If you’re not familiar with the name, Dana Winner is one of continental Europe’s leading female vocalists. It’s true to say that she is most widely known within Germany and the Benelux countries, but her appeal has also spread further afield, most notably to South Africa.
A quick glance at Winner’s recordings to date indicates what a global and versatile artist she is. Her first album was released in 1993; it was followed by a new title each year up until 1997, at which time her international recognition really took hold. In ‘97 she released titles in both German and her native language and in 1998 produced her first English language album for the South African market. There was even a re-recorded compilation for Arabic countries in 1999.
Not to be confused with the South African/Belgian CD version (it has a different track listing), ‘Licht en Liefde’, which roughly translates as ‘Rainbows of Love’ is Winner’s first EMI Belgium SACD release, a collection of songs performed in the Flemish language. Unlike the harsh diction of German or Russian, Flemish is more tuneful so for those of you who, like me, don’t understand a word of it, the language barrier shouldn’t prove to be a dissuading factor. The album spawned three singles in Winner’s homeland, which having listened to the disc didn’t come as any surprise.
Give or take a track or two, ‘Licht en Liefde’ comprises highly polished, up-beat European power ballads. The multi-layered production is both outstanding and lavish, it features the usual collection of electronic instruments (guitars, drums, synthesisers and samples) but also a horn section, woodwind soloists and the Galaxy Symphony Orchestra under Gyuri Spies, as is befitting of an album recorded at Belgium’s Galaxy Studios. Only ‘Het Beste Van Mij’ borders on what could be described as the EuroSong style, which will come as a relief to those who think all European popular music sounds like ‘Boom Bang-a-bang’.
Although this is only a two-channel SACD disc, its fidelity and the three-dimensional soundstage created are both outstanding. The CD-DA layer is fine as far as 44.1kHz PCM goes, but compare the two and the Super Audio CD version is clearly superior, diction subtleties are more apparent as is a greater sense of envelopment and space. On the SACD layer orchestral passages have great depth, solo guitars such as that featured within ‘Het Beste Van Mij’ are immediate and have outstanding presence while elements usually buried by messy production values are distinct and vibrant. For example, ‘Zou Jij Weten?’ which is the disc’s third track closes with a horn riff that’ll stop you dead in your tracks and there is a single bright bell sound one-minute forty-seven seconds into ‘Licht en Liefde’ that would have Pavlov and his dogs drooling for more.
Bells also feature at the beginning of ‘Wonderen’, this time presented across the entire front soundstage and in such a manner as to totally immerse the listener, but it is the layering of multi-tracked voices and orchestral chords during ‘Wie?’, the disc’s final track, that provides the most compelling experience for me personally.
As for flaws, they are few and far between. Some may find the low frequencies lacking on one or two tracks, most notably ‘Ik Geloof’, but there is ample low-end grunt throughout the remainder, particularly the driving bass of both ‘Zou Jij Weten?’ and ‘Wonderen’. The least convincing element of the entire production is the sound of distant thunder that precedes ‘Stil De Storm’, but it probably wasn’t recorded with the latest whiz-bang DSD system, unlike the remainder of the album.
Dana, looking stunning within the disc’s artwork, probably wouldn’t thank me for mentioning this, but she was thirty-seven in February of this year. That means her vocal talents are likely to be at their peak, which is important because she has been encapsulated on this album with such incredible precision and intimacy. Many, shall we say ‘lesser’ artists, would not be able to withstand the auditory scrutiny Winner is placed under, you would be able to hear the cracks in their voices or their personal battles with high notes. But that is not the case here. Winner turns in a flawless performance made all the more remarkable by the way even the smallest, microscopic element of her delivery has been captured and her position forward in the mix. This is never more apparent than during ‘Vaarwel Vader’ where the accompaniment takes a minor role thereby leaving Winner centre stage.
The mood softens somewhat for ‘Voor Altijd’, here Winner shows a composed, more relaxed style. Her voice sounds younger, which comes as a complete change of pace following ‘Ik En Jij Verstann Mekaar’, the proceeding track whose chorus could well be a shopping list of some sort.
Of course, for all I know Dana is singing complete gibberish in terms of lyrics, but it matters not one jot. If you want to hear an outstanding contemporary European vocalist conveyed in the finest possible way, then this is the album for you. Hopefully we’ll be able to persuade EMI to supply us with ‘Unforgettable’, her English language multi-channel SACD sometime soon. I can’t wait…