Volume 6 / Dec 97

Nanci Griffith, One Fair Summer Evening (1988 MCA US Press) Live album
Overall Rating: 8.5 (Very Good)
I love live albums, especially ones that sound as natural as this.
'Live' albums have a certain magic, this one is no exception.

Clearly not an audiophile recording, and resolution is only 'good', but gets a red star for the 'magic' in the recording :)

Her sweet sopranoish voice, with the lightest of 'Nashville' accents, here is in great form; as I've mentioned, she sounds like a young Mary Black but sweeter, and a more flowing form of delivery (as opposed to a more expressive singing that involves 'harder' pauses from Mary). Theres a basis for a 1-1 comparison as Mary also sang 'Once in a very blue moon' in her 1987 album. I prefer Mary's interpretation as in this case, Nanci's singing a wee too fast.

The songs are familiar material, very folksy music of the sort that Mary Black & Maura O'Connell could sing and be labelled 'Irish folk' though the material is all from the US. She chats with the audience, and theres a very funny introduction before she launches into 'Love at the Five and Dime' where she explains how Woolworth's was a part of her youth as she gently strums the guitar.

The sound is great too. It is a minimalist arrangement with vocals and guitar taking the centre stage. This is a good thing as in 'Lone Star State of Mind', I commented that though there was some soundstage, the other instruments sounded small and thin. So this downside doesn't apply here. What we have is a very natural sounding voice, and a good guitar sound that doesn't sound overly metallic or forward. There are no digital nasties too. The great voice must be due in part to her style of singing; its closed miked, but not the sort of stuff your mouth in the mike close-miking, and there's hardly any sibilance in her singing. To nit-pick, if you listen closely, you can hear reverb added. But its unobtrusive. Also, not as much resolution/detail as audiophile recordings, but any sins are sins of omission, which are basically unobstrusive.

The US press is sold at Tower at $17.41. I think this should be the first Nanci Griffith album you buy. Recommended.

Joan Baez, Gone frome Danger (1997 Guardian) US Press
Overall Rating:6.5 (Good)
Those who see Joan as a singer-songwriter will be disappointed as except for 1 song which she co-wrote, the rest are all covers.
I prefer the more strongly lyrical and melodic tone of her other albums (i.e. sweeter?)

Well, she has taken a new turn with this album. Its tempo is slower than Play me Backwards (), and is a collection of contemplative/brooding/ etc songs. There're songs from Sinead Lohlan and Dar Williams. Dar Williams is obviously a talented songwriter (I like 'February' a lot), and I look forward to reviewing her latest album as soon as I find it.

Its generally pleasant, but what I like about Joan Baez isn't very present here. First off, its the lack of new songs, and her forceful, full-bodied voice isn't put to good use singing these slower paced songs.

The sound quality is unfortunate. Theres the eerie dry-crystal-clarity of a 1997 DDD recording. It many cases it would be OK, but in this case, the problem is that the sound is quite forward and the guitars are harsher and more strident than in Play me Backwards. This forwardness flattens the soundstage a bit.

A listenable album if you don't turn the volume up to high, and the lyrics do give you something to think about. But I think she's suited to music of a faster tempo.

Nanci Griffith, Blue Roses on the Moon (1997 Elektra) US press HDCD
Overall Rating:7.5(Very Good)
Lightweight music, but extremely pleasant sounding.
The songs are quite beautiful but the 'pop' sound is out of place.
Good recording, a touch on the bright side

Pleasant songs but bland presentation will not win new fans
Should stick with a more minimalist approach rather than this.
An ambiguous not folk/not pop sound.

I found her fast paced singing and phrasing, her sweet, clear voice, laden with the lightest of Nashville accents and the sparser acoustic arrangements of her earlier work charming. Of course, thanks perhaps to her record company who wanted her to crossover into pop, she has ben releasing a series of 'pop' albums (looking at on-line CD shops, it appears that this album is indeed catalogued as pop).

Thankfully, her songwriting still has strong folk roots whatever the 'sound' of the album is. The songs are on the slightly folksy-sentimental side and a common theme is travelling/journey, which is a commonly used to suggest hopes/dreams/regrets. The obvious songs have titles like "Two for the Road", "Not my Way Home", "I'll Move Along", "She ain't going nowhere", and theres also "Saint Theresa from Avila" ( "... Ah from here where will we go Saint Theresa?") and "Gulf Coast Highway")

The recording is fine, no real complaints from the typical 1997 DDD recording. I'm just wondering whether I'm just buying into the complaints about HDCD discs on non-HDCD players as I kinda feel that the sound is a bit 'compressed' at the frequency extremes.

Won't win new fans, and existing fans may be annoyed at her straying too far from her folk roots. Still the new songs are good (though the musical arrangements aren't), perhaps (as usual), some Irish singer will pick these songs up and record them in a more folksy tone :)

Time and Love: the music of Laura Nyro (1997) US Press
Overall Rating: 8.0 (Good)
Mass of talent together in 1 album.

Recording is quite dry.

This is my first exposure to the music of Laura Nyro, a singer-songwriter active in the 1960s. She died in 1997 and this is a tribute album gathering a host of female singers who choose their favourite Laura Nyro songs. Just check out the talent:

The recording is clear but it is a bit dry. Definitely not harsh or overbright; just 'dry'. If these lyrics were written in the '60s, Laura Nyro was certainly a songwriter ahead of her time. 'Buy & Sell', which Suzanne Vega sings here, reflects a certain style of songwriting similar to that which Suzanne initially adopted and made her own. Most memorable track for me is Jane Siberry singing the haunting chorus:

This is an excellent tribute album. You get exposed to some great songwriting and the voices of various singer-songwriters.Recommended!

Texas, White on Blonde (Mercury 1997)
Overall Rating: 6.0 (Good)
Personally, I like Sharleen Spiteri and her voice

Bad recording
Less inspired songwriting

After the brilliant Southside ( (8.0)), there were 2 extremely forgettable albums after which Texas faded into obscurity. This is the album that is supposed to lift Texas out of this obscurity. Well, there're a few nice songs, like White on Blonde. But really the album is generally boring.

Worse than that, it sounds awful. Its deliberately fuzzy and scratchy like an Analogue recording, but it also suffers from a digital harshness; so you get the worst of both worlds. I leave this CD in my less revealing and more forgiving office system.

Nanci Grifitth, Lone Star State of Mind (MCA 1986 US press)
Overall Rating: 8.5 (Very Good)
Listening to it in '97, it all sounds so fresh and new.
An acoustic album relatively sparsely arranged, good vocals
She sounds a lot like a young Mary Black
Good songwriting.

'thin sounding' but note, all its faults are subtractive; there is nothing in the recording to annoy the listener. The recording sounds 'fundamentally correct' and better than many >1990 recordings.

Well, this is a gem I picked up at the $12.00 DaDa sale. I looked at the date of recording - 1986, and the company, MCA, and didn't expect that much from it though some have e-mailed me telling me that I would like Nanci Griffith (thanks guys!)

Nanci wrote 2 songs that I'm very familiar with as they both appear in Woman's Heart 2 (a perennial staple in hi-fi shops -- as the chap in Precision Audio told me, "when someone asks for female vocals, I play this CD".) - Trouble in the Fields and Talk to me (while I'm listening).

Anyway, in this 1986 recording, her voice is delightfully sweet, and though she's from Nashville, her 'country accent' is not noticeable, if I were to guess as what her accent was, I would seriously pick Irish, because she sounds a lot like a younger Mary Black with a sweet, delicate, gently soaring soprano (no real 'highs'). But what really caught my attention was the way she sings/phrases/pauses. Like a delicate bird flitting from tree to tree, her voice rarely holds on to anything and moves quickly from phrase to phrase. When it comes to folk, she's probably the 'fastest' singer I've heard. Where you might expect pauses for dramatic effect or emphasis, she inflects subtly and keeps on singing :) The singing is charming because there is subtlety and phrasing unlike pop acts like Tina Arena who seem to be reading words scrolling across the screen karaoake style.

At the sale I also bought 2 post-1990 albums, one by Maria McKee & another by Eleanor McEvoy. Both sound far, far worse than this humble 1986 album. I was truly amazed at how good this album sounded. But everything is relative, and putting on a Woman's Heart 2 to listen to Maura O'Connells rendition of 'Trouble in the Fields', I could see where this 1986 recording is lacking. Note: this was a DDD recording. It is 'thin sounding' compared to later recordings. Soundstaging was decent but the instruments/vocals do not have the 'bloom' and size. For the vocals, thats a good thing as these Nashville recording engineers too often like 'large than life' sounding vocals.

Joan Baez, Play me Backwards, (1992 Guardian US press)

Overall Rating: 9.0 (Excellent)
A great album by a legend.
All kinds of great songs, a marvellous adaptable voice.
It sounds like a classic folk album, but with sound quality of the 90s.

She can sound melancholic like Lori Liebermann, deliver lines with the poise of Jennifer Warnes, and swing like Mary Chapin Carpenter. Joan Baez is one of those singers blesses with a flexible voice that can adapt to any song. The one thing that strikes me about is album is the sheer variety of music and how effortlessly she adapts.

Janis Ian, Hunger (Grapevine 1997)
Overall Rating: 7.0 (Good)
Same relaxed, natural sounding recording
Her voice still reminds of me Joni Mitchell

Again, like breaking silence, a bit too laid back and boring for me.

Suprise; Janis Ian has released her latest album on the Grapevine label. The tone of the album appears to be more of the same. A folk songwriter's observations and commentaries. Apart from Black & White, which is about race relations, Welcome to Acousticville, which is a really cool live recording, the songs are all about love and relationships.

She is actually a pretty decent songwriter. It's just that I still haven't heard a song from her that I can feel attached to. Maybe its her song writing style which is structure poetry rather than lyrical. Well, just try singing this verse from "Searching for America"

Wonderful poetry though, and and for the first 6 lines and most of the other lines, you can see 8 syllables (blee-ee-ding=3 syllables) in a roughly iambic form (unstressed/stressed/unstressed/stressed syllables). IMHO, this is really rigid songwriting!

Then theres also her singing style, which well, personally, I feel suffers from a lack of dynamic contrasts that generally, makes a singer interesting. From another viewpoint, her smooth, sweet (mellifluous)and inoffensive style is very relaxing and might appeal to some (like Stereophile reviewers who love Breaking silence -- LP version)

As mentioned, the recording is pretty superb, just as good as breaking silence (ok, maybe not as good). Relaxed, laidback, natural sounding with large soundstage. Generally lacking in dynamics (probably an accurate reflection of reality though)