SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews, Part 3 of 4
Published on September 1, 2004
September 2004 – Pt. 3 of 4
Pop, Rock, Misc.[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 4] Click on any cover to go directly to its reviews
We launch the pop & rock hi-res section with a Neil Young festival…
Neil Young – On The Beach; Reprise R9 73945 Stereo DVD-A ****:
The original release of this record was back in 1974. Even knowing that I was surprised at how “new” this music sounded. Part of the fact may relate to the fact that I’m not familiar with any of the songs, but right away the first track, “Walk On,” had an inviting rhythm with lyrics to match. The pace changes as the album progresses with the middle songs being a bit slower and mellow in comparison to the earlier tunes. Like most Young music, this disc offers politically and philosophically charged material. “Revolution Blues” is one of the more upbeat tunes on the surface but covers some heavy material bringing new mean to love thy neighbor. Vampire Blues is a funny song about exactly what you think–a bloodsucker. “On The Beach” is a thought provoking song that has a deliberately slow and sad quality to it. It talks of distance, disconnection, helplessness, loss of focus, and detachment that can take place in life: “I need a crowd of people; But I can’t face them day to day.” I was surprised how much I liked this disc.
The slew of Neil Young discs have to be the only DVD-A discs I’ve seen that are stereo only. [Everything from Hi-Res Music is stereo only..Ed.] Young has proclaimed (more recently at least) to be concerned with the sound quality of his productions, and this one is very good. Another I noticed immediately is the fact that the disc image is 1.78:1–obviously designed for widescreen televisions. As extras there are a photo gallery, lyrics, and a discography. The lyrics are only available by way of the root menu, so unlike some discs, you cannot view them while the song plays. [That’s even worse than the DVD-As that display a lyrics option while hearing the music but you must manually advance it page by page instead of being synchronized to the music!…Ed.] Songs included are: Walk On; See The Sky About To Rain; Revolution Blues; For The Turnstiles; Vampire Blues; On The Beach ; Motion Pictures; Ambulance Blues.
Neil Young – Hawks & Doves; Reprise R9 73944 Stereo DVD-A ****:
This record was released in 1980, but contains songs that were written as early at 1974. Unlike the more upbeat country style of American bars ‘n stars record, this disc is more rock oriented (with a few exceptions) and starts off sad, despondent, and even morose at times. The songs are mostly acoustic with simple arrangements. The lyrics tell tales of places near and far, yet all close to the heart. On the first song, “Little Wing,” the lyrics are sung slowly and the guitar and harmonica match this tone. It was so depressing I was relieved when the second song came around. Although the material is not all that much happier, at least the music is peppier. It is more like a story than a song, and the sound of the wind whistling is downright perturbing. Track 4: “There’s water on the wood and the sails fee good; And when I get to shore I hope that I can kill good.” How’s that for uplifting?
The latter tracks starting with five are more upbeat and would fit nicely at a country dance–they make you want to slap your knee and “do-see-do.” The album art (of the American flag) leads the listener to expect some commentary on America. Songs like “Union Man” and “Comin’ Apart At Every Nail” do, in fact, discuss the plights of the working Joe. “Hawks & Doves” is an optimistic look at freedom and a caution to look out for feelings of misgivings about the future. Lyrics, photos, and a discography are available as extras. Songs included are: Little Wing; The Old Homestead; Lost In Space; Captain Kennedy; Stayin’ Power; Coastline; Union Man; Comin’ Apart At Every Nail; Hawks & Doves.
Neil Young – American stars ‘n bars; Reprise R9 73943 Stereo DVD-A ****:
This album was originally released in 1977 and consists of a bevy of country/western and folk/rock songs. The slant leans towards good ole American topics while the back cover is splashed with red, white, and blue. The insert shows a large group of mountains with an American Indian featured prominently in the mid-ground while the foreground consists of a lone tee pee and a bright blue lake. “Hey Babe” is a nice, simple love song. Neil sings of getting past difficulties and seeing his true love that should overcome all. He needs her support and love too, to be complete. Young has put together some excellent background singers in Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson on the first five songs. On another standout track, “Star Of Bethlehem,” Emmylou Harris sings as well. “Will to Love” has a distinctive CSNY flavor with Young pleading and proclaiming at the same time that he’s got the will–the will to love. I don’t know if “LIke A Hurricane” was a hit song back in the day, but it sure grabs you in and has you bopping your head like a good pop song. It has a sound of desperation and pace that propells the listener from one line to the next, and don’t forget that great guitar solo after about 3 minutes into the song.
Like the other Neil Young DVDAs reviewed, this one is stereo only. There are lyrics, a discography, and a music video of “Like A Hurricane” as extras. The video quality leaves a lot to be desired–audio fades in and like the sound of deteroirating audio tape. The video quality is okay, but only has the band playing live on stage. Songs included are: The Old Country Waltz; Saddle Up The Palomino; Hey Babe; Hold Back The Tears; Bite The Bullet; Star Of Bethlehem; Will To Love; Like A Hurricane; Homegrown.
Neil Young – Reactor; Reprise R9 73946 Stereo DVD-A ***:
Unlike the other three Neil Young albums under review, this one is much more straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll. There’s lots of hooks and the songs are forceful, in-your-face, and filled with guitar sound. The difference in style from the earlier albums could also be influenced by the addition of Crazy Horse on this record (or it could be that Young wanted to move in a different direction). “Opera Star” may tell it like it is: “You were born to rock, you’ll never be an opera star.” “Get Back On It” is one of the better songs on the disc that reminds me (musically) of the Beatles “Get Back” although they are not really related in any way. The vocal chorus makes the song unique in the the mix on this disc and makes me think of the band War, while the song itself seems laidback and relaxed. Some of the lyrics are vapid–not what you normally expect from Young. Although the music on “Rapid Transit” is happenin’, “Hang ten pipeline; Let’s go trippin'” leaves a lot to be desired. Luckily, at least on this tune, the lyrics are not of prime importance, so it works out okay. “Shots” has an important message about humanity, but the words get lost in the…shots and music. Songs included are: Opera Star; Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze; T-bone; Get Back On It; Southern Pacific; Motor City; Rapid Transit; Shots.
Roger Waters – The Wall Live In Berlin; Mercury Records B0000753-26 Multichannel SACD **:
This concert took place July 21st, 1990 about one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The location of the concert was also historic in that it took place at Potsdamer Platz, a city that had been divided by two walls. The historic significance of this tribute attracted a good many stars like Bryan Adams, Thomas Dolby, James Galway, Jerry Hall, The Hooters, Cyndi Lauper, Ute Lemper, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Marianne Faithfull, Albert Finney, The Scorpions, and of course, Roger Waters. The sound is what you’d expect to hear in a large arena—spread out, some echo, and distant. Applause comes from behind and the stage sounds like it is 500 feet away from the listener (at least). Quality of sound is not any better than conventional CD, so the only justification for this set over a CD version is the fact that it is multichannel. Since you don’t get the ability to play it on a CD player—it’s not hybrid—and there is no video at all, I would recommend to most people who are looking to relive the concert to pick up a copy of the DVD. Without the advantage of the video of what most surely is an amazing spectacle, the performance itself is rather flat.
The Wall is one of my favorite Pink Floyd albums and I’ve seen the movie as well as listened to the music on tape, LP, and CD so many times that the impetus to get this record would only be to approximate the majesty of the performance which is not nearly as impressive as it could be with video. I did like Ute Lemper’s performance of “The Thin Ice,” but who ever thought to have Lauper singing “Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2” should be shot—okay, at least fired. A highlight for me is the performance by Sinead O’Connor during “Mother.” When she sings, “Should I trust the government?” you can hear a roar rise up from the crowd. This almost made it worth it, but not quite. If you want to experience this concert, then get the DVD, otherwise pick up a copy of the movie The Wall or the original album and prepare yourself for a treat.
A curiosity about this two-disc package is the fact that the discs sit atop the other in the CD case—I’ve never seen that before. Songs included are: Disc 1: In The Flesh; The Thin Ice; Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 1; The Happiest Days Of Our Lives; Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2; Mother; Goodbye Blue Sky; Empty Spaces; Young Lust; Oh My God – What A Fabulous Room; One Of My Turns; Don’t leave Me Now; Another Brick In The Wall, Pt.3; Goodbye Cruel World. Disc 2: Hey You; Is There Anybody Out There?; Nobody Home; Vera; Bring The Boys Back Home; Comfortably Numb; In The Flesh; Run Like Hell; Waiting For The Worms & Stop; The Trial; The Tide Is Turning.
3 Doors Down – Away From The Sun; Universal B0000154-36 Hybrid Multichannel SACD ***:
I was a fan of the television show MI-5 and so I have the first track on this disc permanently etched into my brain—which is a good thing. It’s one of the better hard/alternative rock songs to come out in the last few years and although it is a cut above the other songs on this disc, the other material is still good. There were a couple of videos made for “When I’m Gone,” but the latest one was filmed on a Navy vessel. In some ways it ended up becoming an anthem for the men and women who are at war in Iraq. The singer has a rough voice that works well with the raucous guitars used throughout the record. The band reminds me a little of Candlebox, but overall they have their own voice and unique sound. With extended listening to the rest of the album I find that it grows on me more and more. If it isn’t a hit song, track 6 probably should be. It has the classic pop/rock formula and the lyrics and music are well integrated. Most of the record’s focus is up front although there is occasional percussion and instruments placed in the back. Sound quality is below the level of better sounding CDs, although you do get the benefit of the multichannel experience. Songs included are: When I’m Gone; Away From The Sun; The Road I’m On; Ticket To Heaven; Running Out Of Days; Here Without You; I Feel You; Dangerous Game; Changes; Going Down In Flames; Sarah Yellin’.
Peter Gabriel – Birdy (Music from the Film) – Real World Records – Stereo SACD-only 069 493 625-2 ****:
This soundtrack SACD doesn’t really fit into any of our categories, but since Gabriel is a rock performer I’ll slip it in here. It was his first attempt at a film score, for the 1985 film. And a very good one it is. The intention to build the score out of already-existing elements, some already chosen by the director of the film. Gabriel felt some new material was also needed and created it. It’s all instrumental, with frequent use of a low rumbling musical effect which appears to be slowed down material. One track is even titled Slow Marimbas. There is an echoey, dreamy and evocative quality to much of the music, which seems to be just what the film called for. (Must see it one of these days.) I don’t know that the SACD iteration aided the music very much, and since it isn’t a hybrid disc there was no way to make a CD/SACD comparison. I see there is an audiophile vinyl reissue of it just out. Tracks are; At Night, Floating Dogs, Quiet and Alone, Close Up, Slow Water, Dressing the Wound, Birdy’s Flight, Slow Marimbas, The Heat, Sketch Pad with Trumpet and Voice, Under Lock and Key, Powerhouse at the Foot of the Mountain
– John Sunier
Animals – Retrospective – ABKCO Music 93252 Hybrid Stereo SACD ****:
As far as pop groups of the 60s go, the Animals stand out. Their roots were blues and r&b, but the result was much grittier than some of their contemporaries. “House Of The Rising Sun” hit No. 1 for 3 weeks in 1964, and it too, was different than many of the songs released in the day (being a somewhat saddening tune about misfortunes resulting from a New Orleans gambling house). The popularity of the tune helped begin a foundation for following material that would eventually lead to their induction in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. There are at least 13 pages of more biographical information on the band included in the booklet that accompanies the disc. The collection is an excellent representation of the music made by The Animals. Apart from the instantly recognizable songs like “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “House Of The Rising Sun,” “Spill The Wine,” and “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” I discovered “Monterey,” a tune I hadn’t heard before, but really sounded good. There is something on this compilation for every rock ‘n’ roll fan.
Many of the recordings sound monaural—they are not very spatial. Some of the later songs like “See See Rider” and “Help Me Girl” have distinct sounds located in the left, right, and center locations. There is very little noise and the lack of edge on certain songs makes me wonder if there might have been an excessive amount of noise reduction applied.Songs included are: House Of The Rising Sun; I’m Crying; Baby Let Me Take You Home; Gonna Send You Back To Walker; Boom Boom; Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; Bring It On Home To Me; We Gotta Get Out Of This Place; It’s My Life; Don’t Bring Me Down; See See Rider; Inside – Looking Out; Hey Gyp; Help Me Girl; When I Was Young; A Girl Named Sandoz; San Franciscan Nights; Monterey; Anything; Sky Pilot; White Houses; Spill The Wine.
Bob Marley with The Wailers and The Upsetters – Young Mystic – Audio Fidelity AFZ 021 Hybrid Stereo SACD ***:
I reviewed two Marley DVDA discs that basically have the same songs on either disc or on both discs. The difference here is you get a stereo hybrid disc that is playable on conventional CD players, while with the DVDA discs you get a multichannel mix that is only playable in DVD players. Some of these songs started in just one of the channels and then the music continued to the other channel or between channels. I’m not sure if this was the original intention or something decided in the mastering process. The press release discusses some of the mastering decisions. They claim to have gone back to the original Jamaican master tape “splits” with music in one channel and vocals in the other. In the case where these splits were not available they used the original mono mixes. By bypassing the production masters they claim to have eliminated a great deal of distortion, compression and equalization. In my comparisons with the DVDA mixes I did feel that the vocals were cleaner, although the strange presentation with the music in one channel doesn’t sound quite right to me. The DVDA mix was not quite as clean, but may be more involving for some because of the surround channels and a centered musical presentation. The listener will have to determine which is more important to them. Songs included are: Soul Shakedown Party; Small Axe; Duppy Conqueror; African Herbsman; Sun Is Shining; Soul Rebel; Try Me; Soul Almighty; Jah Is Mighty; Fussing And Fighting; All In One; Reaction; Keep On Moving; Kaya; Stand Alone.
Herman’s Hermits – Retrospective; ABKCO Music 92282 Hybrid Stereo SACD ***1/2:
Although Herman’s Hermits may not have quite the recognition of some of the other bands that were popular during the 60s British Invasion, they’ve produced a good many hits in the United States. Their first single, “I’m Into Something Good,” was written by the legendary songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It made it to No. 13 on the charts, and it wasn’t until “Mrs. Brown…” that they managed to hit No. 1 for 3 weeks. The tuneful plucking guitar and the immediacy of the vocals and harmonies make this a standout on this compilation. Track 10 is a funny/sarcastic tune about leaning at a lamp post while waiting to pick up a girl. Unlike some of the other bands of their time, they never wrote their own tunes. Peter Noone, the lead man of the group, had a background in acting and music. On the records, it was Noone’s vocals that were backed by some session players of the day named Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones!
Imaging is very center-focused. Quality is very good—better than you’d expect from these older rock recordings. Songs included are: I’m Into Something Good; Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat; Silhouettes; Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter; (What A) Wonderful World; Hold On; I’m Henry The VIII, I Am; Just a Little Bit Better; A Must to Avoid; Leaving on a Lamp Post; End of the World; Listen People; There’s a Kind of Hush; East West; No Milk Today; It’s Nice to be Out in the Morning; This Door Swings both Ways; Dandy; Sleepy Joe; Don’t go out into the Rain; sunshine girl; Museum; I Can Take or Leave Your Loving; Something’s Happening; My Sentimental Friend; Here Comes the Star.
Dar Williams – The Beauty Of The Rain; Silverline 288277-9 DVD-A ****:
Dar Williams reminds me a bit of Sarah McLachlan with a richer voice. Lyrics or song titles are displayed over the music. (The listener is given the option.) Instruments would often appear in different channels giving the surround mix a very interesting feel. There is a light, airy quality to the music that is quite soothing in its way. One of my favorite songs on the disc, “Farewell to the Old Me,” would probably not be played on the radio, but it is a good, solid, soft rock tune. You might recognize John Popper (of Blues Traveler) on track 3 although for some strange reason they’ve mixed his voice in the back left channel—why? The sound quality of the material is excellent and in addition to the surround DVD-A mix there is a high-resolution stereo version as well as a 5.1 and 2.0 DD mix. On almost every track there are liner notes on-screen that give some relevant information about the song, how it came about and what the song means, what Dar was thinking when she wrote it, etc. Other guest artists make appearances like Bela Fleck and Alison Krauss.
As extras there are direct access to lyrics and a photo gallery. The music is enjoyable and very well recorded—it is sure to be an audiophile favorite. The genre is mostly soft/inoffensive rock, so if that is your bag then check it out. Songs included are: The Mercy of the Fallen; Farewell to the Old Me; I Saw a Bird Fly Away; The Beauty of the Rain; The World’s Not Falling Apart; The One Who Knows; Closer to Me; Fishing in the Morning; Whispering Pines; Your Fire Your Soul; I Have Lost My Dreams.
Dar Williams – The Green World; Silverline 288226-9 DVD-A ***:
The sound quality of this particular recording is not really any better than CD although there is content in the surrounds including instruments and vocal harmonies. The music is folk rock with a slight celtic influence. “After All” is a softer tune that slowly builds towards its conclusion and does an admirable job of communicating its message through the music. The more upbeat rock songs sort of blended together even after a couple of times listening. In “We Learned the Sea” the song starts with solo guitar and singing, but the guitar is mixed in the surround channels and moves back and forth between them. This gimmicky presentation doesn’t help to complement the intimacy of the song. “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono” sheds some light on Williams’ background and sounds strangely like a Susannah Hoffs’ tune—Dar’s voice reminds me of early Bangles music. Another recording curiosity is the fact that monaural voice is on the left in the stereo speakers rather than coming from the center even though other information is routed to the center. Maybe this has something to do with the ability to easily mix down to two channels. The music is pleasant, but doesn’t really break any new ground.
The video on the disc shows rehearsal footage in the studio (that lasts about 5.5 minutes) for Dar’s tour. It includes footage for the two songs: “What Do You Love More Than Love” and “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono.” Still pictures are displayed over the music with a lyrics option available. Occasional liner notes are included as well as the musician list on each track. There are options of a 5.1 or 2.0 DD mix. Songs included are: Playing To The Firmament; After All; Spring Street; We Learned The Sea; I Had No Right; Another Mystery; And A God Descended; What Do You Love More Than Love; I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono; Calling The Moon; It Happens Every Day.
Indigo Girls – All That We Let In – Epic EH 92859 Hybrid Multichannel SACD ****:
This disc utilizes the surround channels heavily, so it is not surprising to hear all sorts of instruments coming from the back as well as the front. I haven’t given the Indigo Girls serious attention for a while—my last experience wasn’t a very positive one. That’s a shame because this is an extremely well-produced record that is sure to impress many people. The songs are nicely crafted, quick paced, and fun (even though they often deliver a message of one sort or other). Vocals are very good and well matched with the music—a sign of experience and a successful relationship together.
The music is a blend of folk, soft rock, and country that could be best be categorized as “adult contemporary.” Most of the songs have roots in what I’d call lyric-driven music that result in catchy tunes that remind me of Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Sara McClachlan, and other female singer/songwriters. Track 6 is a harder rockin’ song that stands out from the other solower, mellower tunes. “Something Real” is one of my favorites. It’s about not accepting the way things are in the present and the desire to reconnect with an old friend who can help the singer “get back to something real.” If you follow the little cartoons in the booklet, it sets up the progression of the album and tells a little story. Quality of sound is better than CD. Songs included are: Fill It Up Again; Heartache For Everyone; Free In You; Perfect World; All That We Let In; Tether; Come On Home; Dairy Queen; Something Real; Cordova; Rise Up.
James & Lucky Peterson – If You Can’t Fix It; JSP Records JSP5100 Multichannel Hybrid SACD *** 1/2:
James Peterson is Lucky’s father and they began collaborating when Lucky was barely five years old on 1, 2, 3, 4 b/w Good Old Candy. Lucky joined Little Milton’s band at 17 and played the organ and later developed skills on the guitar and sang as well. On this record, James handles the vocals while Lucky is left to contribute by way of the guitar and organ. Eight of the ten songs are originals by James and two are by Lucky and Bruce Feiner. James Peterson’s vocals are gravelly, deep, rough, and command attention. The team of father and son work so well together you’d think they were…father and son! The backup band is more than adequate to showcase the talent of the Petersons.
All the songs sound like big, BIG productions with lots of sound and lots of impact. “Too Young To Die” laments the tale of a 22 year old who has passed, and in “Don’t Give The Devil No Ground” Peterson prays to his woman not to do him wrong. Each song tells a different, interesting story. This disc features fairly aggressive surround sound and sounds better than the average CD although a slight harsh quality keeps it out of the top rung of SACDs. Songs included are: Strange Things Happenin’ Every Day; Time To go; Cripple Man; Somewhere In Between; If You Can’t Fix It; Never Take Sand To The Beach; Get Down; Too Young to Die; Don’t Give The Devil No Ground; More Harm Than Good.
Brides of Destruction – Here Come The Brides; Silverline 288260-9 DVD-A***:
The first thing that caught my attention after the interesting cartoon cover was the parental advisory stamp on the record—my seal of approval! After all, reports say that Tipper’s push to put these labels on CDs has actually increased sales of said records. What a surprise?! Kids wanting something they aren’t supposed to have. The band is headed by Nikki Sixx, and in case you aren’t familiar with his previous work with Motley Crue, the music is hard rock with a little metal added in for good measure. Sound/noise (depending on your point of view) comes from all directions. Screaming vocals, pounding drums, screeching guitar, and cymbal crashes is par for the course. This is the kind of music I listened to 20 years ago, but metal is making a huge comeback and the next generation needs their metal gods like Axl and Sixx. “I Don’t Care” is fast-paced tune with a nice hook that will surely make it popular if it isn’t already. “I Got A Gun” is slower, but quickly builds up to a real ear-piercer. Sound on the disc is thick and bass-heavy pretty much across the board. The music reminds me a little of Stone Temple Pilot’s heavier stuff from 10 years ago. “Only Get So Far” is the token pseudo rock ballad and it’s decent. All and all this is not a bad record for the genre.
The disc includes direct access to lyrics, a video of “Shut The F**k Up,” and a band documentary. The video looks fairly low-budget and features the band (who looks scary in my opinion) playing in this white room with the camera spinning around and titles flashing off and on the screen. After seeing the documentary the band doesn’t seem that scary anymore. One of the band members was from L.A. Guns, and the goal was to get back to a very raw sound—which they’ve accomplished. Aside from the discussion of how the members got together, the guys talk about the album cover, the content, and what the music is about. Songs included are: Shut The F**k Up; I don’t Care; I Got A Gun; 2x Dead; Brace Yourself; Natural Born Killers; Life; Revolution; Only Get So Far.
Big Head Todd And The Monsters – Crimes Of Passion; Silverline 288259-9 DVD-A****:
The first thing to notice about this disc is the really cool abstract art that is displayed over the music. The music of the band could best be described as blues rock with most of the sound concentrated up front. The quality of the recording ranges from the quality offered by most CDs to that of better CD recordings. The vocals are very rough and the listener may have difficulty getting past them. The disc mixes slow songs with harder songs (almost one after the other). I tended to like the slower tunes like track 2, “Beauty Queen”—a song that has a relaxing quality as it tells a discouraging tale of a beauty queen. The material in whole tends to delve deeper than most of the music of the genre and that’s a good thing–it made the slower songs (in particular) more successful than the faster ones—just listen to “Drought Of 2013.” With more listening I tended to enjoy the record more and more.
There is a 4 and a half minute section with live performances and comments by the band that take place a smallish record store called “Twist and Shout” where the band had a signing. The disc offers a photo gallery and direct access to song lyric as well as the option of DD 5.1 or DD 2.0. Songs included are: Dirty Juice; Beauty Queen; Conquistador; Angela Dangerlove; Come On; Drought Of 2013; Love Transmission; Imaginary Ships; ICU In Everything; Lost Child Astronaut; Peacemaker’s Blues.