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

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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

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Lionel Ritchie – Dancing On The Ceiling (Album Review)

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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.

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Morgan James – Hunter (Album Review)

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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!

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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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