Volume 8

Rebecca Pidgeon, Four Marys (1998 Chesky)
Overall Rating: 6.5 (Good)
Her wonderful voice and great recording.

A Celtic/Scottish folksong album? Why? Why?
The songs are ok, but not especially brilliant

Rebecca Pidgeon has finally released a new album, and most unusually, it is a collection of various celtic folksongs in the traditional style (though some are written by contemporary songwriters). This is, like really old stuff, not like, say, Mary Black's more modern stuff. Really, too obscure for most people.

The recording, of course, is very good and is done in 96/24. Its also a 'live studio' recording unlike the previous ones. Looking at the photo in the album, it appears to be done in a typically Chesky style; single blumein mike.

Ultimately, one for audiophiles and Rebecca Pidgeon's fans only. I wish she and her husband (the David Mamet) would start writing some more original stuff though.

Iris Dement, The Way I Should (1996, Warner Bros US press)
Overall Rating: 9.0 (Excellent)
A massively talented singer/songwriter and a great recording.
Nuff' said.

Her singing is a bit 'shouty'. But hey, this is supposed to be protest music.

I confess, I have a copy of Stereo Review. I bought the Dec 96 issue for $7 for fun. In it, the recording of the month of Iris Dement's, The Way I should. I have continuously been on the lookout for this album. Then in late 97, Stereophile also reviewed it favourably, but I never found it, not even in Tower or HMV. Then one day in '98, I found it at Roxy Disc House in East Coast.

In many ways, Iris can be compared to Mary-Chapin Carpenter. Both are generally stronger with up-tempo songs, both have country accents, both are good songwriters. Iris' voice is the more fragile, delicate sort, but she still can shout.. :)

The first track, "When my Mornin' comes around" opens impressively, with piano (played by Iris), leading into guitars and a mandolin. The is marvellous space and air around the instruments; just listen to the introduction and you just know that the whole album is going to sound great. A wonderfully balanced acoustic mix, with time for violin solos. This is one of the slower tracks, but still, a sonically impressive way to start the album.

The album then leads to "There's a wall in washington" which of course refers to the Vietnam monument. The song is perhaps a social comment, written from the eyes of family who have lost someone in Vietnam.

A Boy, he travelled from far away
To walk the path till he finds that name
He reaches his hand up and traces each letter
He stares at the name of his unknown father
His Heart is young and its filled with pain
In Anger he cries out
"Who is to blame for this wall in Washington
That's made of cold black granite.
Why is my father's name etched here in it
In this wall in Washington

And then we get to the brilliant Mary Chapin Carpenterish "Wasteland of the Free", a toe-tapping, infectiously rhythmic dig at the rich etc.

We got CEO's makin 200 times the workers' pay But they'll fight like hell against riasin' the minimum wage
And if you don't like it mister
They'll ship your job to some third world country 'cross the sea
And it feels like I'm livin' in the wasteland of the free

Brilliant. Highly recommended.

The Corrs, Talk on Corners (Warner 1998)
Overall Rating: 6.5 (Good)
Reasonably decent songwriting that sounds a bit like early cranberries
Nice recording, primarily acoustic, good bass, though a bit forward and digital.

Well, don't say I don't listen to mainstream pop :) Or at least, mainstream pop that claims to have a large acoustic element. With vocals/keyboards/drums/violin you would expect them to lay off the 101 synth layers or no one can hear the violin etc. Well, they did lay off, to a certain extent.

Andrea Corr certainly has a pleasant enough voice, a bit lacking in body, as usual, but no complaints. And yes, I've been dragging the review of this, but finally, I'm getting a better idea how to characterise the sound. First, it will bring to mind the Cranberries. There is no Irish accent in the music as such, but all these Irish singers have sort of a lilt when they pronounce certain words. Of course, Andrea Corr's voice is of the sweeter sort, and listening to Wilson Philips' magnificent first album (Desmond in Kingsley likes playing this very loud :)) I realised that they have a very similar sound with harmonisation etc. Of course, Corrs have a 'harder sound' due to acoustic percussion, electric guitar versus the soft synth pop of Philips'.

The sound is not fantastic, but listenable I suppose. Good bass, soundstage, imaging very average and it sounds a bit harsh which is unflattering to Andrea Corrs voice, which is already lacking in body.

Roseanna Vitro, Catching Some Rays (Telarc 1997)
Overall Rating: 7.5 (Very Good)
Good voice which swings (admittedly a lot of jazz singers sound similar :))
ADD recording, but customarily great Telarc sound
Nice lively and enjoyable album
Very talented percussionists.

The album is done well, so it all depends on whether you like the programme material
(Ray Charles' stuff). I do.

In a rather crowded field of female jazz vocalists, I would say Roseanna's voice has a lot of similarities with other singers. A 'shoutier' and more lively alto voice rather than a low sultry one (lousy recordings make the singer sounds like she's asthmatic or something). Sure I have a penchant for lively vocals (aargh Diana Krall) and clear diction, but what makes her great underrated performer is her ability to swing.

This album is a compilation of songs popularised by Ray Charles (explains the album title nicely). Ranging from cool swinging numbers like 'Unchain my heart', ballads like 'Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying' to shouty tunes like 'One Mint Julep'. In general, the songs are nice light numbers that make for very enjoyable listening. Ok, so i'm not sophisticated enough to appreciate 'pure' jazz :). Theres a total of 12 songs totalling 61 mins, good value indeed.

This is a 1997 ADD recording and theres a wonderful analogish feel coupled with great Telarc clarity. The bass is tight and well-defined, the sax is nicely recessed into the soundstage and the drumset is convincing (shimmering brushed hi-hats the decay properly). Actually, if anything, I think that the percussion on this album is one of the best I've heard so far (better than Patricia Barber? I think so, but I'm biased towards 'lively').

This is a very enjoyable and listenable album and is definitely recommended. I think you'll like it for all its virtues. Ultimately, the lyrics to my are fun, but I am not moved by them (i.e. irrational subjective preferences) and so it gets only a 7.5.

Anne Murray, Crooning (EMI 1993)
Overall Rating: 7.5 (Very Good)
Nostalgic 50s adult contemporary sort of music in a great 90s recording.
Very good recording. Fine example of the genre.
Great introduction to music of the period coupled with good sound.

Slow paced not to everyone's liking.

Can compare to:
Carol Kidd (though she's jazz), Amanda McBroom.

Anne Murray has a lowish altoish voice not unlike Amanda McBroom. She has a more controlled and restrained delivery that is perhaps not as attractive as Amanda. Of course, she has a large discography and until I investigate further, I assume she's singing in a style appropriate to the '50s covers shes doing.

The songs are all pleasant sentimental adult contemporary 50s hits inspired by performances from singers of the era, and which are listed in the liner notes. From "Cry me a River" (Julie London - i.e. the original singer not necessarily the songwriter), "Old Cape Cod" (Patti Page) and "You Belong to Me" (Jo Stafford - also on the Ally McBeal soundtrack). Its all extremely pleasant and listenable.

Sarah McLachlan, Solace (Arista 1991 US press)
Overall Rating: 8.0 (Very Good)
Its strengths are not apparently obvious, but repeated listenings bring rewards.
A 'deep' album (but not dull/brooding) and good music.
Her voice, of course.

Do we want Sarah to write deep complex songs, or songs that allow her to show off her voice? :)
Quite a few of the songs in the album have a 'sameness' about that.

I got this album some time ago, but after a initial listening, I placed it back in my CD holder and never got around to relistening it. Despite her very fine voice, I did not really get a good impression of this disc, especially in view of the excellent albums Fumbling and Surfacing. However, extended listening reveals this album to contain songs as thoughtful and intellectual as anything she has written.

The sound quality is a tiny bit better than Touch. Very listenable but nothing to shout about.

Jennifer Robin, Eye of the Storm (Sweeca 1996 Japanese Press)
Overall Rating: 8.0 (Very Good)
Great recording and 1 demo quality track.
Comparing to Janis Ian, I would prefer Robin's slightly livelier and sweeter voice.

Not as good as Pidgeon [comparisons are inevitable)
Song writing generally good, but along with her singing style, appears to be influence by Janis Ian's style, who I don't really appreciate

Introduced to me by Kum Cheong at Roxy, Jennifer Robin is one of those female singers that never hit it big but still produces some fine audiophile CDs. Her first album with with Denon (I listened to it too, the sound with Sweeca is the same high quality).

She has a sweet voice, singing it a laidback understated style like Janis Ian. As mentioned, her voice is sweeter and a touch more forward and livelier. However, compared to Rebecca Pidgeon, her voice is not as full-bodied.

The star of this album is the opening track 'Oh Mama'. Its vocals + lots of percussion (udo, surdo, shaker, conga, and 'toys'). Needless to say, the soundstage is wide and deep, and the percussion is well recorded. This is not a drum and bass track mind you, but a track that reveals wonderful detail. The percussion is not supposed to drown out her voice (or you have a bass problem). Audiophile quality definitely.

born in a crib with the sides built up way too high, oh mama
born to a world of perfection, demanding eyes, oh mama
no hand to mouth, a silver spoon, oh mama

Of the 12 tracks on the album, 10 are written by her. Theres a particularly nice cover of '500 miles' (a familiar NS marching song :)) The songs are not brilliant but above average. More importantly, they're not all sickly sweet love songs.

As a whole, the album is Recommended, but I think the first track is nearly worth the price of admission :)