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Product: Audio CD
Title: Cobalt Blue/Live At The Aquarium
Label: 4ad Records / Wb Us
Artist: Michael Brook
Rating: 4/5
Customer rating - 4 out of 5
Music for writing, for reading, for drifting off to sleep.

If ratings were measured purely on how often I listen to a record, Cobalt Blue / Live at the Aquarium would be a hands-down 5-star album. Ever since I bought this two CD set a few months back, these discs have spent far more than their share of time in my CD player. Brook's textures and melodies are subtle enough to linger in the background when the consciousness is focused elsewhere, and intricate enough to be interesting beyond mere background. And I certainly cannot complain about the price; for the price of a single album this set offers two which are complentary though not repetitive.
And yet I can't bring myself to give this record five stars; it strikes me as beautiful without being brilliant. For the latter, I find myself turning elsewhere. All too often I find myself setting this record aside in favor of something by (modern classical composers) Henryk Gorecki or by Arvo Part; for me, their compositions appeal to a similar mood - music for writing, for reading, for drifting off to sleep - but their records contain a spark of fire that never caught in this one.

Product: Audio CD
Title: Dangerously in Love
Label: Sony
Artist: Beyoncé
Rating: 2/5
Customer rating - 2 out of 5
Drenched In Filler (2.5 Stars)

Ever notice how all the singles released to radio are all fast or mid-tempo from Beyonce? Yes, it's true- just about every other track on the CD is a tired-and-true love ballad. But is this bad? The tracks that we've heard on radio are infectious! There was the summer anthem "Crazy in Love" which was among the best in 2003! There was "Baby Boy" with the indisposable-as-a-guest Sean Paul, and the silky mid-tempo "Me Myself & I" ..
But where's the substance behind that?
Her ballads, in essence, are lacking. "Be With You" for example, could have been a dance song, with a club-ready opening with the fastest tempo on the entire CD, then *BOOM* it breaks into slow-as-can-be mode. Granted, I turned away from that track halfway through. There's also "Yes" "Speechless" and "Gift from Virgo" which are all boring and bland. The standout is her duet with Luther Vandross "The Closer I Get To You"..
There is the good though. Aside from the 2 tracks with Jay-Z (the two strongest tracks on the CD might I add) "Crazy In Love" and "That's How You Like It" ..there's "Signs" with Missy Elliot, "Naughty Girl" a catchy and breathy dance song. Not to say I like all the fast\mid-tempo songs though.. "Hip Hop Star" with Outkast's Big Boi is obnoxious and repetitive.
The utterly cheesy? The "Beyonce Interlude" in which the entire track is Beyonce saying "I believe that harmonies are colours." [...] GRADE: C BUY?: No, just buy the single for Me, Myself and I and perhaps the import single to Crazy In Love and you'll have what you need from Beyonce.

Product: Audio CD
Title: MMII
Label: Rhino Records
Artist: John Digweed
Rating: 3/5
Customer rating - 3 out of 5
Overall, a FORCED mix CD

There's no doubt that John Digweed is influential. I would argue that this CD redirected and guided progressive from its slump to its more melodic roots. Despite the drastic difference in sound in Digweed's previous album (Global Underground 019: Los Angeles), "MMII" once again confirms Digweed's tasteful musical palette. The flaws on this CD, however, are to be blamed on bad programming. The mixing isn't bad technically; it gets the job done, but consider the mix into Sean Q6's "Of Course." It makes no damn sense. Why? Why insert such a track (yes, it is an awesome track)? It was forced in there for reasons only god knows what. Another example of forced programming is that track 2 is a better opener than 1 in terms of flow and energy, but track 1 just happens to start off better. Or maybe track 2 should not have been mixed out of track 1. Anyway, there's programming flaws here, and the flow is far from perfect. The CD sounds forced and thus, I award the CD a 2.5 out of 5 stars, but since this is, I have to round it up to 3 stars. :)

P.S. I don't care if this mix was originally intended for radio play - the bottomline is that if the mix sounds forced, then it sounds forced. Maybe that's why some things don't make it onto CD but only on radio - because it isn't GOOD ENOUGH.

Product: Audio CD
Title: Nearness of You: The Ballad Book
Label: Universal
Artist: Michael Brecker
Rating: 5/5
Customer rating - 5 out of 5
Classic Brecker

I've always been a pretty huge Michael Brecker fan. I've especially enjoyed his Tenor solos on the pop-oriented ballads of James Taylor ("Don't Let Me Be Lonely.."), Donald Fagen ("Maxine"), Michael Franks ("When She Is Mine"), etc. He floats so effortlessly and lyrically over the changes that I'm always left wanting more.
I bought "Nearness" because it seemed like an opportunity to finally hear him stretch out over some ballads. As it turns out, I was correct.
I love this record. Everyone on it layed down a solid performance. And Michael Brecker's sound seems to have a kind of haunting melancholy thing going on that really sings out on these tunes.
No disappointment here...I highly recommend it.