‘Unforgettable Too’ is Dana Winner’s third SACD release and follows closely on the heels of the first 2002 ‘Unforgettable’ album. This is also my third review of a Winner disc, because her previous offerings have rated so highly I snapped up the sample supplied by EMI Belgium.
Unlike ‘Licht En Liefde’ and ‘Unforgettable’ which were released as dual-inventory titles (separate CD and SACD pressings), ‘Unforgettable Too’ is single-inventory, something EMI claim is a first for a major European artist. One can see why such a disc would be chosen to test the market; Dana Winner is remarkably popular throughout Europe, she is again singing in English, which affords international appeal, and let’s not forget her previous SACD releases have both been technically outstanding.
I’m not going to give any artist background as part of this review, instead I’ll be concentrating more on the music and fidelity of this particular disc, because by now you should all be aware that Dana is one heck of a vocalist. If, however, you’d like to learn more about Winner and her music please check out the previous evaluations of ‘Licht En Liefde’ and ‘Unforgettable’.
As was the case with ‘Unforgettable’, ‘Unforgettable Too’ is another, albeit slightly gentler collection of (mostly) popular songs, performed in English. Once again Dana tackles tracks from original artists who have distinctive voices or styles, yet rather than imitating she conveys the piece in her own, unique way. A large part of this is down to the expansive arrangements from Tom Salisbury, who continues to excel when it comes to orchestrating material that would otherwise be considered mundane. For example, the disc’s fourth track is ‘Everything I Do’ (from the ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ OSD) which was originally sung by Brian Adams and spent an excruciating sixteen weeks at number one in the UK. I don’t know about anyone else but as a result, I was previously thoroughly sick of this song, yet this version has a freshness and vibrancy, enough to revitalise the old warhorse. Only once did I detect a hint of imitation, there’s a brief suggestion of Orbison “warbling” during one brief passage of ‘Crying’.
The creative team responsible for ‘Unforgettable’ reprise their roles, including co-producer Wilfried Van Baelen, who just happens to be Dana’s husband. The Galaxy Symphonic Orchestra makes a welcome return, as do many of the session players featured on earlier discs, which all makes for a ‘grand’ (in the large sense of the word) production and presentation. In fact, there are more similarities between the two ‘Unforgettable’ albums than there are differences, and as was the case with the first disc it’s not entirely clear whether or not the sessions were recorded using a pure DSD signal path, or whether they originated as PCM – the first booklet states: “High resolution (24-bit) digitally recorded and mixed…”, whereas the second mentions that the audio has been “…mixed to multi-channel and stereo DSD”. I’ve sent an E-mail to Wilfried asking him to clarify, but this being Christmas it might be a day or two before we know one way or the other.
Having said all that, I’m not really too bothered what the signal path involved, if the audio was passed down a piece of string between two paper cups it matters not one jot as this disc is another outstanding offering from the folks at Galaxy Studios. The dynamic range and orchestral power both grab one’s attention, there’s an emotional and tactile ‘kick’ whenever a crescendo is reached but subtle elements are also delivered with finesse. Take, for example, the synthesised ‘sparkling’ sounds of ‘Try to Remember’ or drum snaps of ‘Against All Odds’. Incidentally, if you read my recent review of the ‘Christmas Extraordinare’ DVD-Audio disc you’ll have heard me complain about the ‘fake’ drums used on that recording and just how obviously artificial they sounded when delivered by a high-resolution carrier. The exact opposite is apparent here, all the percussion is full of life, from the zinging cymbals (free from any nasty DSD harmonic mush) to the bass drum’s skin resonance.
All of this applies to the stereo and multi-channel versions, the former being able to portray a sense of space and depth even when only two loudspeakers are employed. The multi-channel version has a distinct advantage however, that being the discrete placement of Winner’s vocal into the centre channel, which avoids all the problems of comb filtering associated with phantom imaging. This mixing strategy, of which I am a proponent, also helps separate Dana’s voice from her accompaniment and one gets a strong sense that she is an individual entity, standing centre stage (if you’ll pardon the pun) in front of orchestra and backing singers, although she isn’t as far forward in the mix as has been the case with previous releases. The stereo version comes close and is certainly acceptable if one is limited to two channels, but having heard the separation afforded by the hard centre, it’s hard to accept it as anything more than a compromise thereafter.
The critical role the centre channel plays does have one drawback, that being the need for an accomplished, matching centre channel loudspeaker. You can forget all about dropping a $100 Cambridge Soundworks ‘squawker’ between your L/R pair, the whole point of this multi-channel recording, namely the reproduction of Dana Winner’s outstanding vocals, depends on the abilities of the centre. Her voice has undergone little post-processing, there is added wetness during ‘Dust in the Wind’ and a modicum of dryness to ‘Try to Remember’, but in the main one feels few artificial obstacles have been placed between singer and listener.
On the other hand, the surrounds aren’t as important, they convey ambience and some wrap-around backing vocals, those of ‘It’s a Heartache’ for example, but only twice are used for artistic ‘effect’, once during the Abba medley when a synthesiser swirls around the room, and again later in the same track when the ‘Take a Chance on Me’ backing vocals are multi-tracked into both surrounds. Both instances add to the experience, so I’d like to hear the multi-channel palette put to a little more use in future Galaxy releases.
As for the music itself, well, it’s another outstanding selection of songs and a stunning performance from Dana herself, who sails effortlessly over all the difficult passages, especially noticeable by her flawless rendition of ‘Against All Odds’. Opening with an epic version of ‘Conquest of Paradise’ the disc goes from strength to strength; although in hindsight this track should’ve been saved for the end, rather than the rather tame Abba medley fade which closes the album. It’s the Abba cut where Dana sounds most like the original artist, thanks largely to her Scandinavian accent, which made me wonder how Abba themselves would sound remixed into high-resolution surround.
There’s a smoky, jazz version of Crystal Gayle’s ‘Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue’, rendering the country and western original to nothing more than a distant memory, a rock ‘n’ roll version of ‘It’s a Heartache’, where Dana’s accent adds an unusual intonation to some phrases and an unusual Caribbean orchestration of ‘Crying’, where one can literally feel the breeze and see palm trees swaying.
The two standouts are ‘Plaisir D’Amour’ (‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’) which is sung in English and French and ‘Love is the Reason’. Both provide fine examples of the album’s top-notch orchestrations and the strength of its performances, the former has just enough vocal power without being over the top, boasting gentled layered vocals spread around one’s room, while the latter offers a wide range of dynamics and textures, from the quiet guitar opening to punchy full orchestra crescendos.
The only track I didn’t actually prefer to the original was ‘Downtown’, a Petula Clark hit from 1964. I’m not sure why this should be, but it’s certainly not due to any lack of conviction on Dana’s part.
So to summarise – this is another tour de force from Dana Winner and all those responsible for the production of ‘Unforgettable Too’. I continue to be engrossed by Tom Salisbury’s knockout orchestrations, the Galaxy musicians are once again on top form and regardless of the signal path used the SACD presentation (especially the multi-channel) is first-rate. ‘Unforgettable Too’ can be ordered from Dana’s web site (http://www.danawinner.net/) and other major on-line retailers.