Volume 3

Lori Lieberman, a Thousand Dreams (1995 Pope Music)
Overall Rating: 8.0 (Very Good)
Favourite Tracks: Switzerland, A Thousand Dreams

Great sound, good songwriting. 14 songs!
Sounds like Amanda McBroom

A bit slow paced.
Too many brooding songs about love...

Not really neo-folk, more in the adult contemporary genre like Amanda McBroom except for the fact that its a 100% acoustic recording. Lori Lieberman is a mezzo-soprano with a full-bodied voice like Amanda and a delightful emotional edge to her singing. If I were an audiophile I would call it 'vocal microdynamics' or something like that :)

Quite a few of the songs have love as a related theme and the tone could be described as brooding and pensive. "Drive On", "Love Takes Time", "He's a Leaver"... all sound pretty pessimistic eh? :) Its all a bit too slow as well. Apart from a couple of songs, the others don't really grab my attention.

But the sound is totally brilliant of course. The whole recording was done with only 2 microphones and it sounds different from recordings I've heard so far. The singer is located quite deep in the soundstage, but the voice sounds quite forward in spite of this. Contrasting to Christy Baron (Chesky), where the voice sounds more laidback and detached. The instruments are wonderfully placed and the soundstage is probably the largest I've heard (for non-classical recordings..) so far. Listen to the male chorus in the hauntingly sad 'A Thousand Dreams'.. spine tingling stuff.

Nancy Bryan, Lay Me Down (JVC XRCD. Originally 1995 Analogue Productions)
Overall Rating: 10.0 (Excellent)
Favourite Tracks: Blood Song, Long Way Home, In and Out of Time

What if an audiophile label decided to issue a CD of a quality female neo-folkie singer-songwriter? This is the result. Her songwriting must certainly have been influenced by Joni Mitchell. But definitely adapted to suit her slightly higher voice which varies from being altoish to mezzo-sopranoish. Her expressiveness and her ability to convey emotion in her voice is astounding -- in fact, the emotional 'edge' to the voice is very similar to Sarah McLachlan (check out track 3) (or is it just the amazing recording?).


Even after the blood is gone
Something still remains
Our hands will hold the stains

Shes a very capable songwriter. When you listen to the music, the lyrics stand out and grab your attention (also helped by her flawless diction). Track 6, 'Sweet Havana sounds exactly like something Joni Mitchell would have written.

The wind picks up off the keys
American Navy Lion out to sea
Please be kind don't shine
Your light on me

If labels are appropriate, this is acoustic neo-folk. The is a wonderful variety amongst the songs, sometimes she sounds like something from Julee Cruise/Angelo Baldamenti (spelling? - "Twin Peaks") [track 4] , sometimes she sounds like Wilson Philips [track 5]. The songs are of a relatively faster pace (something like Natalie Merchant) and really hold my interest.

The recording is flawless. In track 3, with the percussion on the left, my humble hi-fi system is able to suggest a soundstage that extends to the left of the speakers. The bass is tightly defined.. check out the bass drum in the intro to Blood Song. The reverberant qualities of the place where she recorded this album also come across clearly (kick me if its just reverb... doesn't sound like it) -- On the other hand, the reverb in track 3 compared to track 5 suggest that reverb might be involved. Amazing. Its an Audiophile CD of the highest calibre with a huge and convincing soundstage. I'll talk more about XRCDs in the section where I discuss good recordings.

Does it deserve a 10? Undoubtedly. Good songwriting-good voice-good recording=spine tingling magic.

Idde Shultz, Idde Shultz
Overall Rating: 6.0 (Good)
Entertaining Swedish pop singer-songwriting that sounds different enough from the what we consider mainstream.
Some interesting pieces of songwriting.

Noisy, bright, and a bit congested.

Favourite Tracks: Higher Ground (as I understand it, overplayed over Singapore radio [I don't listen to the radio myself,except BBC occasionally])

OK, I'll be back to complete this. I've got the urge to write more about Nancy Bryan :)

Alison Krauss & Union Station, So Long So Wrong (Rounder 1997)
Overall Rating: 7.5 (Very Good)
Same wonderful voice.
Improved treble extension and crystal clarity in the recording as compared to Now That I've Found You (which also gets a red star)

Its not all Alison singing in this album and the male vocalist isn't half as good as Alison unfortunately.

All the comments below apply to this album as well. Theres a beautiful rendition of 'I can let go now' [also found in Amanda McBroom's album] interpreted in her relatively modest and understated manner. (Ieaves me wondering how far Alison can stretch her voice). She isn't the lead vocal for all the tracks and I don't think that the male vocalist is half as good as Alison, hence the lowered rating.

The sound quality is also improved. Better treble extension, and a stunning crystal clarity. Compared to audiophile discs, it may lack that extra sweetness' and the full 'analogish' sound. One of the best sounding non-audiophile CDs I've heard. Perhaps its due to the lack of synthesisers? 8^) Bravo!

Alison Krauss, Now That I've Found You (Rounder 1995) [compilation]
Overall Rating: 8.5 (Very Good)
Superb Voice!
Very good acoustic recording. The instruments like the fiddle and the banjo are superbly captured. Hiss and other noise is unnoticeable.
A very nice feel-good (but very uncommercial sounding) album

Can't say that the lyrics are brilliant.

Favourite Tracks: I Will, When you Say Nothing At All.

Winner of the 1995 Grammy for Best Bluegrass/folk album, I first listened to the album through headphones at HMV. However, they were demoing a Malaysian pressing (with a different album cover - one with 'Grammy Winner emblazoned on it') which, along with the crappy headphones, didn't make it sound so wonderful, but certainly, one to look out for after clearing my backlog :). I was reminded about it again when Alison appeared on the cover of the June issue of Fi, not to mention that 'I will' was used as an audition track in Hi-Fi Choice's April pre/power Blind test (in which Quad won heheh).

Of course, I bought the US pressing which cost $24.71 at HMV (subsequently, a friend bought it at $22 at Tanglin Mall). Besides being a superb fiddler, she has an angelic soprano voice which really shines throughout the whole album. She doesn't stretch her voice much in some soaring chorus; the way she sings suggests her understanding of herself as being part of a band rather than a prima donna. Further, the music is of an accesible sort, rather than being what us normal people think of as 'folk/bluegrass'. For example, we have the wonderful song 'I Will', popularised in Singapore by Deanna Yusoff. There's a beautiful banjo introduction where audiophiles will look out for good tone, hearing the plucking, and on the ball timing for quite a while before Alison

The sound quality is very good. Instruments are clearly seperated and spread across the soundstage. The instruments are very well recorded and sound convincing and natural. Maybe its the lack of any synthesisers to muddy up the recording. Nit-picking, I noticed a slight lack of focus in the vocals and some midbass bloat. But still, it deserves fully a red star for great sound.

Rita Coolidge, Behind the Memories (Pony Canyon? 1995 - a local pressing for the Japanese Market?)
Overall Rating: 5.5 (Average)
Not much, since these are all covers, there have got to be better interpretations around. Her voice is pretty good as usual.

Average sound quality. Digitally harsh.
Personally, I couldn't care for such a banal choice of songs. Must have been a specific choice for the non-English speaking Japanese market.

Well, nothing much more to say. Its just amazing that Out of the Blue, of which some of the tracks were recorded in 1977, sounds so much better. The choice of material in this album is quite insipid. Definitely not for the English-speaking listener with some degree of sophistication. 'nuff said. One to avoid.

Jennifer Warnes, The Hunter (Private Music 1994)
Overall Rating: 7.5 (Very Good)
Sounds a lot like famous blue raincoat, even when the songs here aren't written by Leonard Cohen.
Well recorded, though a bit on the dry side.

Occasionally slow-going, like Famous Blue Raincoat.
She sings in a rather detached manner and is not as communicative as some others. I might even say that the album appeals to me despite her singing in that manner.

Favourite Tracks: Whole of the Moon, The Hunter.

Famous for Famous Blue Raincoat, one of the famous audiophile audition CDs (esp. Bird on a Wire), Jennifer Warnes falls into the female vocalist with crystal clear diction who occasionally writes her own songs. Her way of singing could probably be described as 'terse' and sometimes detached.

Natalie Merchant, Tigerlily (Elektra 1995)
Overall Rating: 8.0 (Very Good)
Not quite a singer-songwriter that matters, but getting close.
A fundamental rightness to the sound. Primarily an acoustic album. Misses a red star for good sound marginally.

Lack of soaring crystal clear highs.
Lack of some detail in the recording. (Guitar and percussion -- voice sounds perfectly OK though)
Some may find the pace too slow-going (but see my comments on this below)

Favourite Tracks: San Andreas Fault, Wonder, Jealousy Well, I'm the kind of person that generally needs 2 recommendations before I drag myself to the CD shop to audition the CD in question :). Recently, this came from someone across the internet and from my colleague at about the same time. Both audio enthusiasts, so my interest was piqued. Of course, I could've waited to borrow the CD from my colleague, but I just went over to good old Chua Joo Huat, one of the few stores that allow you to test CDs (the rest of you $$$-stores, shame on you!) and listened to some stuff, and ended up buying this.

Enough rambling. Female singer-songwriter-pianist-ex lead vocalist of 10,000 Maniacs. Alto-ish voice, particularly full-bodied, never thin-sounding even in the higher parts. Though nothing special about her voice, like Julia Fordham's husky contralto, its a very attractive one. Clear diction. Good expressiveness, with no over-the-top emotional stuff.

Lyrics. Time to dig out the 'neo-folk' label again :). Really nothing much to talk about. This is more of a case of the total package sounding highly musical. The songs are generally slow paced, with welcome exceptions such as "Jealousy" and "Wonder":

how I confound you
and astound you
to know I must be one of the wonders of god's own creation
and as far as you can see you can offer me
no explanation

But still, the songs are pretty good. This CD brings to mind Eddi Reader's eponymous debut album, which is primarily acoustic and consists of mainly slower paced songs. However I found it too boring and the songs not very attention grabbing. Despite TigerLily's similarities, it still manages to get my attention. I conclude its due to a combination of a more attractive voice, better sound (well its newer), and slightly more interesting (and occasionally faster-paced) lyrics.

The sound: The voice is fine, as I'm listening to this, I'm listening to her raise her voice in '7 years'. Her voice is full-bodied and doesn't disintegrate into any sort of awful wailing sound. But having to nit-pick, I can point out the lack of soaring crystal clear highs found on some (especially Chesky) CDs. There is also a slight loss of detail on the guitars and percussion, and the piano could've been recorded a bit better (or maybe its just her piano technique). The soundstage seems a bit narrow at times as well. Still, there are no glaring deficiencies. I would still describe the recording as being in the 'crystal clear' category (though on the borderline). This 1995 recording clearly beats or equals most CDs recorded before this.

Rita Coolidge, Out of the Blue (Beacon 1996)
Overall Rating: 8.0 (Very Good)
The way the voice is recorded. (of course, the voice must be good in the first place)
A lively recorded that manages to make me sit up and listen

Being a non-audiophile label, some mike hiss is present and is audible in the softest passages.

Favourite Tracks: Bring it on home to me, When the Night Rolls in, Mean to Me

Female Jazz vocals with clear diction and with sympathetic accompaniment from the band. More of the 'traditional' sort of Jazz vocals as opposed to 'modernists' like Holly Cole.

This CD was strongly recommended to me by one of the shop assistants in Maranthra Audio (Excelsior Shopping Centre). I listened to it on their reference system. Rotel RCD 965 (why don't they turn on their Trichord or Encore?), Klyne pre-amp, Coda amp and Royd speakers and liked the liveliness of the songs and the well balanced presentation of the vocals. Careful listening at home revealed the vocals to be one of the best recorded vocals I've heard. There is a lot of 'air' and a marvellous sense of space around her voice, which still retains a strong central image. Further, there is just the right amount of sweetness in the voice to prevent all this from making her voice sound harsh and thin. The voice placed just right , not too forward, and not to far back (though it can be agreed that a voice too far forward is no good -- as the soundstage collapses if the volume is too loud, just how far back it should be is a matter of opinion. I think that Christy Baron (Chesky) is a bit too far back. Maybe its just that her voice is like that, but the number of crap recordings of good singers makes me think that the recording engineers have a key role to play here.

There are also no problems with the soundstage. The band is correctly placed behind the vocals, spanning from left to right.

I realise that for albums like these, where the vocalist is essentially doing covers (except for Out of the Blues, which she co-wrote), my rating of the album is subjectively influenced by the material chosen. I like these songs. The songs aren't that fast paced but the performance is lively and it grabs my attention. Highly recommended.