafonte - "Belafonte Sings the Blues"

Classic Records re-issue

Product: Harry Belafonte- "Belafonte Sings the Blues"
Record Company: Classic Records No. LSP-1972-45 (4 Discs)
Suggested Retail Price: $40 USD
Reviewer: Nels Ferré

This release is one from the latest group of 45 R.P.M. "Box Sets" from Classic Records. These sets, limited to only 500 copies, are, in a word, beautiful.
They are pressed on single sided 180 gram vinyl. The reason for the single sided pressing is two fold: first, there is better disc to platter contact; second, there is no chance of damage to the side that is resting against the platter, as there is nothing on it.
In my opinion, the reason for the 45 R.P.M. pressing is that at that speed the grooves are wider, which puts less stress on the cartridge, giving a more relaxed presentation. The downside of this is at 45 R.P.M., there is not as much room on a side as there is at 33 1/3, so frequent trips to the turntable are required.

This is the second Classic 45 R.P.M. release in my collection, the first one being Belafonte's "Live At Carnegie Hall" (LSC-6006-45). I think enough of that release that I use it when reviewing equipment. The set is amazing in its realism. I had never heard the original RCA Living Stereo release from 1959, so I had nothing to compare it to.
Along with the "Belafonte Sings the Blues", I also received a 33 1/3 R.P.M. Classic issue of "Carnegie" (LSC-6006), originally intended for "non critical" listening.
My original thought was that I would play the Classic LP when I wanted to listen to the album, and pull out the 45 R.P.M. copy for "special occasions". I may have been thrilled with the LP release had I not initially heard (and owned) the 45 R.P.M. release.
The differences between the two releases are staggering: the LP is much more compressed, spatially and dynamically. There is also a loss of detail when listening to the LP in comparison.
There is so drastic a difference between the two releases that it sounds as if different mics or a different tape machine were used for each release. In fact, the only steadfast similarity between the two is the excellent quality of the pressings, dead quiet all the way through, as is the norm for Classic Records. For all of you out there who think there can't be that great a difference between the two speeds, just listen first. Then judge.

"Belafonte Sings the Blues" was recorded over 4 sessions during the first half of 1958, and released by RCA later that year. The album features performances of numerous Billie Holiday, Johnny Mercer, and Ray Charles songs performed in a way that only Belafonte can. The vocals are quite forward of the backing band. The arrangements are sparse, very much in the style of Nat "King" Cole.
What amazed me most about this recording was not Belafonte's performance, but rather the instrumentation. I don't think I've ever heard either brass instruments or a stand up Bass sound so natural. The title may be a bit of a misnomer: I had originally expected Belafonte's interpretation of the blues of Muddy Waters and the like.
This album features the tracks "Cotton Fields", Hallelujah I Love Her So", and "God Bless The Child". Great tunes, to be sure, but a long way from Muddy Waters. Nevertheless, at this point, I like the album at least as much as "Carnegie", and I love that one. If I had to use one word to describe the album, I would have to say "gorgeous".

I do have one major complaint: 4 discs...no box!!!! I expect a box when I buy an album with 3 or more discs. "Belafonte Sings The Blues" is packaged with all four jackets wrapped together in shrink wrap.
As beautiful as the recordings are, I found this to be a severe disappointment. The packaging is definitely not up to Classic Records' high standards. Fortunately, the quality that lies within the vinyl helps to soothe the irritation.

If you are interested in this recording, do not wait. As I noted earlier, there are only 500 sets made. When they are gone, they are gone forever. And don't even think of "Carnegie" on 45 R.P.M. They are long gone.

Copyright © 2000 Nels Ferré - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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