|Jonatha Brooke - Steady Pull|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 25 September 2001|
label: Bad Dog Records
release year: 2001
reviewed by: Richard Elen
The latest album from Jonatha Brooke was a real killer on CD. Now that it’s out on DVD, with 5.1 and stereo mixes on a DVD-Video and a DVD-Audio side, it’s made all the more incredible. This release is on Brooke’s own Bad Dog Records label and it’s quite astonishing in many ways. How on earth did she manage to put a project like this together, for example? And how on earth is it that such a brilliant artist and such an exceptional album have not excited the slightest bit of label support? This lady should be signed to a major label and should be one of the most popular artists in the land, and it is a sad commentary on the state of the U.S. music industry that neither of these "shoulds" is the case.
Bob Clearmountain, one of the country’s foremost mix engineers, worked with Brooke on her previous solo effort from a few years ago, 10 Cent Wings, and was so impressed that he wanted to do this album entirely in his own studio in Pacific Palisades. Clearmountain’s MixThis! facility (you can visit it virtually at www.Mixthis.com) is really a mix room, but somehow they fit everyone in, with drums in the lounge and bass, guitars and even some vocals in the control room. On this disc, you can see how the album was put together, and a blow-by-blow account of every song, in a making-of documentary that is extremely enlightening. Seeing such a consummate artist at work and talking about how her latest album came together is a wonderful experience.
The disc itself is two-sided, with a DVD-Video side, including DTS and Dolby surround and Dolby stereo audio. Each song includes a video and there’s a making-of documentary and some outtakes. Closed-captioning gives us lyrics onscreen as they happen, a very useful touch. On the other side, the DVD-A side, we get 88.2 kHz, 24-bit MLP surround and even 176.4 kHz stereo. This is the first time I’ve had a popular music disc to review that includes virtually all the possibilities of the medium. While playing the DVD-A side, you can also either look at photos or read the lyrics onscreen, which is great. Additionally, there is a short video sequence on the making of the video of the first track. Both sides include DVD-ROM features and web links.
One can say that Steady Pull is a logical extension of Brooke’s previous work, in which she pushes her own boundaries even farther out than before. The album is more experimental in some areas than 10 Cent Wings, but there is no lack of hooky, commercial numbers such as the opening track, "Linger," which is Brooke in "straight pop mode" – or at least as close as she goes. "How Deep Is Your Love," the second cut, is an engineer’s dream (or nightmare), with samples, loops and other stimulating paraphernalia – and it’s a gas (can you still say that?). In an artistic pairing made in heaven, Michael Franti joins Brooke on the title track – apparently a mutual choice by both Brooke and Clearmountain - with Marcus Miller on bass. The list goes on.
The band is also exceptional on this record, with talents such as Joe Sample on keyboards, Mitchell Froom on B3 Hammond, the aforementioned Miller, and many more. Clearmountain even appears with his assistant David Boucher on backing vocals (see the making-of video for living proof!). Clearmountain’s former assistant, Ryan Freeland, now a much sought-after engineer in his own right, handled the original demos, some of which made their way on to the final cuts. Bob Ludwig, perhaps one of the world’s leading mastering engineers, has done a superb job of putting this album on to disc. My pre-release copy seemed to have a minor problem displaying the titles one track ahead on the front panel of my Kenwood player, but that has been playing up a little lately and it probably isn’t a factor on the final release copies.
On the audio side, the quality is superb throughout. The Dolby surround version on the DVD-V side is noticeably inferior to the DTS, but there is much less difference between the DVD-A surround and the DTS on this disc than I usually find: I suspect that the running time is such that there was little need for serious compression to stay within the bit-budget, despite the extensive special features. It also shows how good DTS can be when done well. The stereo Dolby mix on the DVD-V side is quite close in quality to the DTS surround.
Comparing the DVD-A mixes – surround at 88.2 versus stereo at 176.4 – I really couldn’t hear a difference at all apart from the lack of surround. This is Bob Clearmountain mixing here, guys, so you know it’s the best. If this is what the super-high sample-rate of DVD-Audio is going to sound like, please don’t bother spending the time, effort or money on the extra gear: stick to 24/96. Given the choice between higher sample rates and surround, as I have said before, I will take surround any day, and this is particularly true here. Now, of course, I have a fairly ordinary listening set-up (see my Toy Matinee DVD-A review for details), but I am moved to suggest that unless you have some really outstanding gear in your listening room, 176.4 or 192 kHz sampling is really not going to be worth your while – indeed, it may not be really worthwhile for anyone outside the production environment. Go for the surround instead.
Overall, this is a must-have record in any medium. It would be worth buying on eight-track cartridge! But it is now 2001, and if you have a DVD player, you owe it to yourself to own this disc. It is truly incredible, and the amount of effort, expertise and sheer brilliance that has gone into it at every creative level is quite astounding. Got to www. jonathabrooke.com right now and buy this record!
What a supreme pity that today’s record companies completely and utterly lack the same commitment to excellence and innovation that is shown on every facet of this album. You, over there in the record industry, should be ashamed of yourselves. If you want to drive everyone to MP3 and LimeWire, just continue behaving this badly to pioneering artists like Jonatha Brooke and you will get everything you damn well deserve.