At this time of year, my significant other starts to ask me what I'd like for the silly season. While my imagination runs wild, we’ve had a few unexpected expenses in the second half of 2018 and rather than aiming high, I thought it would be great to pick up a couple of SACDs that I’ve been longing for. As I was browsing the available titles at Birdland Records, I came upon an artist I love, but one that I haven't got extensive experience with. The first time Aaron Neville appeared on my radar was following the release of the exceptional Bodyguard soundtrack. Neville’s collaboration with Kenny G, on Even If My Heart Would Break, is nothing short of spectacular. Since then, I've always listened out for Neville's uniquely soulful vocals, but other than enjoying his career perspective releases, I haven't taken the time to listen to his albums in full. That all changed when I saw a hybrid SACD edition of his 1991 release, Warm Your Heart. I just knew I had to check it out, but as the SACD edition is rather expensive, I turned to TIDAL Hi-Fi and was blown away.
Sonically, Warm Your Heart is one of the greatest recorded, mixed, and mastered albums I have ever heard. The original CD pressing is said to have an astonishing dynamic range peaking at 17 out of 20, with an average of 15. While numbers don't always provide an accurate representation of quality, I can say that the soundstage is massive with all elements clearly positioned throughout. Plus, I actually want to turn the volume up, rather than down, as there is no brickwalling of the sound to be heard. The simple fact is, this is digital done right. Even the Apple Music counterpart, played via Apple's AirPods, maintains the sonic brilliance. I also find that I want to just sit and listen, for hours on end. It’s spectacular!
By comparison, yesterday I listened to the Tony Bennett and Diana Krall album, Love Is Here To Stay. I had high hopes, especially as Krall's productions are always beyond reproach, but the album fell flat from both a dynamic and excitement standpoint. It sounded concealed and I found myself distracted throughout. Yes, there were a couple of nice tracks, but it was the lacklustre production values that deterred my interest. Love Is Here To Stay is said to have an average dynamic range of 9 out of a possible 20, with a peak of 11. Again, numbers don't tell the entire story, but they are good for comparison and when you have Bennett and Krall together, you expect something spectacular. I still have to listen to the MQA edition of Love Is Here To Stay to see if the master is any better than the CD, but I’m not going to hold my breath as I feel the overall sound signature and style was decided during the recording and mixing process.
Regardless, you'd be hard pressed to find a better album, from any artist, as Warm Your Heart is nothing short of pure perfection. Of course, your feelings may differ to mine, so let’s examine the songs individually shall we?
Louisiana 1927 is a lovely song and a perfect introduction to the body of work that is Warm Your Heart.
Everybody Plays The Fool has a fantastic mix of soul and funk. When I listen to this song, I'm reminded of Barry Gibb as Neville can get awfully close to Gibb’s falsetto vocal style. I also think of Bob Marley when this song comes on. I adore this song and the correlations with other artists that arise in my mind as I’m listening.
It Feels Like Rain is simply gorgeous. Just listen and you’ll hear incredible musical detail. Every element is transparent and nothing is concealed. This is how music should sound!
Somewhere Somebody has a killer groove that is so perfectly recorded, you can turn off any equaliser settings you may be using and enjoy the song as it was intended to be heard.
Don't Go Please Stay is a beautiful song with a gorgeous classical overlay in both the vocal and instrumental backing.
With You In Mind is astonishingly good.
That's The Way She Loves is one of the greatest songs ever written and recorded, by any artist. It is THAT good!
Angola Bound, despite a 30-second relaxed intro, is a little jolting after That's The Way She Loves. It doesn't take away from the groove and enjoyment of listening to Angola Bound, but if I were doing the album tracking, I’d likely have placed Angola Bound in a different position, perhaps following Everybody Plays The Fool.
Close Your Eyes is a beautiful duet with Linda Ronstadt. Ronstadt was also the producer of the entire album; she did a fantastic job!
La Vie Dansante is a lovely tune, with an exceptional backing vocal track. This combination is beyond reproach as the vocal styles are perfectly complementary, thereby creating a sonic masterpiece.
Warm Your Heart is a solid track, but perhaps not one to write home about. It suits the album well, however.
I Bid You Goodnight is a beautiful vocal-focused ballad.
Ave Maria needs no introduction. It's an absolute classic and Neville pays respect to the song while making it his own. It's one of my all-time favourite songs and I absolutely adore this interpretation.
House On A Hill is a toe-tapping, head-bopping, song that is slightly jolting following the relaxed nature of Ave Maria, but it is so good that I don't mind the shifting style. That said, this is another song that may have benefited from a re-tracking of the album. As the final song on the album, however, it compels me to listen to the album again and stay within Neville's catalogue.
Warm Your Heart is superb from start to finish and should be in every music lovers collection, mine included.