In a strong start to 2020, Vocallion reissued a nice batch of quad hybrid SACD’s. Collectors got a lot of Rhythm and Blues among other classic 70’s quad reissues. One of these is the soulful and danceable Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes which have immersed listeners with a playful mix from their “Black & Blue” album featuring lots of panning while the included bonus album “Wake Up Everybody” is more restrained, with greater similarities to modern multichannel mixes.
I find these two different approaches to the quad mix work well with their respective albums with excellent sound quality spinning from the SACD. In my view the leader of these two releases is Black & Blue which was released on both SQ vinyl and Q8 cartridge back in the day. Although I have neither of these original analog formats on hand, I am stunned by the sound quality of the SACD and think it is a worthy showcase for the quad format. As my readers probably know, I rather enjoy active movement in a mix, especially when used in a creative way as heard here. A couple of my favorite tracks are “The Love I Lost” and “Is There a Place for Me.”
The second quad album “Wake Up Everybody” on this SACD was originally released only on SQ vinyl. Michael Dutton’s transfer from the master tapes continues to showcase his high level to detail and sounds fantastic. Even though the quad mix is effectively static, it does provide for plenty of openness with discrete use of the back channels. The rhythm section and lead vocals spread strongly across the front channels, while additional percussion, guitars, horns, and backing vocals have been placed in the rear channels.
Surround enthusiasts should find plenty of ear candy across these two albums, and even the less active mixes still shine with nice use of the quadscape. “The Love I Lost” is a well-regarded hit which is taken to the next level with excellent use of all four channels. Harmony vocals, horns and strings all pour from the back channels with lead vocals appropriately centered upfront, while the band has been spread across the main channels. Next, check out the alternating rhythm parts that fall to the back channel under Teddy Pendergrass’ vocals on “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Likewise, as the chorus kicks in, the back channels explode with horns and backing vocals followed by a really cool effect where the guitars bounce between the rear speakers.
“Is There a Place for Me” is a great example of the creative side of 70’s quad mixes which showcases the diverse placement of instruments. Note how the base first grooves from the back right channel and moves subtly under the drums which are centrally focused upfront. More ear candy is spread behind the listener with backing vocals soaring between the left and right channels all while counterbalancing the lead vocals centered in the front.
Dutton has truly brought out the dynamics of this recording with this very transparent transfer. “You Know How to Make Me” is a wonderful example of this with the silky guitar that accents the strings and vocals. The soulful vibe of this song is gently carried by the warm drums and round bass that are centered upfront. I absolutely feel the analog roots of this recording as if the original quad vinyl was spinning on my turntable, and even better, without the decoding nor surface noise prevalent to that format.
One of my favorite songs on this double album collection is “Don’t Leave me this Way” which opens with the classic Fender Rhodes piano centered in the front and congas pattering away in the back left speaker, plus the vibrant jazzy guitar has been placed in the back right. Soon the song irrupts into a bluesy danceable piece, and I just dig how the horns swoon from the back channels, plus I really like the raspy snare that clocks out the time.
When listening to the stereo mix one will realize that the quad mix is not a simple expansion of the stereo mix. Instead, the placements of instruments across the left and right stereo field is unique compared to the quad mix and lack some of the fun aspects found on the quad mix. However, the stereo mix really sounds fantastic with enormous attention given to balance and detail, all pointing back to the high caliber of their respective studio recordings. Overall, I found the stereo separation to be extremely wide and this stereo DSD layer offers very good transparency. It also maintains a very analog feel and possibly is the best version available to date but without a prior copy on hand I cannot confirm that statement. Still from the dynamically rich lows up to the highest highs I like what I hear. Once again Dutton has provided a fantastic transfer into the digital domain on this SACD.
For fans with even the smallest interest in Rhythm and Blues, and certainly quad collectors, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes quad SACD is a must have. It could easily be one of the best quad reissues on the Vocallion label. These albums Absolutely bring the 70’s back in full force some forty years later likely with the best sound quality available to date.
Released January 10, 2020
Hybrid quad SACD, all tracks quad and stereo DSD along with CD layer.