Julie Fowlis – Live at Perthshire Amber

Julie Fowlis – Live at Perthshire Amber

If you are looking for an exceptional live album in terms of musical content and sound quality then this is certainly the album for you – depending naturally on the genre being to your taste!

I have always believed that as far as your hi-fi will allow a live album should give you a feeling of being there, transported to the venue. So many albums are badly mixed with an inordinate amount of overdubbing and manipulation.

Perthshire Amber is a festival that has been running for a few years now and is organised by the legendary Scottish singer/songwriter Dougie Maclean.

As the title would suggest Live at Perthshire Amber was recorded at the festival and is truly an exception to the usual live albums churned by the major labels. It has a supremely natural acoustic placing Julie centre stage with her vocals clear and full of emotion. Her band of top quality Scottish musicians offer a perfect, atmospheric backdrop.

The last track is a superb rendition of Pabay Mor with Dougie Maclean joining Julie on vocals and guitar. It is the perfect finale to a marvellous album. It would be fantastic if Dougie could produce a live album of his own offering similar production values.

For now though I am happy to sit back and imagine that I was lucky enough to attend this concert in the comfort of my living room.

Advertisements

Duncan Chisholm – Redpoint Album

I was holidaying on the Isle of Skye over Easter and was totally captured by this incredible island.

Whilst browsing through the CD’s in a traditional music shop in Portree the owner started playing some beautiful, haunting fiddle music over the shop speakers.

After two or three tracks (and more than one complaint from my son that he was getting bored) I asked the owner which album it was that he was playing. It turns out that it was a solo album called Redpoint by Duncan Chisholm. Duncan is probably most famous for being a founder member of the band Wolfstone. His solo productions are much more laid back and atmospheric comparative to the band work.

Redpoint was released back in 1997 and features Duncan’s stunning emotive playing backed by Ivan Drever and Phil Cunningham amongst others.

I listened to the album in the car and in the cottage many times whilst away and it seems to me to be the perfect soundtrack to such a awe inspiring island.

Since getting home I have picked up a couple of Duncan’s other solo works and these are equally as good. If you enjoy altmospheric fiddle music that touches the soul then these albums are most definitely for you.

Sit back late at night with a glass of whisky and the light’s turned down and you will be transported back to the land of magical glens, mountains and lochs.

For more information please go to duncanchisolm.co.uk

Totem Model 1 Signature Review – A Giant Amongst Small Speakers

The Totem Model 1 Signature

My desire to try out the Totem Model 1 Signature has not been with a view to changing from the wonderful Majik 140 but simply to see if there is an alternative brand that can offer a synergistic match to my Linn electronics at a price point between the Majik and Akurate ranges.

I am aware that the upgrade path with the Majik range would be to go “activ” before taking the jump to Akurate level but there is a substantial financial investment required to do this. Also, space for the extra amplification is required. Purchasing a set of speakers slightly more expensive than the Majik’s may yield a better interim sonic return on your money.

And so, after Phil at Totem UK kindly offered to loan me a pair of the Model 1’s, I had them set up next to the 140’s and was ready to see when these diminutive boxes could do.

The Model 1S is a two way standmount design with a heavily modified Dynaudio Bass Driver and Seas metal dome tweeter. Two pairs of fabulous WBT binding posts adorn the rear of each speaker which naturally allow either single wire (with links), bi-wire or bi-amp configuration. For the time I had the speakers I bi-wired them.

The Dynaudio Bass Driver

The loaned pair of speakers were finished in a fantastic Cherry veneer. The cabinets are made in a traditional woodworking method utilising lock mitred joints and this is reflected in the way the cabinet feels: solid as a rock.

The insides of the cabinet walls are also veneered and then lined with a material called borosilicate. According to Totem this is vastly superior to the traditional use of foam which can not only degrade over time but can also store electromagnetic energy influencing the performance of the drivers. I am no scientist but this to my mind does make sense and something I had not considered before.

I used the only pair of speaker stands I own which were collecting dust in the garage namely the Custom design RS300. I used them filled and would recommend the heavier more inert the support for these speakers the better.

As recommended by Totem I set the speakers up firing straight ahead. I never felt it necessary to experiment with toe in.

The Model 1’s have a soundstage that has to be heard to be believed

The system with which I exclusively used the Model 1’s is as follows:

Linn DS

Lector CD7

Linn Majik Kontrol Pre-amplifier

Akurate 2200 Power Amplifier

Cabling was all Linn

To start I played one of my favourite James Taylor tracks: Gaia from the Hourglass album. The first thing that struck me was the sheer enormity and solidity of the soundstage. James Taylor’s voice was locked dead centre in cavernous acoustic space with backing singers spread to the sides and beyond the speakers. Each instrument was clearly delineated and easy to follow. Not in a surgical, clinical fashion – the presentation was organic and rich with a slight hint of forwardness that made gave life to the recording.

Linn use the 2K driver configuration in the 140’s to aid dispersion of the higher frequencies but the simple set up the Model 1’s created a presentation that was wider, cleaner and more focussed than I have ever heard through the Linn’s.

With regards to high frequency rendition and again competing with Linn’s tweeter/super tweeter approach the 1’s seemed to be more extended although not quite as smooth. Certainly not aggressive though. There was a lot more detail at this level which made the high frequencies more obvious.

There was a leanness to the bass as you would expect but after a while I didn’t feel like I was missing out on the message of the music as the bass produced seemed deep enough with acoustic bass certainly easier to follow than with the Linn. The rest of the presentation was so involving and natural that after a while I didn’t give it a second thought. It wasn’t until plugged the Linn’s back in that I appreciated what was missing.

The Seas Treble Unit

I have now spent many a happy hour playing track after track discovering what these incredible little speakers can do. Each track would throw up a new level of detail or nuance that would put a smile on my face. Listening to the likes of Eva Cassidy can be unnerving with her voice and acoustic guitar palpable between the speakers.

If your music collection is predominantly made up of any of the following or similar then I can confidently say that, subject to your electronics being up to the job, these speakers are for you:

Diana Krall, Norah Jones, James Taylor, Dougie McLean, Lucy Kaplansky, Keb Mo, Eva Cassidy, Alison Krauss, Gretchen Peters, Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach.

If you live on a musical diet of Metallica, AC/DC, Mahler or Wagner the Model 1’s will simply not give you the bottom end authority to do justice to the types of music synonymous with these artists/composers.

To conclude these are truly world class speakers that seem to defy the laws of physics. The bass they can produce has to be heard to be believed. But, to me, it is in terms of sound staging, reproduction of acoustic instruments and vocals (especially female) where they score most highly. They are also thoroughly engaging connecting you to the message and emotion of the music being reproduced. Many times I would find myself listening through track after track happily discovering new details.

Traditional driver configuration

So where is the downside? Well, the speakers retail at around £2,200 which is around 30% higher than the Linn Majik 140’s. Not an insignificant outlay for a compact pair of speakers.

The market for compact standmount speakers is also jam packed with alternatives from the likes of Proac, Harbeth, Dynaudio, Kudos, Sonus Faber and Monitor Audio to name but a few.

I have owned or extensively listened to speakers from all of the above brands and whilst the Totems are top of the pile when it comes to cost I believe their sonic performance justifies the outlay. Something that cannot be said for many other brands. When you add in the quality of the construction and the material’s used (which gives peace of mid from a long term performance perspective) then I think that they are worth the asking price.

I would urge you to try and get to listen to a pair. If not to buy at least to get to hear what is possible to achieve with a properly engineered mini monitor. You may want to leave your credit card at home because one listen could be enough to make you want to buy a pair right there and then. To me they are that good.

Link to Totem website: http://totemacoustic.com/en/hi-fi/compact/model-1-signature/

Jon Allen – Sweet Defeat

This is a quick blog post. I have recently discovered this guys music and I have to say he is superb. Heard him singing live on Radio 2 a week or so ago and I was impressed enough to go out and buy his latest album the next day.

Great voice, reminiscent of an early Rod Stewart before he took a wrong turn, with wonderful music and lyrics to match. I have been playing Sweet Defeat on repeat for almost a week and not tired of it once.

His first album is supposed to to be just as good and my order went into Amazon today. I suggest that if you like well written, superbly sung folk/folk rock type music then you should seek this guy out too.

I cannot imagine you would be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Playlist #1 – Being a Parent

I have always loved songwriters who use their children or children in general for inspiration. Being a Father to three I am constantly touched by the thoughts and sentiments of songwriters. The fact that some go on the call their kids Moon Unit, Fifi Trixibell or Apple is an entirely different matter!

The playlist runs the gamut of emotions from grief to elation. Do some investigating and enjoy.

1. Tears In Heaven – Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton suffered the worst nightmare of any parent: the loss of their child. Clapton’s son, Conor, plunged to his death from the window in an apartment block and this song was his way of dealing with the devastating grief.

2. Danny’s Song – Kenny Loggins

A wonderfully uplifting song from brilliant songwriter Kenny Loggins. It tells the tale of meeting his wife and how their world was made complete when their first child came along.

3. The Things We’ve Handed Down – Marc Cohn

Marc Cohn is a brilliant songwriter. Looking a little deeper than Walking In Memphis you can find some gems. We have all wondered, prior to the birth of our child, what traits they have inherited from Mum or Dad. This song encapsulates those feelings and thoughts beautifully.

4. This Is Home – Lucy Kaplansky

Lucy tells the story of the adoption of her baby from an orphanage in China better than I could here. This song was her way of telling the story. The lyrics a moving especially when she sings of her adopted baby to be lying, alone, in an orphanage “getting used to being left behind”. A simple but powerful song.

5. Over There – John Gorka

Lyrically a brilliant song about how being in a family with his wife and two children keeps him grounded. “And the little but that I give up/It’s all coming back a hundredfold/It’s not lost if it goes to love/It rounds you out so you can roll”.

6. Father and Son – Cat Stevens

A fantastic song about a father who wants the best for his child and the son who wants to make it in his own way….

7. Teach Your Children – Crosby Stills and Nash

A great song about looking to the future and wanting the best for your children and that how it was done before might not be the best way. Second part of the songs speaks directly to children of parents fears and hang ups.

8. Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) – John Lennon

Lennons stunning , brilliantly written song to his son Sean.

9. Sarah Maria – James Taylor

Sarah Maria was James’ first child with Carly Simon and this a sweet song about his little girl.

10. Taking You Home – Don Henley

As one half of the main writing partnership in the Eagles you can expect great quality. Henley’s solo albums have a more of a personal touch to them which makes for a more in depth listen.

Sometimes the joy of parenthood comes when you least expect it and this is true of Don Henley. This is his song relating his feelings when he first saw his newborn and wanted to simply take her “home”.

11. Speaking With The Angel – Cry Cry Cry

Lucy Kaplansky sings here on a collaborative album she did with Richard Shindell and Dar Williams. The album is made up of songs by their favourite artists. This is their brilliant version of Ron Sexsmith’s song.

Well, that’s it. I hope you do seek out and enjoy this music and it speaks to you in the way it does me.

Perfect Playlists – Philosophy

I am going to begin a series of Blogs of what I consider to be perfect playlists around certain themes.

Each will contain 10 to 12 songs and will contain music from familiar and unfamiliar artists. I have tried to focus more on those artists and songs that are a little less known – there is a wonderfully rich vein of music that simply goes umissed.

I will provide some commentary on each song where appropriate. I have always been a sucker for a good lyric and so the songs chosen will hopefully draw you into the songwriters world……

I hope that you find them interesting and they lead you to discover some new artists and music. Please feel free to make comments and suggestions to add to the playlists to makethem even more “perfect”.

The first of these will be on the emotions of being a parent and will follow shortly……

David Wilcox – Master of the Metaphor

A wonderfully talented singer, songwriter and lyricist from the USA. His songs are usually metaphorical. Take for example his song Eye of the Hurricane. The song tells the tale of a woman who has a motorbike and rides it faster and faster pushing it to its limits thinking that she is in control. She eventually meets her grisly demise.

But as David says on his live album the song is about addiction. How you can think you are in control of something and keep pushing things until you are out of control without realising.

A lot of David’s songs are like this – metaphors on life and love.

The best introduction into his world is through his live album Live Songs and Stories. There isn’t a filler song on here and many have humorous introductions with great philosophies on life. The song about living your life backwards is particularly amusing.