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American Beauty: The Grateful Dead
Warner Bros. // DVD Audio // November 12, 2002
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Dvdempire]
1. Box of Rain
2. Friend of the Devil
3. Sugar Magnolia
5. Candy Man
7. Brokedown Palace
8. Till the Morning Comes
9. Attics of My Life
SOUND: "American Beauty" is presented here by Warner Brothers in DVD-Audio 96khz/24-bit 5.1 & 2.0 (for DVD-Audio compatible players) and Dolby Digital 5.1 for (DVD-Video compatible players). This title's 5.1 repurposing/remastering was done by Mickey Hart, who discusses his thoughts on crafting the surround sound presentation on an interview also located on this disc.
This is one of the most pleasing DVD-Audio titles that I've listened to in a while - as more work is done to prepare these multi-channel music releases, they are just getting better and better. As Hart talks about on the included interview, some of the songs were approached in a somewhat different way for the surround mix and the band member's great familiarity with the music really makes for surround mixes that are active, fun, enveloping and never "gimmicky". Although I'm not a fan of the Dead (I don't not like their music, just don't have any of their albums and don't really follow them), there are apparently also new elements added back into the songs for this album that didn't make it onto the original cuts of these tracks (this according to the included interview).
While the vocals are occasionally front and center, they are often also presented by the surrounds. While this could lead to a mix that has a basic feel, the vocals and instrumentals are balanced and arranged in a way that really puts the listener in the middle of what feels like a small-stage performance by the group, especially with the sound quality, which is convincing, natural and realistic. There's a very nice depth to both the sound quality and the sound mix, as the instrumentals (often the guitars) are not only crisp and clear sounding, but nicely spaced around the listening space for the 5.1 presentation, with the guitars often being discretely and cleanly offered by the rear speakers, which also offer some backing vocals. The feeling of the mix is one of being in the middle of the band on stage, which is certainly a very enjoyable perspective for a new 5.1 mix of this material.
Despite the age of the recording, this DVD-Audio presentation offers exactly the kind of audio quality I expect from the format. I'm not sure if this was just an exemplary recording to begin with or some restoration/remastering was done, but the clarity and warmth of the sound of this DVD-A presentation of the album is simply wonderful. Instrumentals sound rich and crisp, with a level of detail that sounds fairly close to modern recordings.
One major supplement is included - former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart discusses his approach to the new 5.1 mix in a 5-minute interview.
Final Thoughts: "American Beauty" is a prime example of what a DVD-Audio album should be - a strong re-imagining of the sound design of an outstanding album, with audio quality that is clearly a very strong improvement over any prior edition of the title. This DVD-Audio stands as one of the best that I've heard and is highly recommended, even for casual fans of the band.