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Acoustic Rock

Diana Ah Naid – Self-Titled (Album Review)

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Diana Ah Naid – Self-Titled (Album Review)

Sonically positioned somewhere between Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette is Australia's own, Diana Ah Naid. Ian McFarlane describes this 1997 independent, self-funded, release as a restless, funky brand of acoustic guitar folk with urgently charged vocals backed by an emotional, primal energy – Encyclopedia of Australian Rock And Pop. I don't know about you, dear reader, but McFarlane is spot on and no amount of pondering on my behalf could come up with a more precise review of this thoroughly satisfying Self-Titled release. That said, join me as I take a look at the individual songs and how I subjectively feel about them and the entire album.

I Go Off is a musical wonderland with nothing more than a vocal and guitar track filling the soundstage. While both are beautifully presented and recorded, Ah Nard's vocal prowess is simply astonishing. How she isn't a household name, is an absolute mystery.

If You Insist has a beautiful introduction. That guitar tuning is stunning and provides the perfect backing to the song. In some ways, it is a little too similar to I Go Off, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing as it develops a sound that allows the listener to identify and connect with the artist.

Fill Me Up has a good rhythm and a very alternative vocal presentation that is perfect for the style of music. The added brass instrumentation really builds a sonically pleasurable soundstage that ensures Fill Me Up is memorable and ready to be played on repeat. If you enjoy World Music, you'll love Fill Me Up.

See Through is an interesting composition that is a little scattered in places, but the hook is catchy. A solid addition to the album, but nothing to write home about.

Make It Begin is sonic gold. That musical introduction is magical as the piano is beautifully recorded. You really need to listen for yourself to appreciate just how amazing it is. Make It Begin may be mellow, but it’s one of the best songs on the album, if not the best. Absolutely stunning!

Wrapped Around My Head is a lovely tune but fails to fully captivate my senses. I find my mind wandering when listening to the song.

Ruok? is short, but spectacular!

Get Yourself Lost is a little too erratic and subsequently, I find it difficult to connect with a specific rhythm.

Leaving The Country is a gorgeous tune. Ah Naid's vocal presentation is mind-blowingly good. It is as if an angel is singing to you, and only you.

Flowers is a B-side that I simply can't get into.

K9 is musically impressive, but I have to be honest and say I would much prefer for it to have been an instrumental interlude as the vocal distracts the listener from the musicality.

Freaky Animals is an interesting tune that I enjoy, but I also have reservations with the child vocal inclusion towards the end as I'm not sure it suits the song. There is also an error on the Apple Music stream whereby this song continues in silence for a further minute and a half. It's a shame as the error makes you think the album has concluded, but there is one more song to be played as the original CD release had a hidden 13th untitled track. That track is now listed in Apple Music as Schlork Your S*****g. Subsequently, it looks as though the album has been uploaded directly from the CD and it infuriates me when this happens. I've never liked bonus hidden tracks, and this is further proof that they should be abolished. Albums that include this common CD-feature should, at the very least, be re-tracked when uploaded to streaming music services. 

Despite my above complaint, Schlork Your S*****g is an interesting track to conclude the album with. The chorus does drive me mad, but I appreciate the artistic intent and the verses are strong enough to hold the song together ensuring I’ll play the album again and continue to explore Ah Naid's catalogue. Speaking of that, it is important to note that all post-2004 releases by Diana Ah Naid are released as Diane Anaid

Overall, Diana Ah Naid's Self-Titled debut is thoroughly enjoyable and while I have some reservations, as detailed above, all songs work extremely well in the album format.

Diana Ah Naid's Self-Titled debut is available for purchase on iTunes, or if you prefer streaming, the album is available on Apple Music.

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Jimmy Barnes – Out In The Blue (Album Review)

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Jimmy Barnes – Out In The Blue (Album Review)

You should never judge a book by its cover, or an album for that matter. Yes, Jimmy Barnes's Out In The Blue has a cringe-worthy cover, but the musicianship within is worth looking past this stark reminder that the world’s rock stars are human just like you and I. Yes, I acknowledge and respect that Out In The Blue was written and recorded following Barnes’s open heart surgery and that the rock in his life has been his wife Jane; both aspects that the cover art represents. It just isn’t a compelling cover and given Barnes’s stature in the Australian music industry, it’s surprising this cover made it to the final release.

If you’re not familiar with Jimmy Barnes, he is near royalty in Australia. Be it his years as Cold Chisel’s frontman, or his extensive solo career, Barnes has carved out a legacy that many can only dream about. It also doesn’t hurt to have a vocal that is gritty yet soulfully smooth.

While I’ve been a fan of Barnsey, as he's affectionately known Down Under, since his Two Fires and Soul Deep eras. However, I must be completely honest by saying that much of his later catalogue failed to register on my radar. There was no particular reason but I do acknowledge that as the world became increasingly interconnected, my focus on the Australian music industry became less prominent. Of course, that was all to change when I read his stunning double biography, Working Class Boy and Working Class Man. Seriously, even if you’ve never listened to any of his music, Barnes is a master storyteller. The books really are page turners and I’m not ashamed to say I have a signed copy of Working Class Man as well as a digital copy. Excessive, perhaps, but my argument is that when I wanted to read it, we were moving at the time and my books were boxed and I couldn’t remember which box the book was in. Okay, that is a lame justification, but when I say that I have no regrets owning both copies, that is an indication of just how enjoyable his writing and life story is.

When reading music biographies, I find myself listening to the artist in question in the background. I love this process as I find it brings me closer to the artist, not in some weird perverted manner, but in understanding them and how elements of their life impacted their music. In all honesty, they broke the mould when they made this man but Barnes remains relevant to this day as he is willing to continue to break the preconceived notions of what it is to be a rock star. Therefore, dear reader, I ask you to fracture any misconceptions you may have about Barnes and the Australian music industry as you join me in discovering and enjoying Out In The Blue.

I Can't Tell You Why is classic Jimmy Barnes. It's a great start to the album.

Out In The Blue flows on beautifully from I Can't Tell You Why and is a lovely song to share the album's name. There is a country twang to this song that really works well for the multifaceted Barnes, perhaps in part influenced by respected country music producer Nash Chambers. Chambers sits in the production chair for this entire album and besides his own creative endeavours, he’s also the older brother of Australian country music legend Kasey Chambers, who coincidentally duets with Barnes on When Two Hearts Collide. Without a doubt, Chambers brings his own sound signature to the record and combined with Barnes’s talent and that of the supporting band, this song and the entire album is nothing short of exceptional.

You From Me has an interesting panning of the stereo image. It’s distracting if you prefer listening to music via headphones but it sounds perfect via speakers. That said, if the distortion and panning were dialled back a little, You From Me would be that much better.

Blue Hotel is a beautiful piano-based ballad that was penned by the exceptionally talented Neil Finn.

When Two Hearts Collide is a sensational duet with Kasey Chambers.

Red Light has a really familiar guitar intro that sounds rather similar to Glen Campbell's Southern Nights. Despite the similarities, I thoroughly enjoy listening to both artists and imitation is, after all, the greatest form of flattery. Regardless, Red Light is a killer song with a perfect amount of distortion.

Everything's Changing brings back the aforementioned stereo panning, but this time it’s a little more subtle. That said, I feel this song never really achieves greatness. There's a beautiful song hidden here, but it needs a remix, perhaps a re-imagining, to really realise its potential.

Better Off Alone is a great song that sounds as though it belongs in a different era. That isn't a bad thing as the 50s style is fantastic, but I feel it was a little pedestrian for Barnes, especially at that stage in his career.

Water Wash All Over Me is one of the greatest songs ever recorded, by anyone, and it reminds me why I love music. I could listen to this song on repeat indefinitely.

I'm Surprised is a great song.

Losing You isn't a bad song, but there's a little distortion in Barnes's vocal that sounds as though he was a little too close to the microphone. It’s a shame as it had the capacity to be a really solid B-side.

Forgiveness is a beautiful song to close the album on, ensuring I’ll listen to it again and stay within Barnes's catalogue.

Overall, Out In The Blue is an exceptional album that not only has some of Barnes's greatest recordings, but in a number of ways pays homage to the Cold Chisel years, his prior solo efforts, and his ability and willingness to shift styles, the culmination of which is a thoroughly compelling release that should be in everyone’s collection.

Out In The Blue is available on CD and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, Out In The Blue is available on Apple Music and Spotify.

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Nirvana - MTV Unplugged In New York (Album Review)

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Nirvana - MTV Unplugged In New York (Album Review)

Experimenting with sound is arguably a key motive for most musicians, but who would have ever thought Nirvana would sound superior when unplugged?

I'm serious, and I know many fans will be offended but, Nirvana was far better suited to soft/folk rock than they ever were alternative rock. I'm not trying to suggest they weren't an exceptional rock band as I truly love all their recordings, but there is something magical about their MTV Unplugged In New York performance. Perhaps this realisation came about as I was writing a review of In Utero and a headache began to form. I needed something that was a little less skull crashing. As much as I love headbanging, the poor ageing peanut, up top, rattles around a little more than it used to. Hence, an unplugged performance, ballad, or concert with a Symphony Orchestra (think Metallica’s S&M) is the perfect compromise. That said, there is no compromise here as Nirvana's musicality is off-the-charts and the entire recording represents some of the most beautiful music ever recorded.

The only dislike I have for this album is the conversation pieces between songs. It isn't excessive, nor is it irrelevant, but the volume level is so low that the context isn't easily discernible when listening via speakers. This is less of a problem when using headphones, but the vocal speech is still too low and I feel it should have been edited from the album format.

About A Girl is a killer song when performed acoustically. It reminds me of The Beatles from an instrumental and vocal composition standpoint. However, more importantly, Cobain's vocal delivery leaves me speechless. What an incredible talent!

Come As You Are is a mellow wonderland and while I adore the original studio recording, this live performance takes the song to another level.

Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam was an interesting cover song to select as, by this stage, Nirvana had their own extensive catalogue of music to select from. That said, it suits the performance and is a valued addition to their repertoire. It is also significantly better than The Vaselines’ edition.

The Man Who Sold The World is glorious!

Pennyroyal Tea really showcases Cobain's control over his vocal as he takes it right to the edge. Overall, the composition is basic, but it is an exceptional live performance. The audience was, indeed, very fortunate to witness this event.

Dumb has all the groove and rhythm of the original, yet the musicality of this performance takes the song to heavenly heights. I absolutely love the inclusion of the double bass as it is perfectly played and really fits well with the overall tone of the song.

Polly is a fantastic song and is perfectly suited to the unplugged nature of the recording. Songs such as this remind me just how fortunate we are to have Nirvana's music.

On A Plain is awesome! I could say more, but I'm too busy enjoying the song.

Something In The Way is one of the most beautiful Nirvana songs ever recorded. While nothing could ever beat the original studio recording, this alternate live recording is excellent and brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.

Plateau is musical perfection! I absolutely love the instrumentation and Cobain's vocal reminds me of Neil Young. I love it!

Oh Me is the first song that doesn't grab me. There is nothing wrong with it per se, I just feel it doesn't fit with the overall performance.

Lake Of Fire is a killer song and is one of the best songs Nirvana ever recorded.

All Apologies is an excellent groove-filled song. However, I prefer the studio recording as I feel this live version lacks soul when compared to the original.

Where Did You Sleep Last Night is a fantastic song to conclude the album on. It certainly encourages me to listen again and stay within Nirvana's catalogue.

Nirvana's MTV Unplugged In New York isn't just an exceptional live album, it is the quintessential Nirvana album.

For this review, I listened to the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition of the album and found the mastering to be the definition of perfection. It is so good that I need not concern myself with tracking down a physical release of the album. That said, this is one record that would be a welcome addition to my vinyl collection.

Nirvana's MTV Unplugged In New York is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes. If you prefer streaming, you can listen to the album on Spotify and Apple Music.

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