Volume 7

Jann Arden, Happy (A&M 1997 Canadian Press)
Overall Rating: 7.5 (Very Good)
Improved sound over Living Under June (7.5)
Good songwriting, nice voice, a well-rounded album

Lacks the infectious tunes found in Living Under June
More introspective, darker album (and the album is called 'Happy')
Her voice is good, but its not stretched here.

As I mentioned when reviewing Living Under June, she has potential. The problem is that Living Under June has a lot of very infectious pop tunes grounded by solid lyrics. Rarely have singer/songwriters come up with another album with equally catchy tunes. This is the case here. There are no 'catchy' tunes per se, but if you still bother to listen, you'll realise that this album has depth, being grounded firmly in some solid songwriting.

But this album does have its 'catchy' tunes, it isn't all dark and brooding. "Wishing That" is a simplistic song but she delivers the self-explanatory chorus with in her characteristic angst filled voice "Wishing that you love me too". Plenty of one liner gems too: The singer deals with insecurity and:

Oh my hands are folded
neatly on my lap and I am
picturing your body as I ask myself if
you love me too

And as she pictures herself doing so, she tells the listener:

Listen to my nervous laughter
sunken deep inside my heart

And from "Saved":

I am breathless from the mercy of a smile

Sound quality is good. Better than Living under June, which I have expressed reservations about. However, some traits remain, for eg: the high frequencies sound a bit funny, maybe 'hashy' is appropriate word. Its a bit annoying on my home system but sounds great on my Ms05s.

Generally good album that warrants extended listening, but sound quality issues and the lack of any brilliant songs detract from it.

Trisha Yearwood, Everybody Knows (1996 MCA US press)
Overall Rating: 6.0 (Good) For:
She has a great voice

songs are ok, but I have problems with the sound.

Mary Chapin Carpenter, A Place in the World (1997 Columbia US press)
Overall Rating: 7.5 (Very Good)
A good voice, a versatile and talented songwriter

Her slower, thoughtful songs are not as good as her catchy country/pop hooks.

Country/folk diva, friend of Shawn Colvin. With great songwriting skills and a good alto-ish voice with a occasional country twang (depending on the song). A music reviewer once said that there are 2 kinds of Mary Chapin Carpenter fans. The first kind loves her fast catchy pop hooks, and will endure her occasion forays into slow, thoughtful and brooding songs. The second kind loves her slow thoughtful songs and tolerates the catchy pop hooks as it helps her sells records. I confess, in MCC's case, I'm the first kind of fan (though admittedly, she has written at least 1 great slow song).

Sound quality issues. First off, the album sounds great, so this allows me to nit-pick :) Well, comparing to the Europe pressing of Come on Come on, its about even in points. This album is a bit more detailed but does come off sounding a bit more etched as a result. The bass is tight and a bit lean. Come on Come on has a wonderfully wooly but warm bass. Vocals are slightly clearer here too. Dynamics, like in the previous album are a bit constrained. Perhaps its because the recording is so good that I can hear the effects of compression.

Nanci Griffith, Storms (1989 MCA US press)
Overall Rating: 6.0 (Good)
Her voice, quirky singing, songwriting.

Not really her most inspired work unfortunately.
No really 'great' songs.

Dar Williams, Mortal City (1996 Grapevine/Razor & Tie)
Overall Rating: 7.5 (Very Good)
Very good songwriting, pretty good recording. A singer-songwriter that counts.

Voice is good, but pretty average compared to my other favs.

Dar has a pretty decent voice, but nothing really special. Its sort of a folkish voice, more suited to 'speaking tunefully' rather than singing. Of course, her songwriting complements this perfectly.

The album starts of with the rather infectious 'As Cool as I am' with a rather cool digeridoo line running through the track. The song is about an insecure woman afraid of her boyfriend leaving, so she leaves first :) But one of the lines of the chorus is really cool : "I will not be afraid of women".

Anyway, the songs are long lines and more verses (as opposed to constant repetitions catchy of choruses) and are almost like poetry. 'Speaking words tunefully' characterises a few of these songs such as 'Iowa'.

Sonically, this album starts off with great fundamentals. It is primarily an acoustic album with guitars and voice. Even if recorded badly, it would still sound good (and then I think of Tanya Chua). Fortunately, this is not the case, it is recorded quite well but not up to audiophile standards. The sound is a wee bit 'edgy' and brittle. But of course, its way above the average pop recording. The soundstage is wide and depth is OK. The notes state that it was recorded on a Roland DM-800 in Dar's Bedroom. The DM-800 is a cheapo US$3k digital recorder, so it ain't no Nagra-D.

Ultimately though, I like it, but I don't love it. Maybe its a combination the topics of the songs, the slightly edgy sound, and the 'merely' decent voice that prevents it from rising further. I'll definitely explore further (and get the US press) :)

Tanya, Bored (Yellow Music 1997)
Overall Rating: 5.5 (Average)

Normally, I wouldn't review an album that I don't find good, but I'll make an exception as this is a Singapore album which has received good reviews in the Singapore press.

The recording quality is bad; we're talking demo-tape standards here. The sound is thin, harsh and digital. Read: cheap microphones, recording equipment and a budget DAT recorder? I can only bear to listen to it on my less revealing office system.

The songs are a mixed bag:
'The Yes Yes Song' is a sort of a wash of lush synth strings, a gentle drum track and soaring but understated vocals going 'Yes, Yes'. New Age approach? Not.

'My Colour TV set' opens reasonably positively again with a gentle drum track and interesting percussion, then she opens with some Sheryl-Crowish 'tales of real life' sort of narration. Interspersed with this are inane 'lalalalalas' and some pretty decent instrumental interludes. Except from the inane 'lalalalalas', this would be a decent track and the album would be decent if the songs were about this standard.

But a lot of the songs are just pointless ramblings that go nowhere. Take 'Joni', which seems to start off well; with the singer calling out 'Joni, wake up its Friday, Time to catch the new day', but the song just repeats itself; its just about the singer consoling 'Joni' and telling her not to be sad. It would have been so easy to add either a twist to the story, or to explore the themes of waking and sleeping, the cyclical nature of life etc,etc. But nope. But I shouldn't be so critical, because Joni Mitchell on a bad day also writes songs as bad as this. Maybe I should just say that Tanya is as good as Joni when the latter's having a bad day :)

Her voice is quite thin, and the range is basically minimal. She does well to stick with lightweight, unchallenging material, where her sweetish voice just washes around in a pleasant sort of way. 'Friends' is this kind of song and its quite pleasant actually.

Suzanne Vega, Sessions at West 54th (1997 Japanese Press)
Overall Rating: 10.0 (Excellent)
Suzanne Vega live!
Suzanne Vega more acoustic than live at the Royal Albert Hall (on Japanese press LD only)
Suzanne Vega live, acoustic in 1997 sound quality

I have the old LD Live at the Royal Albert Hall, which covers her music as of Solutude Standing, and I also taped another of her performances which was shown on TV featuring Days of Open Hand material. But I've been waiting a long, long time for a live acoustic Suzanne Vega album and its finally here in Singapore. Note: its cheaper at HMV than at Tower.

Perhaps reflecting Japanese tastes, theres only material from Suzanne Vega, Solitude Standing, and 1 song from 9 Objects. 'Gypsy', the song that got me interested in this genre in the first place, is included, but theres no Queen & the Soldier, sigh. The recording is acoustic and more than a decade on, her wonderful smoky voice is as hypnotic as ever; she still hasn't lost it yet. No noticeable annoying reverb post-pressing or whatever. The tone from the acoustic guitar on 'Gypsy' gives one a warm and fuzzy feeling all over :) Pity they haven't released this on DVD. Instead she's on the Best of Sessions DVD on 1 track singing 'Caramel'.

Mary Black, Wonder Child (1996 Japanese Press)
Overall Rating: 8.5 (Very Good)

Basically, I've given this album the same rating as Circus, which is the best sounding Mary Black CD so far. When listening to this, I sometimes wonder whether it sound better than my copy of Circus (which is a 'gold-coated' pressing - i.e., its a light yellow sheen as opposed to 'gold' coloured).

There are 2 wonderful duets, A Woman's Heart with Emmilou Harris and Ring Them Bells with Joan Baez. As usual for pop recordings, the voices are clumped towards the centre. I would be so easy to have more left/right separation. Anyway, the songs are wonderful.

As for sound quality, I would have to say that they are nearly identical. On occasions, I perceived a greater 'depth' and a 'blacker' silence to this Japanese press compared to my compy of Circus but I might not be able to spot it in a blind test.

Julia Fordham, (Love Moves in ) Mysterious Ways (1991 Japanese Press)
Overall Rating: 7.5 (Very Good)

Well, its basically a compilation plus some other stuff. (Love Moves in) Mysterious way was not included in the Japanese press Swept album. Perhaps the movie Butcher's Wife had not yet been released in Japan at that time? The sound is good but I can't tell the difference between my US press and the Japanese press. If I hear some tiny differences, they could just be due to +-1db differences in volume. The timbre/timing of the bass in the intro to 'Happy Ever After' is the same to me.