Agnetha Fältskog – I Stand Alone (Album Review)


Agnetha Fältskog – I Stand Alone (Album Review)

Have you ever wondered what one part Chicago plus one part Abba would sound like? Well, I hadn’t but when I listen to I Stand Alone, I hear a correlation. Peter Cetera, former Chicago frontman and bassist, would produce this exceptional release, selecting the songs that he felt would be perfect for Fältskog’s uniquely smooth vocal delivery. Whilst there are a couple of misses, I Stand Alone is a thoroughly enjoyable release from start to finish and while ABBA’s success may always overshadow Fältskog’s solo career, you’d be foolish to overlook this 1987 release as it is arguably one of Fältskog’s greatest solo releases and success was only hindered by Fältskog’s lack of post-release promotion.

This review will largely be based on listening to, and appreciating, the CD release I’m fortunate enough to own. Sadly, the cover art has faded over the years but sonically the CD sounds marvellous. That said, I did lament that the vinyl reissues of Fältskog’s earlier solo releases in 2017 didn’t include this one. Of course, those reissues were originally released on Polar Music while Fältskog’s later recordings would be released on WEA Records. It may be a minor and somewhat insignificant aspect, from a music lover’s perspective, but WEA Records have yet to do anything with Fältskog’s back catalogue, meaning there is no vinyl reissue on the horizon. At least they haven’t issued a remastered brickwalled disaster as the original mastering is quite lovely with plenty of headroom allowing you the opportunity to turn the volume up according to your tastes.

The Last Time is a fantastic tune to launch I Stand Alone. Yes, it has that 80s feel to it, but that is part of the allure. While a little slow to start, the tempo kicks in after the first minute and reminds me fondly of Elton John’s Victim Of Love. This is one song that you’ll most certainly want to turn the volume up on and get the air guitar out for, for that guitar solo, while predictable, is perfect. 

Little White Secrets shifts the tempo a little too much for my liking. It has an almost Caribbean feel and is a B-side. I simply don’t feel the song suits Fältskog’s vocal style and the mix and subsequent soundstage are a little too centre focused.

I Wasn’t The One (Who Said Goodbye) [Duet with Peter Cetera] is pure gold and is one of the greatest duets of the 80s. Seriously, this is Chicago meets ABBA turned up to 11. It is flawless and I could listen to it on repeat for eternity. 

Love In A World Gone Mad is badly tracked. It’s a solid song, but coming directly after I Wasn’t The One (Who Said Goodbye) was a mistake in my opinion. Subsequently, it takes a while for the mind to adapt to the varied tempo and musicality, resulting in a love/hate relationship with the song, especially if you listen, as I do, to music in the original album format. All that said, if I’m to be completely honest, Love In A World Gone Mad is a little too campy for my liking. 

Maybe It Was Magic is a magnificent ballad that is perfectly suited to Fältskog. 

Let It Shine is a solid song but should have been tracked with Love In A World Gone Made and Little White Secrets as it again shifts the flow of the album a little too much. Truth-be-told, if I had my way, I would have tracked the ballad-styled tunes on Side A and the more 80s pop-driven songs on Side B. Thankfully, your mind does adjust, but it shouldn’t need to in my opinion.

We Got A Way is a solid upbeat pop-rock tune that flows perfectly from Let It Shine. 

I Stand Alone is a great song. The musicality is incredible with a beautifully sized and positioned soundstage ensuring that the more detailed your playback system, the more involving the music will become and you’ll hear elements that you may not have heard on a more modest system.

Are You Gonna Throw It All Away is magical. I adore Fältskog’s vocal delivery on this song and the musicality, especially the saxophone elements, makes this song nothing but a pure pleasure to listen to. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I turn the volume up and sing along. 

If You Need Somebody Tonight is a beautiful song to conclude I Stand Alone on ensuring that I’ll play the album again and stay within Fältskog’s incredible catalogue of music.

I Stand Alone is a hidden gem and if you’re a fan of ABBA or have any interest at all in 80s pop music, you’re bound to love I Stand Alone; I know I do. 

I Stand Alone is available on CD and iTunes.

Click here to read other Agnetha Fältskog reviews by Subjective Sounds.


Warren Haynes – Ashes & Dust (feat. Railroad Earth) [Album Review]


Warren Haynes – Ashes & Dust (feat. Railroad Earth) [Album Review]

If you’re at all familiar with the Allman Brother’s Band or Gov’t Mule, then you’ll no doubt be aware of Warren Haynes and his incredibly smooth vocals and guitar playing that is simply out-of-this-world. Calling him an exceptional musician would be an understatement and an insult. There are few as masterful as Haynes and his musical prowess comes across clearly in his third solo album Ashes & Dust.

Full of recordings that are instant classics, Ashes & Dust is a cornucopia of Blues, Folk, Country, and Rock music, I have a sneaking suspicion that you’re going to love this album, I know I do!

Is It Me Or You eases you into the album. It is absolutely beautiful and while I’m not always a fan of the Banjo, it has been recorded and mixed masterfully. The string element is equally as compelling and the rhythm just makes you move to the groove subconsciously. You’ll most certainly be head-bopping and toe-tapping along to this song. 

Coal Tattoo is blues 101 and is arguably the best song on the album. Sensational! 

Blue Maiden’s Tale is more Folk/Country-based when compared to the preceding songs. That isn’t a bad thing, however, as Blue Maiden’s Tale fits in perfectly to the album and the interweaving tempos that may initially sound a little disjointed, really come together in a very enjoyable piece of music. 

Company Man is a fantastic meat and potatoes Country Rock song. It’s perfect for a sing-along and is another great head-bopping and toe-tapping song. 

New Year’s Eve is a little pedestrian and campy for my liking, but Haynes performs it beautifully nonetheless. 

Stranded In Self-Pity is a solid blues track that I like to close my eyes to as I move to the groove. 

Glory Road is a fantastic tune, but the instrumental opening is too long for the style of song in my opinion. Otherwise, it’s spectacular! As I listen to it, I’d love to hear Rod Stewart cover it as I feel it would also suit his style of vocal perfectly. 

Gold Dust Woman (feat. Grace Potter) is a killer Fleetwood Mac song and this cover is exceptional. Could it be better than the original? Well, it’s certainly on par with it. Grace Potter is a perfect addition to the song but I’d argue that Fleetwood Mac nailed the intermingling duet vocals a little better than Haynes and Potter did here.

Beat Down The Dust is nothing to write home about, but a great song nonetheless.

Wanderlust is simply gorgeous and that guitar tracking is exquisite. 

Spots Of Time has an incredible drum track with a soundstage that is thoroughly immersive. 

Hallelujah Boulevard is beautiful, but as with Glory Road, I feel as though the introduction is too long, ultimately taking the focus away from the song itself. A shame considering just how stunning it is. 

Word On The Wind is a sensational closing track with a guitar solo, and overall rhythm, that I simply adore. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to listen to Word On The Wind again. Forget playing it on repeat, however, for it is worth going back to Is It Me Or You in order to listen to this entire masterpiece again.

Sonically, the entire recording, mix, and mastering is nothing short of perfection and will really push your audio playback system to its limits. Sensational! 

Overall, Ashes & Dust is absolutely flawless and is one of the best blues-based albums I’ve ever heard. When I listen to an album this good, I am reminded of why I adore music as much as I do and that the gift of music from a master musician, such as Haynes, to the listener, is priceless. 

Although, if you’d like to put a price on it and own a copy for yourself, Ashes & Dust is available on Vinyl, CD, or the iTunes Store


A-F-R-O & Marco Polo – A-F-R-O Polo (Album Review)


A-F-R-O & Marco Polo – A-F-R-O Polo (Album Review)

The world of Hip Hop is in a constant state of flux and there is little doubt that it is one genre of music that is constantly evolving, building upon itself, as up and coming artist push beyond the status quo. 

A-F-R-O is one such revolutionary artist, having paired with fellow Hip Hop producer, Marko Polo for this debut release A-F-R-O Polo. If you’ve ever enjoyed Hip Hop/Rap music, you’re going to love this release. 

I do however wish to advise that the Explicit tag is here for a reason, especially when it comes to the song Sunshine And Flowers. For those of you that would prefer a ‘clean’ edition of the album, there, unfortunately, isn’t one available. However, and in a stroke of genius, there’s an Instrumentals album that gets you 95% of the way there without the editing blips or spaces that generally ruin the songs. When my kids are around, I can listen to the Instrumentals release and thoroughly enjoy and then when listening privately, I can appreciate the lyrical component even though I generally don’t look for literal lyrical interpretation, instead preferring to consider vocals to be akin to another instrument.  

It is important to note that while I have referenced the Instrumentals release, if you’re interested in picking up A-F-R-O Polo physically, the Instrumentals release is digital only, being available on iTunes and Apple Music

While available on both Vinyl and CD, it is a little disappointing that the vinyl cover art is different from the cat-head cover of the CD/Digital releases. It’s a shame as it would have looked incredible on the larger canvas and I can only hope that one day a future pressing of the vinyl release will be done with the core album cover.

Some of you may be wondering if A-F-R-O Polo can really be classed as an album, rather than an EP. Well, it is right on the edge with a runtime of 25 minutes, but it does have eight tracks so I consider it to be an album. To be completely honest, I love shorter albums. Long gone are the double albums from the 90s; thank god! Seriously, how many were truly great? 

From a sonic perspective, A-F-R-O Polo is magnificent with a soundstage that grows as you increase the volume and doesn’t distort. The separation between elements is also superb and the complete opposite to the disposable pop music in the modern era where there is little to no separation and depth in the soundstage, instead aiming for a wall of sound. A-F-R-O Polo is incredibly dynamic and while I love the music, I’d listen to this album just merely for the mix which I consider is beyond reproach on all but one song. 

Long Time Coming (feat. Shylow) is brilliant! What an incredible opening for a Hip Hop/Rap album. The lyrical delivery shoots fast and hard, while simultaneously ensuring the sampling and mix is the definition of pure perfection. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I can’t stop moving to this song. I love it!

Nightmare On Fro Street flows on beautifully and while rhythmically different, doesn’t sound out-of-place with the overall musical style of A-F-R-O Polo. I would, however, and this is a very personal perspective, prefer a more rhythmic approach to the vocal delivery as the spoken word, while a trademark of this style of music, feels a little too separated from the sampling and overall musical mix. That said, I’m sure there are many of you who would love it and consider it to be perfect. I certainly don’t dislike it, I’d just like a slightly different vocal presentation. 

Swarm (feat. Pharoahe Monch) has a great beat and overall rhythm. Sometimes that is all you need! 

Sunshine And Flowers is one of the best songs on the album, if not the best. That rhythm, beat, and lyrical delivery is off-the-charts good; a perfect mix! Yes, the lyrics are controversial and will absolutely offend some people but, while I can’t confirm this, I don’t believe the lyrics are meant to be taken seriously. Sunshine And Flowers very much reminds me of the exaggerated style of the comedic glam metal band, Steel Panther. Nevertheless, if the lyrics bother you, remember there is always the Instrumentals edition to enjoy.  

Fro Armstrong continues perfectly from Sunshine And Flowers and has some great sampling and an incredible mix. A great tune!

Use These Blues (feat. Eamon) slows things down a little but is utterly brilliant. Although, is it just me or has the faux record surface noise been overdone at this stage? Either way, it’s a beautiful song with a soundstage that is full but not compressed thereby allowing every element the space it needs to breathe. 

Lair Of The Black Worm is in similar styling to Nightmare On Fro Street, but I find the vocal presentation on Lair Of The Black Worm is much better suited and positioned to the overall musicality. It may not be the strongest song on this release, but I thoroughly enjoy it when listening to the album.

Joe Jackson has a perfect mid-tempo rhythm that will hypnotise you and Joe Jackson is one song that I wish would never end for I’d love the musicality to be repeated indefinitely. What I find is when I decide not to listen to the album again, that Joe Jackson continues on as a welcome earworm that thereby encourages me to return to A-F-R-O Polo and listen once again to what can only be considered a brilliant addition to my continuously growing library of Hip Hop/Rap music. 

Overall, A-F-R-O Polo was one of the greatest Hip Hop/Rap releases of 2016, and in recent history is only bested by Kanye West’s incredible ye. Yes, it is that good, and I can’t wait for more new albums to emerge. 


Hayley Westenra – River Of Dreams: The Very Best Of (Compilation Review)


Hayley Westenra – River Of Dreams: The Very Best Of (Compilation Review)

Australian music lovers are often criticised for adopting New Zealand artists as their own. Well, in our defence, there is only the very slightest of water-filled ditches between our great nations so you can see how the distinction can be blurred. After all, the great city of Auckland is closer to my home on the east coast of Australia than the city of Perth is on Australia’s western coast. Despite this physical closeness, we don’t know everything that is happening across the pond and as such, I had no idea that Hayley Westenra was a New Zealander when I first heard the Westenra/Bocelli duet of Dell’Amore Non Si Sa. 

As per usual, I digress, only to raise Westenra’s heritage, however, as I was recently researching a song called Pokarekare; a beautiful unofficial national anthem for New Zealand and the correlation hit me. Naturally, I decided to delve deeper into Westenra’s back catalogue and upon listening to this compilation, I was so impressed that I had to immediately pen this review. It isn’t often that I feel so compelled, therefore, dear reader, I ask that you join me as I explore what can arguably be considered one of the greatest career perspective releases I have ever come across. 

Pokarekare Ana is simply stunning. The song itself is remarkable and Westenra performs it beautifully. An absolutely sensational choice to open this compilation with. It is so revered in New Zealand that many consider it, just as Australians consider Icehouse’s Great Southern Land, to be an unofficial national anthem. Pokarekare Ana is, at its core, an adorable song that has stood the test of time.

River Of Dreams (Adapted From “The Four Seasons: Winter, RV 297”) is a beautiful song and while I’ve never heard a poor rendition of this classic, there is no doubt that Westenra’s interpretation is one of the very best I’ve heard. Her vocal is so delicate as it soars above the musicality. Absolutely incredible! 

Dell’Amore Non Si Sa (feat. Andrea Bocelli) is incredible and I love Bocelli’s vocal inclusion but I can’t help but wonder if the mix could have been better. While I don’t know the history of this specific recording, it almost sounds in places as though the vocals were recorded in different recording studios and mixed at a later date; not an uncommon occurrence, of course, but one that can be disconcerting at times if not done well. Regardless, it’s still a lovely song and one that most certainly deserves its place on this career perspective release.

Shenandoah is a beautiful song that really showcases Westenra’s sensational soprano vocal. 

The Water Is Wide is incredibly relaxing and really demands one sit and listen for this is most certainly not background music. Music, really, doesn’t get much better than this. Stunning!

Songbird is one of the greatest songs ever written and recorded. Christine McVie certainly wrote a timeless classic and while I absolutely adore the Fleetwood Mac original, Westenra has performed it masterfully ensuring respect is paid to the original while simultaneously making it her own. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think I enjoy Westenra’s interpretation more than I do the original. 

Both Sides Now is a great Joni Mitchell song. Mitchell’s version is timeless, but again Westenra takes a classic to another level and makes it her own. Given so many of the world’s greatest musicians have recorded this classic it is difficult to stand out from the pack, but Westenra’s interpretation would most certainly be in my top 10 recordings of this song. 

Ave Maria blows me away every time I hear it, regardless of who’s singing it, but this is one very special interpretation that reaches into your soul and takes you on a musical journey. It is one of the finest interpretations of this timeless classic. 

Benedictus is an incredibly beautiful song, leaving me somewhat speechless each time I listen to it. 

Amazing Grace is one of those songs that I have heard too many times and it no longer sounds amazing to me. That said, Westenra’s vocal presentation is spot on with this interpretation.

Danny Boy, in a similar way to Amazing Grace, has been overplayed and I’m sure the Irish will be bitterly disappointed when I say that I’ve never found the song appealing. That said, Westenra’s interpretation is one of the best I have ever heard. 

Summer Rain shifts the tempo and while the jolt to the system can be distracting at first, Summer Rain is a solid original pop-inspired crossover written by Westenra and Jeffrey B Franzel. I do, however, feel Westenra’s vocal gets lost in the musicality. Nevertheless, it’s a great song that is truly worthy of inclusion on this compilation; although a remix, with a small decibel reduction in the instrumental elements, would be appreciated. 

Never Say Goodbye (Adapted From “Pavane, M. 19”) is magnificent!

Grannies Schicchi: O mio babbling caro is a timeless soprano classic and Westenra’s is a solid addition to the lineup of interpretations. However, I feel that Westenra doesn’t quite hit the high notes as well as I’ve heard from other artists. That isn’t to say that this rendition is bad, just that I feel it could have been better. 

May It Be/Fellowship Of The Ring is an Enya masterpiece and it really takes courage to cover Enya for her musical prowess is incomparable. Well, Westenra not only covered it, but she covered it incredibly well. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I still prefer the Enya original, but as I listen to Westenra’s interpretation, I don’t find myself wishing that I was listening to Enya. That, in itself, speaks volumes. 

Ave Maria is beautiful. A favourite of mine and while this is the second interpretation of Ave Maria, on this compilation, Westenra doesn’t disappoint as she hits all the high notes, those that I feel she missed on Grannies Schicchi: O mio babbling caro, perfectly.

Now Is The Hour (Po Atarau/Haere Ra) is a song I’m not overly familiar with and while I would have preferred Ave Maria to be the closing track on this compilation, Now Is The Hour is lovely and encourages me to not only listen to The Very Best Of Hayley Westenra again, but also explore her remarkably diverse and enjoyable catalogue of music. 

Overall, Westenra’s River Of Dreams - The Very Best Of is just that; the very best of Hayley Westenra. The recordings, the mixes, the mastering, all leave me in pure amazement as to how a sound so pure can be reproduced with such perfection. Sonically, it is amongst some of the best recordings I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to and it isn’t far-fetched for me to say that I could listen to this masterpiece on repeat indefinitely.

Of course, you too can enjoy this masterful release, if not via the exquisite Apple Music stream, then via the iTunes Store. Alternatively, River Of Dreams: The Very Best Of Hayley Westenra is available on CD.


Buena Vista Social Club – Lost And Found (Album Review)


Buena Vista Social Club – Lost And Found (Album Review)

How do you improve on perfect? 

By releasing a compilation of previously unreleased masterpieces and live performances, that’s how! 

Buena Vista Social Club became a cultural phenomenon when released in 1997 and truthfully if that was the only release that would ever see the light of day, fans the world over would have been satisfied for it is the definition of perfect. That was certainly the case until the release of Lost And Found in 2015. This isn’t just an album of demos or questionable live performances. Lost And Found is an absolute masterpiece that will leave you speechless; it really is that good!

Bruca Manigua (Live) [feat. Ibrahim Ferrer] gets me up on my feet and dancing. It is addictive and like all good Cuban music will have you immediately connect with the rhythm. As a live recording, it is exceptional and the mix is absolutely perfect as the audience is well positioned within the soundstage and when I close my eyes, I can see the players in their specific positions on stage. Astonishingly good!

Macusa (feat. Eliades Ochoa & Compay Segundo) is an exquisite recording that flows beautifully from the live performance of Bruca Manigua. I could listen to Macusa on repeat until the end of time.

Tiene Sabor (feat. Omara Portuondo) shifts the tempo of the album a little, but this is one moment when I really understand the importance of a standing desk, when writing reviews, for I can’t stop moving to the beat. 

Bodas de Oro (feat. Rubén González & Jesús Ramos) is one of my favourite songs on Lost and Found for I adore the brooding, yet upbeat, nature of the brass instrumentation along with the entire musical element. It is a very special composition and one that I simply adore.  

Black Chicken 37 (feat. Orlando López & Angá Díaz) has an incredible rhythm. The layers of music are extraordinary and the depth of the soundstage is so involving that I feel as though I’m the centre of the universe when listening to Black Chicken 37. This is one song I would suggest you turn the volume up on as you won’t be sorry once you’re ensconced in the music.

Habanera (feat. Manuel Mirabal) slows things down a little and while it takes the senses a moment to adjust to the reduced tempo, Habanera is such a smooth and beautiful tune that you’re bound to adore it. I know I do. 

Como Fue (feat. Ibrahim Ferrer) continues the sonic smoothness with a gorgeous vocal that while modern, could have easily been recorded and performed live in the 40s or 50s. Como Fue is timeless and utterly magnificent. 

Guajira en F (feat. Jesús Ramos) gets the body moving again, at a faster tempo, with a very addictive rhythm and vocal styling. Although, the faux ending bothers me as I don’t feel it adds anything of value to the song. 

Quiéreme Mucho (feat. Eliades Ochoa) is a beautiful musical interlude, albeit a short one. 

Pedacito de Papel (feat. Eliades Ochoa) is a solid addition to the album but is nothing to write home about. I feel it is a little bare bone and while that may work for some, the musicality that is there, along with the vocal, is beautiful. It would, however, have been nice to have heard a deeper and more developed soundstage. 

Mami Me Gustó (feat. Ibrahim Ferrer) is essentially an impromptu live jam session that is utterly brilliant. I love it!

Lágrimas Negras (feat. Omara Portuondo) is a Cuban classic, dating back to 1928 when first recorded by Trio Matamoros. The original was brilliant, but this interpretation takes the song to another level that can only be described as spectacular. 

Como Siento Yo (feat. Rubén González) is a lovely piano track but I wouldn’t call it spectacular, it is merely adequate. 

Ruben Sings! (feat. Rubén González) is a really intriguing final track. It, arguably, seems a little out of place and makes me wonder why it was included. Nevertheless, the vocal isn’t off-putting, you do get used to it, and I still feel encouraged to listen to Lost And Found again and stay within Buena Vista Social Club’s incredible catalogue of music. 

Overall, Lost And Found is an exceptional release that should be in everyone’s music collection, especially if you’re interested in World and Cuban music, but particularly if you already have the eponymous album and Buena Vista Social Club At Carnegie Hall. This is also the perfect album to gift a music lover, when you’re unsure of what they already have, as it is exceptionally good, yet there is a high chance that not all music lovers will have this ancillary release.

While this review was based upon the sonically beautiful Apple Music stream, Lost And Found is also available on the iTunes Store and if you prefer owning your music physically, Lost And Found is also available on Vinyl and CD.


'O sole mio (Song Review)


'O sole mio (Song Review)

'O sole mio is one of the most renowned and respected songs in classical music. Written by Giovanni Capurro and Eduardo di Capua in 1898, 'O sole mio has become one of the greatest and most enduring love songs ever penned as well as an unofficial national anthem for Italy. It is, without doubt, a favourite of mine and each time I hear it, in its original Neapolitan tongue, I can’t help but be moved emotionally as the hairs raise on the back of my neck and I feel closer to an inexpressible spiritual self. 

My earliest memories of 'O sole mio was in 1990 following the release of The Three Tenors - In Concert. To this day, I still class this performance as a defining moment in music history. Pavarotti, of course, is most often connected with this song and for good reason, he mastered the song’s intricacies better than anyone else ever had and arguably ever will. The comical oneupmanship that Carreras and Domingo tried to achieve over Pavarotti during the encore is priceless. It is a moment, forever captured between contemporaries, that removed the snobbishness from classical music and ensured the human element remained front and centre. I’m certain there are classical music lovers that will detest this breakdown of discipline within the field, yet it is this defining moment that ensured I would forever have a love of classical music and the tenor vocal.

Over the years there have been countless recordings of this timeless masterpiece. Some well known, others a little more obscure. There are instrumental versions and English language interpretations such as the adequate yet lacklustre Down From His Glory. I must admit, however, that I thoroughly enjoy the use of the melody on It’s Now Or Never. Both Dean Martin’s and Connie Francis’ interpretations are superb, but I find that part of my interest in classical music, especially that which is lyrically based, is that I don’t need to understand the language in order to emotionally connect with a song. Regular readers would note that I’ve never been attracted to the literal meaning and interpretation of lyrics. For some people, they need to understand the lyrics in order to connect with the song. For me, I find that the vocal is akin to an instrument. Truthfully, we shouldn’t judge how others or ourselves choose to appreciate music for it’s subjective and the only thing that really matters is how the music makes us feel. 

While reviewing every possible recording of 'O sole mio would be arguably a lifetime’s work, I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the top 10 renditions ever recorded, from those that I have heard.

Purists will likely want to lynch me with this first recommendation. No, this certainly isn’t your classical interpretation, but this punk cover is brilliantly done and subjectively brings a smile to my face whenever I listen to it.  

I must admit, this rendition is a bit of an odd choice as I didn’t really connect with the pop-styling when I originally heard this recording, but it has a tendency to grow on you and I’ve become rather smitten with it. If it were not for its classical and operatic origins, both this rendition and the one prior would have been perfect interpretations, proving, to me anyway, that sometimes we need to look beyond our preconceived notions of what art is and should be and therefore we should not always limit creativity to specific genres. 

This is a gorgeous rendition with an interesting introduction. Lisa Ono has an exceptionally smooth and adorable vocal and I’m simply blown away with the instrumental aspects of the song. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

This is the first in my list to present the song in its original classical form and Il Volo performs 'O sole mio beautifully with a modern styling that, while similar to the original and most popular renditions, is unique and an absolute pleasure to listen to. 

I love the classical guitar and Michael Marc has given us a rendition that I could listen to on repeat for eternity. He truly makes that guitar sing with so much emotion that lyrics are frankly not needed. Absolutely beautiful!

Mark Vincent’s interpretation is bold and confronting. You’ll stop what you’re doing just to listen to this one as Vincent’s control over his vocal is nothing short of amazing. The musicality, however, has a tendency to get in the way and I personally feel that the instrumental aspect could have been reduced by a decibel or two, thereby allowing Vincent’s vocal to remain prominent throughout. Nevertheless, it is a minor quibble in an otherwise exceptional interpretation.  

Enrico Caruso is arguably the reason why we’re here. His was the first mainstream release, having been released in 1916, and remains as timeless as the song itself. The fact that we have a recording this good, after this long, really amazes me and I only wish that we could have heard Caruso’s vocal in a more recent era when the recording equipment could have adequately captured his entire range. He would have given Pavarotti a run for his money, no doubt! 

Andrea Bocelli is one of my all-time favourite tenors and he did a fantastic job on this interpretation that is only seconded to Pavarotti’s remarkable solo recording of the song. 

As far as modern recordings go, Luciano Pavarotti’s version of 'O sole mio is arguably incomparable. It is a defining moment for the song and one of the greatest recordings Pavarotti ever made. It’s absolutely flawless!

Okay, so perhaps this isn’t the greatest version of the song, as there are some foolhardy antics throughout this live performance, but if a song, and music in general, is to invoke an emotional response, then the Encore from the Three Tenors’ landmark 1989 Concert certainly fulfils that brief. Hence, it is deserving of its place at the top of my list for I can’t help but smile when I watch the concert or listen to the recording. 

Well, dear reader, they’re my top 10 versions of 'O sole mio, what are yours? 


Diesel – Singled Out (Album Review)


Diesel – Singled Out (Album Review)

Diesel (the performance name of Mark Lizotte) may have been born stateside, but us Australian’s call him one of our own. He is for all intents and purposes an Aussie; one of our greatest. I must acknowledge, however, that despite being very familiar with his work, I haven’t owned any of his records. Yes, you read that correctly. Perhaps it was that he was everywhere, constantly on the radio and television, that I didn’t feel the need to collect his albums. Regardless, as I listen to Singled Out, a compilation more so than an album, I’m finding myself singing along, knowing every beat, and reflecting on how these songs sound against their original counterparts. 

Singled Out isn’t your standard compilation, hence why I’ve classed this review as an album review. It is, in fact, an unplugged release with intermingled live tracks from Diesel’s 2004 tour schedule. On paper, that is perhaps a little perplexing as one may wonder how the variation between live and studio reinterpretations impact the flow of the album. Well, it quite frankly doesn’t. The mixing and mastering, as well as the recording of the performances, is superb and therefore ensures the live elements, while present, aren’t overly distractive, resulting in a seamless flow of spectacular music.  

Released only on CD, Singled Out was also re-issued as Greatest Hits Acoustic with a godawful cover. The original cover was perfect and I honestly have no idea why the record label thought it was a good idea to change it. Okay, so perhaps they wanted to boost sales. I get that. But at least put something relating to Diesel on the cover. It is so nondescript that it borders on the mundane and wouldn’t be welcome in any music collection if it weren’t for the exceptional music contained within. Thankfully, when it comes to streaming, Apple Music has the original artwork. Let’s hope that someone at label deleted or burned the alternate 2012 artwork. If they haven’t, and if they’re reading this, do the Australian Music Industry a favour and make sure that the reissued cover never, ever, sees the light of day again. 

Don’t Need Love was the first single from Johnny Diesel And The Injectors (yes, Johnny Diesel is Diesel) and Don’t Need Love is simply a killer tune. The original is brilliant, released in 1988 and achieving top 10 chart success in Australia and New Zealand, but there is something very special about this acoustic rendition that just sounds right. Even if you adore the pop/rock styling of the original, I dare say you’ll be blown away by this rendition. It’s bloody brilliant! 

She Won’t Need Words is absolutely beautiful. 

Everybody’s Talkin’ is a cover of the classic Fred Neil song and while it has been covered by a who’s who of the music industry, Diesel pays homage to the original, all the covers that have come before it, while also ensuring that his interpretation is original and well suited to his musical style. It’s a great song and a really good cover.

Would I Want You has a sensation country twang that I simply adore. It’s one of the best songs on the album and all I can suggest is that you turn the lights down, the volume up, and allow yourself to be consumed by this instrumental masterpiece. 

Tip Of My Tongue was another top 10 hit and I swear every Aussie knows the lyrics to this song. Released originally on Diesel’s debut solo album, Hepfidelity, in 1992 it would go on to become a trademark song and one can understand why as the hook is sensational and the rhythm simply connects perfectly with the soul. As should be clear by now, most of Diesel’s music had an acoustic undertone to begin with so the shift from straight rock to an unplugged sound isn’t a fundamental shift ensuring that Tip Of My Tongue, and all the songs on Singled Out simply feel right. 

One More Time is a great song, but I feel the mix is slightly off with this particular recording as Diesel’s vocal is a little concealed in the mix. There’s also a little too much audience interaction present in the mix and while it’s good to hear the fans enjoying the performance, it does impact the recording and I feel that the song would have been significantly stronger without this element. Nevertheless, it is what it is and it’s still a great song but I much prefer the original album release. There is, however, another acoustic version of the album that was issued in 1993 on Diesel’s The Lobbyist. I like that version better and if you compare it to the interpretation on Singled Out, you’ll notice the earlier acoustic recording has a much better mix.   

Soul Revival is a great song and this rendition is superb; much better than the original in my opinion. 

15 Feet Of Snow is an amazing song and while similar in tempo to Tip Of My Tongue, Diesel takes this acoustic rendition to another level of brilliance. I love the original studio release, but the transition to an acoustic song is remarkable as is Diesel’s vocal presentation. Absolutely amazing and thoroughly captivating.   

Come Around is a great song, perhaps nothing to write home about, but great nonetheless. 

All Come Together is one of my favourite Diesel songs and this unplugged edition is utterly brilliant. 

Darling Of The Universe is a solid song, but if there is a B-side to be found on this release, it is Darling Of The Universe. 

Come To Me is a fantastic song, but I can’t help but feel that there is a little too much ‘fancy’ guitar playing on this acoustic edition that subsequently takes away from the vocal performance. Yes, the original is multilayered, hence requiring ‘fancy’ acoustical elements, but perhaps it was simply one song that didn’t translate well to the unplugged nature of this album. 

Faith And Gasoline is so good. Such a beautiful song. I love it! It’s a shame that the song closes out rather suddenly. Subsequently, I’d have to say that I prefer the original studio recording available on Hear as the ending isn’t quite as abrupt, allowing me to savour the song before the next song begins.

Cry In Shame is arguably Diesel’s most well-known song, released under the Johnny Diesel And The Injectors moniker. Of course, it’s also Diesel’s most confusing vocal for those of us who enjoy karaoke. Seriously, listen to the song and sing along, then try not to sing crying shame, but cry in shame. It’s a challenge! Nevertheless, it is absolutely brilliant and a perfect choice for the closing song on this release as it encourages me to listen to the album again and delve deeper into Diesel’s extensive catalogue. 

Overall, Singled Out is one exceptional release that really showcases just how talented Diesel is when the musicality is stripped back to its bare essentials. It’s quite remarkable to reflect on just how many exceptional songs Diesel has released throughout his career and while he has recorded new music continuously since this release, there is little doubt that this compilation represents some of his very best works. It really is worthy of every music lover’s collection; just make sure you pick up a copy with the original artwork.


Lionel Ritchie – Dancing On The Ceiling (Album Review)


Lionel Ritchie – Dancing On The Ceiling (Album Review)

The 80s were in full swing by the time Lionel Richie’s third solo album, following his exceptional Can’t Slow Down, was released in 1986, yet nothing about Dancing On The Ceiling sounds locked to the era as the album remains as fresh today as the day it was released. 

Dancing On The Ceiling is a great opener, although I would have preferred it without the non-musical intro as the song gets straight into the synthesised beat that is incredibly addictive. Without a doubt, you’ll find me dancing and singing along to this track when no one is watching. If only I could somehow manage to dance on the ceiling! 

Released as the first single from the album, Dancing On The Ceiling performed well in the charts, reaching the Top 10 in most regions, and while the music video is delivered in a classic cringeworthy 80s-style, there’s something strangely compelling about it that makes you want to watch it over and over again. 

Se La has a killer reggae style and you would be forgiven if you hear a little Bob Marley in this track. That said, it is perfectly suited to Richie and is a very enjoyable song to listen to, especially if you enjoy reggae music. It’s certainly one of my favourite songs on the album.

Ballerina Girl is one of Richie’s most beautiful songs. Penned by himself, for his adopted daughter Nicole, you can’t help but be moved as you listen to Richie’s smooth tones and the love he has in his heart. This is one time when the literal meaning of a song comes to the forefront of consciousness and captivates my soul. It’s one of my favourite Lionel Richie songs by far. I’d love to see him do a concert with a symphony orchestra backing as this song, in particular, would be extraordinary. 

Don’t Stop has a great rhythm, once you get over the shock from the smooth and relaxing Ballerina Girl of course. Seriously, it is perhaps one of the worst cases of bad tracking I’ve ever come across. Especially considering it is the last song on Side A of the vinyl release. All I can think is that Deep River Woman would have been the perfect closer for the first side and would have flowed beautifully from Ballerina Girl. While Don’t Stop isn’t necessarily bad, it isn’t good either as it’s too long and just doesn’t fit, sonically, well on Dancing On The Ceiling. As a song on its own, I can see the appeal. Perhaps it should have been a B-side to one of the singles or left off the album completely. Nevertheless, it is part of the album and while I have mixed feelings about it, I also acknowledge that Dancing On The Ceiling wouldn’t sound the same without it. 

Deep River Woman is a gorgeous tune that really strips down the musicality and allows Richie’s extraordinary vocal presentation to be the focus of the song. I also find the inclusion of the country and southern rock band, Alabama, on backing vocals is the ultimate addition to the album and truly makes the song something greater than the sum of its parts. Similar, in many cases, to the interweaving harmony that made the Eagles so successful. Sadly, however, Deep River Woman failed to chart successfully. That, alone, perplexes me and makes me think that I’ll never truly understand the likes and dislikes of mainstream music audiences. 

Richie would later re-record the song with Little Big Town on his reimagined country-styled compilation album Tuskegee. It’s a great rendition, but nothing beats the original in my opinion.   

Love Will Conquer All is an incredible song. That intermingling vocal harmony in the chorus. That rhythm. It really is the complete package and Marva King takes Love Will Conquer All to another level with some absolutely gorgeous backing vocals. Absolutely brilliant!

Tonight Will Be Alright is a solid B-side. Nothing to write home about, but enjoyable. I would like to have heard this sung in a Neil Diamond style; in fact, I’d love to hear Neil Diamond cover it. That said, I just feel it needed a little more spit and polish in order to really blow my mind.  

Say You, Say Me is the song. It needs no introduction and nothing really needs to be said about it other than it’s utterly perfect. 

The reimagined version, as found on Tuskegee, doesn’t have the vocal or musical prowess as heard in the original and while it is good, the original is beyond reproach. 

Night Train (Smooth Alligator) gives me a feeling of déjà vu. Oh, that’s right, Side A had a questionable closing song as well. That said, the original vinyl releases omitted this song with it only appearing on the cassette and CD releases. Unfortunately, the latest vinyl reissues do include this ninth song and it has ruined the ending of Dancing On The Ceiling in my opinion. Hence, as much as I’d like to pick up a vinyl reissue of the album, I won’t be as long as they continue putting Night Train (Smooth Alligator) on the vinyl pressing. Look, it isn’t a bad song but Say You, Say Me was the perfect closer and if this song was to be included, it should have been done so before Say You, Say Me. Unfortunately, adding additional tracks was a thing that was done at the time. The only time I’ve come across a bonus track, that I wished was on the original cassette or vinyl release, was Michael Jackson’s Leave Me Alone; a song only initially available on the CD release of Bad

Despite this questionable closer, Dancing On The Ceiling is, without a doubt, one of the greatest R&B/Soul/Pop albums of the 80s and is arguably the very best work of Richie’s career. Yes, I love Can’t Slow Down as well, but I find Dancing On The Ceiling to be more fulfilling as a piece of musical art. I also find that I gravitate towards it more frequently and when I play Dancing On The Ceiling, it’s guaranteed to be played on repeat for hours.

Dancing On The Ceiling thankfully remains easily accessible, being available on Apple Music (Original | 2003 Reissue) and the iTunes Store (Original | 2003 Reissue). If you prefer physical media, you can pick up the 2003 extended reissue on CD or the standard nine-track vinyl reissue.


The James Valentine Quartet – As I Live And Breathe (Album Review)


The James Valentine Quartet – As I Live And Breathe (Album Review)

Nothing pleases me more than sitting down with a good book, a coffee, and some smooth jazz playing in the background. While the coffee was black and the book was Yuval Noah Harari’s exceptional 21 Lessons For The 21st Century, the musical accompaniment was provided by The James Valentine Quarter’s As I Live And Breathe

As I Live And Breathe is an interesting addition to jazz music in general, but also the Australian Jazz scene, as James Valentine and his jazzy cohorts don’t merely interpret the jazz classics of yesteryear, they reinterpret many popular modern songs that results in an extremely compelling recording that all jazz lovers should not only adore but should have in their collection. 

Released by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)/Universal Music Australia in 2014, international readers may find it difficult to locate a copy as it wasn’t released physically outside of Australia. However, thanks to the modern era of streaming, As I Live And Breathe is available just about everywhere. Of course, if you’d prefer to own the album, rather than stream it, iTunes has you covered. For me, however, the Apple Music stream is simply beautiful. Join me as we explore the individual song selections and interpretations that make up The James Valentine Quarter’s As I Live And Breathe.

Both Sides Now is a lovely interpretation of the Joni Mitchell song and is a perfect opener for As I Live And Breathe. However, I can’t help but feel that this interpretation is a little too clinical and I would have liked to have heard a little more improvisation throughout, along with a slightly more immersive soundstage. While it is lovely, it just sounds a little too polite.

Wonderwall will get you toe-tapping and moving to the rhythm. A great song when originally released by Oasis in 1995 and this interpretation is magnificent.

Great Southern Land is an Australian classic and is one of my all-time favourite songs, by a band that I have been a fan of for well over three decades. The critical bar is subsequently set high, but it need not have been as this rendition is absolutely stunning from start to finish. Vilma Sanzone does an amazing job on vocals and subsequently, this rendition becomes one of the greatest songs on the album and one of the greatest jazz interpretations I have ever heard. Fantastic!

Something is, and always has been, a beautiful song. It is amazing how well it translates to a jazz styling and perhaps that is the sign of a good song; one that can go beyond its initial musical genre and sound as though it was originally composed with the new genre in mind. All I have left to say about Something is turn up the volume and be immersed in an absolutely incredible jazz interpretation that will leave you speechless. 

That’s Where It’s At is a great tune and while I associate it with Sam Cooke, this rendition modernises the song and Robert Susz does an incredible job on vocals. The musicality is equally compelling, paying homage to the original, while also making it more appealing than the original in my opinion. 

Tear Drop is an amazing piece. The depth of the soundstage is massive. I absolutely adore the song and this reinterpretation of the Massive Attack original is beyond reproach. 

Checking On My Baby is a song, originally recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson, that I’m not overly familiar with, although it’s worthy of inclusion and As I Live And Breathe wouldn’t be the same without it. Still, I can’t help but wonder about the song’s placement in the album structure as it is a rather sharp shift following Tear Drop, which can be, at least initially, a little jarring on the senses. 

Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover is a solid tune and interpretation, from the Paul Simon original, but is arguably nothing to write home about. 

Something So Strong is a Crowded House masterpiece and while this re-interpretation is lovely, it doesn’t come close to the original. That said, it isn’t bad. It’s just that the original is so good!

Rocket Man, as I’ve mentioned before, was foundational to Elton John’s classic era and it’s a song that everyone knows. You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have heard it. Regardless, this reinterpretation is quite different in places, while remaining true to the original John/Taupin collaboration. It is fresh, yet different enough that in parts you can’t hear a direct correlation between this rendition and the original. It is, interesting!

Is This Love is a love song to Bob Marley & The Wailers. It’s absolutely beautiful. Reminiscent of the original, yet completely unique. Is This Love is a perfect way to close the album and without a doubt, it encourages me to listen to As I Live And Breathe again. 

Overall, As I Live And Breathe is an exceptional release and my only criticism is that the interpretations, on a couple of the songs, sounded a little too perfect and less jam-based than I would like. For me, jazz is about interpretation, which The James Valentine Quartet nails, and the unpredictable jam session that shifts organically throughout the various movements. Well, there are times when I feel The James Valentine Quartet practiced a little too much and the organic human element is subsequently lost. Of course, the upside is that if you enjoy jazz, but don’t like the chaotic shifting characteristics of the genre, this is most certainly an album for you. Regardless, there is something here for every jazz, rock, and pop devotee to enjoy. 


Morgan James – Hunter (Album Review)


Morgan James – Hunter (Album Review)

Who is Morgan James? I didn’t have a clue until the Apple Music algorithm suggested the album, Hunter, following a listening session that included Prince’s incredible ART OFFICIAL AGE. Yes, I was captivated by the cover art, but I was ultimately drawn into the musicality and vocal prowess of Morgan James. 

With regards to the cover art, the album artwork presented in this review is from the reissued release as the original CD pressings featured James in a striking black and white pose. Despite this variation, both covers are beautiful and it’s a shame that Hunter has only ever been released on CD as its design is screaming to be seen on a larger canvas. I should also mention that while the digital non-Mastered for iTunes edition sounds remarkably good, I can only imagine just how good Hunter would sound on vinyl. While digital music can sound warm and full, it’s unfortunately not always the case as it can also sound cold and shrill. Thankfully, this is one recording that takes sonic reproduction to another level. You’ll feel compelled to turn the volume up and at no time does the soundstage distort or sound hollow. It’s recorded, mixed, and mastered perfectly and the musical performance is simply exceptional, as is James’ vocal prowess; a vocalist that blows my mind.

Call My Name gives you an insight as to what to expect from the entire album. The rhythm is beautifully recorded and James’ silky vocal will captivate your soul. Of course, Call My Name is a cover of the Prince original, and as much as I adore Prince’s version, I’m left speechless by this interpretation. This is one song, and album, where I would strongly suggest turning the lights down and the volume up as you experience your own personal mind-blowing performance as James and the band are transported directly to your lounge room. Absolutely amazing!

The music video doesn’t, in my opinion, suit the musicality and style of the song. It’s a missed opportunity and unless you enjoy music via music videos, you’ll likely watch it a single time and never watch it again as it’s largely forgettable. A shame considering just how enjoyable the song is.

Hunter continues the captivating Jazz meets Soul meets R&B sound; a style that I truly adore and reminds me fondly of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Hunter is sensational and while I was unsure of the album being named after this song, there is little wonder why as the song is off-the-charts and it’s a recording that you simply have to hear to believe. 

Heart Shake continues the upbeat nature often associated with soul music. Heart Shake has a killer hook and if you’re not moving to the rhythm and singing along after the first listen, you’re listening to the album wrong. 

Bring Yourself To Me maintains the tempo, but isn’t quite as strong as the previous tracks on the album. That said, Bring Yourself To Me is what I would class as classic R&B and if you’re partial to that style of music, you’re going to love this song. As for me, I’d likely refer to this song as a B-side. Not bad, but nothing to write home about.

I Want You has an exceptionally deep bass element that will reach directly into your soul. While some may consider it to be bass heavy, I prefer a little bass in my music and therefore I consider it to be absolutely perfect as there is no distortion to be heard and James’ beautiful vocal can be heard clearly as the soundstage hasn’t been completely crushed in the mastering process. That said, some of the musical elements do get a little lost in the mix, but it is nothing compared to most modern recordings that have this music lover scratching his head trying to figure out what, if any, musical instrument was used in the recording of a song. That aside, just listen to that fade out. They don’t make them like that anymore. I love it!

I Don’t Speak You maintains a relatively deep bass element, but I must admit that I find it a little distracting and it would be nice if it was dialled back a couple of decibels as I really want to hear James’ vocal unrestricted by the instrumentation. A solid song, nevertheless. 

You Never Lied is absolutely beautiful. 

Say The Words really focuses on James’ vocal and the term magnificent simply doesn’t begin to describe just how incredible this recording is. Seriously, take a listen, you’ll be blown away. James has, without doubt, one of the most beautiful female vocals I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear.  

The Sweetest Sound really showcases James’ vocal dexterity. Absolutely magical! Although, the ending is too abrupt, it really needed to be faded out rather than ending suddenly. Drown, therefore, takes a little adjustment to get used to as it starts very closely to the end of The Sweetest Sound and the mind is initially unsure how to handle the change. Once the jolt is past and the mind settles into the music, Drown is quite enjoyable. 

Fed Up On You picks up the pace with a jazzy original tune that reminds me of Aretha Franklin. Subsequently, I thoroughly enjoy it and the rhythm is sure to get you moving. 

She’s Gone is an incredible composition with a sound stage that is so dynamic that upon each listen, you’ll be hearing elements that you had never heard before. A great song!

Dancing In The Dark is a cover of the Springsteen classic and while nobody does it better than The Boss, James comes hauntingly close as her rendition is a magnificent homage to the original while ensuring it sounds unique; not an easy task considering how popular Dancing In The Dark has been for Springsteen. It takes courage to cover a song like this on a debut and James should be applauded for not only attempting it, but nailing it. 

Let Me Keep You (feat. Robert Glasper) is an incredible closing song. It compels me to listen to Hunter again and explore James’ growing catalogue. That said, to be completely honest, I’ve yet to listen to any of her other albums. I was so captivated by Hunter that I felt compelled to immediately pen a review. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does you know you’re listening to something very special. Let Me Keep You is most certainly one of those rare special songs and if you had any doubts while listening to Hunter, with regards to James’ musical ability, Let Me Keep You will silence those doubts for it is one of the greatest songs on the album and fades out so elegantly that you’ll likely be lost for words. It, really, is that good!

Overall, Hunter is an album that goes beyond the status of a debut. Yes, James released a live homage to Nina Simone some two years earlier, Morgan James Live, From Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola – A Celebration Of Nina Simone, but this remains the first studio album with a mix of original and cover songs that will captivate you from the very first note to the very last. Yes, Hunter may have been released in 2014, but it is thus far the best album that I’ve heard this year. Absolutely exceptional!