Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • 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)
  • SoundStage! InSight - NAD Viso HP50 Headphones (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - GoldenEar Technology's Anechoic Chamber (May 2016)

Sony Legacy 19075841402
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Gary Louris, the guitarist, singer, and leader of the Jayhawks, has collaborated over the years with other songwriters on songs recorded by them or other artists. Nine of the 11 songs on the group’s new album, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels, fall into that category, yet the result is more stylistically consistent than the band’s last album, Paging Mr. Proust (2016), for which Louris wrote most of the songs himself. Proust took the Jayhawks into new territory while reinforcing their strengths. But if on first hearing Back Roads seems less exciting, it soon becomes clear that this album further confirms Louris’s compositional talents even as a co-writer, and that the Jayhawks remain the best band for his work.

The Jayhawks take “Come Cryin’ to Me” a bit faster than Natalie Maines did on her solo debut, Mother (2013), and the guitars have a brighter shine, in contrast to the harder edge of the distorted guitars in Maines’s version. In this song Karen Grotberg, the Jayhawks’ keyboardist and harmony singer, gets the first of two lead vocals on the album. Her beautifully measured singing is supported by the band’s typically strong backing vocals, and the arrangement is toughened by a great horn arrangement by David Ralicke.

Back Roads and Abandoned Motels

Louris sings lead on “Everybody Knows,” which he co-wrote with the Dixie Chicks for their Taking the Long Way (2006). Grotberg’s prominence in the beautiful background vocals effectively supports Louris’s understated singing, and the arrangement rocks just a little harder than the original. Eric Heywood’s guest turn on pedal steel adds a hint of melancholy that emotionally enriches the song.

Louris and Jakob Dylan collaborated on writing and performing “Gonna Be a Darkness” for the HBO series True Blood. Jayhawks drummer Tim O’Reagan sings lead here, and while the song is more fleshed out than in the original, it remains straightforward and uncluttered in execution. Carrie Rodriguez’s “El Dorado” is sharper-toned in the original version on Rodriguez’s She Ain’t Me, but this arrangement has its own strengths, especially Grotberg’s double-tracked vocal and John Jackson’s well-placed violin lines.

Two new Louris songs, “Carry You to Safety” and “Leaving Detroit,” show that, whatever the reason for recording the other nine tracks in new versions, he hasn’t run out of ideas. “Leaving Detroit” uses images of the dying city as a vivid backdrop to the death of an abusive relationship. Louris’s eye for the well-placed detail is unsettling in that song, but reassuring in the romantic but unsentimental “Carry You to Safety.”

Back Roads and Abandoned Motels

Louris wrote “Backwards Women” with members of the Wild Feathers, but if that band ever recorded the song, it hasn’t been released. It’s hard to imagine why, especially after hearing this spirited country-rock version. It distills all the things that make Back Roads and Abandoned Motels such a pleasure to listen to, from the complex, soaring harmony vocals to the simple but absolutely right playing by every member of the band. No one calls attention to him- or herself, but after several plays small details began to grab the ear -- from Grotberg’s consistently tasteful and effective keyboards to Jackson’s solos, which, even when brief, seem to tie a track together. Drummer O’Reagan and bassist Marc Perlman are masters at keeping the music rhythmically focused -- again, it was only after repeated plays that I realized how remarkably skilled they are.

Louris and Jackson produced the album with Ed Ackerson, who recorded it at Flowers Studio, in Minneapolis. The sound is organic and warmly enjoyable, complementing the music’s natural flow. Backroads and Abandoned Hotels is an affirmation of the Jayhawks’ standing as one of America’s very best bands.

. . . Joseph Taylor
josepht@soundstagenetwork.com