Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Reference 160M Amplifier (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)

Concord CRE-35380-00
Format: CD

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

James Taylor hasn’t recorded an album of new songs since 2002’s October Road, although he released a Christmas album in 2004 (reissued by Columbia in 2006), and a collection of material by other songwriters, Covers, in 2008. In his liner notes to his new disc, Before This World, Taylor says he took 2013 off to write. He found somewhere to isolate himself, and began writing lyrics to melodies that had begun as demos he recorded with his band in 2010.

Before This World opens with the reassuring sound of Taylor’s acoustic guitar -- he’s such a good singer that it’s easy to overlook his fingerstyle playing -- and the easy comfort of his voice. Like many musicians of his generation, such as Van Morrison or, coming a little later, Mark Knopfler, Taylor is past the point of surprising us, but his solid skills as a songwriter can still reach out to move us.

Before This World

The country- and blues-colored “Today Today Today” is about change and permanence, and how life, even with its transformations, goes on: “And I feel the same inside / As when I caught this ride.” Andrea Zonn’s fiddle adds a bittersweet touch to the song, and Taylor’s harmonica solo is as clean and fresh as the air in a pine forest. Another string player, Yo-Yo Ma, plays a beautiful, gentle solo in “You and I Again,” a love song that is sentimental without being cloying.

Taylor can refresh a pop cliché, as he does in the road song “Stretch of the Highway,” by singing with such likable funkiness, buoyed by a warm horn arrangement. “Montana” evokes images of that state’s powerful landscape, and “SnowTime” tells the story of Mexicans transplanted to Toronto who use their music to help them get through the cold, unfamiliar winter. And the sappiness of “Angels of Fenway,” Taylor’s ode to the Boston Red Sox, is balanced by “Far Afghanistan,” an emotionally stirring rumination on war.

Sting’s warm harmony vocal in “Before This World/Jolly Springtime” never feels for a moment like a star turn, nor does Ma’s cello solo. The track itself is the most musically ambitious on the disc, with two distinct sections fitting together in a way that reminds me of the best moments of Taylor’s fourth album, One Man Dog -- never a critic’s favorite, but definitely one of mine.

“I’m lucky to have this caliber of musician playing my stuff,” Taylor says in the DVD included with the album’s deluxe edition. His touring group, which also records as the Steve Gadd Band, has been with him so long that the music flows with an apparent effortlessness that suits the singer well -- but the arrangements are complex, and the deep interplay among the players can come only from years of making music together.

Dave O’Donnell engineered and mixed Before This World at Taylor’s studio, in Massachusetts, and Ted Jensen mastered it at Sterling Sound. It has a pleasing openness, with a wide soundstage and a sharp focus on each instrument. Listening to so well-recorded a disc is as reassuring as hearing Taylor’s voice.

. . . Joseph Taylor