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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 1/24/03

Dishwalla: Opaline
2002 (2002) - 5.1 Entertainment (Immergent Records)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

DVD-AudioStereo/Multi-ChannelMeridian Lossless Packing CompressionDVD-Video compatible Dolby Digital

Dishwalla: Opaline (DVD-Audio) Album Rating: B-

Audio Ratings (DVD-A 5.1/PCM 2.0): B-/B

Extras Rating: C+ (see specs below)

Specs and Features

45 mins, single-sided, single-layered, super jewel case packaging, band photos or lyrics available during playback, Studio Scrapbook behind-the-scenes video (4 mins), gallery of live performance and studio photos (24 images), audio commentary for each song, Easter egg (Opaline demo track - PCM 2.0), liner notes insert booklet, album-themed menu screens, track access (11 tracks - see track listing below), audio formats: DVD-A 5.1 (96/24), DD 5.1, PCM 2.0 (96/24)

Produced by Mark Mazzetti & Gregg Wattenberg
5.1 Mastering by Gary Lux with Mr. Hayes at 5.1 Studios

J.R. Richards (vocals/guitars/keyboards), Rodney Browning Cravens (guitars/vocals), Jim Wood (keyboards/vocals), Pete Maloney (drums/percussion/vocals) and Scot Alexander (bass/vocals)

Opaline was the first major U.S. album to be released day-and-date in both CD and DVD-Audio versions. As such, it was said to herald many other day-and-date releases to follow. Still to follow would probably be a better way to phrase it because, more than a year later, there haven't been many similar releases. That aside, Opaline represents a nice opening salvo for the DVD-A format.

Dishwalla's third studio album is a pleasantly thread-bare, personal and heartfelt examination of some rather tough emotional issues. Its tracks touch upon loss, depression and even obsession, while always maintaining a sort of hopeful quality. J.R. Richards' soulful vocals intone the listener to buck up and soldier on, while the band around him explores a surprising variety of musical styles and influences. Opaline feels very much like the sound of a band finding their identity, coming into their own at a time when so many other groups churn through the pop grinder and fail to maintain their relevance.

Highlights of the album include When Morning Comes, Mad Life and the mournful Candleburn. Of all the tracks, Somewhere in the Middle perhaps most captures Dishwalla's signature sound, while the title track itself is a glossy and hypnotic confection. It's also damned infectious. With a slightly Middle Eastern flavor and fluid percussion, Opaline is unique on the album and is still haunting my brain's short-term song buffer.

In terms of sonic presentation, both the high-resolution 5.1 and 2.0 mixes are clean, well-layered and nicely melodic. It's been my experience thus far that Meridian Lossless Packing Compression (MLP) just isn't quite as transparent as the Direct Stream Digital (DSD) mastering process employed by SACD discs. That said, the sound presented here is completely rich and smooth in quality. The surround mix is sparing and relaxed, but effective, with the front soundstage widened into the surrounds. The result isn't particularly active, but it's nicely enveloping and pleasant. I prefer the stereo mix, but it's close enough to be a toss-up.

Those with standard DVD-Video players can choose between Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and PCM 2.0 stereo options. DVD-Audio players default automatically to the higher-resolution audio options and, unfortunately, you can't down-select the lower-resolution options via the disc's menus (the choices you get are an automatic function of the type of DVD player you have). The menus are surprisingly cumbersome, taking their sweet time to grind from page to page. They're also not anamorphic compatible (which makes little sense when you consider that most consumers savvy enough to have DVD-Audio capable players are likely also to have anamorphic displays). Also, whereas with a DVD-Video disc the "menu" button on your remote is the one that takes you out of program material, it's useless with many DVD-Audio discs. "Title" or "Top Menu" are the non-intuitive choices you must make instead. These are weakness typical of the DVD-Audio discs I've sampled thus far... and indicative of the progress than still needs to be made with the format.

In terms of bonus material, you're given the option of viewing either lyrics or band photos during each song (lyrics appear by default). There are two photo galleries, one of the band on stage and one of them in the studio, which collectively contain 24 images. There's also a 4-minute Studio Scrapbook video of the band in the studio set to the song Home. The best feature by far is the commentary, in which brief audio snippets of the various band members can be heard, with the particular song they're discussing playing in the background. Commentary with all-audio content is a real challenge, but it works fairly well here. Also included is an Easter egg demo track of Opaline (44/16 PCM 2.0) - just navigate left from the Opaline selection in the playlist to highlight the statue's eye.

While it's not the best DVD-Audio release I've experienced thus far, Dishwalla's Opaline is good in terms of overall presentation and production quality, despite its clunky video interface. It's also a damned solid album from a band that has what it takes to hang around a while. Definitely worth a look.

Bill Hunt

Track Listing:

Angels or Devils
Somewhere in the Middle
Every Little Thing
When Morning Comes
Today, Tonight
Mad Life
Nashville Skyline
Drawn Out

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