Concerts: Jewel: The Essential Live Songbook was actually two concerts in one, the first airing on February 15, 2007 as shot at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas with the second coming from the Rialto Theatre in Joliet, Illinois that aired on July 19 and 26 in 2007. The concept behind the long time Sound Stage series (that started back in 1974) is best explained via their website that said it like this: "Long before music television filled the airwaves, the WTTW series Soundstage sparked the nation. In an impressive run from 1974-1985, this innovative and prestigious program achieved widespread critical acclaim and featured the artists that defined the era, including such luminaries as Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Al Green, the Doobie Brothers, Harry Chapin, Dionne Warwick, the Temptations and Kenny Loggins. For all those who loved the original series, Soundstage was reborn in 2001 thanks to a new partnership between WTTW National Productions and HD Ready, LLC. Director (and founder of HD Ready) Joe Thomas' vision was to combine the one-hour musical performances of the original show with state-of-the-art high definition video equipment and innovative Dolby 5.1 audio. The majority of the concerts are filmed before intimate studio audiences at WTTW's Grainger Studio in Chicago, but Soundstage occasionally hits the road. In previous seasons we've taped at Red Rocks in Colorado; the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas; the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, Illinois; the Genesee Theater in Waukegan, Illinois; the Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City; the Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, IL; Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Massachusetts; the Fleet Center in Boston; the Germain Amphitheater in Columbus, Ohio and Madison Square Garden in New York City among others. Since Soundstage has been reintroduced, performers have included the Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Joss Stone, Robert Plant, Wilco, Sonic Youth, the All American Rejects, KT Tunstall, Train, Alison Krauss, Alanis Morissette, Daughtry, John Fogerty and countless more of today's premiere artists."
Jewel is another artist that seeks to connect with her fans, her charm and demeanor adding to her pure voice and writing skill to make a fantastic combination fans really get into. Each concert was different, Jewel stating on her website that the songs were selected in a specific order like a story with a beginning, middle, and end, though it should be noted that the concerts as presented on the two discs were not presented in her intended order (which is a shame). Still, from the venues were different enough to make each concert excellent as standalone material, the contrasts to the way Jewel played in each giving fans some real insights as to how she entertains with her folksy mannerisms spicing up the spots between the songs with stories and anecdotes that make her seem as though she is addressing a small group of buddies rather than a huge crowd of well wishing followers.
It might have been even more interesting had the concerts been shot further apart but given Jewel was backed by an orchestra in eight pieces on the second concert, it was significantly different to listen to, offering a lot of mileage given the running length of the concerts put together was just a hair under four full hours. The extras were minimal here, a music video for "Stephenville, TX" (the home of her now-husband's ranch where she got hurt awhile back), and an interview with Jewel but the wealth of music was such that this is clearly one of the better releases by Kochvision. Jewel with her guitar, the gal hugging her microphone as she went from loud power pop to whispered emotive songs to lush pieces unlike those I had heard from her all demonstrated her range very nicely, the sheer beauty of her voice such that it bears listening to under any circumstances. Fans might also find it odd but at this writing, the high definition Blu-ray version is actually cheaper on Amazon then the standard definition version, a weird twist considering the lossless audio of the BR being so much better (though both were very well done). The two concerts had tracks as follows:
Goodbye Alice In Wonderland (Live at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas Texas airing February 15, 2007)
Disc 2: Live at the Rialto Theatre (accompanied by a live chamber orchestra airing on July 19, 2007 and July 26 2007)
The original order of the songs (as documented on the PBS website) for the Goodbye Alice in Wonderland concert were as follows:
The original order they aired in was (many left out):
The original order of the songs (as documented on the PBS website) for the Live At Rialto Theatre concert were as follows:
The original order they aired in was (some left out):
Near You Always
Part Two (July 26, 2007)
In all then, while I wish the song lists would have been restored to their original order (as stated by Jewel, they were selected that way for a reason), I cannot deny the entertainment value and brilliance of Jewel's aural qualities so I rated this one as Highly Recommended, I just wish I had the chance to compare the full Blu-ray version to the SD that I used for this review as the sharpness of the picture and audio were very pleasing and the full experience of lossless audio is almost always so much better. Still, do some shopping around as I mentioned, Amazon had the better version on sale this week so you might actually fare pretty well with this concert series that could make a fine Christmas gift for any Jewel fan as a "Must Have" title to pick up for them.
Picture: Jewel: The Essential Live Songbook was shot on HD Video to be offered in this anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 color widescreen offering as shot by director Joe Thomas for this MPEG-2 standard definition outing in 480 resolution. There was some grain, some lighting effects run amuck, and some overly used crowd shots but otherwise the show was a solid capture of the band several years ago. The fleshtones were accurate in both concerts, the settings different enough on their own to highlight the variations Jewel provided in their production. The video bitrate moved around substantially too but it hovered around the upper 6.1 Mbps when I paid any attention to it, making it a good candidate for a high definition version (with lossless audio if possible) should the company decide to really go the extra mile in the future. There was some grain at times but just as the editing could bounce abruptly from one spot to the next on occasion, some care went into this double concert set that appealed to me considerably even if I'd have been quite happy with an audio version alone.
Sound: The primary audio track was the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround in English using the usual 48 kHz sampling rate and a decent 448 Kbps audio bitrate. The dynamic range was pretty solid here with pretty decent headspace provided thanks to the manner it was recorded. The mix was heavy on the vocals, a standard approach used by director Joe Thomas if I recall correctly but one that I happen to agree with on this type of pop culture music. The secondary audio track was a 2.0 Dolby Digital English track at 224 Kbps (same sampling rate) and lacked the separation, especially during the orchestral pieces of the second concert, but the headspace invoked on the better songs really shined nicely for a standard definition release (the high definition superior from what I got to hear at a store using it as a showcase disc). Jewel's voice is much like a musical instrument all by itself so stick with the surround track if you want the full effect (and don't expect the SD version to sound as crisp as the BR version).
Extras: Disc #1 had a short, ten minute interview with Jewel discussing a number of topics (career, herself, what she likes, etc) more than the concerts. It also had a music video for Stephenville, TX that I liked a lot. The second disc was devoid of extras but both came in a booklet form case surrounded by an attractive slipcase cover.
Final Thoughts: Jewel: The Essential Live Songbook was my favorite concert offering by the talented young singer, a collection of songs from her entire career including some of her most refined offerings from her Goodbye Alice in Wonderland period, put out on a double disc set consisting of two concerts from the Sound Stage series by PBS. With nearly four hours of concert material between the two discs, the online prices I've seen have made this a very fairly priced title but I still suggest you consider the high definition Blu-ray version (admittedly based on spot checking it at a home theater store) given the strength of the lossless track alone. Jewel is not just attractive but a gifted singer/songwriter so if you enjoy concerts, this eclectic selection of songs in different set ups (the orchestra material was a lot better than I thought it would be) contains the kind of replay value you may find compelling to listen to over and over again.