It’s About The Music – What’s New On Qobuz? Pt. 11

By: Gary Alan Barker
November 25th, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! In the spirit of Ben Franklin it is time to be thankful for the good things (not necessarily for a bunch of crazed religious fanatics on the run from England who exploited the native population), like music on Qobuz, and worship the turkey!

As I have never done this before, which is probably an oversight for an audio magazine, I thought I should list the gear used in these monthly music reviews. Essentially my current reference system (which it has been since I received the products in question) consists of a Manley Absolute Headphone Amplifier, with an Audio-gd R2R-1 DAC as source, using Cardas Iridium single-ended RCA interconnects, Cardas Iridium power cords connected to a Core Power Technologies A/V Equi=Core 1000 (my newest acquisition), and a Cardas Clear USB cable with an iFi Purifier 3, driving my Dan Clark Audio ETHER2 headphones.

This month sparks the release of the long-awaited (not necessarily by me but what the hey) Adele album “30” (24-bit/44.1 kHz – Qobuz) (I guess it had to wait 30 years for her to turn 30, but it does represent a milestone in many minds, for me it represented the day in which I could no longer trust myself), so I felt I should start with that. The opening track “Strangers By Nature” had a real ‘40s/ ‘50s Sam Coslow, Irving Taylor feel with an Irving Berlin style chorus. The song has a moody syrupy pace that a singer with deep vocal chops like Judy Garland or Dean Martin could have worked to death and made into a classic. As it is, with Adele’s essentially mono-tone sleepy vocal it kinda dies on the vine.

“Easy On Me” has some really nice mellow piano and dark emotional lyrics that Adele tries her best to turn into an over-the-top Whitney Houston/Dolly Parton style ballad but again runs up against her mediocre pipes.

“My Little Love” is a ‘60s/contemporary R&B slow ballad with a sub-sonic synthesizer enhanced bass guitar line and a histrionic spoken word voice-over. This is probably the most captivating track on the album.

Keeping with the ‘60s R&B theme “Cry Your Heart Out” is a lot more upbeat tune despite the downbeat “poor me” lyrics.

“Oh My God”, the name says it all, takes a run at contemporary house/hip-hop.

“Can I Get It” surprises by opening with some very fetching acoustic guitar which occasionally reappears throughout the tune, and the first stanzas point out that Adele could make a satisfying Country Pop singer if she so chose.

“All Night Parking (with Erroll Garner) features some truly wonderful piano which is eventually covered up by synth bass and a mainstream pop tune that is reminiscent of Maria Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”.

The only other song of note was the ending track “Love Is A Game” which drags and feels too slow, but has aspects that if handled slightly differently would have made a wonderful song.

I will say this, the compositions are excellent if a bit derivative and I can’t help feeling that a different performer could have made them epic. The dirge pace of the album, while the thematic core meant to elicit sadness and sympathy, just feels drawn out and contrived. On the other hand, fans of Adele will probably find this to be her greatest effort, emotional and tear-jerking, and probably think it is daring and experimental.

As a contrast I decided to cue up Joni Mitchell’s “Archives, Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971)”(24-bit/44.1 kHz – Qobuz). While the recording quality varies from primitive to wretched, the performances and songs are just epic. Comprised of 119 tracks it is hard to pick out highlights, but the first song to grab me was “Midnight Cowboy” which had two versions “(Home Demo 1)” and “(Home Demo 2)” which really felt like two completely different songs though they contained the same music and lyrics. I can’t say which version I liked best, I loved them both, though the first version had more heart the second was more polished, making me extremely glad that she decided to release these recordings.

“The Dawntreader (Home Demo With Vocal Overdub)” had a very David Crosby vibe which seems odd as she was living with Graham Nash.

“I Had A King (Home Demo With Piano Overdub)” drove me to listen to the original studio version then be disappointed because she removed the piano from it.

It was a little weird hearing the metronome in the background for “The Fiddle And The Drum (Piano Home Demo)”, weirder still was the fact that this is the only version of the song with musical accompaniment as it is normally performed acapella.

There are four songs that didn’t make the cut for Joni’s first album “Song To A Seagull” all of which are just brilliant, but the one that really caught me was “The Gift Of The Magi (Song To A Seagull Session)”. On the other side of the page, “Jeremy (Live at Canterbury House, Ann Arbor, MI, 3/10/1968)” was so much more satisfying than the studio version for “Song To A Seagull” though I loved it until I heard the live performance.

“Song To Aging Children Come (Live at Canterbury House, Ann Arbor, MI, 3/10/1968)” just gave me chills, which made clear that the live performances were an epic gem all in themselves.

Unfortunately, due to the length of the album, it would be futile and probably boring for me to explicate the entire thing, all I can say is that if you are a fan of Joni Mitchell this is a must-listen-to presentation, you will not find one line of disappointment, contrarily, if you aren’t a Joni Mitchell fan (shame on you) you need to go to Qobuz and pull up all of her early albums (well OK all of her albums) and listen to them as she is one of the true greats among folk, rock, and jazz (of which she is all three) musicians.

When comparing these two artists who were of an age when they started out (though her age was an asset for Adele as the standard line was isn’t she amazing she is only 17, whereas, for Joni, her age and inexperience were used as tools against her by dreadful manipulative people) it becomes clear that though they are both brilliant composers and lyricists, Joni’s talents as a singer and musician were head and shoulders above the other.

Until next month, remember it’s all about the music.

Reference System:

Manley Absolute Headphone Amplifier, Audio-gd R2R-1 DAC, Cardas Iridium single-ended RCA interconnects, Cardas Iridium power cords, Core Power Technologies A/V Equi=Core 1000, Cardas Clear USB cable, iFi Purifier 3, Dan Clark Audio ETHER2 headphones.

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