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Sid Nuncius (London)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Another gem from Quatuor Ebene, 24 May 2015
This disc is available at normal price here: Debussy, Fauré & Ravel: String Quartets

Quatuor Ébène are a fantastic quartet, and their debut disc of Haydn (String Quartets Op. 64 No. 5 'the Lark' (Quatuor Ebene)) remains a firm favourite of mine. This disc is just as good, showing that they have as much empathy with Ravel, Debussy and Fauré as Haydn and their superb technique, faultless intonation and brilliant mutual understanding are well in evidence here.

Radio 3's Building A Library reviewer recently chose this recording of the Fauré quartet as the best available, in the face of phenomenal competition form the world's best quartets of the last 80 years, which probably says a lot more than I can about the quality of this disc. It's fabulous and very warmly recommended.

(Do try their Haydn disc, too. If you already like Haydn's string quartets it will be a terrific addition to your collection, and if you're looking for a place to start on them you couldn't do better - it's absolutely terrific.)

Update - 3rd October 2009: This disc has just won "Recording of the Year" at the 2009 Gramophone Awards - just about the most prestigious award available anywhere. It's a deserved honour for a terrific recording by a very fine quartet. I'm delighted!

Coredy BASE-2 Portable Lightweight Bluetooth 4.0 Wireless Hi-Fi Headphones/Headsets, Foldable Design with Hard EVA Case, Equipped with AptX Codecs, NFC, Rechargeable for Streaming Music up to 17 hours, MIC for Hands-free Calling, Noise Cancellation for TV, PC, XBOX, Cellphone iPhone 6 Plus, 5S, 5C, 5, 4S, 4, Samsung Galaxy S5, S4, S3, Note 3, Note 2, LG G2
Coredy BASE-2 Portable Lightweight Bluetooth 4.0 Wireless Hi-Fi Headphones/Headsets, Foldable Design with Hard EVA Case, Equipped with AptX Codecs, NFC, Rechargeable for Streaming Music up to 17 hours, MIC for Hands-free Calling, Noise Cancellation for TV, PC, XBOX, Cellphone iPhone 6 Plus, 5S, 5C, 5, 4S, 4, Samsung Galaxy S5, S4, S3, Note 3, Note 2, LG G2
Offered by WOOBER
Price: £49.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent on-ear headphones, 24 May 2015
Length:: 5:31 Mins

I was sent these headphones by the manufacturer for review and I think they are excellent. They are an on-ear headphones with both Bluetooth and wired connectivity, they are smart, well made and - most importantly - both sound and comfort are very good.

The headphones are nicely packaged, and come with a neat, hard carry-case, a standard mini-USB charging lead and a jack-to-jack lead. The User Manual tells you all you need to know, in comprehensible (if slightly eccentric) English. The design of the headphones is very elegant and functionally they are excellent. They are light and very comfortable in use, with all the controls on the right earcup. There are on/off and volume + and - buttons, with separate pause/play and skip forward and back controls. These also serve as the standard phone controls you would expect and all work well, as does the built-in microphone. The headphones grip tightly enough to be stable without feeling constricting and, with good padding on the earcups and headband, I find them comfortable for several hours use.

Being on-ear headphones rather than over-ear there is some sound leakage both in and out. At home and at the level I play them this isn't a problem for me, but if you play music very loud in the presence of others or want to use them in a noisy environment you may need to consider this.

Bluetooth pairing is simple both via standard pairing and NFC, I found the range good with no loss of signal up to about 8 metres and battery life is good. The wired connection via the jack lead is also fine and I notice no difference in sound quality between the two modes. It means you can connect to non-Bluetooth devices, and the headphones work in wired mode without having to be switched on, so if you do run out of charge it's a handy fallback, too.

Sound quality is very good indeed - and the bass in particular is better than I might expect in this price range. Both bass and middles are very strong and resonant, the treble is bright and the clarity of articulation is very impressive. The overall sound is great; I have listened to a lot of music through these headphones, including my Test Tracks list, and everything sounds very good. Classical chamber, orchestral and large choral works are clear and distinct with a lovely full sound (the bass on a theorbo and viola da gamba is really good, for example). Classic rock - like the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter or Won't Get Fooled Again by The Who - sounds great, and the deep, rolling bass in London Grammar's Hey Now (one of my standard tests of headphones) really resonates, which particularly impressed me. Volume goes far too loud for my comfort with no audible distortion, so there's plenty of welly there if you need it.

I think these are excellent headphones, especially at this price. They are functional, stylish and comfortable and the sound is very good. They seem good and durable and they are very portable, too so if you're looking for a good set of Bluetooth and wired headphones, and you get on with on-ear cups, I can recommend these very highly.

Maremma Toscana IGT Ciliegiolo Vallerana Alta by Antonio Camillo (Italian Red Wine)
Maremma Toscana IGT Ciliegiolo Vallerana Alta by Antonio Camillo (Italian Red Wine)
Offered by Libiamo Wines
Price: £21.34

5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious and full of character, 23 May 2015
I was sent a bottle of Maremma Toscana by Libiamo in a mixed case for review, and I think it's terrific stuff. It's worth saying that Libiamo's aim is to search out really good wine made by small, out-of-the-way producers (often family owned) from traditional indigenous grapes of the region, an aim which I support wholeheartedly. What they have found is a world away from the characterless homogeneity of the huge conglomerates which dominate the supermarket wine shelves. Every one of their wines I have tried has real character, true depth of flavour and the sort of quality of finish which means you're still tasting it for a long, pleasurable time after you drink a mouthful.

Maremma Toscana is a little lighter and smoother than some of the powerful wines coming out of Tuscany now, but it's no less flavourful and I thought it was delightful, with an almost home-made quality - in the best sense of being full of genuine, well balanced flavours and bearing some of the character of the person who made it, with no sense of homogenised mass-production anywhere. It's made predominantly from the rare Ciliegiolo grape making a cracking wine with real individuality and is one of my favourites from Libiamo's range.

Having met the team at Libiamo, I know that they really mean what they say about their love of what they do, their enthusiasm for the wines they find and the importance of the companionship which comes through sharing them. I have never tasted anything from them which is less than very good, and many of their wines are simply excellent. For me, this is in the "excellent" category, and I can recommend this very warmly indeed.

Game Changer
Game Changer
by Tim Bowler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and gripping - but bleak, 23 May 2015
This review is from: Game Changer (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I thought this was a good, thoughtful and gripping book. It is pretty dark and bleak, but well done and I read it pretty well in a single sitting.

The story is told by Mikey, an intelligent, articulate 15-year-old who suffers from a form of acute anxiety, including a type of agoraphobia and insecurity bordering on paranoia, which makes his life, and the lives of his parents and sister, a real struggle. He witnesses something terrible (we don't find out what until over half-way through the book) and the perpetrators are now pursuing him. His narrative voice is very well done, and we get a thoughtful, compassionate view of Mikey's problems, how hard things are for him and how terrible he feels about how his condition makes his family's life so tough, too. The writing is involving and convincing, with very believable characters and dialogue.

The story itself is no children's adventure with mild peril but no real threat - it's a grim and frightening tale in which genuinely dreadful things happen. It's a dark, threatening tale, which mirrors the terror Mikey experiences about much of everyday life and although there is real warmth in his family's love a redemptive note at the end, it most certainly isn't a book where everyone learns a little Life Lesson and emerges largely unscathed as a happier, better person. It's a tough story in many ways and will genuinely frighten some young people, but will enthral others and treats them with respect as mature readers.

Personally I found the unremitting darkness and grimness a little overpowering, and I could have done with a slight leaven of humour, for example. Nonetheless, it's very well done and many will enjoy it very much. Recommended.

View Quest Christie Battery Pack and Carry Case
View Quest Christie Battery Pack and Carry Case
Price: £29.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent accessory pack, 23 May 2015
This is an excellent accessory pack for my Christie radio/speaker. View Quest very kindly sent it to me for review, and I think it is well up to the very good standard of the Christie itself.

The battery pack is...well, it's just a good-quality battery pack which is simple to fit, charges while the unit is plugged in while in standby mode and gives complete portability. I haven't tested it to exhaustion, but the claim here of "up to 16 hours" playing time seems very plausible. It should certainly last you all day at a reasonable volume and, of course, means that you can use the radio or speaker in the garden or the bathroom (an essential for me).

The carry-case is more than I need, to be honest, but it's really nice. It is exactly right in style for the retro-look of the radio (in "premium leatherette," a phrase which takes me back to the 60s!) and wraps neatly round the radio. It looks solid and durable, it provides some protection and allows you to attach a shoulder-strap. It's really stylish, I think, and if you're taking the radio out with you, it may be very useful.

If you have a Christie and want to make it fully portable, this will do very well. It is a very good pack, well made and beautifully presented. I have found View Quest's customer service and response to enquiries absolutely excellent, so you can have confidence in the company, I think, and I can recommend this and the Christie itself very warmly.

Build Me Up From Bones by Sarah Jarosz [Music CD]
Build Me Up From Bones by Sarah Jarosz [Music CD]

5.0 out of 5 stars A very good album, 22 May 2015
This is a really good album. I liked it on first hearing, then found myself playing it regularly for a few weeks and it has really grown on me from there. These are songs with real musical merit and lyrical substance and they will endure in a way that many songs don't, I think.

I find it a little hard to categorize the music (which is probably a good thing).
There is a fine variety of material from the punchy and slightly spiky, like the opener Over The Edge, to the truly beautiful like the genuinely affecting love song Gone Too Soon. Sarah Jarosz is a fine musician and a very good singer, so the songs are excellently performed. She has a very good band and an excellent sense of how to arrange her songs, and the production is very well-judged and varied so the album never sounds samey and every track sounds fresh.

I would warmly recommend this album to anyone who likes a good song, well arranged and performed. For me it stands out from much of the mass of quite good Americana-ish music around at the moment. I think Sarah Janosz is a class act and I'll definitely be looking out for her work in the future.

{Update: After seeing her live at Bush Hall in 2014 I can confirm that she is very, very good indeed. Fine songs and brilliant musicianship - I really hope Sarah Jarosz meets with the success she deserves.)

Secret Mozart (Hogwood)
Secret Mozart (Hogwood)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great music and excellent playing, but..., 22 May 2015
This review is from: Secret Mozart (Hogwood) (Audio CD)
There is an excellent, detailed review here by David Bryson giving a very good idea of what this disc is about. David 's taste and mine diverge slightly, though, in that I don't find this quite as enjoyable as he does - which I have found true of all Hogwood's "The Secret..." recordings.

The music, of course is sublime and Hogwood was a fantastic musician who plays it all wonderfully. However - and this is almost certainly a personal thing - I find the sound of the clavichord somehow rather unsatisfying. It is a small, quiet domestic instrument and it just seems to me to be straining to be heard all the time - fine for practice and personal use but not really for shared performance. This means that for me this isn't a wholly successful disc. It is interesting throughout and charming in places but as a satisfying musical experience it falls a little short.

You may well not share my reservations about the clavichord so please don't let me put you off. This is a disc of superb music, excellently performed. It just didn't quite fit my personal taste.

Trouble & Love by Mary Gauthier [Music CD]
Trouble & Love by Mary Gauthier [Music CD]

5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent album from Mary Gauthier, 21 May 2015
This is another very fine album from the great Mary Gauthier. It's been four years since The Foundling and she has come up with another intensely personal album of excellent, autobiographical songs - this time telling the story of a relationship break-up, the consequent emotional damage and the beginnings of recovery.

As you'd expect, these are songs of real quality. They are beautifully crafted with straightforward, singable tunes which form great settings for the personal, emotionally powerful lyrics. Gauthier's admirers (like me) will know what to expect and won't be disappointed; she's doing what she does best here and doing it brilliantly. While perhaps not quite as raw as she was in The Foundling, this is nonetheless an album of pain seeking balm and redemption, which she expresses as few others can. How You Learn To Live Alone, for example is a profound and oddly beautiful evocation of the withdrawal from life which can follow intense emotional hurt and is an outstandingly honest and insightful song. That slightly fractured voice, her acoustic guitar and a brilliant group of musicians and singers bring all these songs to life wonderfully. The arrangement and production are pitch-perfect, making everything shine without ever swamping it.

I loved The Foundling even though it wasn't a commercial success. Trouble & Love is a bit more accessible, I think, but it shares a lot of what I loved about The Foundling - thoughtful, sincere and meaningful songs with good tunes and great performances. Here we have just eight songs and a total of about 40 minutes of music. No padding or superfluous material; Mary Gauthier has distilled what she wants to say into this eight-chapter story and it's just brilliant. It has the enduring beauty which comes from being built on noble bones, and I think I will be playing this for many years to come.

There have been excellent albums recently from two other greats of the genre with Eliza Gilkyson's Nocturne Diaries The Nocturne Diaries and Kris Delmhorst's Blood Test Blood Test. If anything, I think this is my favourite of the three, which is really saying something. I recommend this very warmly to anyone who likes an intelligent, listenable song performed by a singer/songwriter who really knows what she's talking about and means what she says. It's truly excellent.

Sundown Over Ghost Town
Sundown Over Ghost Town
Price: £10.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Nice, but nothing special, 21 May 2015
This review is from: Sundown Over Ghost Town (Audio CD)
I quite like this album, but - unusually - I can't get as enthusiastic about it as The Wolf.

It's a nice, country-tinged Americana album, with perfectly decent songs, well performed by a good band and sung very well by Eilen Jewell who has a good voice which she uses very well. The thing is, there's masses of decent, well-performed Americana around at the moment and for me, this doesn't really stand out. We are blessed at the moment with a lot of truly excellent women singer-songwriters on both sides of the Atlantic who are producing some really outstanding work (I've listed a few favourites at the end of this review in case anyone's interested.), but I don't think this album really stands comparison with them. There's nothing wrong with it at all and no-one with an interest in this genre could possibly dislike it, but...I've listened to it a number of times now and it hasn't really stayed with me at all and I confess that the last time I actually lost interest half way through and put on something else.

I don't want to put anyone off: Eilen Jewell is plainly a talented artist and it's a perfectly decent album. The Wolf has obviously found far more depth and originality in it than I did - and I respect his judgement highly, so you may find that too - but for me it just fades into a pleasant but rather unmemorable background.

Just some of what I think are truly outstanding albums by women singer-songwriters for over the last two or three years have been (in no particular order):

Mary Gauthier - Trouble & Love Trouble & Love
Thea Gilmore - Regardless Regardless
Amy Speace - How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat
Emily Barker - Dear River Dear River (Ltd Edition) and The Toerag Sessions The Toerag Sessions
Natalie Merchant - Natalie Merchant Natalie Merchant
Olivia Chaney - The Longest River The Longest River
Amy LaVere - Runaway's Diary Runaway's Diary
Sharon van Etten - Are We There Are We There
Eliza Gilkyson - Nocturne Diaries The Nocturne Diaries
Sarah Jarosz - Build Me Up From Bones Build Me Up From Bones
Amanda Shires - Down Fell The Doves Down Fell The Doves
Laura Marling - Short Movie Short Movie
Alela Diane - About Farewell About Farewell
Kris Delmhorst - Blood Test Blood Test
Patty Griffin - American Kid American Kid
Anais Mitchell - Young Man In America Young Man In America
Lori McKenna - Massachusets Massachusetts
Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer, Different Park Same Trailer Different Park

Power In The Blood
Power In The Blood
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific album from a real force of nature, 21 May 2015
This review is from: Power In The Blood (Audio CD)
Some musicians are just an unstoppable elemental force. There aren't many, I think, but Buffy Sainte-Marie is one (Neil Young is another, but it's hard to think of too many more). It's not to do with her style of music or the quality of her musicianship - although Buffy is a very fine musician and songwriter - but the sheer, enduring, almost bulldozing power of the woman herself. It's admirable and often thrilling to experience, and this album is terrifically thrilling as well as being full of thoughtful songs and fine music.

Dexter has written an excellent review here which I think captures the essence of this album: from the opening of the brilliant reworking of It's My Way you know you're in for something special. It's powerful and absorbing, and it's also very enjoyable to listen to - it always leaves me with my spirits lifted and my head held a little higher.

I saw Buffy Sainte-Marie perform live from close range way back in 1971 and she was electrifying. Judging by this, she's even more electrifying now, getting on for half a century later. We have had some superb albums from veterans in the last two or three years - Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas, Richard Thompson's Electric, Robert Plant's Lullaby..., Springsteen's Wrecking Ball and others have all been outstandingly good - and this is up there with the best of them, I think. My advice is to read Dexter's review and listen to a few samples. If you like what you hear, don't hesitate - I think this is something quite special.

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