John Gorka – The Gypsy Life , Blu-ray (2010)
Studio: AIX Records AIX 85043
Performers: John Gorka – guitar, piano and vocals; Susan Werner – guitar, piano and backup vocals; Russ Rentler – mandolin; Amila Spicer – background vocals; Michael Manring – fretless electric bass [TrackList below]
Video: 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 with “Stage” or “Audience” perspectives, DD 5.1, PCM Stereo
Extras: Channel ID 5.1 Test Tones, Recording details
Length: 68 minutes
Rating: Picture ****½ Sound ****½ Music ****
John Gorka is folk singer/song writer born in New Jersey. He has been playing since the 70s. Other artists, such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mary Black, and Maura O’Connell, have recorded or performed his songs. He has shared tours with the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Nancy Griffith.
This is one of several new Blu-rays from AIX Records, well known for their option-packed hi-res music DVDs. The music on this album is more traditional folk, than pop folk. The five musicians are sitting in a semi-circle with the piano behind and to the right side of the band. The sound is offered in three mixes. The first is stage perspective Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The second is audience perspective Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The third is PCM 96/24 stereo. The recording was made in 96/24 bits. The concert is shot in 1920 x 1080i HD. All the songs are written by John Gorka, except Snow Don’t Fall by Townes Van Zandt.
The concert has a very intimate feeling. All three sound track options are very good. I think I have a slight preference for the audience perspective track. The video is also excellent. There is not quite as much crispness and color saturation as the very best HD pictures. This is probably due to the lighting for the concert. More soft frontal lighting would have probably helped. The sound is crisp and well-placed. AIX resists the urge to place the musicians all around you. The musicians are top rate and the balance between them is spot on. I am however nit-picking on both audio and video. This is one of the best combinations of audio and video that I have seen on a concert disc. Very few Blu-ray concert discs have this good of combination of quality. The video is definitely better than their plain DVD releases. There are also three bonus tracks on the disc. There is a behind-the-scenes video, an interview with John Gorka, and a track from a 2006 concert at McCabe’s. This is a very good start for AIXs Blu-ray production. I think folk and singer/song writer fans will love this album. I am looking forward to more albums like this. It’s a disc that I will share with my friends.
NOTE: I feel that I should inform readers that I am fairly hard in my ratings for audio, video and music. I will only give five stars for near perfection. If I can image the sound being better in any meaningful way, it doesn’t get five stars. If it is not among the best looking pictures I have seen, no five stars. For five stars for music an album must have a number of memorable songs and no filler songs. Most pop albums have mostly filler songs on them. No more than several hundred albums have ever made this quality of music. And many of these are greatest hits albums or concerts.
Branching Out, Stranger With Your Hair, Let Them In, Mean Streak, Flying Red Horse, Snow Don’t Fall , When She Kisses Me, Mercy of the Wheels , I’m From New Jersey, Italian Girls, Writing in the Margins, Love is Our Cross to Bear , Houses in the Fields, Land of the Bottom Line, Always, Road of Good Intentions, Blue Chalk, Lightning’s Blues , The Gypsy Life
— Clay Swartz