It’s the time of year for saving money!
In the universe of record collectors seeking original pressings of classic soul recordings, albums by the late great Marvin Gaye are surprisingly elusive these days in decent shape for a couple of reasons. While he was super popular and many albums and singles were sold, most times they were played a lot as they were great mood setting party records.
His “peak period” recordings came out in the early – to – mid 1970s at a time when the physical product being put out by his label — Tamla Records, a subsidiary of Motown Records — were not always of the highest quality. In fact, some of the pressings from back in the day on this period for the label were downright awful.
I’ve written about this phenomenon in the past regarding my quest for good pressings of Stevie Wonder’s seminal recordings from the same relative time period (click here for my experiences with Innervisions and here for Songs In The Key Of Life)
In some ways, Marvin Gaye’s soundtrack to the 1972 soundtrack for the cult film Trouble Man is one such gem. I have not found a decent copy of this out in the wilds of record collecting. I think I had it once but the vinyl was too noisy and the cover mangled up — the unusual half-gatefold design of the cover did not age well in many a young adult’s record collection back in the day. Fortunately, the Trouble Man album — Gaye’s first after his landmark smash hit What’s Going On — has seen re-release over the years including an expanded 40th Anniversary edition on compact disc back in 2012.
The thing that is cool about this album is its not a re-tread of the prior hit and fits more into the mood-making spaces ala Issac Hayes (who hit it big with his legendary soundtrack to Shaft). Nearly 50 years on, listening to these rich grooves out of the context of the movie, what you get is an ocean of smooth soul funk, a relentless drum ‘n bass pulse punctuated by fat saxophone swells, occasional orchestral flourishes and enveloping early analog synthesizer pads.
If you were to just put this on as a modern jazz experience ala some of Pat Metheny’s classic hybrid releases — Secret Story comes to mind — you’d be very pleased. Add Gaye’s gorgeous high vocalese amidst this and you have yourself a fascinating musical journey that is one part soul jam, another part groove jazz and still another part soaring ambient mood mesmerizer. Trouble Man was a Top 20 smash hit album back in the day.
A curious thing, the title track neatly echoes the two chord riff central to Miles Davis’ classic “So What” from Kinda Blue. Its not exactly the same of course but I can’t help but think that the reference was intentional.
All this leads us to More Trouble which is pretty much what the titles says: additional music recorded for the soundtrack. It is a first-time-on-vinyl selection of tracks originally released on the 40th anniversary expanded CD edition of Trouble Man from 2012. They were mixed in hi-resolution digital audio taken from Motown’s original 16-track session reels by John Morales, and remastered by Alex Abrash at AA Mastering.
The standard weight vinyl pressing on More Trouble is quiet and generally sounds real good. I only had one nit in that my copy came pressed just enough off center to cause some sonic annoyance to the music in the form of wavering notes.
It is a phenomenon that bugs me (and probably some of you out there in audiophile land) frequently on vinyl — an avoidable result of sloppy record manufacturing — as it makes longer held notes as played by horns and string sections waver in and out of key. If you don’t quite know what I’m talking about here, just listen closely to a record that you know is off center (you’ll see your tone arm visibly moving back and forth, side to side as the record plays) and listen for sour notes — then compare it to a version on a CD or a stream to contrast. There is no rule on this as I have some off center records which due to the nature of the music play just fine. Others like this are quite sensitive to it. Hopefully this issue is just on my pressing as it is an otherwise nice package, with high production value details including nice period accurate yellow-brown Tamla Records labels and a crisp alternate photo from the Trouble Man cover photo shoot.
If you have access to the streaming music services like Tidal or Qobuz, there are some solid alternatives to listen to there which sound remarkably good. On Tidal, for example, you can hear the original Trouble Man album streaming in MQA format at 192 kHz, 24-bit fidelity (click here) which is my favorite version of the basic album at this moment in time. You can hear the 40th Anniversary expanded edition with all the tracks found on More Trouble in 96 kHz, 24-bit on Tidal (click here) and Qobuz Hi Res (click here). Both sound excellent and remarkably warm for a digital stream. Even if you get the vinyl you should listen to the streams as there are more tracks there than the LP.
For those looking for an example of why high resolution audio is better than low resolution, these tracks on Trouble Man offer some handy comparison/contrast opportunities. Play different Hi Res and Lo Res versions of the track “Cleo’s Apartment” side by side and take note of the handclaps.
Switching between the two streams, notice what is missing amidst the difference in bit rate and resolution: all that feel of room ambiance and the flesh-on-flesh cupping of air sound gets squashed down to a more generic snapping sound. Now, consider: if you can hear this difference on a handclap, imagine what the loss of fidelity is doing to other instruments and vocals you might not as easily recognize given a more dense mix of instruments, vocals and sound. You are only hearing a part of the picture. You are only hearing a portion of the music that was originally recorded.
More Trouble is a welcome release on vinyl. And hearing these high resolution streams of the original Trouble Man album reminds me that I really need to find a clean pressing of that LP soon.