Rhino Records Introduces a Hi Fidelity Vinyl Series – Is It Worth It?

Van Morrison – His Band and the Street Choir – Rhino Hi Fidelity Vinyl Review

Ever since the vinyl “resurgence” began about ten years ago, there’s been a debate about quality. You just don’t know what you’re going to get with a newly-pressed vinyl LP.  Some great, but often not so great, or even awful.  It basically comes down to quality control, as the few remaining vinyl plants work overtime, trying to meet the growing demand.  

Rhino Records has recently attempted to remedy this, by ushering in their Hi Fidelity series: each release features an intense attention to detail.  This means heavy grade album jackets, glossy covers, and extra bonus essays and booklets, unique to these reissues.  But, the biggest selling point is that the vinyl is supposed to be really good quality.  Each title is numbered and limited to 5,000.

The kind folks at Rhino sent us Van Morrison His Band and the Street Choir for review.

In a side by side comparison to an original, Warner Bros pressing that we have in the office, the first thing you notice is how heavy the weight of the album jacket is.  Very thick, kinda old school in that regard.  Much thicker than my original.  Next, the outer cover is a high-quality gloss, not common these days.  There’s also an OBI on the left hand side of the outer packaging. These are more common in Japanese releases, giving info about the album, but is a nice touch. Oddly, my original copy has the album title emblazoned across the top, while this one does not.

So, about the actual vinyl.  Dropping the needle, it’s super, super quiet.  Bass is warm.  The guitar in the left channel of “Domino” jumps out of the speakers.  I really hear the cowbell on this version.  

In a side by side comparison to an original, Warner Bros pressing – this new Rhino Hi Fidelity version wins out – hands down. Although the original has nice bass, everything else is somewhat muddy.  You really don’t notice this until you play this new, Hi Fi edition.  This version has clear highs, and is really more balanced all around.  I have to admit being skeptical, yet this new version is really that good. 

The extra pocket in the gatefold cover contains a light brown foldout of the original lyrics from the album.  Another booklet features an interview with producer Elliot Scheiner, revealing a great deal not only about this album, but the Moondance LP that preceded it.  Also, a nice touch is the photos of the original master tape boxes.  

A few other insights – the acoustic guitar on “Blue Money” really jumps out at you, while “Virgo Clowns” features a fantastic mandolin, and it’s really crisp here.  I got goosebumps listening to the last track, “Street Choir.”  The organ just hits you in this high quality vinyl version.  

I think this is an excellent album for the Hi Fidelity series – full of acoustic instrumentation that just thrives in the analog environment.

They also sent us Jaco Pastorius’ Word of Mouth.  

Honestly, we don’t have an original copy to compare this one to.  However, I’m not sure you could pick a more sonically-challenging album to reissue on vinyl.  And, it just sounds awesome.  

Pastorius’ Word of Mouth project was an attempt to revisit the Big Band idiom, but with a modern (circa 1981) update.  He basically assembled a who’s who of jazz players, including Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, Tom Scott, Jack DeJohnette, Chuck Findley and others.  In addition to the horns playing leads, he also incorporated harmonica player Toots Thielemans, which adds an interesting twist.  There’s also elements of funk and fusion here too.  

Pastorius’ fretless bass is deep and full in this analog format. Yet, the horns, steel drums, percussion, and flutes are all crisp and bright.  Fair warning, the opening cut, “Crisis,” is a difficult listen.  But, once you get past it, there’s plenty to love. ”3 Views of a Secret” is gentle, while “Liberty City” is reminiscent of Weather Report.

Side two opens with a solo piece for Jaco called “Chromatic Fantasy,” which morphs into quite possibly the most inventive cover of a Beatles’ song in history: “Blackbird” features the melody played by Thielemans, Pastorius’ exploratory bass, all the while random percussion bangs on in the background.  Suddenly, with an abrupt edit, Pastorius switches to a heavily-distorted bass, accompanied by frenetic drumming.  It’s an exhilarating ride.

The packaging is top notch: heavy-grade album jacket, glossy cover, and a gatefold sleeve with cool photos of Jaco.  There’s also a bonus booklet, featuring an essay by Ricky Shultz, who was a record executive at Warner during the time of this album’s release.

The verdict on the Hi Fidelity series?  Thumbs up.  Although more expensive than a standard vinyl edition, the attention to detail and quality of the vinyl makes purchasing these editions truly worth every penny.  I may go an seek out a few more for myself.  —Tony Peters