Volume 5 / Oct 97

Beth Nielsen Chapman, Beth Nielsen Chapman
Overall Rating: 7.5 (Very Good)

Less bright than Sand & Water, and more cheerful too.
Generally a good recording
Very pleasant but generally a bit mushy.

Though the songs are pleasant, they are not especially brilliant. Good try though.

Favourites: Life Holds On, All I have

Singing with a thin delicate voice, this earlier recording hints at the influence of Nashville though this is clearly a 'folk' and not a 'country' album. All the songs in this 1990 are written/co-writter by her. The album threads familiar ground exploring love and human relationships etc.

On a wider scale, you could criticise BNC as being of limited appeal as she only seems capable of writing this kind of songs; slightly mushy, with lyrics complementing her thin delicate voice which is extremely capable of conveying loss, lament etc etc but not much else. But looking at the album 'as is', it is a good album indeed.

In the starting track 'Life Holds On', BNC, as parent, reflects on life and its transient but realises that she would have to 'let go' of her children eventually and that shes "just got to believe they're gonna find their way". The tone is an optimistic one, as reflected in the chorus:

Lifes holds on
Given the slightest chance
For the weak and the strong
Life holds on

The chorus of 'All I have', which scores quite high on the mushiness scale, is also a clever usage of the common nautical metaphor:

All I have is all I need
And it all comes down to you and me
How far away this world becomes
In he harbour of each others arm

When I look at the choruses of the songs, I wonder if she writes the choruses first (i.e., uses the chorus as a motiff) and then builds a song around it...

The 1990 AAD recording is actually very good. For starters, it is less bright than Sand and Water, and the arrangements are more acoustic. Note: though less bright, it still sounds very clear. The soundstaging is top rate with both depth and breadth, as it should be when there aren't layers of synthesisers messing everything up. (but of course, there are some recordings which should have good soundstage, but suck...) The piano also plays a pretty big role and it sounds good though I find BNC's playing a bit lethargic.

Good sounding album, not particularly brilliant, one of those albums that I'll return to occasionally.

Holly Cole, Dark Dear Heart (Metro Blue 1997) US press
Overall Rating: 8.5 (Very Good)

Another great sounding Holly Cole Album -- great bass!
A good and interesting mixture of songs, accessible but thoughtful jazz/pop

The drum machines are really unnecessary - muddies the recording
Some will say this has nothing to do with jazz.
Pounding pop-beat can get relentless at times.

Holly's low altoish voice coupled with her quirky singing style makes
for great listening. In this album she seems more sultry than normal.
Anyway, though some may hate it, I love the selection of songs. Perhaps
its best not to view her as a Jazz singer anymore;
consider Holly as a 'reinvented' pop singer.

In "Make it Go away", Holly takes a low, sultry, half-whispering pleading tone and gradually changes becomes more melodic and lyric as the song progresses. I love the song 'Onion Girl', where the image of the onion girl 'peeling' away her layers and making a person cry is wonderful.

The sound quality is superb too. There's no longer the bright forwardness of the previous albums. Its replaced with a smoother, duller, but more natural sound. Due to the thick mix, with drum machines at all, it may sound congested if your system doesn't have a lot of 'air'. On my system, with a relatively airy top-end, I find this smoother, duller, sound preferable to the brightness of Don't Smoke in Bed. The subtle nuances of Holly's voice are well captured by this recording.

There is quite a lot of bass in this recording, and yes, they're drum machines, but the quality of the bass is quite good. And yes, the bass can get a bit relentless at times like in "I've Just Seen a Face". It will expose speakers that can't control bass well such as the Tannoy M2s I'm running in on my office system.

Great album, and subject to the possibility that it may sound congested and dull on some systems, highly recommended.

Lesley Garrett (multi album reviews)
Soprano in Red: Overall Rating 7.5(Very Good)
Simple Gifts: 7.0

Lesley Garrett records exclusively for the Silva Records labels and has several 'themed' albums out. Others not listed here included 'Soprano in Hollywood' ,Best Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber etc. Backing her is the RPO. She is the principal soprano of the English National Opera.

Soprano in Red (1995) contains a generous 15 songs spanning 60 minutes. It is a delightful introduction to operattas or 'musical theatre'. From Noel Coward to Offenbach, and including 2 gems from Romberg, "Lover Come Back to Me", and "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise", from operatta "The New Moon". Lesley's delivery is impeccable and her phrasing of the latter song is soo brilliant.

Simple Gifts (1994) also has a generous 15 songs clocking just under 60 minutes. There are popular favourites such as "Rejoice Greatly" from Messiah. And since I'm a big Handel fan, I'll say that this is probably the equal-best rendition of this that I've heard. Tying with Sylvia McNair's interpretation in the older Telarc disc. There is the ever popular "Solveig's Song" by Grieg, and songs from Delibes, Rimsk-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky etc. Her singing is also excellent here.

Ratings and all that:
In the final analysis, the newer album sounds a smidgen better than Simple Gifts. Both recordings are very good, but I suppose my system lacks the transparency to present her voice properly. Fortunately, her voice and diction is quite clear. The voice isn't close miked, and thats makes resolution of details difficult. Not only must you have a transparent system with low noise floor, you must have minimal ambient noise (no noisy air-cons)

I supposed that classical music is an acquired taste, however, I would definitely recommend these albums someone who likes female vocals. Since she's quite prolific you can pick the CD whose programme interests you. The sound quality appears to be consistently good. Of yeah, there are thick and useful liner notes.

Trisha Yearwood, Songbook (MCA 1997) [HDCD recording, compilation]
Overall Rating 7.5 (Very Good)
Hey, I actually like this album contrary to expectations :)
Well balanced, even-handed recording a big suprise
Good singing, pretty songs, not overly Nashville-ish

Sounds good, but when you try and place the instruments, you don't have any clue where they're supposed to be. Voice, reasonably well defined though.

Yes, the person who sang the 'Con-Air' song. It actually sounded quite OK, and since DaDa was having their 'everything $15' sale, I bought the album. Its a compilation of 9 songs from her old albums and some new stuff. Presumably, everything had to be remastered for HDCD.

She has a good full-bodied mezzo-sopranoish voice which she does not try to tax or extend during the album. Slight lack of focus and loss of detail of the voice compared to audiophile standards, but good nonetheless. Though 'country' singer, her 'accent' is quite neutral (even less countryish than Mary Chapin Carpenter), and very acceptable to those who can't quite understand why country singers sing the way they do.

Yes, the con-air song is nice, and 'The song remembers when', which was one of her earliest hits (I think), has good lyrics and is interpreted well by her. Her pauses are quite thoughtful. (yes, I'm alluding to Tori Amos' comment that you can tell a lot about a singer by how they pause when they sing)

Of course, this being a compilation, the songs are consistently good throughout. The lyrics are light on content, but still, quite often they present interesting twists on simple themes as opposed to straight forward- my wife left me and my dog bit me sort of songs). If I wanted more cereberal content I could listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter, but I admit, I like Trisha's voice and singing style better.

The sound quality, as mentioned, is suprisingly good. There appears to be a slight (but acceptable) loss in focus and detail with respect to her voice, but more problematically, theres no real soundstaging or placement of instruments. I can't really place the instruments in the songs, they're like, sort of vaguely defined. However, the album is very listenable, perhaps thanks to the HDCD remastering which has smoothed out the standard digital nasties without compromising too much on detail. The album sounds fundamentally correct, and that, of all things, is the most important. Recommended.

Diana Krall, Love Scenes (Impulse 1997)
Overall Rating 6.5 (Good)
Great sound if you have a good system
A voice that a lot of people love (I find it ok)
If jazz vocals are your cup of tea, this is undenialbly one very fine album

Uninspiring lyrics. Yeah, they're all about love.
Generally slow moving, could even be accused of lifelessness.

Favourites: more uptempo tracks like 'My Love is...' Well, Diana Krall's albums all come in such cool packaging - high quality UV coated paper with great photos of her. I found her previous album boring when I listened to it over colleague's mini-compo. So, I basically ignored Love Scenes when it came out. Out of sheer boredom, I borrowed a copy of Love Scenes to bring back. I had already listened to it on my office system (Phase linear DRS150/Sony X229ES/Mordaunt Short Ms05) and found it rather slow and lifeless.

On my home system, Diana snapped into focus in the centre of the soundstage. The soundstaging for this vocals/piano/bass/guitar album is very impressive indeed. Its more forward than Christy Baron/Patricia Barber but not as forward as Holly Cole. The great sound made me pay closer attention to the CD.

She does sound a bit like Holly Cole when the latter is singing slower, but Holly has a quirky eccentricity in her interpretation that makes her, IMHO 'cool' whilst Diana is more 'classic'. I do like her when she swings in songs like 'My love is', if only there were more songs like this. Unfortunately, I'm not really into 'classic' Jazz vocals (though I love Ella), and 13 jazzy love songs is a bit overwhelming.

Cecilia, Voice of the Feminine Spirit, (Tolemac 1994)
Overall Rating 8.0 (Very Good)
Beautiful voice with a 'bell-like' quality
High quality recording
Fans of Enya/Loreena McKennitt will love this album
Non-fans will also be very impressed

Slow-paced, New-agish sound may not appeal to everyone.
New age music with layers of sound may sound congested on most systems (not the Gallos though)

I heard this at the Soul of Music Showroom through those Gallo Nucleus Minors and it sounded wonderful with a massive soundstage and good focus. I promptly bought a copy from the shop.

First off, Cecilia is a Norweigan singer trained in classical music. Scandanavian countries have a reputation for producing top class singers, but Cecilia stands out with her unique soprano voice. The cover notes describe the voice as 'bell-like' and I have to agree. When she holds note, theres minimal vibrato, but the notes seem to 'ring' (accentuated no doubt by processing). Appropriate to this disc, the voice is not close miked and she seems to stand some distance off. Therefore, this disc really challenges your system to dig up the vocal details. Having heard it on the Gallos vs my little Zephyrs, I understand more clearly the limitations of mid-fi.

The album could be classified as 'ethereal new-age female vocals' like Enya and Loreena Mckennitt, though without any Gaellic or Celtic undertones. The songs are all lovely and very impressive as they show off her soaring vocals. Like the chorus to Love of a Silent Moon:

Glory be. Glory be. Glory be.
You and me, you and me , you and me.
Wrapped in love, held in poise,
allow our silent voice to share my prayer

The arrangements are done by flautist Tim Wheater, and they are absolutely top-notch. No 256 layers of synths like Enya, and this allows the voice to really shine through. Further her rendition of Amazing Grace is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard. Without qualification. Judy Collins in the 60s-70s was famous for her interpretation of Amazing Grace but this version is... you have to hear it for yourself. It starts off with whale songs and waves, a quite organ/synth intro, then her amazing soaring voice.

Wayyy recommended. A lot of my friends who have heard it are extremely impressed by the album too.
Footnote: This has basically become one of my demo CDs to impress non-audiophiles, especially, those Enya fans. I play this first, then I play Enya; you can't imagine their faces when they realise how bad Enya sounds :)

Bonnie Raitt, Luck of the Draw (Capitol 1991)
Overall Rating 7.5 (Very Good)
I don't really like this kind of music, but this is good stuff :)
The sound here is pretty good, so if you get the DCC remaster it'll sound superb

Songs not really to my taste, would say that the lyrics are quite average, though delivered wonderfully.

Favourite Tracks: I can't make you love me, All at Once

I've never gotten around to buying Bonnie Raitt CDs, and after listening to my friend's copy (normal pressing, not DCC), I think I'll be getting them soon. Whereas her platinum smash "Nick of Time" has a more 'authentic' country/rock sound (so help me, I don't really know how to pigeonhole her), Luck of the Draw is more 'mainstream'. However, though I don't really dig the genre, this is a fine CD.

A slightly hoarse voice one would associate with your typical female rocker, its far more full-bodied than most of them. Also, there's no sibilance (whew!). She can sing, and conveys emotions wonderfully. My favourite tracks her are naturally the quieter pieces such as I can't make you love me and All at Once, where she sings with control, grace, and emotion. I must admit though, to not really like more rock-oriented pieces like Something to Talk About and Tangled and Dark, though I have no inclination to change tracks, as her voice makes for very pleasant listening. Thematically, the songs are all standard fare, in some inevitable way related to love and relationships.

The recording is actually very good compared to the average pop recording. Though a 1991 recording, there must have been a deliberate decision for the recording to be AAD. No digititis present and it sounds very 'analogue' and natural without crossing the line into 'mud'. The voice and instruments are well place and there is good detail in the voice. With many reporting the DCC version sounding even better, I can't wait to listen to it and tell you about it :)

Kiki Dee, Almost Naked (Tickety-Boo 1995 -Live Recording)
Overall Rating 8.5 (Very Good)
Wonderful minimalist live album basically vocals+guitar.
Good singing, good songs and interesting choices
Quite a natural sounding recording.

Noise floor associated with live recordings.
Average songwriting skills.

Crystal clear diction, and an uncanny ability to convey emotion through the nuances of her voice, Kiki is definitely a great singer. When she speaks to the audience, you can hear her English accent. Generally, her voice echoes a plaintive longing through the album, which consist mainly of quiet, sad songs. Graceful pauses often punctuate her singing to good effect. Cynically, we could say she's another of those in the 'pain' business. Often, I mention that an album fails to communicate though others may hold them in high regard. This isn't one of those. Her voice is incredibly communicative; or maybe its just the excellent recording of her voice and the minimal distractions of other instruments (and reverb,equalisation, etc).

She wrote/co-wrote 6 of the songs and these songs could be described 'lyrics-intensive' (high words:bars of music ratio ? :)) Compared to others, her songwriting ability is merely average. The real strength of this album are her beautiful intepretations of some familiar covers. Especially: "Don't Go Breaking My Heart", and "Take My Breath Away" (not the Berlin Song).

The recording is good. Better than Shawn Colvin's live recordings. The guitars are less metallic, and they exist in a more defined space. Her voice has a wonderful un-bright smoothness (analogue recording?) unlike the usual harshness. Soundstage is well-defined, basically vocals+guitar (Carmelo Luggeri plays the guitar) with Kiki occasionally using shakers. Of course, there's the expected hiss. One of the best live recordings I've heard and certain to please any audiophile. Highly recommended.

Tina Arena, In Deep (Columbia/Sony 1997)
Overall Rating 6.0 (Good)

Well, theres the hit song 'Burn' with an acoustic version as well. Its probably gotten way too much airplay everywhere. Anyway, since you've probably heard 'Burn', you know what she sounds like. I would probably classify her as a very mediocre mezzo-soprano. She sounds more like a muffled alto occasionally too. Maybe its a lack of singing ability, but her delivery is rather bland and pedestrian. I'm sure she's trying in the recording to take her voice somewhere, but she never reaches that place. Also, the voice is not helped by obligatory (for a pop record) reverb/processing.

'Burn' is one of those songs you can enjoy as long as you're not too cynical about it, however, she fails to communicate the level of emotion I would think would come naturally with this song. Yawn.

Songwriting ability: She's Australian, and when I think of good Australian singer-songwriters I think of (no not Kylie whatshername) Margaret Urlich, whom I believe hasn't been cutting records lately but is performing in musicals in Australia (last I heard, Jesus Christ Superstar). Anyway, she cowrote the song with quite a few other persons. Man, no wonder they're so bland. Songwriting by committee.

As for sound quality, I think the damage was already done when it got to Doug Sax for mastering. Doug Sax is of course the man who mastered Janis Ian's breaking silence using tubes. Its a fairly standard pop recording thats fairly smooth with digital nasties ironed out.

Jewel, Pieces of You
Overall Rating 7.5 (Very Good)
Wonderfully quirky songwriting alá Tori Amos
Acoustic flavour with many acoustic guitar+vocal pieces
Expressive singing

Some sort of noise reduction chops off the higher frequencies. Equalisation seems to overemphasise midrange.
But note: will try to get a US pressing to see if sound improves dramatically

Didn't win best new artiste at the Grammies this year, which in my opinion, gives her more respectability than had she won :) Deep mezzo, with limited range, almost like Tina Arena, whom I've panned in the above review. Yet, she has a lot of expressiveness in her singing which holds the listener's interest. Little things like tiny pauses to breathe, hanging on to certain words, varying loudness etc, etc. All these tiny details make the difference. Take how she varies the pace in the intro to 'Near you always'. Of course, sometimes she mumbles her way through songs like in 'Little Sister' (more allusions to Tori Amos again) Well, I was worried that this would turn out to be just another badly produced pop album; thankfully It isn't. Most would compare her with Alanis and Sheryl Crow rather than Tori Amos though.

'Foolish Games' is one of her hits, and amazingly, its a well written song

You were always the mysterious one
with dark eyes and careless hair
You were fashionably sensitive but too cool to care

"careless hair", "fashionably (with all syllables accented) sensitive" :- simply wonderful and sooo Tori Amos (or Kate Bush, for that matter)

As for the sound, there appears to be some sort of noise reduction that chops of the extremes of high frequencies. You can hear her taking breaths in the album, but they're so muted you know theres got to be some noise reduction. This of course leads to a loss of air and space in the recording. And to add insult to injury, theres very obvious equalisation to boost the midrange/upper midbass (think: What Bose sounds like). But its not all that bad. Since theres plenty of acoustic guitar, the guitar sound is important, and fortunately its not harsh or metallic.

With Tori Amos generally getting too strange for me, I find comfort here. Enojyable album.Recommended.