DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Sheryl Crow – Miles from Memphis – Blu-ray

Marred with visual distractions and poor audio.

Published on October 11, 2011

Sheryl Crow – Miles from Memphis – Blu-ray

Sheryl Crow – Miles from Memphis, Live at the Pantages Theatre, Blu-ray

Studio: Eagle Vision Entertainment EVBRD 33376 [Distr. by MVD]
Audio: DTS HD Master, Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Stereo
Video:  16:9 1080i color
Extras: Behind the scenes with Sheryl and rehearsal versions of two songs.
Length: 134 minutes
Rating:  Sound **   Video ***

This video was shot in late 2010. Let me start off the review by saying I think Sheryl Crow is one of the most important pop artists of the last 20 years, to me the top artist of the last twenty years. I judge the importance of an artist by how many top songs they produce. My judgment starts with the thought that I have a hard drive that I can record 5000 songs onto and have only those songs to listen to for the rest of my life. When I listen to a song by her, I think would I put it on the hard drive. Sheryl has about 14 songs that I would put on the hard drive. This is far more than any other artist in the last twenty years. Having said this, this album is a big disappointment.

Normally I would just throw this disc in the pile of discs, not worthy of reviewing. I am, however, getting tired of lack of quality in many concert discs. I highly disagree with most of the reviews I have read, so I decided to add my two cents.

First I shall deal with the good part of the album. The song selection is pretty good. I would have liked to have “Steve McQueen” on the album, but there is a strong selection of songs.  I really liked the addition of “Sideways,” which is a fine song written by Clarence Greenwood. The concert is also a good length. None of the songs from the new album would go on my hard drive. Sheryl is one of the very few artists that have enough good songs to have a decent length concert.

In the OK category is the video quality. The concert is marred with lots of flashing lights, artificial smoke and a dark drab background. Her music is good enough that she doesn’t need all rock concert stuff. This disc handles the conditions better than most discs, but only gives some occasional hi-def indications. Some of the closer shots can look fairly good. A better, brighter backdrop would have helped. More even lighting would also help. Sheryl was dressed in blue jeans and a tan top. This along with her light complexion, lots of makeup, and blond hair made her seem somewhat washed out. The lack of facial detail made her image a little unreal. The black band members were dressed in dark outfits, which combined with the dark background to give a picture that was sort of monotone and colorless. There is not much here to impress the videophile.

In the not so good category is her performance. She seems tired and drained. I think it was recorded at the end of a concert tour. This, along with her personal life problems, may have affected her performance. Her energy did pick up some as the concert progressed. Also decent sound would have probably helped.

In the bad category is the sound. I am first of all an audiophile. I want audiophile sound, especially on a concert disc. The good part of the sound was that her lyrics were usually clear and intelligible. The voice however has no sense of presence at all. On my system, on a good disc, the singer is standing in the room with you. Her voice sounds slow and muted, with no vocal detail and very little dynamics. I read one review that said he enjoyed the lack of dynamics. To me, rock music has lots of dynamics. Rock is not easy listening. The backup instruments and vocals are a real mess. Video makes it harder on sound quality, because you see what you should hear. I see drums being beat on, but hear no impact from the drums. The bass is tubby and ill-defined. I see cymbals being struck, but hear no metallic ring. High frequencies are practically non-existent. You can hear the backup singers, but they have no sense of presence or placement with them. There are horns playing in the background, but they never sound like horns. One time I see the trombone player, moving his slide around, but I don’t here different notes. I see a guitar player playing with lots emotion and style. But the sound doesn’t back this up. I never hear the sounds of strings on the guitars or bass. I see hand percussion instruments being used, but never hear them. The sound of this album is both compressed and processed. The best sound comes from when there are not many instruments playing.

The PCM stereo track gives you the best sound. The DTS Master Surround track is too aggressive in the surround and confuses what imaging there is. I can see many things that cause this bad sound. First of all there are lots of instrument speakers behind the main players and Sheryl. These speakers feed back into all the mikes at a slightly delayed time, and so does the numerous stage monitor speakers facing the band. There are two stage monitors at Sheryl feet. Live rock music is very hard to record because of the dynamics and instrumental balance. Often instruments are covered up by louder instruments. I have heard other concerts with similar setups sound much better than this however. I think there must also be a large amount of audio processing going on. This disc may sound like a live concert with a very bad sound system.

I got the chance to have seen this concert right after a Jewell live concert on satellite HDTV. The Jewell concert was much more enjoyable, even with lesser music. The compressed DD on my mediocre bedroom system sounded more like live music than the Sheryl Crow Blu-ray on my audiophile system. It also looked better. What caused this to happen?  First of all the lighting was more even and much less artificial smoke. The background was brighter and better lit. There were no stage monitors or instrument speakers used. The musicians controlled the instrumental balance, not the electronics.

I tried another Sheryl Crow Blu-ray, hoping for better sound, but no such luck. Sheryl Crow Live still sounded compressed and processed.

This brings up the question, why do some Blu-Rays sound good and others sound like music and others sound like poor FM? First of all there are the physical problems I discussed earlier. Then there are recording engineers that feel they must play with the sound (compression, equalization, limiting, etc.) Then there is bad miking. The biggest disappointment is the choice of sound formats and their use on the disc. Outside of the recording process, sound quality is controlled by sampling rate and bit transfer rate. On Blu-Ray sampling rate can be 44.1/16, 44.1/24, 48/24, 96/24 or 192/24. It can have compressed DD, DTS, or PCM. It can also have uncompressed (supposedly) DTS Master Audio, Dolby Digital True HD or PCM. They can also be mono, stereo, 5.1 or 7.1 channels. About 30% of Blu-Rays have no uncompressed audio. Only 27 of 4887 discs have 96/24 sound. Only 4 have 192/24. Audio bit rates can be between 413 and 9070 kbps. Only 511 have bit rates over 4000 kbps. Only 67 have above 6000 kbps. Only 250 discs have lossless 7.1 channel sound. On the video side, bit rates can be between 11.96 and 40 mbps. 1164 have bite rates below 25 mbps. Only 354 discs have bit rates higher than 30 mbps, with only 70 above 35 mbps. There are also 420 discs that are only 1080I. Data comes from http://www.blu-raystats.com.  This disc does not have its specs posted yet on the site. The higher the sampling rates and transfer rates the better the sound can be. The higher the video bite rate the better the picture can be. It is clear that the industry is not giving us the most they can. It is probably more like what is the least the public will accept. Whoever listened to this disc and decided it was good enough should be reprimanded. It was probably not all the engineer’s’ fault; he was probably under lots of pressure to get the disc out at the least expense. It would make the consumer much more comfortable in buying discs, if they could depend on a quality product. Most, if not all Blu-rays do not give you either sampling rate or bit transfer rates. This makes it a lot much harder for the buyer to guess what the picture and sound will be like on the disc. Unfortunately many Blu-ray reviews systems are set up for movie sound, rather than audiophile sound. This makes it harder for him to review the true sound of a disc. The Blu-Ray industry would like the public to think that Blu-Rays naturally contain the perfect sound and video. Don’t believe it.

TrackList: 1) Our Love Is Fading  2) A Change Would Do You Good  3) 100 Miles From Memphis  4) Can’t Cry Anymore  5) Strong Enough  6) Summer Day  7) My Favorite Mistake  8) Redemption Day  9) Long Road Home  10) Every Day Is A Winding Road  11) Sideways  12) Roses And Moonlight  13) If It Makes You Happy  14) Soak Up The Sun  15) Peaceful Feeling  16) All I Wanna Do / Got To Give It Up  17) I Want You Back  18) I Shall Believe.

—Clay Swartz




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