Grateful Dead-American Beauty (DVD-Audio) (1970) (NTSC)
Interviews-Cast-Mickey Hart & Bob Weir
|Year Of Production||1970|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||None Given|
Ron (PigPen) McKernan
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English MLP 96/24 5.1
English MLP 96/24 2.0
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The Grateful Dead were in a spot of financial difficulty around 1970, and owed rather a lot of money to their record company who had, to this point, had a very difficult time with the band. Recorded in a very brief period only 7 months after their previous album Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty is more of the same folksy, thoughtful acoustic ramble with some haunting lyrics. Not as melancholy as its predecessor, nor as involving, this album feels somewhat lost and with less clear direction than Workingman’s Dead - it is also less wholesomely musical, a quality which struck me about their earlier work.
It’s not all bad, and songs such as “Candyman”, “Ripple” and “Attics Of My Life” bring that spark to what would otherwise be a bland album – and perhaps it just highlights the masterpiece that was Workingman’s Dead.
|1. Box Of Rain|
2. Friend Of The Devil
3. Sugar Magnolia
7. Brokedown Palace
8. Till The Morning Comes
9. Attics Of My Life
The NTSC menus and stills are generally clear, though sometimes quite soft, whilst the menu text is easy enough to read. Video segments were very soft and quite washed out in terms of colour and saturation. Still, if you are like me you will only look at these things once the first time you spin the disc and be done with them.
I am sad to report that this album is sonically not a patch on its predecessor, Workingman’s Dead. Given that both albums were produced in the same year of 1970, and presumably by the same people, this is something of a disappointment. Mickey Hart worked on both albums for the re-release to DVD-Audio, and is responsible for the mixing, engineering and sound design or “geography” as he terms it – which makes the discrepancy all the more puzzling. Perhaps the source material was not as carefully preserved, something not entirely out of the question for 30+ year old master tapes – and no amount of modern magic can bring back what simply isn’t there any more.
The default format is MLP 5.1 96 kHz/24 bit, which initiates itself some 40 seconds after inserting the disc if left to itself. Also present is a discrete MLP 2.0 96 kHz/24 bit mix (not 192kHz as advertised by Warner themselves), and a 448 kilobit/sec Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for DVD-Video players. My comments refer to the MLP 5.1 mix, with brief samples of the MLP 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes commented on.
I have sat down with this album a good 4 or 5 times, and each time I thought to myself (wishfully) – the next time it will sound better. Unfortunately, it never did. Whilst it comes close, it never quite makes it all the way home in terms of fidelity, and generally sounds distant and thin, almost as if the mid frequencies were suppressed to a degree. For many tracks, including prominently “Box Of Rain”, the bass is quite flabby and often boomy and uncomfortable to listen to. Perhaps a more competent system would ease the problem, however it is something that is rare on my setup. Drums are strangely dull, with no single song having any real impact percussion-wise. Other instruments fare rather better, with “Ripple” having sumptuously doubled guitars placed around the room. Vocals are also often quite good, and for a rare example of the Dead singing in near-harmony you can’t go past “Attics Of My Life”, in which each person’s voice is distinct and clean and very pleasant sounding. So, it’s a bit of a grab bag in the quality stakes as much as musically but there are gems amongst the rubble.
I think Mickey Hart may have been thinking about other things when he sculpted the surround landscape with this album, as he misses the mark in delivering that which he promises in his video interview. Certainly, the surrounds are active almost constantly, it’s just that there is little cohesion to the whole. The first song, “Box Of Rain” is a mess, and should have been mixed with far less complication – it’s one thing to be able to bring missing dubs back to life, it’s another to do it for a good reason. Compare it with “Ripple”, which is much more thoughtful, controlled and presents a very good soundscape which involves the listener.
The stereo MLP track is similar in sound, even down to the flabby bass, which I imagined would be alleviated slightly. The Dolby Digital soundtrack delivers the album in much the same way as the MLP, since sonically this is a weaker DVD-Audio than most and is not demanding of the increased resolution of the format.
The subwoofer is not used during the MLP 5.1 track.
|Surround Channel Use|
A typically nice 16-page booklet with some history of the album, plenty of photos and comprehensive credits. I found the listed play times to differ sometimes wildly from actual, though this is not uncommon with new surround remixes.
Mickey Hart is a wonderfully animated and interesting speaker, and I always enjoy listening to what he has to say. He really tries to sell the surround aspect of this album and talks fondly of his memories of playing on stage. The video runs for 5:40 minutes, and also has Bob Weir talking about ... well, who can say for sure.
14 or so colour and B&W live photos, available whilst the DVD-Audio is playing, or separately for DVD-Video players.
Again, you can read these whilst the DVD-Audio is playing (always handy), or by themselves with a DVD-Video-only player
These are as per the booklet.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
This album is identical to the R1 release, right down to NTSC video.
This is one for the library, if only to complete your collection of so-far released Grateful Dead DVD-Audio albums. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stand up on its own sonically, with a sub-par audio transfer presumably due to less than perfect source material, though to be fair it does have its moments of relative glory.
|DVD||Toshiba SD-900E, using RGB output|
|Display||Pioneer SD-T43W1 16:9 RPTV. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Sony STR DB-930|
|Speakers||Front & Rears: B&W DM603 S2, Centre: B&W LCR6, Sub: B&W ASW500|