Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Parlophone 87553
Format: CD

Musical Performance ***1/2
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

ColdplaySustained success is not a common story in the music industry, and for each multi-platinum artist there are scores of performers who achieve brief notoriety before resuming their places in obscurity. The British band Coldplay is decidedly in the former category, and their fifth studio album, Mylo Xyloto, was something I’d been looking forward to all year. While the album’s character remains classic Coldplay, showcasing Chris Martin’s singular voice, the rest is filtered through the lens of Brian Eno, producer of the band’s last album, several U2 albums, and an artist in his own right whose list of ambient electronic works begins in the 1970s. Eno brings that background in ambient music to bear here, with almost every song playfully exploring different types of sound and space. This lends the disc a lingering, ethereal quality that sets it apart from other contemporary music.

"Paradise" and "Princess of China," the latter featuring Rihanna, are replete with radio-friendly lyrical repetition that makes for easy foot tapping without ever really challenging convention. "Hurts Like Heaven" and "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall" both adopt a quick tempo and an upbeat demeanor that are pleasing to the ear, while "Don’t Let It Break Your Heart" highlights Eno’s production presence in a song that would sound suspiciously at home on a U2 record. Mylo Xyloto deviates from the mainstream without straying so far as to break new ground. But despite the lack of creative initiative present, Martin’s trademark voice continues to impart an infectious joy that ensures that most fans won’t be disappointed with Coldplay’s latest effort.

Eagle Vision/Reelin’ in the Years Productions EV303769
Format: DVD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality ***
Picture Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

The HolliesLook Through Any Window 1963-1975 gave me a chance to reassess a group I’ve always liked but, it turns out, didn’t really know. The Hollies had a good ear for songs to cover before they wrote their own series of great songs in the 1960s and sang them in beautiful harmonies. Allan Clarke and Graham Nash blended their voices in the manner of two of their heroes, the Everly Brothers, but when guitarist Tony Hicks added his voice, the group soared. After watching the DVD, I realized that the Hollies were also very strong instrumentalists, especially Hicks, who wove his complex guitar parts into the fabric of the songs. This documentary follows the group’s history, musical development, and changes, and includes some revealing footage of the band as it records "On a Carousel" in Abbey Road Studios in 1967. Nash, Clarke, Hicks, and Bobby Elliott tell their stories engagingly, and along the way there are performances from throughout their career, including some pioneering music videos. The sound quality varies -- some of the TV footage goes back to 1963 -- but none of the recordings is unlistenable, and some are quite good. The DVD gives you the option to watch all the performances without the interviews, and the accompanying booklet contains informative notes by Ben Fong-Torres. This DVD is a worthy addition to Reelin’ in the Years’ excellent DVD series on the British Invasion.

GotMusic GMR 002
Format: CD

Musical Performance ***1/2
Sound Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***

Doug Munro and La Pompe AttackDoug Munro is a New York-based guitarist who has made 11 albums as leader and 60 as a sideman. For this holiday outing he chose to re-create one of his favorite sounds: that of Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France. His coconspirators on all tracks are guitarist Ernie Pugliese and bassist Michael Goetz. Guests on various tracks are Cyrille-Aimée Daudel, vocals; Ken Peplowski, clarinet; and Howie Bujese, violin. The group swings its way, Reinhardt style, through 15 popular and religious tracks. Hewing to the style, they swing "We Three Kings" just as much as they do Leroy Anderson’s "Sleigh Ride." Though all the performances are enjoyable, the bar rises when Peplowski is featured. Just listen to his effortless improvising in "Sleigh Ride" or "Walking in a Winter Wonderland." The style comes to him as if he were born to it. Bujese’s violin is a little rough and ready, though always in tune and on the beat, while Daudel’s adroit singing adds color. The sound seems sort of flat, with a lack of soundstage depth -- sort of like movie-theater sonics -- but you’ll get so caught up in the swing of things that you probably won’t mind too much.

Self-published
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Chris BauerI’d never heard a program of holiday tunes featuring the harmonica, and had never heard of Chris Bauer, and both introductions proved most enjoyable and appealing. Bauer, exclusively playing Seydel harmonicas, produces a warm, vibrant sound that never degenerates into caricature, as solos for his instrument often can. He has a great feeling for the melodic line, and can make you listen to favorites like "Winter Wonderland" and "Let It Snow" without missing the words. The other members of his quintet -- guitarist Chris Ziemer, pianist Glenn McClelland, bassist Matt Parrish, and drummer Dave Mohn -- are all solid players who add color and swing to these arrangements of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "We Three Kings," "Frosty the Snowman," and "My Favorite Things." The only doubtful cuts are the last two: "Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town," where the vocal by producer Rob Paparozzi seems out of place; and "Ave Maria," where the right channel distorts uncomfortably. The sound on the rest of the disc is close and warm, musicians and microphones hitting exactly the right groove.

The Windmills of Your MindWinter & Winter 910 182-2
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

 

"The Windmills of Your Mind," a tune by Michel Legrand with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, first appeared in the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair, where Noel Harrison sang it. Somehow Paul Motian, with the aid of Bill Frisell on guitar, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Petra Haden on vocals, has found something mysterious and even magical in a song I’ve always found stodgy. It’s the title track on the drummer’s newest addition to his extensive discography as a leader, and it shows him, even at 80, challenging himself.

West coast hip-hop, quirky alt-rock, and a bit of angelic folk have been keeping unlikely company in my rotation of late. And while these artists have nothing in common, they’re worthy listens if you’re looking for some select new tunes to close out the year.

FirewireLateef the Truthspeaker prepares to release his first solo effort, Firewire (CD, Quannum Projects QP93), on November 8, 2011. A prolific collaborator in the West Coast underground hip-hop scene, Lateef co-founded the artists’ collective and independent record label Quannum Projects (which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2012), as well as several successful Oakland/Bay-area rap groups including Latyrx and the Mighty Underdogs. His lyrical prowess, combined with a willingness to tackle subjects of societal injustice, has earned him a reputation as one of the best rappers today. Born Lateef K. Daumont in Oakland, CA, in 1974, he was raised by his parents, who were both members of the Black Panther movement. Firewire is his first album released independently rather than as part of a collaborative project, but that doesn’t mean it’s a one-man show. He invites old and new friends to contribute, giving the album a beefy roll call that includes DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born, Chief Xcel, Dan the Automator, and Headnodic among others. Most of the album’s tracks feature different producers, lending a unique sound and flavor to each song. The opener, "Let’s Get Up" (produced by Chief Xcel) is an energetic embarkation and gives the album good thrust right out of the gate. "Hardships" examines how politics and inequity affect the poor, and it laments the current US economic hardships of the many due to the gross exploitation of the system perpetrated by the few. It’s a potentially perfect anthem for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The songs range widely from pop and jungle-mystique to R&B and island jams, but throughout the album Lateef’s rhymes address intelligent themes and are delivered with unparalleled alacrity and skill. Firewire celebrates the past accomplishments of Lateef the Truthspeaker and his collaborative nature, and it ushers in his next era of quality music making under his solo guise -- this is truly hip-hop to be reckoned with.

DiscoveriesSteel Bird Music SBM006
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

 

Discoveries is jazz pianist Josh Nelson’s fifth disc as a leader, and he’s played as a sideman on more than 30 other recordings. Now that he’s 32, it’s probably time to stop attaching the word young to him, but it might be premature to start calling him a veteran. Still, he’s very confident on Discoveries,with the compositions and arrangements showing increased originality over his previous recordings. Nelson cites writers Jules Verne and H.G. Wells as influences, along with Speak Like a Child and The Prisoner, Herbie Hancock’s late-1960s recordings for Blue Note.As with all those works, Discoveries evokes the past while anticipating the future.

Café BluePremonition Records 90760-1
Format: LP (reissue)

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment *****

 

Patricia Barber’s third release, Café Blue, was her 1994 breakthrough, a critics’ favorite that helped the singer/pianist develop a strong following. This vinyl reissue is, by my count, the third appearance of Café Blue on disc. Jim Anderson, the original engineer, remixed this two-LP/33 1/3rpm set at Capitol Studios in Hollywood; Bob Ludwig remastered it; and Doug Sax cut the lacquers for pressing by RTI. Anderson had already taken great care with the recording, but he was eager to use Capitol’s tools, both old and new, to tweak it. I compared this pressing with the MFSL Hybrid SACD, and the difference on "What a Shame" was immediate and dramatic. The heavy reverb that surrounds Barber’s voice and, to some extent, the other instruments on the earlier disc is much reduced on this LP. Her voice now has just a hint of reverb and sounds more natural, which gives the other instruments more space to breathe. At first I thought I preferred the older mix on "The Thrill Is Gone," but after a few listens I liked the new version much more. It pulls the bass back just enough to let it flow better with the music and gives Barber’s voice more focus. Fans may go back and forth between their earlier CD/SACD or LP and this new one, especially since the songs are in a different sequence, but they won’t want to miss this reissue.

. . . Joseph Taylor
josepht@soundstagenetwork.com

Self released
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Fluteus MaximusWhen I was in college, Herbie Mann was a big part of the music scene. His version of Memphis blues crossed boundaries to successfully mix soul, pop, and jazz, and just about everyone could enjoy it. When I played this new album by flutist Mindy Canter, it popped the cork on a lot of happy memories. Though classically trained, Canter visits the same eclectic mix that Mann pursued. In fact, she plays some tunes closely associated with Mann, such as "Do It Again" and "Watermelon Man." A virtuoso herself, Canter has a backing group that grooves right along with her, heart and soul. Guitarist Denny Geyer stands out, and not just for his rich and vibrant guitar tracks. He proves to be a fine blues singer on "High Heel Sneakers," "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Hallelujah," and the old Tennessee Ernie Ford hit "16 Tons." The album closes with songs that work but might seem to some like strange bedfellows to the others on the disc -- "Over the Rainbow," featuring a Latin beat, and "Happy Trails," which features a flutist’s idea of a "lonesome wail." To cash in on the funk aspect of the disc, Canter overdubs some amazing Hammond B3 tracks that are perfectly recorded, always audible, and never unduly spotlighted. The other instruments are just as well recorded; Paul Smith’s bass is rich and full, providing terrific impetus to every track. To preserve spontaneity, the group recorded one take of each song in a four-hour session. I’d be up for a second volume and maybe a spin-off disc featuring Geyer as vocalist.

429 Records FTN 17832
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Dedicated When Steve Cropper first heard "Think" by the "5" Royales, he must have thought, "Man, that’s what I want to sound like." The R&B group was at its peak for roughly ten years beginning in 1952, and Lowman Pauling was its guitarist and principal songwriter. His simple, clean, and powerful guitar style was a prime influence on Cropper’s work, and Cropper pays tribute to him and the group on Dedicated. He and producer Jon Tiven get help from a variety of singers, including Steve Winwood, Bettye LaVette, Sharon Jones, and Lucinda Williams. Williams is mannered and overwrought on "Dedicated to the One I Love," but she does a nice, restrained turn on "When I Get Like This." Blues Traveler’s John Popper is excellent on "My Sugar Sugar," but the high points belong to LaVette and Willie Jones on "Don’t Be Ashamed" and Sharon Jones on "Messin’ Up." The band includes Muscle Shoals stalwarts Spooner Oldham and David Hood, and the horn arrangements by Cropper, Tiven, and Neal Sugarman are true to the "5" Royales’ original ’50s sound. Cropper, who’s outstanding throughout, proves that it isn’t how many notes you play; it’s how you play them. Dan Penn, who does a beautiful vocal on "Someone Made You for Me," engineered the recording in his own studio, and the sound is as vintage as digital can get.