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34 SACD & DVD-A Reviews!
Sept. 2003 - Part 3 of 3 - Rock & Pop

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The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds - Capitol multichannel DVD-A 72434-77937-9-0:

Must admit I was not a Beach Boys fan and totally missed out on this greatest achievement of their career at the time. Had no idea how different it was from most of their output or that it was inspired by the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and in turn inspired the Beatles to their greatest achievement of Sgt. Pepper. This is the first time the complete album is available in stereo, mono and 5.1 surround - and that surround comes in all the flavors: DVD-A at 96K, DTS, and Dolby Digital. In addition to the 13 tracks of the original album there are seven bonus tracks, a sessionography, detailed notes on each track, liner notes by Beach Boys author David Leaf, a discography, photo galleries, and a rather amateurish Pet Sounds promo film made in 1966 which includes three songs from the album. There is also another promo film on Sloop John B plus a similar promotional video, a documentary video on the sessions made in l997, and probably some other stuff I missed.

Pet Sounds is now considered one of the most influential records in the history of rock. In the UK - Beatles territory - it’s known as The Greatest Album of All Time. It’s also regarded as a sonic milestone. Unlike everyone else, Brian Wilson insisted on recording most of the vocals with stereo mikes rather than a single one, and using the primitive three and four-track recorders they (and the Beatles) had at the time it is absolutely amazing what he accomplished in the studio. The mono mix on the DVD was mastered directly from Wilson’s original master; it may be the first mono DVD-A, I don’t know. HDCD was used in the remixing of the surround to reduce noise and improve fidelity since they mixed in analog format. The multichannel mixes are terrific and the DTS and Dolby ones don’t lose that much of the impact of the MLP tracks. This should completely captivate any listeners except perhaps the diehards who have the mono version ingrained in their minds from years of listening and don’t want to hear anything else.

Jingle-writer Tony Asher was Wilson’s collaborator on the songs for Pet Sounds. The note booklet tells the story of exactly how they worked together. This was Brian’s pet project from the start, and he wanted to create songs that were really different, that spoke from the heart. The work that went into God Only Knows, for example, details the process, and among the bonus tracks provided are both session highlights of this tune plus a mix of the master track with an a capella tag on it. The whole project shows what well-done surround mixing can do for pop masterpieces like this one.

Tracks: Wouldn’t It Be Nice, You Still Believe in Me, That’s Not Me, Don’t Talk, I’m Waiting for the Day, Let’s Go Away for Awhile, Sloop John B., God Only Knows, I Know There’s An Answer, Here Today, I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, Pet Sounds, Caroline No; Bonus Tracks: Unreleased backgrounds, Wouldn’t It be Nice (2), God Only Knows (2), I Just Wasn’t Made (a cappella), Summer Means New Love. Purchase Here

- John Sunier
The Kinks – Everybody’s In Show-Biz; Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2010 Hybrid Stereo SACD:

The Kinks are very aptly named and this album best illustrates how kinky they are. Songs like Maximum Consumption show how quirky and whimsical they can be. At times it seems like a bunch of drunken lads are sitting around and singing…”La la la la…potatoes!” The subject matter is all over the place, going from eating and drinking to serious topics as in Sitting In My Hotel. The lyrics tell interesting tales that hint at dissatisfaction, loss of innocence, confusion, and the difficulties of life. Even the worst songs on this disc show the band to have more musical talent than many of the current crop of so-called recording artists. The first 10 songs are studio versions; while the rest of the disc is recorded live in concert. Both Lola and Alcohol are great renditions that invite singing on the part of the listener. Celluloid Heroes is probably one of the most remembered Kinks tunes, and still stands up extremely well. The quality of sound on this record is good, and if you are into a wild ride, this disc is just what the doctor ordered. Songs included are: Here Comes Another Day; Maximum Consumption; Unreal Reality; Hot Potatoes; Sitting In My Hotel; Motorway; You Don’t Know My Name; Supersonic Rocket Ship; Look A Little On The Sunnyside; Celluloid Heroes; Top Of The Pops; Brainwashed; Mr. Wonderful; Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues; Holiday; Muswell Hillbilly; Alcohol; Banana Boat Song (trad.); Skin & Bone; Baby Face; Lola; Till The End Of The Day; She’s Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Man Of The World – Reflections on Peter Green; Audio Fidelity AFZ 011 Hybrid Stereo SACD:

This disc is a shortened SACD version of a tribute album of Peter Green’s music entitled Rattlesnake Guitar – The Music of Peter Green. Peter Green was one of the original members of Fleetwood Mac, and I reviewed the Fleetwood Mac – Live At the BBC DVD-A disc a couple of months ago with some of these same songs. Track 1 starts off with an extended version of Oh, Well that features gritty guitar, natural sounding bass, and a solo that will remind one of the soundtrack of gunslinger Westerns ala The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. Most of these tunes are blues numbers that make use of harmonica, electric guitar, and a nice blues beat. Each artist takes their liberty with the music, and while some are, no doubt, similar to the originals, others have been altered to reflect the style of music played by the various artists. This translates to some really hard-rocking versions, while others are different—more subdued.

One of my favorites was track 4 by Snowy White, which had a really cool Stevie Ray Vaughn quality to it. Track 9 was almost a pop song with a tuneful horn section, really nice beat, and Joe Cocker-style vocals in parts that mated well with the music. Track 13 brought me back to another time. It reminded me of some of the early fusion jazz with soft percussion, chimes, and smooth piano. It is sure to get your ears perked up. In the last track, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, gets down and dirty on the flute. All in all, this album represents a nice mix of style and music. Quality is above average if not quite the best that is currently offered on the format. However, the disc is hybrid, and that makes me happy.

Songs included are: Oh Well – Billy Sheehan, Showbiz Blues – Rory Gallagher, The Green Manalishi – Arthur Brown, Looking For Somebody – Snowy White, Love That Burns – “Lonesome” Dave Peverett, Rattlesnake Shake – Vince Converse, Ramblin’ Pony – Harvey Mandel, If You Be My Baby – “Lonesome” Dave Peverett, Baby When The Sun Goes Down – Southside Johnny, Black Magic Woman – Larry McCray, Crying Won’t Bring You Back – Luther Grosvenor, Stop Messin’ ‘Round – Savoy Brown, Albatross – Paul Jones, Leaving Town Blues – Rory Gallagher, Man Of The World – Ian Anderson. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Peter Gabriel – Up – Universal 069 493 536-2 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD:

Peter Gabriel gives us here another richly layered album of stark contrasts that combines so many of the trademark elements of his recent work – deeply underpinned subterranean bass from Tony Levin, densely layered guitar and synth riffs, intertwined with world-beat vocals and percussion and the always superb drumming of Manu Katche. The opening song, Darkness, even harkens back to his Genesis days and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, his point of departure from the group.

Although Universal has been pretty good about offering source material information for most of their SACD releases, there’s none here, so one would assume that the album was transferred to DSD from the source tapes. The sound is pristine in both the stereo and surround mixes – the bass may be the deepest of any disc I currently own, and would definitely serve as a showcase for any good subwoofer. The surround mix is aggressive, but it works and never gets in the way of the music.

Up leads you down some very dark paths, but true fans will find most of the music here very accessible and enlightening. Tracks: Darkness, Growing Up, Sky Blue, No Way Out, I Grieve, The Barry Williams Show, My Head Sounds Like That, More Than This, Signal To Noise, The Drop. Purchase Here

– Tom Gibbs

David Bowie – Heathen; Columbia CS 86630 Stereo/Multichannel SACD:

David Bowie was been a musical and personal chameleon in the over four decades he has been recording. Born as David Jones in 1947, he changed his name to David Bowie in 1966. He is probably best known for his Glam-Rock era in the 1970’s. Though never a particularly big fan of his music, I was surprised to find this 2002 album to be fairly accessible. The music has a definite synth-rock sound to it. The best thing about this album is the sound quality of the recording. It’s one of the better-sounding rock albums I have heard. The clarity of the recording makes the music interesting - very crisp and punchy. The music, while not exciting, is very pleasant. The multichannel layer is definitely the way to listen to this album. There is only a slight amount of ambience in the surrounds, but the front channels sound quite a bit better. The soundstage is deeper and there is more detail. The stereo SACD layer has the images much more forward and the images are too large. I find that Bowie has done some interesting thing with the music on this album. If you want to hear something a little different or just really good pop sound, I can recommend this album. Purchase Here

- Clay Swartz

Chicago II - (Robert Lamm, vocals/keyboards; Terry Kath, vocals/guitar; Peter Cetera, vocals/bass; Daniel Seraphone, drums; Lee Loughnane, vocals/trumpet; James Pankow, trombone; Walter Parazaider, vocals/woodwinds) - Rhino DVD-Audio R9 73841:

Chicago, which started out as Chicago Transit Authority, was considered back in l970 - when their second, double LP album, came out - to be the leaders in what was called big band rock. They had to do this album on the fly under the pressures of being on the road 300 days a year, due to the success of their first album. You get a lot of music here as well as a lot channels, due to the original being a double album. The stereo mix is at the top bit rate 192K and really clean, but doesn’t appreciably better than the 96K MLP surround mix which is the one that really gets you involved with the whole performance.

Chicago had a pretty complex sound - lots of different vocal and instrumental lines and timbres going on. You can now hear subtle nuances that were probably swallowed in groove distortions of the LPs. The brass sounds great and the drums are strong but don’t cover up the other subtle things going on. The lead guitar is clean-sounding without the distortion I recall from the LPs (which I no longer have). I was surprised to find no lyrics option onscreen nor are there any printed in the note booklet. The main extras option is a series of very grainy and blurry photos of the band members in action which are repeated for each of the tracks if you select photos in the menu. I had heard from a reader about serious dropouts and volume dips and surges on the MLP tracks. Perhaps what he was referring to is a very crude and annoying silence of perhaps one second or so between each of the tracks of those sections of the two “suites” which are played continuously. They are so precipitous as to sound like errors. Otherwise I didn’t hear any problems with the audio.

Tracks: Movin’ In, The Road, Poem for the People, In the Country, Wake Up Sunshine; Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon: Make Me Smile, So Much to Say So Much to Give, Anxiety’s Moment, West Virginia Fantasies, Color My World, To Be Free, Now More Than Ever, Fancy Colors, 25 or 6 to 4, Prelude, AM Mourning, PM Mourning, Memories of Love; It Better End Soon (suite): Movements 1 - 4, Where Do We Go From Here. Purchase Here

- John Henry

Steely Dan - Everything Must Go - Reprise DVD-A/DD/DTS 48435-9:

The latest from Walter Becker and Donald Fagen is a bit of a surprise because we’re still listening to their four Grammy-award album of three years ago - Two Against Nature. That one had been their first collection of new songs in 20 years. The busy pens of the pair have created another irony-heavy, quirky world of suggestion and noir atmosphere that, as Fagen himself has said, “ a bit heavy on loss.” If it weren’t for the heaviest dose of jazz influence of any rock group or singer/songwriters today, things might be as depressing as those bitching bad humor songs of Dory Previn years ago.

One of the stimuli for bringing out another album so soon was that the pair has had a steady backing band for live appearances for a while instead of just putting together some great sidemen for an album. They are all from New York City and the theme of the album comes from there. The two talk of seeing store fronts in the electronics stores section of the city which constantly display signs saying Selling Out! Everything Must Go! So there was their title tune and album title. The song lyrics make the listener feel like one of the workers at one of these businesses which is going out of business. Fagan sings, “I move to dissolve the corporation in a pool of margaritas...” and “It was sweet at the top 'til that ill wind started blowing". Could also be a requiem for the demises.

That tune is the closer, and the opener is also a depressing take on business “It’s last call to do your shopping, at the Last Mall.” Godwhacker is a violent sci-fi/fantasy sort of hallucination. Things I Miss the Most has to be one of the yuppiest songs ever written about a lover leaving. What he misses most is first “the talk, the sex,” but that’s closely followed by a list of very material-boy things: an Eames chair, copper pans, a Stratocaster guitar, an Audi TT and a “house on the Vineyard.” Fagen enunciates well, but you’ll still get more out the tunes by following the lyrics printed in the booklet, at least the first time thru. The surround mix is superb - not what you’d hear at a live concert but fashioned into an enveloping home experience. By the way, this is one of several DVD-As I’ve learned about lately on which it is impossible to access the DTS track if you want to, at least on many players. But the Dolby and MLP options are both top flight.

The extras include a photo gallery and a very creative video they shot in Las Vegas in a taxi where the female driver didn’t at first recognize them but then quickly did. It’s sort of a very informal intro to the album. They visit a shop window proclaiming Everything Must Go. They pick up several different glamorous women for a short ride down the Strip and some friendly conversation. One is an avid fan; Becker and Fagan try to be cool but they obviously love it. They even reveal where their nom de plume came from, in case you didn’t know.

Tracks: The Last Mall, Things I Miss the Most, Blues Beach, Godwhacker, Slang of Ages, Green Book, Pixeleen, Lunch With Gina, Everything Must Go. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Celine Dion – A New Day Has Come; Epic ES86400 Multichannel/Stereo SACD Only:

“This disc is designed for use in Super Audio CD players only.” I have nightmares about that phrase, but what can you do? The recording had some nice effects/music in the surround channels. I’d describe the music as the new disco: a softer dance beat and electronica sounding background. And don’t forget Dion’s Taylor Dayne-ish sounding voice. The production quality of this CD is first rate—I just wish I could play it in my car. The tunes are (for the most part) a little heavier than the “easy listening” genre would demand. This isn’t a bad thing as a lot of that music can put you to sleep. Track 3 is a nice ballad while track 4 has a hip-hop beat.

The selection of songs is varied—note the remix of the title track. Celine fans will rejoice—this album is good. But the surprise (good news) is that the album will penetrate deeper into the pop listener crowd. Some people have trouble stomaching the idea of listening to, much less buying an album by Celine Dion. This would be a mistake. Much like Cher’s makeover that has made her a diva in the new millennium, Dion hits strong with this record. Get it and you will like it. Songs included are: I’m Alive; Right In Front Of You; Have You Ever Been In Love; Rain, Tax (It’s Inevitable); A New Day Has Come (Radio Remix); Ten Days; Goodbye’s (The Saddest Word); Prayer; I Surrender; At Last; Sorry For Love; Aun Existe Amor; The Greatest Reward; When The Wrong One Loves You Right; A New Day Has Come; Nature Boy. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Hiroshima - The Bridge - Heads Up multichannel SACD HUSA 9076:

The slogan of Telarc’s Heads Up sub-label is “Coming At You From All Sides,” and this one does that. Hiroshima was one of the first pop groups to blend Asian and North American sensibilities in their music, and one of the few U.S. Groups to feature a koto player in their front line (June Kuramato). They’ve been around for nearly 30 years now, fusing Asian sounds with rhythm and blues, jazz and other international influences. They try to tread new ground with each outing and this one seems to be centered primarily on soul music. That’s not my favorite, but if it’s yours this could be a delightfully different addition to your collection. On the other hand I loved the opening instrumental, Eternal Phoenix, which blends East Indian and Japanese threads. Plus the surround really does surround you with interesting percussion and other instrumental sounds, as on most Heads Up SACDs. (The group includes a Taiko drummer.) Along with other pop and jazz releases lately, Hiroshima has selected some lyrics in the tunes which encourage social and spiritual awareness. Their tune Manzanar is named after one of the barren California internment camps for Japanese-Americans during WWII. Purchase Here

Tracks: Eternal Phoenix, Caravan of Love, Shaka Phonk, Believe, Revelation, Another Wish, I Just Wanna Hang Around You, Manzanar, Viven, Sanju, Seven Rivers.

- John Henry

Billy Joel – An Innocent Man; Columbia CS 69389 Stereo SACD:

A lot of the high-resolution releases are not new (as in the case of this record). I have to believe that a lot of the readers want to know if it is worth buying yet another duplicate of something they already own. In the case of this SACD, it is not. Being that I don’t receive hundreds of discs for review, it is rare that I get something that I already own and really like. This record may not be as good an album as The Stranger or 52nd Street, but for one of Billy Joel’s newer discs it has a bunch of decent tunes on it, and it is definitely something I would recommend buying. However, if you already have a copy, I wouldn’t bother buying this SACD. Depending on the track, the recording quality ranges somewhere from mediocre to worse. The voice sounds hollow and there is a haze that permeates the acoustic space. It doesn’t even push the limits of CD, so…why SACD? In parts, it is hard sounding and lacks liquidity and ease. Should I go on? How about congested, canny, edgy, bright, brittle, and eq’d. It sounds like the voice is trying to break free of the musical syrup it’s floating in, but doesn’t quite succeed. Is it better than the CD? Yes. Is it much better? No. Songs included are: Easy Money; An Innocent Man; The Longest Time; This Night Tell Her About It; Uptown Girl; Careless Talk; Christie Lee; Leave A Tender Moment Alone; Keeping The Faith. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Gus Black – Uncivilized Love; Immergent 287012-9 DVD-A:

Gus is a singer/songwriter from Los Angeles whose career started back in 1996 with an EP. At the time, he was simply known as “Gus” and was a popular favorite opening act for artists like Sheryl Crow and the Verve Pipe. His following increased and he released a full-length album in 1999. This album was released in 2002 and re-released domestically in 2003. The balance of the recording is towards the front of listening space with some material in the surrounds—dependent on the track. The music can best be described as rock ‘n’ roll in the vein of many of the alternative indie bands like the Verve Pipe and Five For Fighting. Some of the songs like When You Go and Cadillac Tears are very catchy and could be hit songs (if they aren’t already). The music is mellow in parts and picks up pace in some of the other songs, and vocals have an infectious crooning quality and harmony that reminds me of Counting Crows. There is an interesting version of Ozzy Osbourne’s Paranoid. Recording quality is very good and for those not interested in surround, there is a stereo option.

There are stills over the music, but the amount of extras on this disc is laudable—I wish most of the discs offered this much material! There are seven(!) videos (compared to maybe one on other DVD-A discs). You can even use the angle button on your DVD remote to toggle between different video cuts. The first three videos (and the fifth and seventh) are acoustic takes in the studio. Videos four and six are actual music videos for Debut and Tomorrow Man. In addition to these songs, that are not on the disc in music form, is Goin’ Our Way. There are also selectable lyrics and a photo album. Songs included are: Cadillac Tears; Dry Kisses; When You Go; 1 2 3 4 5; City Life; Violent Rain; Paranoid; Over A Great Wall; Catch Your Breath; Debut; Never Before Our Time; Despacio; Uncivilized Love.

-Brian Bloom

Robert Lockwood Jr. – Delta Crossroads - multichannel and stereo SACD and CD, Telarc SACD-63509:

Lockwood learned to play the blues from Robert Johnson. He was 85 years old when this 2000 recording was made. He plays guitar in a Robert Johnson style. Both his singing and guitar playing do not show his age and his voice is near-perfect for the blues. His heavy strumming style is well captured in the recording. The album offers over 61 minutes of very good delta blues. The songs on the album are: 32-20 Blues, Mean Mistreater Mama, This Little Girl of Mine, Stop Breakin Down Blues, My Woman Came Walking Down, C.C. Rider, Little Queen of Spades, I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom, In the Evening, We’er Gonna Ball Tonight, Mr. Downchild, Run Your Mama, Ramblin’ on My Mind, Love in Vain Blues, Train My Baby, and Keys to the Highway.

The music is just Lockwood playing guitar and singing. The sound is good in each listening mode. The regular stereo track has a little less focus, with a bigger image of Lockwood and his guitar. The multichannel SACD has improved focus and a more natural-sized image, with very faint surrounds adding a slight amount of ambience. The stereo SACD layer contains the best sound. It is slightly better focus and more dynamic sounding. The multichannel seems to rob a little life out of the music. I feel that almost any blues fan would enjoy this album; I certainly did. Purchase Here

- Clay Swartz

The Color Fury – Fury at the Slaughterhouse - EMI 7 243 5 40046 2 9 Stereo/Multichannel SACD and CD:

I must admit I have never heard of this band before. It appears to be a German group, but the booklet with the album gives very little information about the group. All the songs are written by the band members except for Allman Brother's Midnight Rider. The songs are sung in English and the music is in general very pleasant. I would best describe it as light rock with a story-telling character. They show a good diversity in tempo and feeling of the songs. The sound of the multichannel SACD is excellent with sort of a laid-back feeling. The surrounds are for ambience only and well-balanced with the fronts. The stereo SACD layer has slightly better front focus but lacks the ambience. The CD is good for a CD layer, but a little less focused and with images slightly larger. There are 13 tracks listed on the album. If you let it continue playing you get a reading of track 14. There are a couple of minutes of people talking in German, and track 14 shows no time being played. After the talking there is a track 14 and the time counter starts again. With all the useless junk being produced on most pop albums these days, it is refreshing to have a good album such as this one that is worth listening all the way through.

- Clay Swartz

Five For Fighting – America Town; Columbia CS 63759 Stereo/Multichannel SACD-Only:

If you are not familiar with this band, then you are in for a big surprise—they are good! In some ways I was reminded of Counting Crows, but the lead vocalist has a different kind of squeaky voice. The music itself might be characterized as alternative rock, but it has a universal appeal. The album flows well and the many catchy tunes might evoke a reference to the Goo Goo Dolls. Track 3 was a big hit song, although I didn’t realize that Five For Fighting was the artist until I heard it on a previously reviewed SACD, The Concert for New York City. But unlike many bands these days, the rest of the album is worth listening too. I’m a bit surprised that there weren’t other hit songs, but then, I don’t listen to the radio much, so there might well have been. Fidelity is above average for a rock album of this type and there is lots of solid deep bass. In the multichannel mode, the surround channels are not dominant, and most of the vocals stay solidly in the center. Unfortunately, this disc is NOT a hybrid, so playing options are somewhat limited. Songs included are: Easy Tonight, Bloody Mary (A Note On Apathy), Superman (It’s Not Easy), America Town, Something About You, Jainy, Michael Jordan, Out Of Love, The Last Great American, Love Song, Boat Parade, Alright. It’s definitely worth picking up if you’re SACD-ready! Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

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