SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
Hi-Res Reviews, Part 3 of 3 Pop/Rock
Published on April 1, 2004
Creedence Clearwater Revival – The Concert; Fantasy FSA-4501-6 Stereo Hybrid SACD DVD-A:
Creedence Clearwater Revival (or CCR as the fans like to call ‘em) weren’t always a big name in rock ‘n’ roll. The band’s initial efforts as the Blue Velvets and the Golliwogs were hardly drops in the bucket. But in 1968 when the band’s debut album for Fantasy Records came out, the story changed. John Fogerty’s voice is unique and in many ways so is their brand of country rock ‘n’ roll. It’s polished and yet rough at the same time and has a gut-wrenching raw quality that has always made songs like “Green River” and “Proud Mary” extremely popular. This live concert took place on January 31, 1970 at a high point in their career. One song after another and another and the crowd is jubilant. The mix of songs is of hits and some less well known, but all sure to please. “Tombstone Shadow” is a good example of their art. It has a slow start with a guitar whine that builds up to a heated percussive rhythm backed by some cool guitar licks and bass.
As you might expect from the vintage of the recording, the quality is mediocre—congested and limited in high frequency output. I can’t say that the fact that this performance was released on SACD really made much of a difference, but the disc is hybrid, so no worries. Songs included are: Born On The Bayou; Green River; Tombstone Shadow; Don’t Look Now; Travelin’ Band; Who’ll Stop The Rain; Bad Moon Rising; Proud Mary; Fortunate Son’ Commotion; The Midnight Special; The Night Time Is The Right Time; Down On The Corner; Keep On Chooglin’.
B.B. King – Reflections; MCA B0000577-26 Multichannel/Stereo SACD:
This album consists of songs that are R&B and pop standards. There is a nice orchestra accompaniment on some of the songs with B.B. on vocals throughout. Reflections is chock full of soft melodies and makes a nice easy-listening CD. In many ways it reminds me of the Van Morrison disc I reviewed a couple of months ago. Just imagine a Frank Sinatra album but with a blues/R&B band and King. Most of the tunes are love songs and would serve as a nice complement to dinner. Although I found there was a little too much reverb on “Always On My Mind” for my taste, “Cross My Heart” was one of my favorite pieces musically with pumping bass and piano, guitar, and percussion that really grabs the listener. “I’ll String Along With You” has a slow jazz flavor with nice keyboard and guitar while the percussion just lulls away softly.
Vocals are up front with some instruments and reverberation in the back. Sound quality is very good with a quiet background and good extension and dynamics. Songs included are: Exactly Like You; On My Word Of Honor; I Want A Little Girl; I’ll String Along With You; I Need You; A Mother’s Love; (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons; Neighborhood Affair; Tomorrow Night; There I’ve Said It Again; Always On My Mind; Cross My Heart; What A Wonderful World.
Sting – Sacred Love; A&M Records B0000872-36 Multichannel/Stereo SACD Hybrid:
I had every Sting (and Police) album up until the last album, Brand New Day. It just didn’t grab me like the albums that had come before and there was too much talk of the commercialization of Sting’s music. In fact, many had felt that he had sold out to the record companies and was just trying to cash out. The style of many of the records has shifted with the times, and this album is no different. Track 2 on this disc has a Middle Eastern flavor to it even with the more modern electronic accompaniments. Track 3 is a duet featuring Mary J. Blige, an accomplished artist who adds a little bit of soul that transforms this track—my favorite on this disc. There is a mix of dance tunes, softer melodies with ethereal background effects, and more conventional (story-inspired) Sting songs. The record is good all the way through, and it has a nice combination of slower and upbeat tunes mingled…another winner for Sting.
Presentation is mainly up front with the multichannel mix, although there is some effect, reverb, and occasional instruments coming from the surrounds. Sound quality is very good and background noise is very low (like most of the better SACDs). There is a lot of added reverb on voice and a bit of wispiness. Songs included are: Inside; Send Your Love; Whenevr I Say Your Name; Dead Man’s Rope; Never Coming Home; Stolen Car (Take Me Dancing); Forget About The Future; This War; The Book Of My Life; Sacred Love; Send Your Love (remix).
Bon Jovi – Bounce – Island 440 063-391-2 Multichannel/Stereo SACD-Only:
Someone just told me the other day that heavy metal was making a comeback. Who knew? I suppose I should know better because it’s been 20 years and now it’s time for the next generation to discover the music from the past. I always put Bon Jovi in the “Glam Rock” category and do, in fact, own a copy of Slippery When Wet. Bounce is full of well-produced, musically benign songs that will appeal to most of the pop/rock listening crowd of today. Still, this record would fall under the rock/alternative genre by today’s standards. Overall, this album is really likable, but if I had to choose, I’d probably opt for the CD-only version for portability. This album will NOT play on a conventional CD player.
The sound of this record is much like most rock ‘n’ roll recordings these days: loud, grungy, with very little dynamic range. The presentation is mostly up front in terms of directional focus, but don’t think there isn’t a bunch of sound coming out of the surrounds, because, boy is there! In other words, don’t worry about not having a 5.1 stereo mode on your receiver, because they’ve done all the work for you. The few ballads on this disc like “All About Lovin’ You” or “You Had Me From Hello” showcase the best quality on this disc and are better than CD quality. Songs included are: Undivided; Everyday; The Distance; Joey; Misunderstood; All About Lovin’ You; Hook Me Up; Right Side Of Wrong; Love Me Back To Life; You Had Me From Hello; Bounce; Open All Night.
Barbra Streisand – The Movie Album; Columbia CH 90748 Multichannel/Stereo Hybrid SACD:
As you might have guessed this album contains a selection of 12 new recordings of tunes from movies of the past between 1936 and 1988. Barbra chose the particular tracks for their inspiration qualities. She dedicates this 60th(!) album to screen legend Gregory Peck. In the liner notes of the disc are brief explanations of the reasons each song was selected and will give a nice bit of background to the listener.
Use of the surround channels is subtle and audio quality is very high—not thin, but not rich either. Voice is fleshed out and natural. Although resolution is excellent, some may point to this record as a reason to stay with vinyl. The sound is just not as involving and lush as it could/should be—it’s just there. As a whole, Streisand does a good job interpreting the songs on this disc, however I’m reminded of other (original) versions of these songs that in many ways are superior. Streisand’s style is similar to her more recent albums, like the Broadway album. The material is slow-paced, mellow, and relaxed. You won’t exactly feel like jumping up and doing something active after listening.
Songs included are: Smile (from Modern Times); Moon River (from Breakfast At Tiffany’s); I’m In The Mood For Love (from Every Night At Eight); Wild Is The Wind (from Wild Is The Wind); Emily (from The Americanization of Emily); More In Love With You (from The 4 Horsemen Of The Apocalypse); How Do You Keep The Music Playing? (from Best Friends); But Beautiful (from Road To Rio) Calling You (from Bagdad Café); The Second Time Around (from High Time); Goodbye For Now (from Reds); You’re Gonna Hear From Me (from Inside Daisy Clover).
Sound In Color/Mu.sic – Pixelated Pulse; MyUtopia Recordings 286076-9 DVD-A:
The joy of music (and movie) reviewing is discovering material that you may never come into contact with on a normal basis. That was my feeling with this disc. The press release describes this DVD as “a compilation of artists in a movement of thought through rhythm.” The disc is a musical melting pot of sorts and contains rhythms from hip hop, jazz, and electronica. The first encouragement I had was the lack of mindless and annoying repetitive sound that I normally associate with (bad) electronica. There are repetitive drum machine sounds, but also wonderful melodies and variations that play over these beats that are different from song to song. The closest comparison I could make is to bands like Groove Armada and Massive Attack. The disc would serve as great background music for a hip dinner party. “Pirates” has a light, almost comical feel to it that contrasts greatly with MHE’s tracks on the disc. They are foreboding, heavy and dark reminding me of the Butthole Surfers although they are from somewhat different genres.
Beautiful artwork is displayed over the music—art that might not seem out of place in a museum exhibit. Some of the tracks make more use of the surrounds than others. Videos include: “208 Strings,” “002,” “Earthought,” and “Phone Home.” As I was reading the back of the DVD case I noticed the line: “10 tracks to time-travel to.” Oh. That explains a lot. Songs included are: GB – 208 Strings; Platonic – Alternate Thursday; Mainframe & Platonic – Future’s Oldest Story; GB – Nocturnal Tribe; Exile – Pirates; MHE – 002; MHE – 001; Teck Another – Sakuka; Platonic Feat. Mike Phantastic – Earthought; GB – Phone Home.
Cell: Five – Correctional Facilities; MyUtopia Recordings DVD-A:
The Cell series features emerging artists and producers have recorded their music with 5.1-surround sound in mind. This DVD features Correctional Facilities; a group that incorporates beat tracks, hip hop jams, and various electronic sounds in their palette. Track 4, “Hit The Deck,” was one of the standout tracks on the disc. Pulsing electronica-type sounds and electronic drums seem to bounce around in your head. “Crimp” was another favorite and has an ethereal, reverberant quality that transports the listener and opens up the environment to create a more expansive listening space. Many of the songs are quite repetitive musically, so be warned. Fidelity is relatively high and the various sounds offered a palpable sense of texture and feel.
This disc features heavy use of the surround tracks and has very intentional directional effects that go from front to back. Still pictures are displayed over the music track and videos include: “Hit The Deck,” “Crimp,” and “Primordial Soup.” Songs included are: Ruck; Low Low Shit; Fleas & Itches; Hit The Deck; Mench; As Thick As You Can Quink; Crack Pot; Crimp; Primordial Soup; Scratro.
Elvis Costello – North; Universal B0001580-36 Multichannel/Stereo SACD:
I hate Elvis Costello. Ok, ok…I don’t hate Elvis Costello. See, it seems that he married Diana Krall and now he’s become this big softie. What’s up with that? Right from the beginning of this album someone has left him all alone and he’s depressed. Let me tell you—he won’t be the only one who is depressed by the time you’ve listened to the entire disc. To sum it up in one word: “somber.” The songs are slow jazzy numbers, and the recording quality is superb. Costello’s voice is nasal and somewhat limited, but then, that’s what he sounds like and the recording process doesn’t do anything to hide it. Is he developing the Krall drawl or is it just my imagination? Song two is another brooding, painfully slow tune.
I haven’t been following Elvis’s career as of late, but there aren’t any songs like “Pump It Up” or “Radio Radio.” It appears he’s trying to be a crooner like the old days, but he just isn’t suited to this type of material. If you are already sad and down then don’t put on this record—it just might put you over the edge! The arrangements are fairly pleasant, but just look at some of the song titles to get a good glimpse of what this album is about. Songs included are: You Left Me In The Dark; Someone Took The Words Away; When Did I Stop Dreaming?; You Turned To Me; Fallen; When It Sings; Still; Let Me Tell You About Her; Can You Be True?; When Green Eyes Turn Blue; I’m In The Mood Again.
John Mayall & Friends – Along For The Ride; Audio Fidelity AFZ 016 Stereo Hybrid SACD:
John Mayall is no stranger to the blues—he’s been actively playing for over 40 years. When he began the Blues Breakers no one realized the impact a white man from Manchester, England would have on the blues. Mike Vernon, a staff producer for Decca records discovered him back in 1963 when the band consisted of John McVie, Roger Dean, and Hughie Flint. The band was always on tour, changing personnel, and recording album after album. His influence with major guitar players Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor arguably improved their performances with Cream, Fleetwood Mac, and the Rolling Stones respectively. Countless others have been under the Mayall spell and have come out better for it; a veritable finishing school for blues artists. This disc includes top performers like: Peter Green, Steve Miller, Mick Taylor, Mick Fleetwood, Otis Rush, Jonny Lang, John McVie, Billy Preston, Jeff Healey, and many more.
Although this record doesn’t have the raw grit of Mayall’s older ‘live’ recordings, it’s much more polished, and will appeal to a wider range of listeners without sacrificing the meat of the music: the blues. Quality is like that of a good blues CD with well-defined instrumentation and a clean, natural recording of the voice. Songs included are: A World of Hurt; Along For The Ride; Put It Right Back; That’s Why I Love You So; Yo Yo Man; If I Don’t Get Home; Testify; Early In The Morning; Something About My Baby; So Many Roads; World War Blues; California; She Don’t Play By The Rules; Bad Dream Catcher – John Lee Hooker.
Lightnin’ Hopkins – Broken Hearted Blues; Audio Fidelity AFZ 010 Mono Hybrid SACD:
Reviewing the music on this SACD is easy—it’s an example of what the blues is all about. The recordings were made between 1950 and 1952, and Hopkins is accompanied by Donald Cooks on bass—check out track 6 for some thumping. The SACD has one of those generic “Hybrid Stereo” stickers even though the recording predated stereo, but who cares. the music is the thing here. This disc is another well-mastered reissue performed by Steve Hoffman. Just about every recording I’ve heard that he’s had his hands on has been exemplary in quality. This one is no exception and vocals are more present and cleaner than you might expect given the age of the recordings. The disc has 21 tracks chock full of the blues. “Give me back that wig I bought you woman, hooooooooo, I’ll let your doggone head go bald….you was talkin’ with another man….I said give it heeeere.” [Paraphrased from track 3] You get the picture. Anyone who is serious about the blues should check this one out.
Songs included are: Hello Central (Give me 209); Mary Contrary; Bald Headed Woman; One Kind Favor (See That My Grave Is Kept Clean); I Wonder Why; Tap Dance boogie; Down To the river; New Short-Haired Women; Broken Hearted Blues; New York Boogie; Long Way From Texas; Mad As I Can Be; I’m Beggin’ You; Why Did You Get mad At Me?; Home In The Woods; Praying Ground Blues; Back Home Boogie; My Heart To Weep; Everybody’s Down On Me; New Worried Life Blues; I’ll Never forget They Day
Reggae In High-Fi; Audio Fidelity AFZ 014 Stereo Hybrid SACD:
The last few reggae high-resolution discs just haven’t been that great sounding. Don’t get me wrong, the music was first rate, but the recording left a lot to be desired. This album proves that there were some decent recordings made in the reggae genre. I can’t claim to be an expert of reggae music, but I am familiar with more than a few of the groups present on this compilation. Some of the songs (like track 2) have an older reggae feel, while other tunes (like track 3 for instance), have a more updated sound complete with electronic instruments and horns. The songs are varied and will give the casual listener a good range of two decades worth of recordings from RAS Records. If you are in the mood for a little of the island sound, pick this disc up!
Songs included are: Jah Jah Voice Is Calling – Peter Broggs; 80,000 Careless Ethiopians – Jacob Miller; Push Comes to Shove – Freddie McGregor; Nice Up Dancee – Natural Beauty; Youthman Move – Culture; Great Train Robbery – Black Uhuru; Cool and Calm – Israel Vibration; Highway Robbery – Israel Vibration; Spring Heel Skanking – Don Carlos; Pride and Dignity – Gregory Isaacs; Every Posse Get Flat – Blood Fire Posse; Place Mash Up – Sanchez & Flourgon; Reggae on the Move – Yellowman; Wild Wild West – Yellowman and Mad Professor; Oh Me Oh My – Eek-A-Mouse.
Rory Block – Last Fair Deal; Telarc SACD-63593 Hybrid Multichannel SACD:
If Joan Jet played bluegrass then this would be what it would sound like. The tunes are mostly solo guitar, but you almost wouldn’t notice considering the amount of sound Block manages to crank out. The CD cover claims the music is country blues, and believe me, Block sounds like she can hold her own with many classic blues singers. To call the performance intense would be an understatement. Just take a listen to “County Farm Blues” and get a hold of those guitar licks! The album as a whole is consistent, but has a distinct emphasis on religion like in “Declare,” which has a nice chorus in the surrounds followed by some solemn queries to God.
The recording quality is excellent and the noise level is so low that instruments just pop out from the blackness. The tone of the guitar is vibrant, effortless, and musical—just listen to “Old Friends” and be convinced. This recording puts heavy guitar echo and occasional singing and instruments in the surround channels. Songs included are: Gone Again; Sookie Sookie; County Farm Blues; Last Fair Deal Gone Down; Declare; Cry Out Loud; Amazing Grace; Traveling Riverside Blues; Mama’s Stray Baby; Hallelu, Hallelu; Two Places at a Table; Awesome Love; Look What the Lord Has Done; Old Friends.
The Searchers – The Collection; Audio Fidelity AFZ 018 Stereo Hybrid SACD:
The Searchers got their name from the popular John Wayne movie of the same name. In the mid-60s, the Searchers were at the top of the charts with hits like “Love Potion Number Nine,” “Sugar and Spice,” and “Needles and Pins” (among others). There are more than a few in this collection that should sound familiar to people who may not have even heard of the group. The band is made up of bass, guitar, and drums. The songs are essential 60s pop that combines killer hooks with catchy guitar solos. Drums come across nicely and voice is very well defined. The vocals from “Don’t Throw Your Love Away” are practically in the room. Steve Hoffman bears the credit for the mastering of this disc and it is clearly first rate. I found it to be one of the better sounding “older” recordings I’ve ever heard.
Songs included are: Love Potion Number Nine; I Pretend I’m With You; Sugar And Spice; Needles And Pins; It’s In Her Kiss; Don’t Throw Your Love Away; Ain’t That Just Like Me; Sweets For My Sweet; Unhappy Girls; When You Walk In The Room; this Empty Place; Some Day We’re Gonna Love Again; Take Me For What I’m Worth; What Have They Done To The Rain; Take It Or Leave It; Goodbye My Love; Have You Ever Loved Somebody.
The Thorns; Columbia CH 90751 Multichannel/Stereo Hybrid SACD:
I wasn’t familiar with The Thorns, and the first song sounded a lot like a Tom Petty tune. The recording utilizes the surround channels for guitar and other instrumentation. The first track is very center-channel biased, while other tracks are not. The band has a very likable quality to their music. The music is light guitar rock with vocal harmony in a pop basis—a slow build up, then the hook and chorus followed by a return to the initial pace and rhythm. You might consider the band a good country/folk rock alternative band. Track 4 sounds like a Crosby, Stills, and Nash tune. Track 5 sounds like an 80s tune, but doesn’t quite succeed, and track 2 sounds has a 70s flavor to it. The tunes are catchy and grow on you in a bubblegum-pop sort of way. The band isn’t really breaking new ground, but it won’t offend in any way. If easy listening/soft country-style rock is appealing to you, then The Thorns are for you.
Recording quality is generally good although a few tunes have a slight congestion/edge to them. Songs included are: Runaway Feeling; I Can’t Remember; Blue; Think It Over; Thorns; No Blue Sky; Now I Know; Dragonfly; Long, Sweet Summer Night; I Told You; Such A Shame; I Set The World On Fire; Among The Living.