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27 SACD and DVD-A Reviews
June 2003, Pt. 1 of 3 - Pop & Jazz

Dave Alvin – Blackjack David; Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2007 Hybrid Stereo SACD:

Alvin has a rich, deep, southern, country-singing sounding voice. The guitar work on this selection of tunes has the twang that you expect to hear with folk/country music. There are powerful backing bass chords as exemplified on the title track--it gives the song an ominous, foreboding quality. Alvin played with the Blasters from the early to mid 80s. The booklet mentions that Dave opened for Richard Thompson, and the style of his current music is not unlike that of Thompson—tunes that are poppy at times, dark and sad at others, but they all tell a story. The orginal record is from 1998 and is his fifth for Hightone Records.

Fidelity on the disc is very good, but the guitar is often recorded only in the left channel although the voice is placed in the center. Aside from its location, the guitar sound is very natural and enjoyable. It is clear that after 43 years Dave has become a skilled blues/folk guitarist. There is a sense of reverberation on the voice that is clearly intentional whether natural or added in the recording process. There are some slower, brooding tunes, as well as a few that are up-paced ditties. If country music scares you off, then you might want to leave this one on the shelf. Country lovers will wrap themselves up in these heartfelt songs. Good to sing in the shower too! Songs included are: Blackjack David, Abilene, New Highway, California Snow, Evening Blues, The Way You Say Good-bye, Mary Brown, Laurel Lynn, 1968, From A Kitchen Table, Tall Trees. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Big Bill Broonzy – The 1955 London Sessions; Silverline 288138-9 DVD-A:

There ain’t nothing like the blues, and boy, has Big Bill Broonzy got the blues. I have my misgivings when I see record companies re-releasing older recordings of unknown people who weren’t really that worth listening to back in the day, much less today. But this disc is simply a “find.” Broonzy is a blues legend that played the blues for over 30 years. His skills include guitar, violin, percussion, and tall tales. The fidelity is great considering the age of the recording. There is a constant background hiss, but it wasn’t bothersome. Vocals are clear and the instruments are slightly set back into the mix. Guitar sound is natural and vibrant and serves as a perfect accompaniment to Broonzy’s voice. Subject matter is not unlike many other blues artists: women, working hard, and dealing with hardships of life. There are many excellent tunes on this DVD-A disc that make it a keeper. Songs included are: It Feels So Good, Southbound Train, Southern Saga/Joe Turner Blues, When The Sun Goes Down, Saturday Evening, Glory Of Love, St. Louis Blues, Mindin’ My Own Business, When Do I Get To Be Called A Man, Partnership Woman.

-Brian Bloom


Divas Las Vegas – Epic ES 86750 - Stereo/Multichannel SACD:

This album is from the VH-1 live concert from Las Vegas last year. The concert was a benefit for Save the Music Foundation - a very worthwhile charity that could effect music for the next 20 years with schools cutting music programs to save money. The artist and songs are as follows:

Celine Dion with Anastacia – You Shook Me All Night Long
Cher - Believe and A Song for the Lonely
Shakira – Underneath Your Clothes
Dixie Chicks with Stevie Nicks – Landslide
Anastacia – One Day in Your Life
Celine Dion – I’m Alive and A New Day Has Come
Elvis Medley – Anastacia – Jail House Rock
Shakira – Always On My Mind
Cher – Heartbreak Hotel
Celine Dion – Can’t Help Falling in Love

The Dixie Chicks’ “Landslide” is the highlight of the album, I love this song. Most of the others except Believe, Landslide, A New Day Has Come and the Elvis stuff are pretty much throwaway songs. The real surprise for me is Shakira, I always thought of her as a lightweight singer. She does a good job on all three songs she sings on the album, including a really credible version of “Always on My Mind”. If she has good songs and stays away from a tendency to over sing, I feel she could become a worthwhile vocalist. Anastacia was very mediocre on her two tracks, showing very little promise. Poor recording quality mar the two songs by Cher. The recording quality throughout actually seems fairly variable. Some cuts are reasonable-sounding and others are dead with no presence or impact. The surround is OK, but doesn’t add much either. The stereo layer has better presence, focus and impact. It surprises me that there is only one track with the Dixie Chicks and Stevie Nicks - a real waste of talent. And the album only contains 38 minutes of music. Purchase Here

- Clay Swartz

Bachman Turner Overdrive – From The Front Row…Live!; Silverline 288149-9 DVD-A:

The tracks on this disc are from a concert recorded on March 8, 1974 in Chicago. Crowd participation is great and the band really knows how to work the crowd into a frenzy. B.T.O. (as they are known) were one of several groups of rockers who penned at least a few hit songs in their day. Most of the tunes are guitar and/or rhythm based, and are loud, hard-hitting, thick, and heavy. There is good use of the surround channels for the crowd and fill. Recording quality is mediocre—compressed and dynamically limited. The venue is a big, echoey-sounding stadium or fairly large open arena. The sounds on this disc are sure to bring back fond memories for the 40-50 year old crowd. There are only seven tracks, but all are enjoyable. Songs included are: Takin’ Care Of Business, Welcome Home, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, Slow Down Boogie, Let It Ride, Roll On Down The Highway, Give It Time.

-Brian Bloom


The British Are Coming - Silverline 288121-9 DVD-A:

This collection includes a nice selection of songs by Brit pop bands of the 60s. At least half of these songs should be easily recognizable, even by younger music listeners. A few of the groups are represented more than once on this album, but overall the disc is filled with winners. Song styles range from the synthesized warbling on “Pictures Of Matchstickmen” to the more subdued guitar work in Donovan’s “Catch The Wind.” There is even a little R&B with The Foundations “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You.” Want to hear David Bowie before his musical style changed radically in the 70s? Listen to “I Dig Everything.” The find for me was the Alan Price Set doing a version of “I Put A Spell On You.”

Sound was full of echo in the back channels—more so than desirable in my opinion. Recording quality was largely dependant on the track. There is sure to be something on here for everyone who digs the sounds of the 60s. Check it out. Songs included are: Love Potion Number Nine – The Searchers; Catch The Wind – Donovan; In The Summertime – Mungo Jerry; Pictures of Matchstickmen – The Status Quo; Tossing And Turning – The Ivy League; Here Comes My Baby – The Tremeloes; He’s In Town – The Rockin’ Berries; Baby, Now That I’ve Found You – The Foundations; I Dig Everything – David Bowie; Reflections Of My Life – Marmalade; Sugar And Spice – The Searchers; Silence Is Golden – The Tremeloes; Take A Heart – The Sorrows; Colours – Donovan; I Put A Spell On You – Alan Price Set; Telstar – The Tornadoes.

-Brian Bloom

Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul; Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2005 Hybrid Stereo SACD:

According to the booklet accompanying this disc, this release from 1969 was “one of the most popular and influential soul albums of its era.” This isn’t a disc to throw on and vacuum the carpet. It demands serious attention and excels both musically and lyrically. It is clear that liberty was taken in its creation—18-minute songs are not exactly crafted for the hit-radio crowd. The fact that the album managed to get to #8 on the Billboard pop charts is evidence enough that making an album from the gut and not aiming at commercial success can still win the hearts of listeners. The booklet details the production of this album along with many other interesting tidbits of information about the artist. Especially interesting is a long recount of the recording session. With a blend of R&B, soul, and funk, this record is a disc that many will be able to play over and over and, in some ways, seem as though it’s being heard for the first time.

The quality of the recording was reminiscent of good analog. Maybe it was the hiss or the sound of the high frequency produced by certain phonograph cartridges—not overly full bodied, but clean and quick. When the bass kicked in it sounded just right—not a weird and undefined blob of sound that you commonly hear on CDs. The only bothersome problem was a distortion that happened every so often during track 3. It was present in both the SACD and CD layers. I don’t know why it couldn’t be removed, or an alternate master used (?), but it wasn’t enough of a problem to prevent recommendation of this disc. There are only four tunes on this record, but it’s all about quality and not quantity—definitely a keeper. Songs included are: Walk On By, Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic, One Woman, By The Time I Get To Phoenix. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

James Taylor – October Road – Columbia CS 63584 Stereo/Multichannel SACD:

This 2002 James Taylor album has a very contemplative feel to it. All but two of the songs were written by James Taylor. I do not consider this one of his better albums - striking me as almost easy-listening. Musically there are no songs on the album that would bring me back to listen to it. Performance is very laid back and I get very little feeling of emotion from his singing. The accompanying arrangements are imaginatively done. Soundwise the disc scores much better. Both stereo and multichannel sound are really excellent. The front channels are very close-sounding in both stereo and multichannel. There is not the usual loss of focus with the multichannel. The rear channels provide ambience and some backup instrumentation. They are done with a good taste, do not distract from the music, and add to the sense of tranquility of the music. The general sound is fairly crisp with good instrumental detail. A fair sense of presence is heard in his voice. On multichannel there is some interesting interplay between the front and rear channels on certain cuts. For me this album would be best for background music or relaxation rather than close listening. Purchase Here

- Clay Swartz

Scrapomatic – Mike Morrison & Paul Olsen; Artists House Foundation AH00003 96K DVD + CD + MP3 set:

This set requires a little explanation. Artist House calls themselves a “not-for-profit” music company that records improvisational-based music by singers/songwriters. The emphasis is on artist-owned music and one of the main goals is to bring the viewers/listeners closer to the creative process and offer them better value. Check the website for more details. Besides the CD, the set includes a DVD with a 24 bit, 96kHz stereo mix, a DD track, and video of the recording session. Sheet music is available for printout and artist commentary is included throughout the entire recording. In addition, on the CD are MP3 duplicates (at 160 kbps) of the entire album. The recording was made in four days at a studio in Louisiana that the artists claim gave them inspiration. The producer, John Snyder, describes the band as a contemporary blues duo. Interestingly enough, the audio goes in and out during the interview. Session footage is included for five of the songs and averages about ten minutes per piece. The commentary is very enlightening, and the viewer will really get a feel for the type of band Scrapomatic is, how they write their music, and what the tracks are all about. There really isn’t any video (aside from a still) when playing the Hi-res track off the DVD. When you select the surround or commentary track, there is scrolling sheet music, home video, video of the recording session—most of which is in slow motion. Quality of the video is marginal, although this is really not a big deal as it is more an embellishment than a necessity over the music.

So what about the music? It’s pretty darn good. The title track grooves, sounds bluesy, and tells a funny tale about a poor guy under the powers of a wicked woman. The second song has some ragtime/swing influence with fun piano and trombone accompaniment. The third track has the feel of a country tune mixed in with some R&B flavor while track 5 is reminiscent of Prince and ’70s soul. The high resolution stereo mix is FAR superior to the DD track in fidelity. Although this album will definitely appeal to blues fans, it will crossover to other listeners and is definitely worth checking out. Songs included are: Moanin’, Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me, I’ll Be Around, Man Gone, Need Drink, Bubble Gum Song, Lovefreak, Found Myself, Transition, Apocalypse Blues, I Need New Blood, Talkin’ Mile, Can You Help Me?

-Brian Bloom


Johnny Cash – Silver – Columbia/ Legacy CS 86791 - Stereo/Multichannel SACD:

This is a surprising SACD reissue. Johnny Cash may have made more albums than any other similar artist, so why did they decide to put one of his most mediocre albums on SACD? It was issued in 1979 and was a failed attempt to make him sound less old-fashioned and more acceptable to a hipper crowd. Instead it comes across as unenergetic and uninspired. Cash has so many great albums, why put this one out? (I consider his American Songs Volume 1 as one of the ten best pop recordings ever made.)

The SACD Multichannel sound is not bad, but not exceptional either. The surround treatment is tasteful, being mainly just ambient sound. The players are firmly in the front channels, but the front channel sound is not that good. There is very little impact or instrumental detail and the sound is soft with little sense of presence. The stereo SACD sound is slightly better, but the famous Cash voice is recessed. It sounds as if he is singing 15 or 20 feet back on the stage, rather than near the front of the stage. The album includes two bonus tracks that were not on the original album. But even with the two bonus tracks the album is only 37 minutes long. And the song selection is not exactly thrilling. The performance is somewhat flat-sounding, never seeming to exhibit any real sense of energy or emotion. Even with the above said, a mediocre Johnny Cash album is better than 80% of the pop albums released currently.

- Clay Swartz


****Multichannel fan Brian Moura has created a special non-commercial web site just for other enthusiasts of multichannel Super Audio Discs. If you would like to know exactly what is available in this format both in the U.S. and elsewhere, and what is coming soon, his main page will tell you where you want to go to (scroll down a bit) - with lists for:

Multichannel SACD Albums Now Available
Multichannel SACD Albums - New Releases
Multichannel SACD Albums - Now Available - Only in Europe
Multichannel SACD Albums - Now Available - Only in Japan
Multichannel SACD Albums Coming Soon

Go on to Part 2 of Hi-Res Reviews

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