The first thing I heard when I put down the stylus on my new Sundazed Records pressing of Hot Tuna's debut album was in fact nothing -- blessed, beautiful and utterly essential silence, giving way to Jorma Kaukonen's bluesy finger picking on album opener "Hesitation Blues."
This is an important distinction because when the album came out in 1970, the vinyl wasn't quite so pristine. Well, let me take a step back on that. Perhaps the earliest pressings may have been on good solid vinyl -- I'm not certain -- but for the most part I have only seen and heard this album on RCA's failed "Dynaflex" vinyl formulation. Introduced initially as some sort of magical potion that was going to save the world of music, it quickly became apparent even to my young ears and modest hi fi gear that Dynaflex was simply a cheaper way to make records -- thinner and lighter to ship, they probably made RCA a bunch of money. But at the end of the day, it did a disservice to the music because these discs generally sounded pretty noisy and were easily warped.
Thus, to put on this album and hear near drop dead silence in the opening groove on the first play was a bit of bliss I hadn't even considered being an issue. However, I had just listened to the first side of my original pressing in preparation and thus the difference was immediately evident. Apart from that SILENCE, the rest of the sound on the rest of the album is really sweet. Perhaps a bit cleaner than the original due to inevitable digital remastering -- the new disc sounds brighter than the original LP. Given the nature of the music -- finger picked acoustic guitar, tasty electric bass and harmonica -- I take this as a good thing.
As an added bonus you get a reproduction of what I have to assume is the original innersleeve - and it is a very cool innersleeve indeed, with pix of Jorma and Jack, probabaly taken at the venue where the album was recorded (The New Orlean's House in Berkeley). Curiously, the label is a red RCA vintage, usually used on classical and theatrical releases from the period, not the electric orange found on the original pressings I have seen. I'm guessing it was decided to do this simply to match the mostly red color of hte album cover. A minor detail point -- I wouldn't even call it a nit at this stage. It just is what it is.
And what it is is a very good reissue of a folk rock classic. It is so good in fact that I am getting rid of my original pressing as there is no reason to play that anymore.
You can buy this on sale from Sundazed for just $9.00
The only thing that would be cooler is if Sundazed were to issue an expanded version of this album with the entire show on red and purple vinyl to match the cover.
Maybe next Record Store Day? :-)
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com