Introduction    Mono    Stereo    Final thoughts

So, as of 2012, are there any truly good versions of this album?

STEREO: To my ear, there has really been only one decent “hi-fi stereo” release, and that’s 1991’s Big Band Cole CD.  If you insist on stereo, I think it’s the best of the bunch, even though only some of the songs are in stereo, the order is jumbled, and some tracks suffer from dropouts.  How’s that for a ringing endorsement?!  Actually, the words are too harsh for a CD that is, on the whole, quite nicely done.  In the end it comes down to this, where stereo is concerned:

•I can’t recommend the original-mix stereo LPs, as the panning and stereo image are just way too wonky.

•I can’t recommend the 1968 remix, as it sounds overly reverberant and has a splattery vocal tone.

•I can’t recommend the Bear Family mastering, as it’s compressed with steel-y tone, and has a mix of vocal-left and vocal-center mastering.

That leaves Big Band Cole as the defacto “best stereo version.”  It’s a good disc, and I’m okay with recommending it, despite the technical bugaboos.  It was mastered by somebody who listens with good ears, producing good results.  That works for me, and I’m grateful to have the disc!

MONO: Having lived with the original stereo mix for nearly 30 years, the Big Band Cole CD for four or five years now, and the mono LP for several months, I can say that my “go to” version of this album is the original mono LP, and I’m not one of those diehard “mono is better” wing-nut guys.  I don’t care if a release is stereo or mono, I just want something that sounds good, and to my ears, the mono sounds very good, in the classic “hi-fi” Capitol style, and it sounds consistent from song to song.  The winds sound present and full, and the rhythm section -- even Freddie Green’s guitar -- is (on the whole) balanced properly, unlike the stereo version, where the guitar is invisible from start to finish, practically.  Nat’s voice has a hair more reverb on it than I would like -- that’s unfortunate, as I don’t care for “soupy vocals.”  No dropouts, and no wonky balances, and no jumbled running order -- I like it.

To my ears, the mono mix is the best way to listen to this album as a whole, as it gels very well and has a highly cohesive quality, but if you are Jonesing for stereo, pick up the Big Band Cole disc and you can hear most of the LP tracks in good stereo sound, plus Nat’s vocal is pleasantly dry, which suits the music well.

Below, you can hear a few cuts from the album, mono LP first, Big Band Cole CD second, then back and forth from there.  All the cuts mirror the free samples available via iTunes, linked at the bottom of the page.  (No free music giveaways here, folks!) 

First up: Anytime, Any Day, Anywhere - AnytimeMonoBBC.mp3

Next up, the title track.  When the brass comes in full power towards the end, note how the 2-omni stereo miking makes obvious that the recording was made in a barn, while the mono version does not convey that.  Click to listen Welcomeclips.mp3

Finally, “The Late, Late Show.”  Note the guitar and drum details in the mono mix, and the numerous dropouts on the stereo remix.  Click to listen: 1monolate-NORM_02.mp3

Thanks for listening!

Matt Lutthans

March 6, 2012