I must admit that I've never heard of Jonatha Brooke before recieving this new DVD-A album out of the blue one day. When I was notified that I would have the chance to review it, I thought that there was a mis-spelling and that the artist's name was Jonathan. Imagine my suprise when there was no mis-spelling and that Jonatha is a folk/rock artist whose work I really enjoyed quite a bit.
It would be easy to call her work a little bit Sarah McClachan, a little bit Sheryl Crow and a little bit Alanis Morisette, but her mixture of interesting musical arrangements and wonderfully emotion-driven vocals make her work something that stands out on its own. Even some of her more downbeat songs such as "Walking" eventually pick up again - the non-rockers on the album feel like they've had a bad day, but eventually pick themselves up and dust themselves off before continuing on. Not every song worked perfectly for me as a few numbers moved a little too slowly for my taste, but more up-tempo and positive songs like "I'll Take It From Here" and "How Deep Is Your Love" hooked me in with their more catchy beats and Brooke's expressive, lovely singing. Overall, Brooke is able to provide a nice mix of genres across the album, from accoustic folk to rock to funk to some ballads.
Not every song on "Steady Pull" caught my attention, but the overall impression was quite positive, a good mix of genres with intelligent lyrics and exceptionally good singing that nicely stands its ground and doesn't become bland, especially with Brooke's lively and energetic vocals and the talented backing musicians.
SOUND: Using sort of the same approach as the Blue Man Group's "Audio" DVD-A/V title, "Steady Pull" is a dual-sided disc, with a DVD-Audio 88.2khz/24 bit surround and 176.4khz/24 bit stereo presentation on one side as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0 and DTS 5.1 presentation on the other side.
Both of the DVD-Audio tracks sounded pleasant. The 5.1 mix was not a heavily agressive one, doing a fine job at simply opening the music out into the room and only adding some additional touches like background vocals into the surrounds. Although I'm certainly not against more agressive surround use for multi-channel music, it has to fit the mood of the music and not be too silly with sounds moving from speaker to speaker. The more subdued mix fit the material very nicely, giving Brooke's vocals a nice front-and-center feeling in the middle of the mix. Softer, more subtle songs such as "Lullaby" really don't give the 5.1 mix much to do, but rockers like the opening "Linger" fill the room with the backing music very well.
The 176.4khz/24bit stereo DVD-A presentation should not be counted out, either. Although it lacks the enveloping and immersive nature of the 5.1 presentation, it did provide a noticably better level of clarity and detail, while still giving Brooke's voice fine presence and keeping the background music distinct and clear. Either way you go, both DVD-Audio presentations sounded very good and had their own positive aspects - where the 88.2khz surround presentation sounded more enveloping, the 176.4khz stereo presentation seemed to offer greater clarity.
Turning the disc over, I was suprised to find that, while the DVD-A side simply showed still images while the songs played (very likely due to lack of space on the DVD-A side), there was video here of the band either playing behind a yellow background or in the recording studio for each song, which was a nice touch. In terms of audio quality though, both the DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 presentations weren't quite able to match the DVD-A 5.1 presentation in terms of quality. Brooke's voice didn't come through with quite the same level of clarity and presence, but still sounded clear and crisp. Fidelity on these tracks was very good, but didn't meet the warm, rich sound of the DVD-A presentations. The way that the music was presented remained the same, with no differences that I noticed.
I think that discs like this one are the way that DVD-music presentations will (or at least should be) going in the near future. This disc provides just about every audio option that one could desire to hear the album, from Dolby to DTS to DVD-A. Although I was pleased with what each track delivered, DVD-A again shows its superiority in delivering music with remarkable clarity and detail.
Extras: With the fact that the disc is dual-sided, there is room enough to have some extra features.
Making Of Steady Pull: Although this "making of" documentary starts off a little slow as Jonatha and her producer talk about how pleased they were with how the album turned out, things get more interesting as the documentary goes on, as the singer discusses the ideas behind some of her songs and we also get a look at the recording process. The documentary runs about 26 minutes.
Also: DVD/album credits, website notes. Lyrics in the form of subtitles can also be turned on and off during the DTS or DD presentations or in the form of text screens during the DVD-A presentation.
Final Thoughts: An entertaining mix of folk and rock, I'm considering picking up the CD version so I can play it elsewhere. Presented in multiple options for the audio, the DVD-A presentation is certainly the best, but both the DD and DTS versions are fine, as well. Recommended. The DVD and CD are available at http://www.jonathabrooke.com/