Written by K L Poore
Overall rating: (weighted) 5.0
Sound Quality: 5.0
John Mellencamp’s Life, Death, Love and Freedom is a mature, melancholy and mesmerizing work about all of the aforementioned, especially death. With emotionally appropriate production from T Bone Burnett LDL&F isn’t exactly “whistling past the graveyard” but it’s about as close as you’ll ever get.
After one listen I have resolved never to listen to it: by myself; in the dark; after a really bad day. That it was in a Super HD stereo format that is as pristine and as close to source as you’ll get outside of the studio helped jack up the spooky factor about a gazillion percent.
And the Death in the title isn’t merely our returning to dust. While it seems that Mellencamp is looking in a mirror and singing to himself, as on “Longest Days” when he accepts that “sometimes you get sick, and you don’t get better,” I believe he’s also holding up that mirror for us all to take a peek into. He’s telling us that we need to seriously evaluate where we are as people and a nation. What he seems to be saying is that after the last seven years of heartbreaking lunacy our country may no longer be a youthful 234. We may have gotten old before our time. With our ideals, spirit and moral compass way out of kilter perhaps we need to reflect and consider “Life is short, even in its longest days.”
From that acoustic opening Mellencamp slowly peels away some very deep and emotional layers to reveal his state of mind, and in turn the state of our nation. Whether Singing about “Jena” (Louisiana) or wondering “what the hell happened to this place?” (on “Without a Shot”), he paints an honest portrait, both impressionistic and detailed. He sounds sad, and near surrender, but still has hope that somebody will pick up the ball and sing “A Brand New Song.”
As I sat listening to this beautiful and somewhat stark recording my thoughts drifted to the Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, and how this release feels like a modern version of those slices of Americana. From the heart of America, without affectation and uncomplicated.
Mellencamp has done himself a great service by enlisting T Bone Burnett to produce. His somewhat angular look at music gives these songs gravitas, allows Mellencamp to reach deeper into himself than he’s ever attempted before and come out with his, if not best, most meaningful and important release.
The music still sounds like Mellencamp but through an extra-strength Burnett filter. From the vocals over skittering drums of “My Sweet Love” to the Dylanesque organ fills on “Troubled Land,” you’ll find Burnett’s fingerprints on the production but, as usual, it’s not so intrusive as to make you forget who you’re listening to.
And for pure listening pleasure, this Super High Def download is psychotically and intensely awesome. The instruments all sound like they’re supposed to, the room tones are authentic, and the vocals are so immediate and well recorded you feel as if you’re having a conversation with Mellencamp. On rockers like “Jena” the snare snaps, the kick booms and the overtones from the amps are audible. I’ve never heard this much detail in a recording, ever.
I don’t want to make Life, Death, Love and Freedom out to be too gloomy because it would be a shame for you to walk away from a recording where an artist has gotten it exactly right. He’s written the perfect songs for his oeuvre, he’s chosen the perfect producer, and he’s allowed it to be released in a format that could potentially reveal any number of flaws. But it is a dark record and it elicits serious reflection from any listener who is so inclined. When he sings of people who are “Handing out verses of scripture like we wrote it down ourselves” he’s definitely not trying to placate his fan base, and when he asks Jesus to give him “A Ride Back Home” because he’s too cowardly to kill himself he’s not catering to a music business geared towards 15-year-olds. He’s opening up something raw that is inside us all. The 15-year-olds just haven’t gotten around to investigating it yet. (But they will.)
After repeated listens it’s hard for me to even imagine that this is the same man who recorded “Jack and Diane.” Not that his voice has changed all that much or his songwriting style drastically altered, but that he’s matured to the place where he can truly be the voice of the common man. Maybe that’s just me growing older, but all I know is that at this moment in time John Mellencamp’s midwestern sensibilities and love for America have lined up completely with my west coast version.
And that’s something else I never would have imagined.
I downloaded Life, Death, Love and Freedom from the MusicGiants HD website www.musicgiants.com. The download took awhile but was worth every minute and the website itself was easy to navigate and the transactions smooth.
MusicGiants says their HD files deliver sound quality up to seven times better than other digital download providers, and they encode their files in the WMA lossless audio codec, which at a sample rate of 44.1/16, is a bit-for-bit mathematical match to a CD.
Elliot Mazer (famous for his work with Neil Young, among others) creates their Super HD files using a proprietary hardware and software system that does bit-for-bit transfers of DVD-A recordings and turns them into WMAL files. LDL&F is the first album ever released in the ____ (CODE) format, a proprietary audio technology developed by T Bone and his team of engineers that creates high-definition audio files they say are virtually indistinguishable from the original master tapes.
The hard copy CODE version of LDL&F is a DVD that comes packaged with a standard CD version of the album, attempting to cover all compatibility issues. The CODE disc is supposed to be playable on virtually all DVD machines, including stand-alone players and computer drives. Word is the DVD's content can be copied into most computer music software (including iTunes) and can then be downloaded onto personal music players such as the iPod. A vinyl version has also been released.
For SACD Mazer uses proprietary gear (built by a division of Sony) in concert with DCS format converters to transfer the music to the PCM format. MusicGiants states that “even though there is a big difference between PCM and DSD, various engineers from the record companies have done comparisons of our files to their masters and all are pleased.”
Elliot wrote to say there’s “No degradation on download from MusicGiants
Super HD files. I just a/b'd them against the source and they are indistinguishable.”
When asked about burning to DVD and/or CD (LDL&F is DRM-free), he responded, “You can put it on a DVD as a data file and that would work fine. Putting it on a CD is a waste of time and great sound. Technically, there is no good way to do this. 96 does not divide evenly into 44.1.”
And for all you Vinyl vs. Digital warriors Mazer says, “Vinyl sounds good if you wear gloves, have a $4,000 turntable in a clean-room, a $10,000 pre-amp, and you only listen to it once. BD has the potential of better sound if the producers create it that way.”
Which is my way to let you know he’s currently transferring Neil’s catalog (and Led Zeppelin’s!) into the Blu-Ray format and says that Time Fades Away will be included. That makes me extremely happy.
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