I can think of several reasons why analog maven Chad Kassem chose the audiophile warhorse from Cat Stevens, Tea for The Tillerman, as the inaugural release utilizing his new vinyl pressing facility, Quality Record Pressings (QRP). It is obviously an excellent recording. But, what struck me the most after revisiting this classic, was how well this 1971 album has aged. Compared to other efforts of the time, Tea For the Tillerman remains timeless, and carries none of the overly-dramatic, heavy-handed orchestration found on other classic efforts of the day, such as Neil Young's Harvest.
The Pressing and Packaging
One of the differences between the original U.S. and U.K. releases of this record, was that only the U.K. pressing featured a gatefold cover. Kassem has taken some heat in the past for what some felt were cheaply produced covers, but there can be no such claims made here. Like the glossy gatefold covers used in their deluxe Impulse 45 RPM series, the cover reproduction here is absolutely top-notch. The gatefold cover is perfectly replicated, with a glossy laminated cover and a textured inner gatefold just as found on the original U.K pink rim release.
The record is housed in a Mofi-style rice paper inner sleeve, which carries the QRP logo. The vinyl itself arrived perfectly clean and flat, and played with nary a pop or tic throughout. The label is colored pink to recall the original "pink Island or pink rim" design, but carries the QRP logo. And while I'd prefer that they use a full repro of the original label, I can understand the desire that their pressings be distinguishable from originals.
As for the weight of the vinyl, while I never actually weighed the vinyl, it felt closer to the weight of a typical 180 gram record--rather than the stated 200 grams. Whatever the actual weight is, I can't believe it will really matter. The pressing is of extremely high quality, and is comparable to those from the highly respected Toyokasei plant in Japan--and is priced no higher than other 180 gram audiophile pressings.
|Cat Stevens: January 6, 1972|
In preparation for this review, I pulled out my original U.S. tan label A&M, along with an early pink rim Island U.K copy and a MFSL UHQR--both generously loaned to me by Bay Area Analog guru, Brian Hartsell. And despite not having had this record in heavy rotation for many years, I was once again very well acquainted with it by the time the new reissue from Analogue Productions/QRP arrived.
The original U.S. A&M and U.K. pink rim Island copies of this record curiously contain the same mastering from Lee Hulko at Sterling Sound. And while they each contain the same basic sonic signature of nice round bass, full midrange, and a wide dynamic range, the U.K. pressing sounds significantly better--exhibiting more detail, and playing much quieter. Whether those differences are due to the vinyl formulation or to the plating differences will never be known, but the sonic superiority of the U.K pressing is widely accepted.
While the MFSL UHQR boasts superbly pressed vinyl with ultra-quiet surfaces, it possesses a wonky Eq, with overly boosted lows and unnatural sounding highs, and a recessed midrange that is likely responsible for Stevens' vocals residing farther back in the mix than on the other pressings.
This latest pressing from Analogue Productions/QRP, mastered by veteran engineer George Marino at Sterling Sound, has a decidedly leaner tonal balance than the UK pink Island, and favors the chiming highs and upper mids of the guitars over the lower frequencies. That said, the QRP's bass is also tighter than what is heard on the other pressings. As with the UK pink, Stevens' vocals are right up front in the mix on the QRP, but also gain an additional layer or two of complexity over the other issues.
This new reissue from Analogue Productions/QRP is simply the most dynamic, detailed version of this classic album that I've heard to date, with more of the vocal nuances, guitar florishes, and bass string vibrations that audiophiles crave. The U.K. pink undoubtedly possesses a rounder overall sound--and some with particularly bright systems or a sensitivity to the hint of stridence or sibilance in the vocals, might appreciate the touch of tube compression found on the original U.K.
If you're one of the few who have an UHQR copy of this record--sell it now, and use the proceeds to buy a copy of this very well produced and sonically superior reissue for yourself as well as five of your best friends. If you've suffered through a noisy U.S. copy over the years, by all means treat yourself to what could very likely be your last. And for those lucky enough to possess an original U.K. pink rim--if you call yourself a genuine fan of this record, you'll be sure to hear things on this new reissue from QRP that you've never heard before--and you'll find yourself the owner of the two very best versions that exist.