Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • 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)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)

Yep Roc YEP-2556
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

Songwriter, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Grant-Lee Phillips’s ninth solo LP is a reaction to the current climate of American politics and culture, but it’s not shrill or hysterical. Even at its angriest, Widdershins is full of wit and a sense of shared responsibility, both for our current predicament and for what we might need to do about it. It’s also tuneful and skillfully played.

There’s a sense of urgency in the bright, driving acoustic guitars of “Walk in Circles,” but Phillips lays out his case intelligently. “I’d rather walk in circles with the witches,” he sings, and compares our current mood with another moment in history:

Some people they refuse to be enlightened
You try to prod those ones awake
They would have loved the inquisition
Like the ones who burnt poor Giordano Bruno at the stake

Invoking Bruno, a 16th-century friar executed for his heretical theories of cosmology, suggests that Phillips has given some thought to his protests and to the flow of history. “Unruly Mobs” retells the story of Marie Antoinette, and while it serves as a warning to those in charge (“Yesterday they loved us so / now they plot away like ermines”), it also suggests that vigilance is required of us all to keep things from slipping into chaos.

Widdershins

An arrangement of acoustic and electric guitars makes “The Wilderness” seem laid-back, but Phillips adds boiling guitars underneath, and a searing guitar riff between verses that cuts deeply. “Liberation” invites comparisons to Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen, but it’s been a while since Bruce wrote a song this potent. Phillips realizes that political action is complex, the results sometimes unexpected. Later in the song he sings, “Liberation! The victor sings / From those who would dare to topple the king.”

Phillips shifts styles easily, from the solidly rocking “Unruly Mobs” and “Scared Stiff” to the folky “King of Catastrophes” and the country-flavored “Miss Betsy.” His rock chops were on ample display during his time with Grant Lee Buffalo, the group he fronted in the 1990s, but his versatility and grasp of other genres has grown over the years, and Widdershins is likably unpredictable.

This songwriter has always shown a talent for crafting strong melodies and ear-catching hooks -- Widdershins is the rare album that has a message while managing to be fun and danceable. “Scared Stiff” rocks as hard as anything by the Clash, and is just as purposeful. One of the CD’s most successful tracks is an acoustic bonus: “Russian Doll” effectively uses what could have been too obvious a metaphor to put in better focus the unpredictable state of our current politics.

Widdershins

Phillips played guitar and keys (I’m guessing the strings in “Unruly Mobs” are keyboard generated), ably assisted by drummer Jerry Roe and bassist Lex Price. I would have preferred just a bit more resolution on Phillips’s voice and more sizzle on the drums, but the sound is warm and relatively uncompressed.

Topical music can often have a brief shelf life. (Be honest: How often does Green Day’s American Idiot make its way to your CD player?) Widdershins, an English word derived from the Middle Low German, means “in a left-handed, wrong, or contrary direction: counterclockwise.” This album is relevant today, but its songs are reminders that it’s always time to pay attention, and to hold leaders -- and ourselves -- accountable.

. . . Joseph Taylor
josepht@soundstagenetwork.com