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Billy Joel – An Innocent Man (Album Review)

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Billy Joel – An Innocent Man (Album Review)

Billy Joel has an exceptional back catalogue that would be the envy of many musicians. While Storm Front will always be my personal favourite, An Innocent Man, not unlike Joel's sensational Greatest Hits, Vols. 1 & 2, is about as close to perfection as you can get. Yes, dear reader, An Innocent Man plays like a greatest hits release and should be in all serious music collections.

While it has never made it to my physical collection, I have promised myself the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) double LP release that has been mastered from the original master tapes using MOFI’s patented GAIN 2™ technology. While all the acronyms look impressive, I have a number of these releases and they are simply astonishing and make CD-quality streaming services, like TIDAL Hi-Fi, sound lifeless and flat by comparison. Speaking of TIDAL Hi-Fi, this review is based on listening to and enjoying that edition. I’ve also taken the time to appreciate An Innocent Man on Apple Music and have found the two streaming services are comparable to each other as they are derived from the same master. However, the Apple Music stream, for An Innocent Man, is about five percent louder. The additional loudness could be due to any number of production reasons, but louder volumes do give the faux perception of better quality. Now, I'm not suggesting this is the case, but it would be naive to ignore the possibility. Of course, if the volume is extended too far, the sound will degrade as a result of increased distortion; a key problem in the loudness wars. Correct management of volume, particularly in the recording, mixing, and mastering stages, is a fine line that has sadly been crossed far too often. That all said, both streams sound exceptional, but when an album is of this calibre, it will sound good regardless of lossy or lossless compression algorithms.

Without doubt, An Innocent Man, is one of the greatest albums from the 80s, but the launch window would result in a disappointing result for Joel as Michael Jackson's Thriller won the Grammy for Album Of The Year over An Innocent Man. While Jackson's Thriller is a landmark album, one I thoroughly enjoy, I'd argue that Joel’s An Innocent Man is a better album and has also stood the test of time much better than Thriller which, in my subjective opinion, is starting to sound a little dated. Perhaps An Innocent Man avoided the dreaded dating of its sound as Joel based the writing of the album on his beloved, and arguably timeless, 50s and 60s music styles. The continuous lighthearted Be-bop, Soul, and R&B styling is addictive and remarkably well suited to Joel.

Easy Money has a sensational beat – thank you Liberty DeVito! It’s a fun little song to start the album with, but the chorus isn't compelling as I find it a little distracting with it’s downbeat shift. Nevertheless, Easy Money is a great song that sets the listener up for the music they’re about to hear on the album.

An Innocent Man slows the pace of the album a little, but the transition never sounds out-of-place. When listening to An Innocent Man, you really begin to comprehend what a sensational vocalist Joel is. Joel has incredible control of his vocal and takes it right to the edge, ensuring the presentation is nothing short of a pleasure to listen to. I could listen to this song indefinitely, it is that good.

The Longest Time is, as Uptown Girl is, one of the most enjoyable songs to sing along to. Seriously, tell me you can sit and listen without singing along to this classic. Even if only in your mind, it’s addictive. I love it!

This Night really opens up throughout the chorus. Yes, the whole song is fantastic, but as a Ludwig van Beethoven fan, I really appreciate how Joel merged his vision with that of Beethoven’s. The result is a sonic interpretation that is absolutely timeless. A masterpiece!

Tell Her About It has a fantastic upbeat tempo that will have you toe-tapping and head-bopping from the very first note.

Uptown Girl is my song. It, along with Starship's We Built This City, is responsible for my love of music. Absolutely brilliant!

Careless Talk shifts the style of the album and can sound a little out-of-place following the upbeat sound of Tell Her About It and Uptown Girl. However, as a song on its own, it’s a solid recording, but if there were a B-side on An Innocent Man, it would be Careless Talk.

Christie Lee is a sensational rock tune with an exceptional saxophone element. I love it! You’ll most certainly want to turn the volume up on this song.

Leave A Tender Moment Alone is a stunningly beautiful ballad.

Keeping The Faith is a song I’ve always enjoyed, but it’s a strange song to conclude the album with as it’s somewhat different to the songs that came before it. It sounds too modern for the album’s style, but as a song on its own, it's extraordinary!

Overall, An Innocent Man is an astonishingly good album and one of Joel's best, if not his best. If you want to listen to a flawless album, that is also timeless, then this is the album for you. Pure perfection!

An Innocent Man is available on Vinyl, SACD, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, An Innocent Man is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify.

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Nina Simone – I Put A Spell On You (Album Review)

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Nina Simone – I Put A Spell On You (Album Review)

Nina Simone had one of the most distinctive voices in recorded music history. Her skill and control over her vocal delivery showed no bounds and no truer is that statement than when listening to her opus I Put A Spell On You. There is not a bad song to be heard and it really is a case of discussing which of the 12 songs is better than all the others.

Adding to this musical brilliance is the fact that I've been enjoying I Put A Spell On You at 24/96kHz on the High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) Blu-ray format. To call this pressing immaculate would be a gross understatement. I have listened to the counterpart on Apple Music and TIDAL Hi-Fi and while the recording is largely transparent on those services, they lack a level of smoothness and relaxation when compared directly against the HFPA release. Yes, I've also listened to the MQA edition and while nice, it’s still too harsh for my liking. The HFPA release has incredible detail, minus the harshness found via other formats, and sounds extraordinary via both my main stereo set-up and headphones. For those of you who are interested, for this HFPA release, I prefer to listen to the album in the PCM format, rather than my preferred DTS-HD Master Audio format. I simply find that the original recording doesn’t need the additional low end that the DTS-HD Master Audio mix provides.

The HFPA format releases are sourced from the master tapes and this is one release where the tape qualities have been maintained throughout the digitisation process. While a little tape noise and analogue playback artefacts may deter digital purists, I love it as it takes me into the studio. If I close my eyes and focus only on the music, I'm experiencing my own personal concert with Simone and it is an experience that is astonishingly satisfying. That all said, the core performance does translate to the other formats, but the HFPA edition takes the recording to another level, especially if you have stereo equipment capable of taking advantage of high-resolution audio. For those that don't, or aren't interested in going to these lengths, may I suggest the Apple Music edition that is Mastered for iTunes. As I have listened to the album on many of the available formats, that is the one closest to the HFPA sound signature in my opinion.

I Put A Spell On You is as much a Nina Simone song as it is a Screamin' Jay Hawkins’ classic. However, while Hawkins may have recorded the original, I doubt there would be many who would proclaim his rendition as being superior to Simone's. I also love the Creedence Clearwater Revival interpretation as it takes cues from both Hawkins and Simone and if you want to take the song up a notch, on the metal-infused dial, you could always listen to Marilyn Manson's rendition, as featured on Smells Like Children. Regardless of how you wish to appreciate this song, a plethora of musicians have covered the song well, but I always return to Simone's rendition as being the definitive recording of the song. She made it her own and I doubt anyone will ever be able to top it.

Tomorrow Is My Turn is a lovely song. You really get a sense of the vocal control Simone has, especially on the fast, yet clear and soft, lyrical aspects of the song. By the way, is it just me or does this song sound as though it was taken straight out of a 007 James Bond flick?

Ne Me Quitte Pas is spectacular!

Marriage Is For Old Folks is witty and incredibly entertaining to listen to. Seriously, if you don't have a smile on your face when listening to this song, you're taking life too seriously. It’s a fantastic tune and perfectly suited to Simone, especially the doo, doo, dooo, de-doo lyrics.

July Tree is a lovely song that while not a classic, is a beautiful addition to the album.

Gimme Some picks up the pace with an addictive rhythm that will have you head-bopping and toe-tapping from the very first note. Plus, that Little Richard inspired vocal growl, that Simone includes, is incredible.

Feeling Good is astonishingly good! Again, Simone's rendition is arguably the greatest to have ever been recorded, but as I've mentioned before, George Michael did perform it beautifully.

One September Day is a thoroughly relaxing track that again shows the control Simone had over her vocal delivery. Remember, this was recorded in 1965, long before Auto-Tuning vocals was a thing. Yes, dear reader, this is what a truly talented vocalist sounds like.

Blues On Purpose is a fun little song with a solid mix of blues and jazz that will appeal to just about any music lover. While Blues On Purpose is an instrumental track, Simone plays the piano sufficiently, as she did throughout the entire album.

Beautiful Land is an interesting song that I find to be rather compelling, yet I'm unsure if I actually like the song or not. It isn't bad, it's just a little left of the centre.

You've Got To Learn is a beautiful tune.

Take Care Of Business is a superb song to close the album on and ensures I’ll stay within Simone's back catalogue while longing to play I Put A Spell On You again.

I Put A Spell On You is pure perfection from start to finish. If there were a criticism to be made, it would be that the album is too short, with a runtime of approximately 34 minutes. However, that weakness is also its greatest strength for the filler tracks that are known and loathed are nowhere to be seen. It plays like a well-curated greatest hits compilation would.

Nina Simone was one of the greats, and will always be one of them, for the musical skill she possessed is a rare occurrence that even the greatest modern day vocalists can only aspire to. There is little doubt she has put a spell on me, I hope you are equally spellbound by I Put A Spell On You.

I Put A Spell On You is available on Vinyl, High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) Blu-ray, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, I Put A Spell On You is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi (MQA or CD-quality), Apple Music, and Spotify.

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Vintage Trouble – 1 Hopeful Road (Album Review)

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Vintage Trouble – 1 Hopeful Road (Album Review)

Rhythm & Blues with a touch of Rock & Roll = PURE PERFECTION!

Yes, that pure perfection is exactly what you can expect from 1 Hopeful Road, the third studio album from Vintage Trouble. 1 Hopeful Road leaves me somewhat speechless as there’s no accurate way to describe the masterful styling of Vintage Trouble. They must be heard to be believed and if you enjoy the aforementioned musical styles, you're going to love 1 Hopeful Road.

Run Like The River sets the tone of the album with a perfectly distorted guitar intro and beat that is addictive. It’s a killer blues rock and roll track!

From My Arms slows the album's tempo down, but it’s presented so masterfully that it doesn’t feel out-of-place. From My Arms is a beautiful near ballad-acoustic piece that is recorded, mixed, and mastered immaculately well. This is how good music should sound. Where before you would have been toe-tapping and head-bopping to the pace of Run Like The River, you'll be doing the same here but in slow motion. Spectacular!

Doin' What You Were Doin' continues the smooth but determined blues-rock beat. I always feel compelled to sing-along to this song. Of course, I absolutely butcher the beautiful tonality of the song, but it is so good that I simply can't help myself. As I sit and enjoy Doin’ What You Were Doin’, I can’t help but think how happy the executives at Blue Note must be with their decision to distribute Vintage Trouble. The label's legacy and the band’s style are so perfectly suited that I couldn't think of a better match.

Angel City, California kicks the rock element up a notch and in some ways is reminiscent of the Eagles style. A great song with a great tempo. I love it!

Shows What You Know gets rather bluesy, but that’s a good thing. Seriously, listen to that soundstage and the shimmer of the cymbals. If anyone tells you good music doesn't exist in the modern era, point them to this album and this song.

My Heart Won't Fall Again is a thoroughly enjoyable upbeat song. Ty Taylor's vocal delivery is buttery smooth with just the right amount of grit. Taylor is, without a doubt, one of the world's greatest vocalists.

Another Man's Words is one of the best songs on the album, if not the best. The musicality is off-the-charts. Absolutely beautiful!

Strike Your Light (feat. Kamilah Marshall) wakes you up, just in case you slipped into a micro-sleep following the smooth and relaxing Another Man's Words. Despite the musical shift, Strike Your Light is an excellent song, but if there was a single song, on 1 Hopeful Road, that I could point to as being a B-side, it would be this one.

Before The Tear Drops has an incredible vintage sound! Sorry, but I had to go there. It’s the perfect blues club song for toe-tapping over dinner.

If You Loved Me is absolutely fantastic, reminding me of the music from legendary artists such as Bobby Womack, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson.

Another Baby would be a perfect song for Jimmy Barnes to cover on his next soul and blues album. Yes, it is that good, but I'm not sure Another Baby is perfectly suited to Vintage Trouble.

Soul Serenity is a beautiful song to close the album on, reminding me just how stunning the entire album is. There really isn't a bad song to be heard on 1 Hopeful Road as it plays like a greatest hits release of a band who has been around for decades. Let's hope their future albums are just as good, if not better than 1 Hopeful Road, but improving on perfection is not the easiest task.

This review was based on listening to the TIDAL Hi-Fi (CD-quality) stream and the Apple Music counterpart. While the TIDAL version was marginally better, with slightly better instrument separation, the Apple Music edition was no slouch and was sensational to listen to on my AirPods as I went about my daily tasks, away from the confines of my main stereo and headphone setups. Basically, when musicians are this talented and the album is recorded, mixed, and mastered with care, you're going to be presented with a sonically beautiful presentation regardless of lossy or lossless delivery methods. Truth be told, the only way to top the quality of the aforementioned streams would be to pick up 1 Hopeful Road on vinyl as Vintage Trouble’s style would perfectly suit the warmth and broadness often associated with the vinyl format.

1 Hopeful Road is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, 1 Hopeful Road is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify.

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Aaron Neville – Warm Your Heart (Album Review)

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Aaron Neville – Warm Your Heart (Album Review)

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.

Warm Your Heart is available on Vinyl, SACD, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Warm Your Heart is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify.

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(Was) Not Was – (The Woodwork) Squeaks [Compilation Review]

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(Was) Not Was – (The Woodwork) Squeaks [Compilation Review]

Every now and then I'll browse the library of albums that I’ve saved to my TIDAL Hi-Fi collection. Amongst the thousands saved, I'll inevitably come across a few that make me wonder just how they got there. (The Woodwork) Squeaks by (Was) Not Was certainly falls into that category and upon the first listen, I'm still unsure as to why I saved it. However, upon subsequent listens, the compilation has grown on me, so much so that it leaves me feeling compelled to listen to the compilation again and again.

From my perspective, it is interesting that I saved a collection of remixes and B-sides, as (The Woodwork) Squeaks was the first (Was) Not Was album I ever listened to. Generally, I prefer the core studio releases as a starting point. Nevertheless, I'm thoroughly enjoying this compilation and I invite you to put on your boogie shoes for this review as I have a feeling you're going to need them.

Tell Me That I'm Dreaming (Traditional 12" Remix) has a compelling boogie groove that almost instantly gets you into the music, if only the first few seconds were more compelling. You'll notice throughout this review that I won't contrast a remix with the original song. This is done purposely as I’ve not heard the original recordings. In some ways, that can be a good thing as my subjective opinion isn't clouded. Regardless, Tell Me That I'm Dreaming (Traditional 12" Remix) is a great song to commence this compilation with.

Out Come The Freaks (Predominantly Funk Version) is a great, albeit it lengthy, funk-based song. Remixes do have the tendency to drag on but at no time do I feel this remix needs to be shortened. In fact, it's so good that I could listen to it on repeat for hours at a time.

Wheel Me Out (Classic 12" Version) has a sonically rough introduction that doesn't flow on well from Out Come The Freaks (Predominantly Funk Version). That said, there are some elements in this song that I enjoy, but I have to acknowledge, for the most part, that I find this track to be tedious.

(Return To The Valley Of) Out Come The Freaks (Extended Version) is a great song with a sensational tempo. I love it!

Hello Operator (Classic 12" Version) has a glorious horn section that is so pure it sounds as though you were in the studio while the song was being recorded. Hello Operator (Classic 12" Version), besides starting out slow, is a hell of a good song and I adore that lyrical delivery.

Dance Or Die (From Sweet Pea Atkinson Album) is a killer song. You won't be able to stay still while this track is playing, so you have my permission to take a break from reading this review. Get up and boogie, I’m sure you'll thoroughly enjoy the experience.

Tell Me That I’m Dreaming (Souped Up Version) / Out Come The Freaks (Dub Version) is a great track that reminds me of Grace Jones and her style on the Nightclubbing album. That said, the transition between Tell Me I’m Dreaming (Souped Up Version) and Out Come The Freaks (Dub Version) isn't entirely seamless and the songs could very well have remained separate. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoy this track.

Out Come The Freaks (Classic 12" Version) is a great addition to this compilation, but it arguably isn't the greatest version of Out Come The Freaks.

(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With) Out Come The Freaks (Again) has an incredible rhythm that you can really connect with.

As someone with two left feet, White People Can't Dance is certainly the song for me. Although, when no-one is watching, I have "the moves". I love this song and it compels me to listen to the album again and explore the entire (Was) Not Was catalogue.

Sonically, the stream from TIDAL Hi-Fi is beautiful, with every musical element positioned perfectly. It’s really all anyone would need. While (The Woodwork) Squeaks hasn’t been re-issued on any physical media, recently, I feel content with this album being part of my digital streaming collection as it is, subjectively, not quite to the standard where I feel willing to outlay additional cash to pick up a copy. That isn’t a negative reflection on the compilation, just an acknowledgement that I don’t have an endless supply of cash and one has to carefully choose albums, especially considering the often inflated prices of re-issued vinyl. This is, yet, another benefit of music streaming as it allows for exploration and enjoyment without commitment.

(The Woodwork) Squeaks can be purchased on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, (The Woodwork) Squeaks is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Prince – Batman (Soundtrack Review)

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Prince – Batman (Soundtrack Review)

For as long as I can remember, I have had a love/hate relationship with Prince. Most of his music I appreciate, but not all of it connects with me on an emotional level. However, my opinions began to change as I explored his extensive catalogue. Following his passing, I also found I was listening to more of his work and many of the albums that didn’t appeal to me were fast becoming staples of my Prince collection. For instance, I’m happy to go on record and state that I never really liked Purple Rain. It wasn’t until I heard the 2015 Paisley Park remastered edition, delivered in MQA, that I fell in love with the album. I know how insane it sounds, but this remaster spoke to me and this edition of Purple Rain is now one of my most beloved albums. What this says to me is to keep listening. What you may have disliked years ago, you may love today. Plus, you have my permission to be fickle. I know I am!

I remember a high school friend who was an avid Prince fan and actively encouraged me to take a greater interest. At the time I was heavily invested in Michael Jackson's music and diversification wasn't of key importance. That same friend had a DCC (Digital Compact Cassette) player and the associated Prince albums: Purple Rain and Diamonds And Pearls. I was so jealous as I had desperately wanted a DCC portable cassette player, but that wasn’t to be and the format sadly didn’t last long either. Perhaps it was my envy that prevented me from fully connecting with Prince, although I have always loved Diamonds And Pearls. The other plausible reasoning could be that I once had the philosophy that in order to like Guns N’ Roses, you couldn’t like Nirvana. Similarly, you couldn’t be a fan of The Beatles and Elvis. Hence, if you were a Michael Jackson fan, you couldn’t be a fan of Prince as well. Honestly, what was my teenage mind telling me? While I have no exact answer for my naivety, I dare say growing up below the poverty line would have resulted in these thoughts becoming justifications so that I would not be disappointed in my inability to explore other interesting music. We are truly blessed to have access to so much music at an affordable price. While numerous people complain about the cost of streaming services, Spotify gives a reasonable, albeit sonically inferior, free service. That said, I frankly feel that streaming services don’t charge enough for the incredible catalogue of music we have access to. Most services charge about the same price as Netflix, yet with music you get access to nearly everything ever recorded. Netflix, by comparison, gives us a mere fraction of all of the recorded film and television. Interesting, huh?

While Prince may have been destined to sit on the sidelines of my music appreciation, for a number of decades, I did own Prince's Batman soundtrack on cassette. I don’t recall when, or how, I acquired the cassette, but I remember seeing the 1989 Batman film on my 10th birthday. Actually, I was unable to see it on the actual day as the cinema was completely booked out. Yes, that used to actually happen. You must remember, this was the era before the Internet and on-demand media. At the time it seemed to take years for these films to make it to home video as it had to be aired on television first. While I look back on this period and wonder how we tolerated life at such slow pace, I can't help but admit that I'm a little envious of the past we left behind as I find that I am less excited about films, television shows, books, and music in modern society because everything is available, somewhere, at the click of a button. I often find myself suffering information overload and am intrigued with individuals that go off the Internet grid, even for a short period of time. The Internet, my friends, is both a blessing and a curse.

As always, I digress, but when you think how recent the non-connected era was, in human society, it blows my mind that things have changed so significantly. What hasn't changed, however, is the exceptional album that is Prince's Batman soundtrack.

The Future has an incredible rhythm that is addictive and will get your body moving. The inclusion of spoken film elements link the album to the film, rather than simply being representative of a stand-alone Price album with film branding. The Future, as much of the entire soundtrack, is significantly synth driven. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it works perfectly for the film and recording era. Plus, to be completely honest, I don’t feel this album has aged at all.

Electric Chair is a killer rock song that shows just how diverse Prince was. It is, without a doubt, one of Prince's greatest recordings and his guitar riffing is nothing short of extraordinary!

The Arms Of Orion opens with a sonic signature that instantly reminds me of the haunting score from The Dark Crystal. However, after these first notes have elapsed, the song opens with a beautiful duet with Sheena Easton. The musicality is off-the-charts and I adore the instrumental ending.

Partyman is featured prominently in the film and was perfect for the associated scene. The song is excellent, but I can’t help wonder if I class it in the manner because it evokes the film’s scene in my mind. I guess it really doesn’t matter as I thoroughly enjoy the song. Sometimes it is best to not look too deeply into the reason behind interests.

Vicki Waiting has a great beat and while very enjoyable, is nothing to write home about.

Trust has a fast upbeat pop/rock feel to it that is rather unique. It is indicative of Prince and was also featured in a key film sequence. As I love both the film and the song, this is subjectively an excellent song that I could listen, and sing-a-long to, for hours on end.

Lemon Crush has a rhythm that will ensure your body moves impulsively. As with all the songs on the album, the musicality is excellent and Prince once again proved why he was one of the greatest guitarists and most talented musicians in the world. Exceptional!

Scandalous is one of the most gorgeous songs ever recorded. Prince nailed it!

Batdance is a fun remix-style song that integrates many film elements into the song. However, while the musical elements certainly confirm this to be a Prince song, I have always felt it feels out-of-place with the soundtrack and Prince's overall style. Despite this, I feel compelled to listen to the soundtrack again and stay within Prince's catalogue.

Overall, Prince's Batman soundtrack is one of the best recordings he ever made. If I had such a list, it would be amongst my top 10 soundtracks of all time.

Batman, the soundtrack, is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes. If you prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Danny Elfman also produced a sensational score for the 1989 Batman film. That album is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes. You can also stream it on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.

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Tom Jones - Help Yourself (Album Review)

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Tom Jones - Help Yourself (Album Review)

While Delilah, What's New Pussycat, and It's Not Unusual are permanently etched into my mind, due to their addictive musicality and Jones' textual, but smooth tones, I am constantly amazed by the sheer catalogue of music Tom Jones has recorded over the years.

Help Yourself is, in my opinion, the first album Jones released that truly showed off his musical chops. The recording also has a high-quality production and mastering that still holds up today. Any attempts at remastering this album, beyond the digitisation done by Decca in 1989, would arguably be a mistake as it has an analog tone that is reminiscent of the sound and recording techniques from the era. This is obviously a case of if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

I generally find these classic album covers, highlighting the artist along with a list of songs, to be compelling. Yes, it is a dying art to include this information, but it is so much better than slapping a sticker onto the vinyl outer sleeve, or CD case. Regardless, the streaming versions of Help Yourself omit song titles, but I have noted the original vinyl editions did include this information. I don’t know about you, but I believe that album artwork should be presented in the same manner as the original release. Unless, of course, it is a Deluxe Edition or other variant. Okay, so I guess streaming is a variant and my argument isn’t as sound as I would like it to be, but I trust you understand my inference.

Help Yourself has a beautiful brass introduction that instantly transports my mind to the era. It is upbeat and the accompanying Caribbean presentation is perfectly matched to Jones' baritone vocal in both pitch and octave variation.

I Can't Break The News To Myself is a fun song with an addictive groove. What I love most about this track is the vocal clarity as I find it increasingly difficult to decipher lyrics in modern pop and rock music. When vocals are clear I tend to listen for meaning, when they are over processed or not well defined, I treat the vocal as nothing more than another instrument in the composition. Yes, I could look up the lyrics, but that is not how I enjoy listening to music.

The Bed has a fantastic blues-inspired guitar introduction that immediately reminds me of John Fogerty's musical style. Overall, The Bed is a fantastic song that once again shows why Tom Jones is a superb vocalist.

Isadora is simply gorgeous. A perfect composition. I love it!

Set Me Free is an absolute classic that stands the test of time. It’s a song that is genre blended and anyone with a passing interest in Country, Blues, or Rock music would really enjoy Set Me Free.

I Get Carried Away has a very similar style to another song from the same era, yet I am drawing a complete blank on the name of the song. You will notice the similarity mostly in the introduction and chorus. If anyone can suggest the other song I may be thinking of, I would appreciate you letting me know. Despite the similarity, I thoroughly enjoy I Get Carried Away and find that it is a song I never tire of.

This House (The House Song) is a lovely song and the vocal delivery is buttery smooth.  

So Afraid is an exceptional song!

If I Promise has a hip-gyrating pace that would have been incredible to see live. It is a fun song and I love the brass band sound.

If You Go Away is a gloomy song, but is perfect when considering lyrical context. I thoroughly enjoy this song!

My Girl Maria is another song that would have been incredible when performed live. That said, I feel this recording lacks emotion that arguably would have been more present in a live performance. Nevertheless, it is a lovely song.

All I Can Say Is Goodbye is a solid easy listening tune, but it is nothing to write home about.

Ten Guitars is unfortunately greyed out on TIDAL Hi-Fi; generally, this indicates there is a licensing issue that is yet to be resolved. However, you can cheat and listen to the song on The Legendary Tom Jones - 30th Anniversary Album. Interestingly, if you use Spotify, they automatically switch to the other album for the song that is greyed out. I wish TIDAL would offer that feature, although one must wonder if it is the best approach from the standpoint of contractual obligations. Regardless, Ten Guitars is a twang fest that I have mixed feelings about. It isn’t one of the strongest recordings, definitely a B-side, but it is strangely addictive.

What A Party has a New Orleans sound that many will like. As for me, I find this effort to be merely adequate.

Looking Out My Window is an incredible track. It has energy, rhythm, and is well suited to Jones' vocal style.

Can't Stop Loving You is beautiful.

Let There Be Love is so well suited to Jones; the musicality is spot on. Classic Tom Jones recordings don't get much better than this.

Without Love is a lovely song with a spoken word introduction that brings the meaning of the song to the forefront of the experience. As the song builds, I am blown away by the depth of Jones' vocal. As the final track on the album, it will compel you to listen to the album again, or stay within the Tom Jones catalogue.

Help Yourself is an incredible album that plays like a greatest hits release. While I still believe his best work can be heard on Praise And Blame and Spirit In The Room, Help Yourself is one of his greatest recordings.  

For this review, I listened to the 1989 mastering on TIDAL Hi-Fi. Other than the omitted track, this edition was an absolute pleasure to listen to. Yes, it has a slightly concealed sound, but that is reminiscent of the style applied during the era. It is also important to note that this edition is extended from the original 1968 LP. For reference, the original release ended with All I Can Say Is Goodbye. Despite this, either tracking makes for an exceptional release and the additional tracks blend well, making it a very enjoyable album experience.

Help Yourself is available for purchase on iTunes. For those who prefer streaming, the album is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Tom Jones - Praise And Blame (Album Review)

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Tom Jones - Praise And Blame (Album Review)

I recently read Tom Jones' autobiography, Over The Top And Back. It is an exceptional read, a real page-turner. If you’re remotely interested in the Welshman with soulful tones, then I implore you to pick up a copy.

I tend to listen to corresponding albums when reading musical autobiographies. I feel it brings me closer to the artist and allows me to fully appreciate just how talented they are. While I have always been aware of Tom Jones, it was only as the caricature that the media would often portray him as being. You know, the Vegas resident singer who is known for the plethora of panties thrown in his direction. Sometimes it can be difficult to remove one's longstanding viewpoint, but in reading his life story, and listening to his albums, I have a newfound appreciation for his recordings and artistry. It is with this in mind that I decided to add some of his albums to my collection. Unfortunately, many are out-of-print, but his later works are easily accessible. There are, of course, countless compilations.

Regardless, his last few albums are incredible and he has proven that it’s not unusual to sing more than Delilah, Sex Bomb, or the incredibly kitsch What’s New Pussycat?.

As I went searching for records, I noticed that Praise And Blame was still available for order on vinyl. Increasingly, I find myself using Subjective Sounds as a form of purchase justification. Yes, consumerism is alive and well. The truth is, if I didn't do it this way, I would procrastinate with my own thoughts for days. Anyway, let's take a listen and see if Praise And Blame is worthy of being added to my vinyl collection.

What Good Am I? is Johnny Cash merged with Tom Jones. It is exceptionally moody and the monotone beat perfectly complements Jones' vocal style and the musicality of the song. I dare say, this is one song that would reproduce beautifully on vinyl.

Lord Help shifts the album to a different beat. It is addictive and you will be toe tapping and head bopping from the first note. Despite it being rather different to What Good Am I? the flow and tracking does not feel disjointed. While I feel Jones' vocals are a little hidden in the soundstage, it is an excellent song that showcases his incredible range.

Did Trouble Me slows things down again but, as aforementioned, it doesn't seem out of place or disjointed. I'd go as far as saying this album is a perfect example of how to track an album properly. Jones' vocals are more forward in the soundstage of this song and I simply love it, along with the plucking of that banjo.

Strange Things is a fun song, but I feel Jones over performs on this track. Also, I don’t feel the backing vocals are well suited to the song as they simply feel out of place with the overall style of the album.

Burning Hell is blues-based rock and roll heaven. Burning Hell has to be one of Jones' greatest recordings. I love it!

If I Give My Soul is gorgeous!

Don't Knock is a solid B-side, but I don't feel it blends well with the other songs on the album. Again, I feel the backing vocals simply don’t work. Jones can demand an audience’s attention on his own, hence backing vocalists are largely superfluous unless they add substantially to the song.

Nobody's Fault But Mine is incredible! The mix, the mastering, and most importantly the musicality is off the charts with this song.

Didn't It Rain is another fantastic toe tapping, head bopping song. While Didn't It Rain does have backing vocals, they are in a lower register that works better with the album style and Jones' own deep vocal presentation.

Ain't No Grave is an exceptional B-side.

Run On is a fantastic song to close the album with. It encourages me to not only listen again but stay within the incredible catalogue of music that Tom Jones has given us over the years.

I have to give praise to all the musicians and personnel who made this album possible. It is nothing short of astonishing. I also need to blame those same individuals for giving me no other option than to purchase this incredible recording on vinyl.

Praise And Blame is one of the best albums Tom Jones has ever made, although the follow-up, Spirit In The Room, is hard to beat.

For this review, I listened to the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition and sonically it was perfection in every aspect of the word. If I were unable to purchase vinyl release, I would not feel remorse as it is that good.

Praise And Blame is available for purchase on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store, and iTunes. For those who prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!” (Album Review)

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Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!” (Album Review)

Video killed the radio star because of the visual connection that one could have with their favourite artist. In a similar manner, the vinyl resurgence has once again shown that imagery is an essential element to the consumption, appreciation, and perceived ownership of music. I refer to this as I came across Childish Gambino's "Awaken, My Love!" in a list of upcoming vinyl releases. I was immediately captivated by the visually stunning artwork and knew that if the music was to my liking, a purchase of the Virtual Reality Limited Vinyl edition would be inevitable.

Me And Your Mama is a glorious song that is beautifully atmospheric, yet the composition is not over-the-top. I also love the Kravitz inspired rock aspects that appear midway through the song. Me And Your Mama is a musical masterpiece that you simply must listen to.

Have Some Love is a song that tracks well in the album format, yet my soul is just not connecting with it. I feel this dichotomy because of the vocal overlapping, resulting in a sonic presentation that sounds a little too campy for my liking.

Boogieman has a very compelling rhythmic core that is sure to get your head bopping and toe tapping. Subjectively, I would like to see more development of the low-end frequencies as I feel it focuses on the midrange a little too heavily. Nevertheless, Boogieman is exceptional and this track alone is all the justification one needs for owning the album. It has a Motown vibe, mixed with a little world music inspiration and a touch of Steve Wonder.

Zombies is an enjoyable song, but it is let down by an underwhelming lyrical performance. That said, the instrumental aspects ensure that Zombies is a valued addition to the album.

Riot reminds me of a style that Lenny Kravitz occasionally adopted. The song is somewhat chaotic as it isn’t sure if it should be in the Rock, Hip Hop, or R&B genre. It is in this confused state that I find a dislike for the song, yet I also find it to be strangely compelling. Let’s just say that it’s not filler, but it isn’t a standout track either.

Redbone has a killer groove and exceptional vocal performance that is presented with a gritty exterior, but a soulful interior. It instantly reminds me of Prince and that isn't a bad thing. Redbone is full of spit and polish that will appeal to any music lover. It is absolutely incredible!

California has way too much vocal distortion; thank you Auto-Tune! I can appreciate the artistic approach, but this song is what I call filler as I don't feel that it adds substantially to the album.

Terrified has numerous stylistic influences, yet it remains fresh and hypnotically addictive. It is yet another exceptional song on a must own album.

Baby Boy has a glorious vocal and instrumental soundstage that reminds me instantly of the “The Motown Sound”, albeit in a modern context.

The Night Me And Your Mama Met has an acoustic and A cappella feel. I Love it! The vocal harmonies are simply gorgeous, as is the inclusion of the electric guitar. On paper, this combination just shouldn't work, but as I listen to this track all that crosses my mind is sonic perfection.

Stand Tall showcases how spectacular Gambino's vocal delivery is and, no, I'm not referring to the artistic elements in the song that clearly have been modified for effect by overusing Auto-Tune. As the final song on the album, it compels me to listen to this masterpiece again and again.

Overall, "Awaken, My Love!" is another album reminding me that exceptional musical performances, in the modern era, is not only a reality but an opportunity to squash naysayers that declare good music ended with the 70s. I say that as one of those very individuals and I can't begin to tell you how elated I am at being proven wrong.

This review was based on listening to the Spotify Premium edition at 320 kbps in the Ogg Vorbis format. The mastering is superb and while I would welcome the release of the album in TIDAL Hi-Fi's CD-quality, I honestly wouldn’t have enjoyed the album any more than I already have.

"Awaken, My Love!" is also available for purchase on Vinyl, CD and iTunes. You can also stream it on Apple Music

Ultimately, the production, recording, and mastering quality of "Awaken, My Love!" encourages me to pick up the Virtual Reality Limited Vinyl edition. Most importantly, however, I truly love the music and feel it is more revolutionary than evolutionary.

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