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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
December 2003

Video for Audio

SoundStage! is, of course, an audio publication, but even so, it's impossible to ignore the steady push of home theater into high-end audio. There has been a slow video-ization of our hobby -- it's been happening at the retail level for years, and in some cases it has kept dealers' doors open as the two-channel market has fluctuated and even dried up in some areas.

Not only are our audio systems under siege from video, our software is too. More and more DVDs of musical programs, not movies, are appearing, and while purists may dismiss such A/V efforts, it's impossible to deny their appeal. Who among us hasn't seen a few moments of Norah Jones or Diana Krall on DVD and thought, This is rather nice?

With this idea in mind, I offer four DVD recommendations ready for holiday buying. Each of these DVDs has a companion CD, so audio-only holdouts can enjoy this material sans video image.

John Mellencamp's Trouble No More was released on CD [Best Buy Co. 2007201] earlier this year. It's a bluesy covers set that received some very positive reviews. Trouble No More: The Making of a John Mellencamp Album is the accompanying DVD, which Best Buy will be offering with the CD through its almost 700 retail stores for $20. The film was created under the direction of Professor Ron Osgood of Indiana University and documents Mellencamp and his band as they create the album from which it takes its name. IU students were involved in every aspect of the filmmaking, and the film itself was shot in black-and-white digital video. I've seen and enjoyed Falling From Grace, the story of a well-known musician who tries to go home again, which Mellencamp starred in and directed. Mellencamp is at ease in front of a camera, and it shows on Trouble No More: The Making of…. Bonus materials include the video for "To Washington" and promo clip for "Teardrops Will Fall."

A friend of mine first turned me on to Jim Croce in high school, but it's years later, after listening to much more music, that I have come to fully appreciate his gift as a musical storyteller. Yes, Croce penned popular songs, but these, like "Operator" and "You Don't Mess Around with Jim," are so lyrical that the care with which they were crafted is easily overlooked. Jim Croce Live collects songs Croce performed to live TV audiences, all of which make for a fitting tribute to Croce the performer. But the DVD's bonus materials, which include commentary by wife Ingrid and son A.J., remembrances from Kenny Loggins, Jim Messina, and Randy Newman, and documentary footage, give insight into Croce the man. Also available is Home Recordings: Americana [Shout! Factory DK 30266], a collection of previously unreleased demo material that gives insight into Croce the musician. The recording quality of this CD is poor, but the performances prove that Jim Croce knew the blues.

Jimi Plays Berkeley documents Jimi Hendrix's concert at the Berkeley Community Theater on Memorial Day, 1970, not quite four months before his death. It's a well-known film -- I remember that it was shown at least once each semester on campus while I was in college -- and a natural for DVD release. But the people behind this package obviously believed that merely re-releasing the film on DVD with a few extras thrown in was not the thing to do -- or perhaps inappropriate given Hendrix's status as an American icon. So Jimi Plays Berkeley includes not only the documentary, but also the audio program from the 67-minute second set Hendrix performed that night in both 5.1 and stereo sound. This material was remixed by Eddie Kramer, Hendrix's original engineer. The music is blistering, and the entire package is an example of a DVD done right. The musical portion is also available on CD [Experience Hendrix 001102] and double-LP set [MCA 000115901].

I've saved the best for last, the DVD and two-CD-set of Blues Story, which was shown on PBS earlier this year. If you haven't seen this documentary in which performance footage, interviews, and vintage clips are combined to tell the story of the blues, this DVD offers a better video image than broadcast TV and the ability to watch segments again and again. The companion Blues Story CDs [Shout! Factory D2K 31134] are a greatest-hits collection, as far as that's possible, culling songs from essentially every major blues artist -- from Charley Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson to Buddy Guy and B.B. King. Some of the recordings are old and scratchy, but this only lends a bit of extra authenticity -- the originals are old and scratchy too. But it's the DVD that's the star here as it includes the full broadcast version of Blues Story as well as 30 minutes of unseen footage and 30 minutes of unseen musical performances. It's all rich and entertaining.

Yes, I am still a committed audiophile -- I did include information on CDs here after all -- but the boundaries between high-end audio and home theater are becoming less identifiable, whether we audiophiles like it or not. Here's hoping that one or two of these DVDs end up under the Christmas tree with your name on them.

...Marc Mickelson

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