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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Songs in the Key of Life [Blu-ray Audio]  

 

   

   

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Producer: Universal Music Group

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Total Music time: 1:45:03.005

Disc Size: 13,209,971,321 bytes

Chapters: 21 (one per song)

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: October 30th, 2013

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio English 4608 kbps 2.0 / 96 kHz / 4608 kbps / 24-bit
DTS-HD Master Audio
English 3782 kbps 2.0 / 96 kHz / 3782 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 3.0 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby TrueHD Audio
English 3189 kbps 2.0 / 96 kHz / 3189 kbps / 24-bit (AC3 Embedded: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)

 

Extras:

28-page liner notes leaflet has the song's lyrics

A paper with a code to access the Blu-ray disc digital downloads online

 

Songs in the Key of Life Track Listing:
1. Love's In Need Of Love Today (04:15)
2. Have A Talk With God (02:42)
3. Village Ghetto Land (03:24)
4. Contusion (03:45)
5. Sir Duke (03:54)
6. I Wish (04:12)
7. Knocks Me Off My Feet (03:36)
8. Pastime Paradise (03:27)
9. Summer Soft (04:13)
10. Ordinary Pain (06:23)
11. Isn't She Lovely (06:33)
12. Joy Inside My Tears (06:29)
13. Black Man (08:30)
14. Ngiculela-Es Una Historia-I Am Singing (03:48)
15. If It's Magic (03:11)
16. As (07:07)
17. Another Star (08:28)
18. Saturn (04:53)
19. Ebony Eyes (04:08)
20. All Day Sucker (05:05)
21. Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call) (03:57)

 

NOTE: The Blu-ray audio does contain tracks 18-21 known as "A Something's Extra".  The "A Something's Extra" 7" EP was included with the special-edition version of the original LP. These tracks are also on most CD versions of the album, either split between both discs or appended to the end of the second disc. They are here in their entirety on this Blu-ray audio album despite some sites (even Amazon.com at present) not listing them.

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Description: Originally released in 1976, the prolific Songs in the Key of Life is a milestone in the career of Stevie Wonder and the last of five consecutive albums widely hailed as his 'classic period'. From his sharp commentaries on American social history and pro-peace supplications to some of his most intimate professions of love, Songs In The Key of Life cast Wonder's music further beyond R&B, funk and disco than ever before. More sprawling than Innervisions and Talking Book, the highly ambitious and experimental double LP became the best-selling and most critically acclaimed album of his career and it went on to win four Grammy Awards including Best Male Pop Vocal and Album of the Year. Highlights include the indelible classics "Isn't She Lovely", "Sir Duke", "I Wish", "Pastime Paradise", "Summer Soft" - all found on this Blu-ray audio album.

 

 

The Album:

On February 19, 1977, Wonder was nominated for seven Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, an award that he had already won twice, in 1974 and 1975, for Innervisions and Fulfillingness' First Finale. In all, Wonder won four out of seven nominations at the Grammys: Album of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Producer of the Year.

With time, the album became a standard, and it is considered Wonder's signature album. "Of all the albums," he told Q magazine (April 1995 issue), "Songs in the Key of Life I'm most happy about. Just the time, being alive then. To be a father and then… letting go and letting God give me the energy and strength I needed." Songs in the Key of Life is often cited as one of the greatest albums in popular music history. It was voted as the best album of the year in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics poll; in 2001 the TV network VH1 named it the seventh greatest album of all time; in 2003, the album was ranked number 56 on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Many musicians have also remarked on the quality of the album and its influence on their own work. For example, Elton John said, in his notes for Wonder on the 2003 Rolling Stone's list of "The Immortals – The Greatest Artists of All Time" (in which Wonder was ranked number 15): "Let me put it this way: wherever I go in the world, I always take a copy of Songs in the Key of Life. For me, it's the best album ever made, and I'm always left in awe after I listen to it." In an interview with Ebony magazine, Michael Jackson stated Songs in the Key of Life is his favorite Stevie Wonder album. George Michael cited the album as his favorite of all time and with Mary J. Blige covered "As" for a 1999 hit single. Michael also performed "Village Ghetto Land" at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute in 1988.

R&B singers in particular have praised the album – Mariah Carey generally names the album as one of her favourites, and Whitney Houston also remarked on the influence of Songs in the Key of Life on her singing. (During the photoshoot for her Whitney: The Greatest Hits, as seen on its respective home video, the album was played throughout the photo sessions, at Houston's request.) The album's tracks have provided numerous samples for rap and hip-hop artists; for example, "Pastime Paradise", which itself drew on the first eight notes and four chords of J.S. Bach's Prelude No. 2 in C minor (BWV 847), was reworked by Coolio as "Gangsta's Paradise". In 1995, smooth jazz artist Najee recorded a cover album titled Najee Plays Songs from the Key of Life, which is based entirely on Wonder's album. In 1999, Will Smith used "I Wish" as the base for his US number-one single "Wild Wild West". The song repeated the main melody of "I Wish" as a riff and some lyrics re-formed.

In April 2008, the album was voted the "Top Album of All Time" by the Yahoo! Music Playlist Blog, using a formula that combined four parameters – "Album Staying Power Value + Sales Value + Critical Rating Value + Grammy Award Value".

In December 2013, Stevie Wonder did a live concert performance of the entire "Songs in the Key of Life" album at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles. The event was his 18th annual House Full of Toys Benefit Concert, and featured some of the original singers and musicians from the 1976 double-album as well as several from the contemporary scene.

Excerpt from Wikipedia located HERE

Comments :

Adopters of Blu-ray immediately notice that lossless audio transfer is one of the most valuable benefits of this new format. Not only surround separation but the depth, resonance and overall purity exporting capabilities of the lossless and uncompressed sound formats. DVDBeaver prefers technical comparison as analysis. Unfortunately, I don't know of a way of extracting the tech info from the Japanese SACD that I own of Songs in the Key of Life to compare to this Blu-ray audio. I can only state my opinion. I have a system with a Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player  and can toggle back and forth between my Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Blu-ray/SACD Player trying to notice/listen to differences. Even though the SACD is great the Blu-ray is just more stable (I notice a lot in track 19 - Ebony Eyes - actually all 4  "A Something's Extra" tracks) exporting more depth.

 

Audio :

UME are using the original master tapes transferred to uncompressed files, mastered at 24bit/96kHz. This elevates Blu-ray Audio discs to a new, more pure, level - hopefully the most accurate replication of the original studio sound - when recorded. These can be played with, or without, your video system being on (depending on your set-up!). When my TV is on it shows the track, example:

 

 

It's a nice gimmick to have it on but if you don't want to, eventually, burn-in your screen - best to have it off. Too bad it doesn't move - even as a screen saver. When the album completes it does not 'loop' (my didn't anyway - I know some players can.) This would be another area of improvement for the format - the option to 'repeat'.

 

This Blu-ray audio is transferred at 2.0 channel. I love the lossless options. You can choose from 3 selections: Linear PCM at a whopping 4608 kbps, DTS-HD Master at 3682 kbps or Dolby TrueHD at 3189 kbps. Keen ears will note differences. I've played it at least 10 times and settled on the very robust LPCM which I tend to appreciate for older music that might have a looser high-end. I found this highly impressive, but it's certainly adds value to be able to change the option and sample another format (which one can do on-the-fly from either the onscreen display - see image above - or without your video display on - directly from the Blu-ray audio remote button.) I also listened to the entire album in each format. I'll never tire of having, and playing with, this ability. I can see liking one track in DTS-HD and another in TrueHD.

 

Does it sound superior to the SACD? Absolutely, the 24-bit has a strength to it that you don't get with the SACD. Songs in the Key of Life has a great range with all sorts of riffs, choir-like vocals, unique sounds (baby crying in Isn't She Lovely etc.) - these have added resonance via the uncompressed transfer. Wonder's narrative-like vocals Village Ghetto Land plus the added orchestral sounds brilliant. The trumpets opening Sir Duke sound rich and deep. Ditto for the piano in Knocks Me Off My Feet. The rhythm and harmony of The Pastime Paradise is hypnotic via this lossless format. What about his subtle vocals in Summer Soft? Perfect!

 

NOTE: The file size (over 13 Gig) of Songs in the Key of Life puts it in the upper tier of content/volume the Blu-ray audio albums that we've reviewed so far. This was an ambitious double LP from Stevie - and this new Blu-ray Audio disc also contains the 4 extra tracks also found on most (but not all) CDs.  There is a ton of value here, folks.

 

My Oppo has identified it as being a region FREE disc (like CDs) playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.

 

Extras :

The only supplement is a 28-page liner notes leaflet with the lyrics and a few expanded pictures of the cover.

 

BOTTOM LINE:
Songs in the Key of Life is the easiest call of the year. As we always state as a caveat - it is most dependant on your system and how discerning you (or your ears) are. But owning this album is still an imperative. It's 1 3/4 hours of, what is often consider, Stevie Wonder's best album! I could listen to songs of the caliber of Village Ghetto Land, Sir Duke, Pastime Paradise, Isn't She Lovely etc. etc. endlessly. Brilliant!

 

The audiophile market is continuing to expand, and improve, with this Blu-ray Audio content. Individuals will want to take advantage of their, often expensive, investment in their Home theatre systems by taking the opportunity to indulge. I can't think of a better Blu-ray Audio album to try more than Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life which will provide untold hours of enjoyment. Our highest recommendation!

Gary Tooze

January 27th, 2014

   

   

 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze

 

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