Hi-Res Audio Reviews
February 2003 - Part 3 of 3 - Mostly Pop
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Paul Simon – You’re The One; Warner Bros. 47844-9 DVD-A:

The music on this disc harkens back to older, less experimental Paul Simon music. There is a huge list of musicians—all with varying backgrounds and abilities—but the music is sedate, calm, and easy. Not to say that the tunes are dull and sleepy, but the presentation is very mood oriented, and the mood is mellow. There are some nice guitar hooks, good beat and rhythm, and Paul’s vocals are as good as ever. Over each song, a still picture is displayed along with a full list of the performers on the track. Fidelity is quite good, although I wouldn’t describe it as vibrant—it sounds a bit toned down. Certain percussive instruments occupy space in the rear channels. Overall, the sound is tight, clean, and musical with a decent sense of space. There is a biography included in the extras. The audio on this disc is available to accommodate a variety of setups. You can select the songs from either a stereo or surround playlist, there is a multi-channel and stereo DVD-A track, and both a DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1 track so no one will be left out. Songs included are: That’s Where I Belong, Darling Lorraine, Old, You’re The One, The Teacher, Look At That, Senorita With a Necklace of Tears; Love, Pigs, Sheep and Wolves; Hurricane Eye, Quiet. Purchase Here

- Brian Bloom

Trey Anastasio (self-titled); Elektra 62749-9 DVD-A:

This disc makes heavy use of the surround speakers. The music is hip, upbeat rock/pop music with a nice jazzy flavor. I’m tempted to compare it to Steely Dan, with a horn section that might sound a little like an old Phil Collins disc or Chicago. There is nice guitar work, a good amount of percussion, and the songs sound well crafted and tight. Track 5 has a bluesy feel, with a background chorus and beat that drives the song forward and endlessly hooks you. The next song is much slower and reminds me a lot of Eric Clapton—a few other songs have this character. The album is well produced and offers enough variety to appeal to most modern/alternative listeners. There is nothing groundbreaking happening, but the fact that there is nothing bad makes the album stand out these days. There are still pictures against the music background. The audio tracks are selectable as both stereo and surround tracks. Also, there is a full list of all the musicians playing on the record. Songs included are: Alive Again, Cayman Review, Push On ‘Til The Day, Night Speaks To A Woman, Flock Of Words, Money, Love And Change, Drifting, At The Gazebo, Mr. Completely, Ray Dawn Balloon, Last Tube, Ether Sunday. Purchase Here

- Brian Bloom

Bob Marley and The Wailers – The Best of The Early Years; Silverline 288053-9 DVD-A:

Most of the tracks on this DVD-A disc are from 1969-1971, while two or three are from the later ’70s. As you might imagine, some of the tunes are of mediocre quality and have various types of distortion. But the soul of the music would come through even if it were coming out of a terrible sounding boom box. The music itself is great for anyone who enjoys reggae, and there is no shortness of deep, heavy beats, swinging choruses, and easy flowing percussion. Fans of Marley & The Wailers will instantly recognize the special style that made his music so popular and heartfelt. Much of the music is concentrated in the center channel, though there is some surround, but not a tremendous amount. There are still pictures over each song. Extras include a photo album and liner notes. The disc includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 track for those who don’t have DVD-A capability. This compilation has a really nice collection of songs that should keep you swinging for a long time. Songs included are: Soul Shakedown Party, Sun Is Shining, Duppy Conqueror, Small Axe, African Herbsman, Trench Town Rock, Lively Up Yourself, Try Me, Soul Rebel, Mr. Brown, Don’t Rock The Boat, Dreamland, Kaya, Keep On Moving, Concrete Jungle, Keep On Skanking, Natural Mystic, I Know A Place. Purchase Here

- Brian Bloom

Curtis Mayfield – Live at Ronnie Scott’s; Silverline 288115-9 DVD-A:

The sound quality of this 1988 live concert is not great. Musical instruments come from every direction, voice is somewhat muffled, and there is a constant echo coming from the rear channels. Luckily, the audio content more than makes up for the audio quality.
Renditions of classic Mayfield tunes like “People Get Ready” and “Pusherman” are very good, and by the audience participation on “Freddie’s Dead” you can tell that the crowd is having a ball. Mayfield presents a nice mix of funk and soul and tosses in a little preaching for good measure. The guitar performance was impressive and the entire feeling of the concert is upbeat with lots of energy.

There are picture stills over the various tracks. It feels strange to listen to a live concert, but to see only a still and not the performance. I would think more people would opt to see the performance rather than a still. There are a few extras included on the DVD-A disc. There are liner notes; information about Ronnie Scott’s; a performance video of “Freddie’s Dead” that made me wish this were a concert video; and an interview with Curtis Mayfield that gives a broad idea of his background, his music, and his lifestyle. Music is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 for those who don’t have DVD-A capability. Songs included are: Little Child Running Wild, It’s Alright, People Get Ready, Pusherman, Freddie’s Dead, I’m So Proud, Billy Jack, We’ve Gotta Have Peace, Move On Up, To Be Invisible. Purchase Here

- Brian Bloom

Linda Ronstadt & The Nelson Riddle Orchestra - What’s New - Elektra/Asylum/Rhino DVD-A R9 78341:

Can it be that this pop-standard-big-band departure for songstress Ronstadt dates from 1983? It seems like just a few years ago. It doesn’t sound a bit dated, just a wonderful tour of the Great American Songbook with a great voice backed by Riddle’s smooth and rich arrangements. The sidemen in the band are pretty special too: Bob Cooper, Plas Johnson, Tommy Tedesco and Dennis Budimir on guitars, Don Grolnick on piano and Ray Brown on bass. You get a complete video of What’s New, with the camera captivated by Ronstadt’s appealing face and big eyes. One hardly notices the stereo sound for the video; that is until you immediately switch from it to the DVD-A surround mix of What’s New.

Then Bam! You realize what you’ve been missing! Here’s a lavish orchestral bed of sound completely enveloping you, and when Ronstadt’s voice begins it has so much more depth, clarity and presence that the previous version sounds almost like another singer. George Massenburg did a superb job mixing the original tapes for 5.1 - it’s all of a piece and you never get the notion someone is moving sliders for gimmicky effects as with some of the DTS 5.1 mixes. There’s also a DTS 5.1 track as well as Dolby 5.1 but the DVD-A 5.1 clearly has the edge in transparency and extension. Other extras on the disc include a Ronstadt photo gallery and complete lyrics to all the songs. Tracks: What’s New, I’ve Got a Crush on You, Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry, Crazy He Calls Me, Someone to Watch Over Me, I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You, What’ll I Do, Lover Man, Good-Bye. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Crosby-Nash - Another Stoney Evening - (Live duo concert at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA, l971) - DTS Entertainment DVD-A 69286-0198 9-6:

This concert dates from the early days of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the 5.1 remix release has been given the same title as a well-known bootleg LP of the time by the group. It also seems to fit the laid-back nature of the duo’s presentation onstage, which sounds sometimes like they are stoned. Crosby even tells the audience this is the loosest show on Earth, and it probably is. But he also doesn’t explain that at the time he had the flu and was running a 104-degree temperature. The two singer-songwriters are quite different from one another but make a magical blend when they get around to singing in the same key simultaneously. The detailed notes included go into the story behind many of the 15 tracks, such as the haunting Guinevere including references to three women in Crosby’s life, and Stranger’s Room referring to Nash’s affair with Joni Mitchell. It would be unreasonable to expect the perfection of their studio albums, but most of the time the “unpolished parts” of this concert seem to add a realism and empathy missing on most studio recordings.

It may seem quite a feat to create a workable 5.1 surround mix out of the original tapes of just two guys with their guitars and occasional piano, and nothing else. My hat’s off to Stephen Barncard, who did the mix. It works. There’s a bit of hiss but it’s not annoying; fidelity is actually great for a 32-year-old master. Perhaps there were more than just two channels recorded at the time - the audience sounds seem to come primarily from the surrounds and really make the listener a participating part of the concert. The vocals are always up front on the three channels, and the guitars and piano are often on the surrounds. This takes some getting used to, just as does the one-instrument-per-speaker chamber music DVD-As from the Tacet label. The disc’s extras include a photo gallery that can be displayed while listening to any of the songs, and complete lyrics to all of them - but the lyrics don’t change to the next page in sync with the music when required - in fact they cannot even be display onscreen while hearing the songs. There is a constant list of numbers from 1 to 15 at the bottom of the screen so if you want to jump to any other song you can - providing you recall what number it was (neither the jewelbox nor notes indicate this). There is also one of those hidden “Easter Eggs,” but I admit I couldn’t find it. Altogether a very appealing evening, stoney or not. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Joey Ramone – Don’t Worry About Me; Silverline 288118-9 DVD-A:

If you’re a Ramones fan then the type of music on this disc won’t come as a surprise; however the quality of the recording is better than any Ramones record I’ve ever heard. If you aren’t familiar with the Ramones, then a little introduction might be in order. Much like the Clash and their lead singer, Mick Jones, Joey Ramone has his own vocal styling that is immediately obvious. It is characterized by a heavy rock’n’roll-type guttural sound that worked well in many of the groups hit songs that ranged from punk to alternative rock. The style of this disc is much like that of the group. A lot of the songs aren’t so lyric driven, and rely heavily on the hard guitar and drum sound. Hearing Joey perform “What A Wonderful World” reminded me of Johnny Rotten’s version of “I Did It My Way.” If you like that, then you are sure to like the rest. There are still pictures and lyrics over each tune. Included as extras are a Joey Ramone biography, Producer’s Notes, “What A Wonderful World” video, and a few-page tribute on Joey by bass player Andy Shernoff. Songs included are: What A Wonderful World, Stop Thinking About It, Mr. Punchy, Maria Bartiromo, Spirit In My House, Venting (It’s a Different World Today), Like A Drug I Never Did Before, Searching For Something, I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up), 1969, Don’t Worry About Me. Purchase Here

- Brian Bloom

The Concert For New York City - Columbia C2S 86270 multichannel SACD Only (2 discs):

The selection of material on this two-disc set may be reason enough to buy it, and the fact that there is no hybrid layer for regular CD playback may be reason enough to leave it in the record store. I’d also love to say that this is the most amazing sounding live recording that I’ve ever heard, but I can’t—because it isn’t. In fact, on certain songs the fidelity is pretty bad. On others, like the medley performed by Destiny’s Child, I was rather impressed with the fidelity. I have to wonder how many people would rather purchase this disc on multi-channel SACD versus buying the DVD so you can watch something as well. You might notice that some of the tunes performed are by other artists, but are fairly well known (i.e. Etheridge doing “Born To Run” and Goo Goo Dolls doing “American Girl”).

As far as the surrounds go, you’ll hear applause and some echo but, wisely, most of the focus is in the front. Anyone who is familiar with rock/pop music should recognize most of these songs and/or artists. McCartney’s performance of “Yesterday” was sweet and inspired, and Clapton’s performance was quite fun. The Who put on a rockin’ performance as usual and I was swinging and swaying with Destiny’s Child. James Taylor did a slow rendition of “Fire and Rain” which was very heartfelt given the disaster of September 11th. And both Billy Joel singing “New York State of Mind” and The Stones singing “Salt of the Earth” was sure to have meaning for the people who suffered and trudged on even after having undergone terrible strife due to the tragedy.

Musically, if you are into popular music there should be something that you would enjoy on this set. I would assume that some of the proceeds go to a good cause as well. Songs included are: DISC 1: America, Heroes – David Bowie; Livin’ On A Prayer, Wanted Dead Or Alive, It’s My Life – Bon Jovi; Izzo (H.O.V.A.) – Jay-Z; American Girl- Goo Goo Dolls; Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway), New York State Of Mind – Billy Joel; Emotion, Gospel Medley (Walk With Me/Jesus Loves Me/Total Praise) – Destiny’s Child; I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man – Eric Clapton (featuring Buddy Guy); Operaman – Adam Sandler; Quit Playing Games (With My Heart) – Backstreet Boys; Miss You, Salt Of The Earth – Mick Jagger and Keith Richards; DISC 2: Who Are You, Baba O’Riley, Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who; Come To My Window, Born To Run – Melissa Etheridge; Fire And Rain, Up On The Roof – James Taylor; Peaceful World – John Mellencamp; Pink Houses – John Mellencamp (featuring Kid Rock); Superman (It’s Not Easy) – Five For Fighting; Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters – Elton John; I’m Down, Yesterday, Let It Be, Freedom – Paul McCartney. Purchase Here

- Brian Bloom

OK, the following is obviously not jazz, but it’s more comfortable here than in the Classical section...
Winanda del Sur - Suite for Violeta (composed by Patricio Wang based on the songs of Violeta Parra) - Challenge Stereo SACD SACHR 75050:

The late Violeta Parra has become an icon of Latin American culture for her work as a folklorist - collecting traditional music from her homeland of Chile and then both performing it and using it as a basis for her own compositions. Chilean composer Wang, who has lived in Holland for many years, was inspired to create this suite based on Parra’s songs using the quintet Winanda del Sur, featuring the vocalist Winanda Van Vliet. His style is a melding together of the Latin sources with European music. There are 20 songs, with English translations of the titles and a description of the content of each without actual translations. Parr’s songs covered both the painful aspects of love and the painful qualities of the struggle of everyday Chilean life around her. Without understanding the words, some of them reminded me of the revolutionary songs of various Latin American origin. Van Vliet’s is a lovely voice and this is undeniably stirring music, gorgeously performed and recorded. Purchase Here

- John Henry

A couple of albums next that fall into the unclassifiable category, though probably closest to jazz...
Safa -Alight (Amir Koushkani - tar, sitar, voice; Francois Houle - clarinets; Sal Ferreras - tympani and various world percussion ) - Songlines Multichannel SACD SGL SA2403-2:

Based in Vancouver, B.C., this unusual trio reminded me of the several meetings of East and West recordings on the Water Lilly Acoustics label. The three musicians same together with a love of music and especially the art of improvisation. The basic for the improvisation, rather than being the blues, is ancient Persian music as well as nearby musical cultures such as Turkish and Judeo Arabic. While primarily instrumental, four of the tracks have Sufi chants, for which translations of the Farsi are printed on the disc insert. “Safa” in Farsi means inner purity, sincerity and sincere affection. The variety of drums from many musical cultures adds to the exotic musical mix as much as the front line melody instruments - the clarinet and sitar. Instruments from Cuba, Peru and the Philippines are employed. They are often heard from the surround channels, involving the listener more in the music-making than a simple stereo recording, even in SACD. Purchase Here

Francois Houle & Benoit Delbecq - Dice Thrown - Songlines Stereo SACD SGL SA1538-2:

Clarinetist Houle, also heard on the above SACD, here joins pianist Delbecq for ten original pieces either composed as a team or by one of the other of the duo individually. But this is not your typical clarinet-sonata type of program. First, the compositions are highly creative improvisations which seem to live in a space neither part of the jazz nor the classical worlds. Vancouver B.C.-based Houle says he is inspired by the multi-layered sonic explorations of clarinetist William O. Smith (who did a couple of albums with Dave Brubeck years ago). More than anything, this sounds like a release from another genre-busting label, ECM. Another non-typical element here is the modifications to both the clarinet and piano sounds. Houle explores an inspiring of new range of sounds with his instrument, and when a single clarinet can’t achieve what he’s looking for, he plays two of them at once.

Parisian pianist Delbecq first of all plays a Bosendorfer Imperial Grand - the most audiophile piano with its extra bass notes. But that’s not enough, because on some of the tracks he “prepares” the piano a la John Cage - using thin wood slices and pieces of erasers. The result is a gamelan-sort of sound that points up the undeniable fact that the piano is after all a percussion instrument. These works certainly qualify as new music but they’re not that difficult or inaccessible. Again, the added resolving power of SACD seems to make the extended clarinet and piano sounds more palpable and understandable by the ear, just as it’s easier to understand someone with a thick accent in person versus, say, over the telephone. Tracks: Shaw, Oliveira et la Sybille, Ezerville, Bogolandes, C-String, Apnesie, Dice Talk, Raccourci, Trois pour les Gil, Des jetes. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

The Sopranos (Volume 2) Pepper and Eggs (Music from the original series) - Columbia Stereo SACD-Only C2S 85453:

This is the second volume of music from the critically acclaimed HBO series The Sopranos, released in 2001. It is a very eclectic collection of songs by various artists used on the soundtracks of the show. I usually do not list tracks in reviews, but in this case I feel it is necessary:

Disc 1:
1. The Police & Henry Mancini - Every Breath You Take/Peter Gunn Theme
2. Pigeonhed - Battle Flag
3. Campbell Brothers with Katie Jackson - I’ve Got a Feeling
4. Kasey Chambers - The Captain
5. R.L. Burnside - Shuck Dud
6. The Lost Boys - Affection
7. Otis Redding - My Lovers Prayer
8. Madreblu - Certamente
9. Nils Lofgren - Black Books
10. Cake - Frank Sinatra
11. Frank Sinatra – Baubles, Bangles, and Beads
12. Rolling Stones – Thru and Thru

Disc 2:
1. Elvis Costello & The Attractions – High Fidelity
2. Kinks – Living on a Thin Line
3. Vue – Girl
4. Celilia Bartoli – Vivaldi: Sposa Son Disprezzata
5. Ben E. King – I Who Have Nothing
6. Bob Dylan – Return to Me
7. Keith Richards – Make No Mistake
8. Lorenzo Jovanotti – Piove
9. The Pretenders – Space Invader
10. Tindersticks – Tiny Tears
11. Van Morrison – Gloria
12. Dominic Chianese – Core ‘Ngrato
13. Dialog from the Sopranos (XXX)

You can see from the artists and songs that this would be a challenging listening session. I would say that for anyone to like every song on these discs, their musical interests would have to be awfully broad in scope. There are probably some songs of interest on this album to even the most limited music-listening tastes. With this many different recordings, one would expect to have quite a bit of sound quality variation. The good news is the sound is of a high level throughout the disc. The transitions between songs are very well done. The music, in spite of its eclectic nature, seems to flow together in a pleasing manner. The only exception to this is the Lorenzo Jovanotti cut. It seems out of place and does not keep with the feeling of the album. I must admit that I have never heard of some of these artists before. The songs by some of the artists that are well known are not well known songs either. The cut I liked the most on disc one was Kasey Chambers’ The Captain. She is one of my favorite singer-songwriters. The recorded quality is excellent.

But all the cuts are interesting. Madreblu has a very good voice. Frank Sinatra sounded better than I have ever heard him sound before. The combination of: Every Breath You Take and Peter Gunn is very creative and worth listening to. On disc 2 the Cecilia Bartoli Verdi aria is especially well recorded and the Ben E. King song is great. I have never heard Bob Dylan’s voice sound quite as smooth as it does on his cut. The Van Morrison cut of Gloria is better sounding here than any other version I have ever heard. The final cut on disc 2 may offend some because of language, but if you watch the series on HBO you’ll be used to it anyway. The dialog recording comes across very strongly. The more that I listen to these discs, the better I like them. The album is not only recommended for sound, but for an interesting introduction to new artists and new songs. My congratulations to the producers for a fine job in putting together this musically diverse hi-res album. Purchase Here

- Clay Swartz

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