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Nancy Bryan
Neon Angel
Analog Productions Originals APO 2013 SA

Rebecca Pidgeon
The Raven
Chesky SACD205

Review by Wayne Donnelly
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Nancy Bryan Neon Angel    Rebecca Pidgeon The Raven

SACD Stock Number: See Above


  I decided to consider these two releases together because I classify both of these singers as Audiophile Ladies. Both have a following among listeners on the prowl for top sound, but I don't think either has made much headway with the public at large.

Bryan's Lay Me Down was heard in a lot of audio show rooms a while back, and for those of you who took to it, I can say that this new SACD offers many of the same virtues. The recording is dynamic and ultra-clean. Bryan is supported by tastefully arranged and sensitively played acoustic accompaniments, which the recording captures with a wonderful sense of life and tonal richness. We can also hear every nuance of Bryan's voice, for better and for worse.

Let's backtrack for a moment. When I first encountered Lay Me Down, I was not quite sure what to make of it. Bryan didn't have a very strong voice, but she had a certain style that, together with her earnest songwriting, created an impression of a sincere, serious-minded artist doing her best with the tools she had. I wanted to like this lady, and for a while I played the album pretty frequently. But over time many of the songs didn't hold up for me, and I sort of lost interest despite the album's excellent sound.

With Neon Angel, both singing and songwriting have gotten more ambitious. Bryan is going for more expression and drama, I think, and in that pursuit she sometimes pushes her limited instrument into perilous territory. She goes frequently into falsetto, and also affects a high head tone (both reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, whom I would guess is the biggest influence on Bryan's vocal style). Most of the time she keeps these mannerisms pretty well under control, but when she sings loudly I tend to find myself wanting to turn down the volume or leave the room. For me Bryan is most effective when she sings simply, as in "Blame It on the Moon" or "Chicago Skyline."

I do think the songs on this album are consistently stronger than on Lay Me Down, and I'm getting more interested after several playings -- always a good sign. Bryan may very well remain a niche artist, but there is a certain honor in being too individual to make it big. NOTE: Acoustic Sounds has also released a 180-gram LP of Neon Angel. Based on just a few plays, it's gorgeous, with slightly more warmth than the excellent SACD.

If memory serves, The Raven was Rebecca Pidgeon's first Chesky recording, and that always sound-conscious company has done well with the DSD remastering and this SACD. Artistically, Pidgeon is a polar opposite to Nancy Bryan. Bryan is warm, Pidgeon cool. Bryan wears her heart on her sleeve; Pidgeon projects an air of ironic detachment, both in her delivery and in the songs she writes, sometimes in collaboration with her superstar husband, playwright and film director David Mamet. (Pidgeon is also a talented actress; she does great work, for instance, in hubby's very clever movie The Spanish Prisoner.)

Well, back to the music. I confess I was not all that taken with The Raven when it first appeared. The problem was definitely mine, not Pidgeon's. Looking back, that negative reaction surprises me -- ordinarily I eat up irony like it was ice cream. This time around, I find myself appreciating the literary language of the title song, loving the droll wit of "Grandmother," appreciating Pidgeon's iconoclastic version of "Spanish Harlem." The whole thing sounds so good that it makes me wish Chesky was still pressing LPs. I couldn't find the earlier CD for comparison, but the standard CD layer of this disc is very good.












































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