February 1998

Bryan Adams - Unplugged
A&M Records 31454 0831 2
Released: 1997

by Jay Piriz

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality **
Overall Enjoyment **1/2

[Reviewed on CD]This release was recorded entirely live on September 26, 1997 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City and includes a string section of students from the Julliard School of Music. I have always been a Bryan Adams fan. I have also been a fan of "unplugged" performances because they generally result in the performer getting close to the audience and taking a few musical risks that often surprise and delight. I also prefer the sound of acoustic instruments over electronic, synthesized, orchestral substitutes. This release has what I like.

The orchestral backup and special guest musicians that Adams brought together for this effort energized old Adams' standards. Davy Spillane plays uilleann pipes on various cuts, bringing a new Celtic quality to the most familiar songs. Regrettably, on a few songs, Spillane's instrument is too closely mic'd, giving the beautiful pipes a harsh edge. On other songs, it's perfect. At about 1:58 of "Fits Ya Good," Adams performs a delicate guitar solo that makes you sit up and take notice.

"Cuts Like A Knife," the classic rock anthem, sounds great on this CD with a resounding "...nanana, nanananananana" at the end of each chorus. The orchestra and string section are featured on "Eighteen Till I Die," with a great violin solo performed by one of the Julliard students. This song really works. There is even a blues jam, titled "If Ya Wanna Be Bad - Ya Gotta Be Good." It cooks!

Adams does not disappoint on this CD. His voice on "Heaven" is clear, emotional and full of feeling and sentiment. He sounds like he is singing to the beauty in the first row. The first two minutes of this song are just Adams singing and playing his guitar. When the whole band joins in, it's a treat. Unfortunately this is one of those songs on which Spillane's uilleann pipes take over the sound too much.

The overall recording quality of this release is good, with the one very major exception that I have noted above. On certain songs, the harsh edge is quite annoying and distracting. The live character of the performance and the venue are well preserved, and there is good spaciousness and plenty of ambiance in the air surrounding the musical notes.

Bryan Adams delivers a great performance on this CD. The total experience with the orchestra, the "unplugged" live venue and the special guest musicians make for a very special program. If you can overlook the recording flaw, you may really enjoy this release. For me, it was too distracting.