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Jon English - Wine Dark Sea (Album Review)

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Jon English - Wine Dark Sea (Album Review)

Jon English was an Australian music legend. However, as a child of the 80s and a teenager of the 90s, his astonishingly good repertoire of music eluded me as I was simply out of time to the era when he was one of the major stars on the Australian Music Scene. Yes, I'd see his appearances on television throughout the years, but it wasn't until his death in 2016 that I started to look at his legacy; the legacy of a rock legend if there ever was one.

Wine Dark Sea is one of the most compelling album titles, for a debut release, that I've ever come across. Similarly appealing is the album artwork that immediately draws you in; artwork that is most certainly perfectly suited to the large canvas of the then dominant vinyl format. In fact, the entire album is a perfect time capsule of early 70s rock. 

While Wine Dark Sea and much of English's catalogue has remained out-of-print for years, streaming services like Apple Music ensure that these hidden gems remain relevant; provided the rights holders continue to licence the music. The Apple Music stream sounds very good with a considerable analogue tonality that harks back to the era but also presents a somewhat concealed presentation. That isn’t a criticism as I find digital music has the tendency to be a little too detailed, resulting in an albeit cleaner presentation but one that is also rather clinical whereas the analogue nature of the sound heard here is more organic and less perfect thereby resulting in what I consider to be a far more enjoyable sound to listen to. Of course, if you like digital clarity, then you may not be impressed by the streaming edition of Wine Dark Sea. I have compared it to the TIDAL Hi-Fi stream, but despite TIDAL Hi-Fi being CD-quality, the edition they have been given by the rights holder is the lossy version, essentially the same as Apple Music, hence there is no difference in the streams. That said, it sounds great and if I remove my audiophile mindset, thereby applying John Darko’s Music-First Audiophile mantra, this is more than good enough. 

Summer Song is a solid pop-rock tune to start the album with. I'd love to hear Jimmy Barnes cover this song as it would be perfect for his vocal style. The musicality is solid and thoroughly enjoyable with a mix that allows all musical elements to be present in the soundstage ensuring a decently presented dynamic range; a pleasure especially considering so many modern recordings are overly compressed.

Sweet Lady Mary is a killer cover song, penned by Ronnie Lane, Rod Stewart, and Ronnie Wood of the Faces. As much as I enjoy the original, this rendition by English takes the song to another level and is, in my opinion, significantly better. Regardless, what I love about Sweet Lady Mary is how the origins of Rod Stewart's solo works can be heard here as well as the influence Ronnie Woods would later bring to The Rolling Stones. It really is an influential tune.

Wine Dark Sea is a beautiful Jon English, original, composition. I could listen to this song on repeat for days on end, it’s that good!

Horsehair And Plastic is another original composition but isn't great. It’s pure filler and sounds completely out-of-place after Wine Dark Sea.

Close Every Door is one of the greatest songs from the musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and this rendition from English is, without doubt, one of the very best ever recorded. English's gritty, yet smooth, vocal is perfectly suited to the song.

Monopoly is a fun song that while different in styling to Close Every Door, doesn't nearly give the sudden shock, and out-of-place feel, that occurred with Horsehair And Plastic. Great rhythm!

Handbags And Gladrags is magical. Close your eyes and allow the musicality and vocal prowess of English to take you on a journey. A sensational recording!

Prelude / Tomorrow is another beautiful composition that is perfectly suited to the acoustic style it is recorded in. Music doesn't get much better than this.

Brand New Day is an excellent song and a perfect addition to the album.

Share The End is a solid song to close the album with and while it compels me to listen to the album again and stay within English's back catalogue I find myself drawn to Carly Simon's original as I feel it is better than English's cover.

Overall, Wine Dark Sea is an exceptional album with really only one song that feels out-of-place. As unlikely as it is, I'd love to see this album reissued on vinyl for a new audience to explore and appreciate; with the original cover art of course. 

Seriously, this Rainbow Records repressing cover art is horrible. Who thought this was a good idea?

Seriously, this Rainbow Records repressing cover art is horrible. Who thought this was a good idea?

Wine Dark Sea is currently available to own on iTunes.

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Air Supply – The Ultimate Collection (Compilation Review)

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Air Supply – The Ultimate Collection (Compilation Review)

Who doesn't like a good ballad? Yes, you in the corner, I see you rolling your eyes, not willing to admit you're a ballad junkie. That's okay, it can be difficult for some of us to acknowledge our emotions, but Air Supply's ballads are just so addictive and easy to sing-along to that even the most emotionally guarded individual will feel compelled to join in, especially when no-one else is watching. It's a great feeling, isn't it? Don't worry, dear reader, this will be just between us, for the magic would be lost if anyone knew our little secret.

Few artists do ballads as well as British–Australian soft rock group Air Supply, but it would be naive to pigeonhole them into that category for their orchestral soft rock styling is so expansive that their peers are a who's who of soft rock culture from the last four decades. While their prime is arguably behind them, their songs, including those written by others, remain timeless and recognisable. Perhaps that is why I'm drawn to The Ultimate Collection because, as the title suggests, it really is the epitome of their creativity.

Love And Other Bruises is an interesting song to commence this career perspective release on as it isn't necessarily one of their best or most popular tunes. Nevertheless, the musicality is there, resulting in an enjoyable beginning to an exceptional collection of songs.

Bring Out The Magic is the reason I suggested it naive to class Air Supply as a ballads-only band. This is soft rock at its finest.

Lost In Love is beautiful!

All Out Of Love is a stunning composition and one of the greatest ballads ever written and recorded.

Every Woman In The World is another stunner. Absolutely sensational!

Just Another Woman offers an interesting shift into the disco-era and immediately reminds me of Elton John's Victim Of Love as the two were somewhat unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable. Just Another Woman is fantastic and despite the shifting style, the song is absolutely worthy of inclusion.

Chances returns the compilation to its ballad-based roots and is thoroughly enjoyable with a vocal presentation that is off-the-charts. The slow build works exceptionally well, and Chances is simply amazing to listen to.

The One That You Love is sonic gold! It may sound like a cliché, but they don't write songs like this anymore. Plus, that drum track is amongst my favourites of all time, only bested by Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight and Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing.

Here I Am is badly placed as the lyrics of The One That You Love also includes the phrase, here I am, throughout. Nevertheless, Here I Am is a lovely ballad that I never tire of. The soundstage and sonic depth of Here I Am is exceptional with a drum track that I adore. 

Sweet Dreams is epic! My recommendation is you turn the volume up when this song comes on, you'll thank me later. Sweet Dreams is one of the best songs ever recorded and that guitar solo and vocal interlude is absolutely incredible.

I’ll Never Get Enough Of You is exceptional! 

This Heart Belongs To Me has a great dual tempo that allows the listener to experience this song in a non-traditional manner, thereby making it truly subjective. This is yet another Air Supply song where the drum tracking is superb. I love it!

Keeping The Love Alive is, as this entire compilation is, exceptional!

Even The Nights Are Better is a song that reminds me of the Carpenters, especially with the vocal styling. That's, of course, a positive reflection as I adore Karen Carpenter's vocal.

Now And Forever is musical perfection. This truly is the ultimate Air Supply collection.

Two Less Lonely People In The World is remarkably good and sounds as fresh today as it did when first released on Air Supply's 1982 release, Now And Forever.

Making Love (Out Of Nothing At All) is a Jim Steinman classic power ballad and is an incredible Air Supply song. I find that I’m torn between this original recording and Bonnie Tyler’s rendition as both are exceptional. 

Young Love is a lovely song and that dual vocal presentation is simply amazing, as is the entire musicality of the song. 

Come What May is a great tune with an incredible soundstage and presence that fills the room. If all music was recorded and mixed this well, we'd never stop listening. As the closing track on The Ultimate Collection, it certainly compels me to listen to the compilation again and stay within Air Supply's back catalogue.

There is little doubt regarding my love of Air Supply and The Ultimate Collection release. It is so good that everyone should have a copy in their collection. Unfortunately, it has yet to receive a vinyl release and while I'm not opposed to picking it up on CD, the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality stream is more than adequate.

The Ultimate Collection is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, The Ultimate Collection is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music

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Big Scary – Animal (Album Review)

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Big Scary – Animal (Album Review)

What an album cover! I don't know about you, but it drew me in as much as Jane's Addiction's Ritual De Lo Habitual did when released in 1989. In many respects, the cover art is an essential element as an album is often seen before it is heard. In that regard, Animal certainly creates a shock to the nervous system, engraining the imagery in one's subconscious. While the artwork may be a little confronting, it’s representative of only a single aspect of Big Scary; a dynamic Melbourne-based musical duo.

While I know very little about Big Scary, other than adoring Animal, their digital liner notes explain the artistic intent far more thoroughly than I could ever attempt to. However, if I were to summarise their intent, the concept that we can transcend our animal instincts and rise above the animal within is brilliant. Subsequently, Animal takes us on a sonic journey that is philosophically evolutionary.

Animal was also produced with vinyl in mind as each side of the double LP is perceived as its own self-contained entity, to be enjoyed independently or as part of a larger masterpiece. While this review will be based on the Apple Music stream, I'm keenly interested in getting my hands on the vinyl release as this aspect is a value-added proposition for the music lover and collector within. As I think further about this somewhat unique approach, I’m reminded of my beloved Sigur Rós – () album and how they approached the vinyl release in a similar manner. It’s wonderful to see independent artists thinking differently, not only about their musicality but how their music will be delivered to listeners. While part of the artistic intent was to allow the listener to play the album in a non-traditional chronological order, for simplicity, this review will focus on Animal with the same chronological tracking as seen on the following Apple Music stream.

Oxygen opens the album with a very raw drum beat that harks to the core animal status within us all. The electronic rhythm, while sonically dry, is extremely compelling. It's a great start to the album and I was hooked from the very first note.

Organism gets the body moving. The soundstage is diverse and layered, resulting in a song that is larger than the sum of its parts. Every aspect of Organism is perfect and it amazes me that music this good is made by an independent artist. I say that because Organism, and the entire album, sounds better than many big label/artist releases.

Double Darkness continues the somewhat sombre tones, but I love it! That vocal placement and delivery is sublime, reminding me of many Paul McCartney recordings.

Savior Add Vice seamlessly transitions from Double Darkness. Even the shift, a third of the way through, is done masterfully. Although, I don't like the vocal direction as much on this song as I feel the vocal is lost in the mix. That may, of course, have been the intent, and if so then the vocal becomes merely another sonic element in the soundstage.

Lone Bird is a killer song with an absolutely perfect rhythm and composition. This is what good music should sound like!

The Endless Story sees the album becoming increasingly upbeat and I don't know about you, but that rhythm sounds awfully familiar. Regardless, it’s a solid song that is thoroughly enjoyable. The vocal echo, normally a distractive element, works really well here, although the distortion in places is a little more in-your-face than I’d prefer.

Flutism suits the album but isn't really a track I connect with. I can't honestly say why it doesn't resonate with me as it isn't inherently bad, but all I know is it’s a little too left of the center for me.

Up And Up And Up is addictively brilliant!

Breathe Underwater slows the album down considerably. While it may feel a little disjointed to those of us streaming Animal, Breathe Underwater is the first song of the Resting element of the album. The other elements include, for the first four songs, Hunting, the next four, Lurking, and the final two Waking. Nevertheless, Breathe Underwater is a beautifully mellow song.

The Opposite Of Us continues the Resting phase of the album and for some reason, when I listen to this song, I ponder of what a U2/Bono and Alanis Morissette mashup would be like. Yes, dear reader, my mind is subjectively unique and even I have no idea where these correlations come from. Anyway, The Opposite Of Us is a beautiful song and is a perfect fit for the album.

Heaven On Earth is atmospherically stunning. I can only imagine how exceptional it would sound on vinyl, for the Apple Music stream is already magical.

Over Matter has a little too much volume and channel variation that I find to be rather distracting. Even the vocal delivery pace isn’t in harmony with the songs that came before it, resulting in a bit of a garbled mess.

Lamina is a great song to close the album with. The moody tones are reminiscent of the opening tracks and it is so good that I feel compelled to listen to Animal again and delve deeper into the modest back catalogue of Big Scary.

Overall, Animal is a compellingly addictive album that I thoroughly enjoy and will have to pick up on vinyl.

Animal is available on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Animal is available on Apple Music and Spotify.

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19-Twenty – Self-Titled (Album Review)

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19-Twenty – Self-Titled (Album Review)

Exceptional music isn’t just the domain of mainstream artists. Independent artists, such as 19-Twenty, are often just as talented, if not superior. Thanks to music streaming, finding these exceptional acts is easier than ever before.

19-Twenty is an Australian-based band with a sound that infuses soft rock, blues, roots, and folk music. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I find this blending to be absolutely compelling and addictive to listen to.

The Tavern is a beautiful song, with sensational vocals and overall musicality. It sets the tone of the album and shows just how talented 19-Twenty were at the commencement of their recording career. The Tavern also has an addictive rhythm and the mix, soundstage, and mastering will blow your mind. Exceptional!

Kiama Town is simply stunning!

Lorne picks up the pace in a literal fast-plucking manner. I love it!

Louis Collins distorts and electrifies 19-Twenty's sound beautifully. It reminds me a little of early Rolling Stones and certainly Keith Richards' overall style on his latest solo release, Crosseyed Heart.

45 Degrees is an incredible song. This album just keeps getting better and better.

Wasn't For The Beat, with its frantic guitar strumming isn’t generally an element of acoustic music that I enjoy. Nevertheless, the song grows on you the more you listen to it.

Bucket Of Poison goes the grungy distortion route and interestingly reminds me of Adele’s Rumour Has It. That works for me. A solid 10/10!

1920'S Blues is a B-side and feels a little offbeat when compared to the rest of the album.

16 Hours has a simply stunning vocal presentation. Acoustic-based music doesn't get much better than this!

Slow It Down has a fantastic beat and rhythm that ensures I’ll listen to the album again and stay within 19-Twenty's growing catalogue.

As far as debut albums by Independent artists go, 19-Twenty is a pleasure to listen to from start to finish and the band has proven that a big recording contract, while likely desirable, does not dictate the quality of one's music.

While I would love to own this album on vinyl, I don't believe it was ever pressed to the format. The edition on TIDAL Hi-Fi is sonically perfect, but I’ll be tracking down a copy of the CD as it is certainly worth adding to my permanent physical music library.

19-Twenty can be purchased on CD and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, 19-Twenty is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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1927 – …ish (Vinyl Review)

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1927 – …ish (Vinyl Review)

Sometimes a debut album can become a smashing success that simply can’t be replicated. Selling in excess of 400,000 copies and winning the 1988 Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Awards for best debut single (That's When I Think of You) and album, 1927 effectively became a household name in Australia overnight. While international success eluded them, that shouldn’t reflect on the wonderful musical experience that is ...ish. Ian McFarlane, in his opus The Encyclopedia Of Australian Rock And Pop, put it perfectly when he wrote ...ish is brimful of stirring, stately pop rock anthems. Yes, dear reader, it is that good!

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SIDE A

To Love Me is a great opener that is truly representative of the Australian music scene during the 80s. It is recorded, mixed, and mastered beautifully, as is the entire album.

That’s When I Think Of You has a beat, vocal presentation, and guitar solo that are off the charts. There is no pretentious playing here, it is simply beautiful! This is what good music sounds like, you literally won't be able to stop your body moving to the rhythm. So good!

If I Could is rock ballad heaven. Listen to the song once and you’ll be singing it for the rest of the day. If I Could is simply stunning!

You'll Never Know picks up the tempo, but doesn't feel out of place in the tracking of the album. By this stage, if you haven't already turned the volume up, I suggest you do so. Get that air guitar out and warm up those vocal cords, you're going to need them.

Compulsory Hero is one of the greatest songs ever recorded, by anyone, anywhere in the world. It is an unofficial Australian anthem and not only does it bring me to tears, but it makes me proud to be an Australian. It’s a sonic masterpiece!

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SIDE B

All The People is a great pop/rock tune, but it was always going to be difficult for any song to follow Compulsory Hero. Thankfully, in the minute or so it takes to flip the record, the senses have a chance to reset. Regardless, All The People is a worthy addition to the album.

Nothing In The Universe is a lovely song. While not on par with some of the earlier songs, it is certainly no B-side.

Propaganda Machine has an interesting punk/pop feel to it. I love it!

Give The Kid A Break has a sensational beat and series of guitar riffs. I hope you didn't turn that volume knob down as this song deserves to be heard at ear bleeding levels. While a B-side, no one ever said a B-side couldn't be thoroughly enjoyable.

The Mess, unfortunately, doesn't follow the quality B-side that is Give The Kid A Break. The mess is, for lack of a better term, a mess and sounds like pure filler. That, however, doesn’t deter me from flipping back to Side A and enjoying this sensational album once more.

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...ish is not only one of the greatest albums ever recorded by an Australian band, it is sonically and musically on par with all the greatest bands of the era. In fact, the production quality here is world-class and it truly shows on the 2018 vinyl re-issue. Pressed at the world-renowned Pallas plant in Germany, I’ve never heard this album sound so good…ever! The record is pressed on audiophile quality eco-grade vinyl and is so silent you’ll hear the blood rushing through your veins before you hear any unwanted surface noise. The soundstage is immersive, with incredible depth that proves just how good vinyl can sound if diligence is taken in the mastering and pressing process. Yes, the remastered edition on TIDAL Hi-Fi is excellent, but it pales in comparison to the vinyl release.

I could honestly keep talking about how exceptional this album is, but I suggest you just order a copy and experience it for yourself.

...ish is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, ...ish is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.

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