I hope to do complete album reviews sometime...
7.5-8.5 Very Good
|I'm not really sure how to factor in sound quality, because, clearly, I like some albums a lot more than others because of their fantastic sound. For some, like Julia Fordham's, the sound is not up to par, which makes me wonder about what could have been. Albums with superb sound have a red star , albums with poor sound will have a black star.|
|Without the Fanfare||6.5|
|By the Time it gets Dark||7.5|
|Babes in the Woods||8.5|
|The Holy Ground||8.0|
So she's not a singer-songwriter; I still like her albums a lot. They nice to listen to though I can't really single out any particularly brilliant songs. Songs with minimal accompaniment such as "Thorn upon the Rose", "Song for Ireland" (piano), "Holy Ground" (guitar) are very appealing pieces. Maybe thats because the recording quality of the other busier tracks left something to be desired. Her vocals are well recorded, but the music seems a bit lifeless and muddy. Additionally, I've heard better pianos elsewhere. Perhaps its the result of overdubbing or just that recording technology in Ireland is a few years behind that of the US. I hope I'm not sounding too hard on these basically superb albums, but I think anything recorded after 1987 should be compared to Famous Blue Raincoat, which is after all, a 1987 recording. But so far, only Holy Ground and (later)which is a 1993 albums, matches the quality of FBR. Still, her albums, particularly No Frontiers or Babes in the Wood, can in found in the CD collections of many audiophiles,Hi-Fi stores & Hi-Fi manufacturers; additionally, Japanese pressings of these CDs have also been released (I think they have a bonus track) and despite being Aluminium, they cost more than Chesky Gold CDs. These Japanese audiophiles must be one wacky bunch. Anyway, its all a testament to the fact that the music matters more than the sound quality.
|Thorn Upon the Rose||Ok, so its a mushy sort of song with vocals and piano. Buts when its this well done, can you blame me for feeling warm and fuzzy when I listen to it?|
|Song for Ireland||Singing a song about summer sunsets with piano accompaniment, (Imagine the sibilance), the song evokes vivid images of Ireland and the sea. Her voice really soars in this one, provided you have a decent system. Its an older AAD recording, yet curiously her voice sounds better & less muffled than on No Frontiers. duh. I'm not sure why they didn't retain this sound for her later recordings. Maybe because it sounds a bit too harsh and sibilant on lousy Hi-fi?|
|Holy Ground||Vocals with piano this time, this 1993 recording should be what all her earlier albums should sound like.|
|Live at the Rainbow & Stars||8.0|
The 2 must-have albums must be Dreaming and Midnight Matinee. Dreaming hardly needs any introduction as it took the hi-fi world by storm when it was first released as a gold CD. It is to be eternal regret that I didn't get it then, as currently, I can't find the gold version -- its a Hong Kong pressing. I might have to content myself with the normal version. Anyway, I think I've heard Dreaming often enough in Hi-Fi demo rooms to say that it is a superb album. Midnight Matinee is just as wonderful. Of course, Dreaming is sonically superior even though its a 1986 recording! Well, at least in terms of the richness of Amanda's voice, pretty amazing. Also, in Midnight Matinee theres quite a bit of noise from the mike, coupled with the noises you here from Amanda singing closed-miked. Don't get me wrong though, its still superbly recorded. Compare this to the limitations of the Sheffield Labs 1996 remaster "Amanda" (a gold disc), comprising 12 of her old songs. Her voice has that rich and warm sound that Midnight Matinee lacks, but theres so much hiss. "The Rose", her most famous song I suppose, is a mainly quiet piano/vocals piece. Yet, I've learnt to live with the hiss, it doesn't distract me now from what must be one of the best singles of female vocals ever recorded. Yes its that good. Buy the entire disc just for this rendition of "The Rose", the one in Dreaming has too much synthesisers, & the one in the live album has too 2-dimensional souding. 1986, a time when synthesisers (and Fender Rhodes pianos) were new and novel things. Speaking of which, the live album is real fun as it records her chatting with the crowd and reveals her sense of humour. Great DDD recording as well, and wow, it clocks in at 60:50 (including her banter).
|Days of Open Hand||6.5|
|Nine Objects of Desire|
If Joni Mitchell invented neo-folk, Suzanne Vega was the one who revived it. Bursting into prominence with her pop-sounding "Luka", the little ditty "Tom's Diner", and "Left of Centre" which was in the soundtrack of Pretty in Pink, she introduced the rest of the world to the Greenwich Village folk scene. Her voice is very unique and ethereal in quality; it draws you in and hypnotises you. As an introduction to her music, I strongly recommend her first album, it doesn't have the slick production values of the later albums, but its clearly a diamond in the rough. Its filled with brilliant songs such as "Marlene on the Wall" and "The Queen and the Soldier". Days of Open Hand is probably her weakest album; that she plays the Fairlight CMI ['Computer Music Instrument' or something like that - shudder] on some of the tracks might point towards the reason for its weakness -- a departure from her acoustic roots in search of a sort of Philip-Glass like sound. Suzanne stated that she wanted to leave the mushy love songs from Solitude Standing behind her, and she finally did this successfully in 99.9F. With improved sound quality, the listener gets to hear the uniqueness of her voice and the subtle inflections that weren't as clear on the earlier albums. In addition, I like 99.9F because of its relatively sparse musical accompaniment which lets her voice cut through more clearly. I do not like the wall-of-sound approach to making singles. If theres a space created because the piano is not playing, you do not have to stuff some synthesised strings or whatever to fill it up. Exceptions exist, of course. In fast, noisy numbers like "Heroes Go Down", also in 99.9F, are so brilliantly arranged that her voice never gets crowded out by the music.
|The Queen and the Soldier||A lovely story/poem written and sung by her.|
|Marlene on the Wall||A song inspired by Marlene Dietrich, I would classify it as an enigmatic love song, and typically Suzanne Vega.|
|Heroes Go Down||Sure shes a folksie, but can she swing? Sure she can. A fun and energetic song compressed into 2 minutes of solid music.|
|Luka||Well, I had to mention this, right? A big hit for her, she appeared on the Grammys to sing it in Spanish. Anyway, check out Shawn Colvin's backing vocals. When A record review stated that Shawn was the backup singer on Luka, I knew immediately which voice they were referring to, so outstanding is Shawn's voice.|
|Equal Scary People|
I only have Shortstop and Necessary Angels, and on a head to head I think that Shortstop wins out. It should be the first Sara Hickman album you buy. Necessary Angels sounds more like an intelligent pop album, whereas Shortstop evinces more folkish roots, and contains 2 of my favourite songs. Recording-wise, maybe its the simpler, less noisy music, but Shortstop sounds better than Necessary Angels overall. Granted that the acoustic guitars in Necessary Angels appear to have more "bite", its not enough to compensate for the fact that it all sounds quite muddy, perhaps a result of overdubbing, excessive reverb, and all the annoying things that you find in pop albums. Her voice isn't really allowed to shine in the later album.
|In the Fields||This track sounds awesome on great Hi-Fi. Singing about love and seperation with a tiny touch of humour, its a musical tour de force. It alternates between soft and louder movements, almost whispered lines to full-bodied singing of the chorus. The instruments are placed superbly with the guitars clearly defined on the listeners left hand side. The percussion on the right doesn't have that much to do, so the recording might seem a bit slanted to the left, but if thats the way it is, thats the way you should hear it. The recording is clear and not at all harsh, with individual instruments discernable. Amazing. These Americans really know how to get good sound.|
|ShortStop||Another delightful track. Listen to the wonderful clarinet -- an interesting change from the standard saxophone, the hose whirled about the head, and the cello. The lyrics are delightful. Its a simple circle, beginning with the her noticing the light filtering through the trees and ending through the light fading from her sister's eyes (I'm guessing).|
|The New York Girl's Club||9.0|
I was also pleasantly suprised that despite being a gold disc, it was almost the same price as the normal disc. Anyway, whatever the price, The Raven has to be one of the best discs of this genre out there. She has a sweet voice with a subtle expressiveness to it. Its definitely not one of those disembodied voices with bad diction. With a voice like that, she could be very successful just releasing covers, but I'm glad she writes her own songs.
Anyway, all the songs on the album are gems. The songs were written by her in collaboration with her husband, except for the cover of "Spanish Harlem". The soundstaging, the volume balance, and the imaging all contribute to make this one of the best studio-recorded albums around.
Her follow-up album, the New York Girls Club, is almost as good. But maybe thats because the first album dealt with lighter, mushier, subject matter that makes for pleasant sounding music. For the second album, you have to think a little. At least she has the ability to move beyond mushy love songs. Her competence in songwriting is never in doubt, and there aren't any duds, but shes outclassed in this area by the rest. Yet, thanks to her supporting musicians, her songs as a total musical package are something special.
|Kalerka||As the first track, this song establishes the feel of the sound: light, sweet, jazzy vocals. She sings about journeying and arriving and asks plaintively: |
Were you with us at the crossing
|Seven Hours||Her version of a familiar theme which I like a lot. Listen to her voice in the opening and listen to the details in that beautiful voice, including the slight, subtle strain. This is then followed by some superb guitar and percussion. As in all the tracks, you can imagine her present in the room.|
|A Few Small Repairs||9.5|
If life were not unfortunate
And reason blew like
Summer through the trees
I would stop to let you catch me
But I would think that you would find me on my knees
The sound quality of all the albums is extremely high throughout, but special mention must be made of the album "Cover Girl", which contains several tracks with the "tingle" factor. They're live recordings where basically its her and the guitar with minimal accompaniment. Her voice cuts through the silence like a knife as it soars from a whispered "I'm O.K." to the highs of the chorus. Hi-fi systems that cannot adequately deal with sibilance will have a problem though. Theres lots of low level detail to be found on the live tracks. Its just amazing what these microphones can pick up, though you have to listen hard. Also, the sound of silence in these tracks is simply amazing. Its not exactly silent of course, as there are always tiny echoes in a small hall.
|Under the Pink||7.0|
|Boys for Pele||7.0|
A classical pianist turned pop star, Tori Amos for some reason has a huge following of teenaged girls. Maybe she's just a brilliant live performer. When it comes to songwriting, she's no slouch either. When I first heard her, I immediately thought of the queen of sublime songwriting, Kate Bush. But she's no imitator, having through 3 successful albums marked out her own path. Furthermore, in all the albums, the good recording allows her voice to shine. Her voice to fixed solidly in the centre of the soundstage with an almost palpable presence. In many of her closed-miked songs, you can lose your eyes and imagine she's in front of you. She favours Bösendorfer's, and she does play the piano well; but I just wonder why the recording loses the characteristic tone of the Bösendorfer's (which I think is slightly less bright than a Steinway).
"Silent all these Years", which won an MTV award is one of my favourite songs. The quotation above is from this song, in which she sings about a relationship/marriage that slowly disintegrates. She's the victim who suffers in silence, though she wishes for the world to able to scream out loud
As for the first album to get, I suppose No Need to Argue contains a lot of familiar hits, so that should be the first choice. All 3 albums are pretty good which is suprising, because quite a few artistes fade after the first 2 albums.
If you're into sheer virtuosity, you may not find it in Badi. If you're looking for someone with rhythm and who swings with it, you're at the right place. Also, I don't like recordings where the microphones are too close (actually, Mary Black's guitars are miked at 6 inches..duh), too much of a metallic twang, so I find the guitar sound here particularly pleasing. There are some recordings that sound more up-front, its entirely a matter a taste.