Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Patricia Barber's Modern Cool on Blu-Ray

Patricia Barber's Modern Cool on Blu-Ray? What am I supposed to do with this? I was perplexed when Michael Friedman of Premonition Records sent me this disc to review, since I'm vaguely unaware of the marketplace when it comes to Blu-Ray audio-only releases. As a dyed-in-the-wool anachronist, I get a little confused when I'm randomly sent downloads or unfamiliar formats. My first instinct is to send a little cyber-note asking if I can have it on vinyl instead, or even a CD. But Blu-Ray? I don't even own a Blu-Ray player.

Oh, wait...I do have a Blu-Ray player--on my laptop. Using the DAC from my SoundBlaster soundcard, I can play this and evaluate it. But there's another obstacle. How do I really feel about Patricia Barber? When I worked at TONEAudio, publisher Jeff Dorgay was fond of saying how he owned NO Patricia Barber records and had no intention of doing so. Ms. Barber has earned a reputation as one of those performers who appeal to audiophiles due to the spectacular sound quality of her recordings, but for those who pride themselves on being music lovers she travels in those same circles as Diana Krall (you know how I feel about her), Jennifer Warnes and Madeleine Peyroux (a singer I do like a lot).

As a reviewer, I do need to remain objective. And as Michael Friedman wrote, "Audio-only Blu-Ray is an emerging format. It's a bit of a long shot but I would love to see it gain a foothold." I'll do my best, Michael.

First of all, let's talk about the music. Modern Cool is a bit more jagged and adventurous than I expected, and not at all bland or aloof like those well-recorded efforts from Krall or Warnes. Made up mostly of originals, this album features spare arrangements that leap out and confront the listener. This is not the traditionally smooth and sultry torch music your parents adored, but confrontational and full of melancholy. Her covers are also surprising, such as her versions of the Doors' "Light My Fire," Paul Anka's "She's a Lady" and the old Dietz-Schwartz tune "You & The Night & The Music." After listening to Cool, I'm not sure about the backlash Barber has been receiving. She's clearly taking risks, big ones.

As far as the hi-rez format goes, I feel the sound quality is every bit as compelling and life-like as most WAV and FLAC downloads, with plenty of extension in the treble. That's where these modern formats excel, in my opinion, with amazingly sweet highs that drift off into the ether. I found that navigating the Blu-Ray format on my laptop was a little on the clunky side, with access to individual tracks a bit confusing. But knowing how confused I can get with these new-fangled technologies, I'm sure I'm doing something wrong.

It's rewarding to know, on the other hand, that there's one more way to listen to hi-rez music. In addition, I'm still one of those troglodytes who prefer physical media to downloads because I simply enjoy handling a disc and inserting it into a player. That's one of the reasons I felt a little disappointed when I first delved into CDs 30 years ago--I like to do more than push a few buttons when I interact with a piece of music. But for those of you who have Blu-ray capabilities and are looking for one more way to build your collection, Blu-ray audio is more than capable of satisfying.

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