Saturday, January 22, 2011

Michael Fremer Album Review

Emotion and Commotion
(Recent release)

Jeff Beck
Atco R1 523695 180g LP
Produced by: Steve Lipson
Engineered by: Steve Lipson
Mixed by: Steve Lipson
Mastered by: Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering
Lacquer cut by: N/A at GZ Digital Media



 Beck's Back On Album Meant For Light's Off Listening

by Michael Fremer
January 01, 2011

Clearly a fan, producer Steve Lipson places Jeff Beck's guitar in a distant reverberant space that decreases its solidity but increases both its size and its mystery, evoking a God-like presence hovering above a lush, string-drenched orchestra. Or you could see Beck playing perched on a craggy, windswept rock surrounded by white-capped water. The album very much has a Pacific Ocean vibe.

What to do with a guitarist who doesn't sing? Beck and the producers brought in guest vocalists Joss Stone, Olivia Safe and Imelda May for five of the album's ten songs. The others mostly luxuriate Beck in a foamy orchestral sea in which slow ballads allow Beck to linger and then tug on long, delicate feedback drenched lines. The ethereal, feedback laden guitar sound Beck and the producer create is bubble-like, delicate and soft on the ears, even on the edgy Joss Stone take of "I Put a Spell on You."

Side One opens with Britten's Corpus Christi Carol that many may have first encountered on Jeff Buckley's Grace album and ends with a dramatic reading of "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's opera "Turandot." Even your dog is familiar with the theme by now. The heavily orchestrated version here is just on the non-kitsch side of Liberace and I say that as a compliment. An "Over the Rainbow" gets the same treatment and it's equally effective.

Side One's upbeat instrumentals "Hammerhead" add buoyancy. "Hammerhead" leads with wah-wah and breaks into a huge synth string section then evolves into something that would fit nicely on Blow By Blow. That's followed by "Never Alone" a gorgeous ballad co-written with keyboardist Jason Rubello. It's got a heavy longing of a gorgeous melodic line.

Side two continues where side one left off. It opens with "Serene" and closes with "Elegy For Dunkirk"—not exactly "Celebrate Good Times." "Serene" is a Bolero-like piece reminiscent of you know what from way back, but of course mellower, with Olivia Safe's operatic voice dancing in the backdrop. Jeff Buckley's "Lilac Wine" sung by Imelda May tacks into the same slowing headwind but the take maintains deliberate momentum and Beck delivers yet another stunning series of perfectly drawn lines.

Joss Stone ramps up "There's No Other Me", which yields the album's most glass shards. It's the only explosion to be found on the album and that's fine. The album ends with Dario Marianelli's "Elegy For Dunkirk" from the "Atonement" soundtrack, with Olivia Safe adding operatic vocal backdrops. Beck makes the guitar sound like a duduk, which is about as mournful as an instrument can sound.

Lawson and Beck have made a deep, reflective and daring album that skirts dangerously around kitsch but never falls in.

This album would have to deliver the sonics goods to work effectively and it does. It's very well recorded, with rich orchestral staging, dramatic imaging, particularly on Beck's guitar and wide dynamics and bandwidth. It's meant to be enveloping in every way and it certainly succeeds at that!

Surely this is a digital recording but not because it sounds like one.

The vinyl is nicely packaged and reasonably well pressed but what I don't like is that while the mastering credit goes to Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman's, clearly the producer didn't want to pay Grundman's going rate for cutting because the vinyl was clearly cut elsewhere. There's no CB identifying scribe on the lead out groove area, so the odds of a high resolution file having been used for the cut is low and whoever did it, didn't check for serious sibilant overloads in a few places—trust me it's not my cartridge that's the problem.

Chris Bellman should have cut it. He mastered the thing in the first place. That tells you the vinyl was probably just a "throw away" despite the nice packaging. Still, this is highly recommended musically and sonically in whatever format you choose. A hi-rez download would be nice.

Thanks to Michael over at  for the exclusive rights to reprint this material. Stop by for more reviews and features.

Copyright © 2008 & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved Reprinted by Permission

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