If you're unable to enjoy the luxury of the Sundance Channel, chances are you haven't discovered the 12-part 2006 music documentary series 'Live From Abbey Road.' Each hour-long episode turned the spotlight on three different musical artists, with each performing two to three songs in the legendary music studio in London. In addition to the performances recorded in front of a live audience, the musicians were interviewed for pieces spread throughout the show. Like the long list of bands who have recorded in Abbey Road, there is no exclusive genre or concentration of any one type of music. Artists of rock, heavy metal, jazz, electronic, R&B, and folk music have all been featured. There are familiar acts, a few forgotten performers, and some fresh new faces. More importantly there is some great music to be heard.
Here is the list of artists on 'Live From Abbey Road Best of Season One,' along with their performances chosen for this blu-ray release.
John Mayer: "Vultures", Corinne Bailey Rae: "Put Your Records On", Dr. John: "I Ain't No Johnny Mercer", Craig David: "Hypnotic", Damien Rice: "9 Crimes", LeAnn Rimes: "Can't Fight the Moonlight", Josh Groban: "February Song", Natasha Bedingfield: "I Wanna Have Your Babies", Wynton Marsalis: "You and Me", Nerina Pallot: "Idaho", Jamiroquai: "Love Foolosophy", Ray LaMontagne: "Trouble", Gipsy Kings: "Bamboleo", Norah Jones: "Thinking About You".
David Gilmour: "On an Island", The Good, the Bad & the Queen: "Nature Springs", The Kooks: "Naïve", Gnarls Barkley: "Smiley Faces", The Goo Goo Dolls: "Iris", Iron Maiden: "Hallowed Be Thy Name", Kasabian: "Shoot the Runner", Primal Scream: "Rocks", The Zutons: "Valerie", Dave Matthews: "American Baby", Amos Lee: "Truth"
Different performers will interest different people, but I can personally say that the entire list didn't disappoint. I've always claimed to like "just about anything, except country," and LeAnn Rimes (who is more pop-country) along with her band in this arrangement sound very good, and her talent is undeniable despite whether or not the music meets my taste. Some other personal favorites from the disc are Craig David who was just fun to watch, "9 Crimes" by Damien Rice was emotionally moving, especially with Lisa Hannigan on vocals, "You and Me" by Wynton Marsalis Band is another great arrangement and I really enjoyed Nerina Pallot and Norah Jones, mostly because I'm a sucker for talented women with great voices and who can play piano. Add Jamiroquai, Gipsy Kings and the Zutons to the list as well. I was unaware of Damon Albarn's excellent latest project, The Good, the Bad, and the Queen, until watching this disc, which goes to show I haven't kept current with music in recent years. In turn, Live from Abbey Road exposed me to some music that I would have never have tried, but which I'm now hunting for.
How does it all come together? Like a seamless jukebox. Folded in between the songs are interviews that briefly introduce the performers before each song. Artists talk about everything from inspiration, performing in Abbey Road, artistic philosophies, or batting around old tales of yesteryear. In these "appetizers" I think you get a bit of a feel for the personality of the artist. If they're strong, care-free, or contemplative, that impression is transferred into the way they perform that song they show. The camera work mimics the tempo. For instance, there is lots of fast cutting and zipping movement for Jamiroquai, but longer shots of Ray LaMontagne.
Even though there are all varieties of music here, most of these performances are ones you'd hear in a laid back, hip coffee shop; um... with the exception of Iron Maiden. The instruments and the sound mix really are equal with the voices at the mic. With the combination of the history captured within these walls, a complementary blend of musicians, and the perfect acoustics, what is there not to like? The only real complaint, having watched the show on Sundance several times, is that I know that there are more memorable performances left in the vault. Does that mean additional "Best of" season discs, or a complete 12-hour box set are on the horizon? The success of this first release will likely dictate that. Until that happens though, 'Live From Abbey Road: Best of Season One' is a good-sized sampling of one of the best music-related TV shows today.
Shot in 1.78:1, the 1080i/AVC encoded transfer is a fine piece of work. Free of artifacts or random noise the feature is clear of any irritable enhancements. Close-ups reveal lots of details in the artists attire, skin, complexion, and every curve of the brass instruments. The composition of each shot is carefully composed, the lush colors and hues all look bright and vivid, not garish. Each performer got their own set design, and while some just need a few spotlights, others like the The Good, the Bad, & The Queen, or Corinne Bailey Rae, are drenched in a monochromatic scheme and are not overly saturated at all. In addition to the varying tempo of the camera work, the array of lens filters and camera styles changes for each act. Norah Jones has a lot of blur effects, Wynton Marsalis has a lot of grainy and de-saturated filters in his segment. Throughout all of the variation, a comfortable level of grain is present. Blacks are rock-solid and deep. Fleshtones appear accurate. As a result, contrast and depth are equally pleasant. Shadows on the wall are well-deliniated and don't appear washed out. When the camera roves around you get an appreciation for how large Abbey Road is, especially during Iron Maiden's segment, where nearly every member is pacing around. Live From Abbey Road has an overall soft appearance, as if it's been shot with a hand-held 35mm SLR rather than a video camera, a smart artistic choice by the filmmakers that lets the viewer feel as if they are standing in the studio in what seemed like a underground club. It de-emphasized the extra junk in the studio and kept the focus on the musicians and their instruments.
There are two audio tracks to choose from, the 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track and the 5.1 DTS-HD lossless master audio track. Both are extremely close to each other. I prefer the DTS-HD track because to my ear it resonates ever so slightly more. The Dolby TrueHD track rides a little brighter at the higher end, but I'm really picking through hairs here. Again all of the instruments are well represented here. Voices aren't overblown and they don't dominate, they are in fact, like another instrument in each band. Sound in the center channel is reserved for the interviews which may disappoint some, but I think that allows for some balance rather than poorly forcing the voice to the center specifically. Although a little bit of vocals directed to the center wouldn't have been bad. Hopefully in time and with confidence, the center channel will be used more in these musical blu-rays. Low bass has a decent punch but is held at a complementary level to each song. The dynamic range is good in that the brass instruments don't pierce at a loud level. Every arrangement for each specific song has a superb mix. I do think the audio could have been better during the bonus interviews in the extras, as some aren't necessarily just at low levels, but there's a lot going on instead of going to a quiet room to speak, but that charm of being "in the studio" is what makes the disc unique.
Now in the middle of its second season, 'Live From Abbey Road' is filling the void by bringing music to television. Sure there are concert stations like Palladium and HDNet, but if you like a variety of music in an intimate environment, then purchase this Blu-ray. Every recording plays wonderfully in surround sound regardless of which audio track is chosen. Not to be outdone, the lighting and cinematography keep close to the action and provide a cozy environment that's aesthetically pleasing to watch over and again. The only downside is that this is only a small sampling of the project, but it's likely more affordable than a complete set would have been. Hopefully they put out a box set in the near future, but in the meantime try out some new music or see some of your favorites in an entirely new way.