XenForo Template Jonatha Brooke Live in New York Release Date: Currently available at www.jonathabrooke.com; in stores September 12, 2006 Studio: Bad Dog Records Year: 2006 Rating: NR Running Time: 1h29m Video: 1.33:1 standard Audio: English DD5.1, English LPCM Stereo Subtitles: None TV-Generated Closed Captions: None Menus: Non-animated Packaging/Materials: Two-disc Digipak MSRP: $17.50 at www.jonathabrooke.com The Feature: 4/5 In 2001 singer-songwriter Jonatha Brooke did an amazing thing. She released a DVD-Audio/DVD-Video flipper of her album "Steady Pull," perhaps the only independent artist to ever stick her foot in that pool. At that time she was also well ahead of her major label peers in releasing DVD product of any kind. On all levels "Steady Pull" was incredibly ambitious. Music videos were shot for over half the tracks, while the rest incorporated behind-the-scenes footage shot in producer Bob Clearmountain's recording studio. While earning an "A" for both ambition and effort, the seams of the low budget video production were often quite obvious and ultimately the weakest part of the release. But any lack of polish in the area was forgiveable given both its independent origins and the disc's abundant audio options: DTS 5.1, DD5.1 and DD2.0 stereo on the DVD-Video side; 88.2kHz/24-bit surround and 176.4kHz/24-bit stereo on the DVD-Audio. At the time (and maybe to this day) I doubt most of Brooke's fans really fathomed what she was giving them. But all of them knew they were getting great music - contemporary folk flavored with pop and alternative sensibilities. Five years later Brooke has released another DVD, this time a 2004 concert at the Anspacher Stage at New York City's Public Theater. Brooke and her band put on 10 shows there, a sort of self-introduction to her new home, and brought in video cameras for the last two performances. It took two years to go from concert series to DVD, gathering the required funds and expertise to complete it, at one point even drawing on fans' monetary donations. And the result? Certainly a less ambitious, simpler affair compared to "Steady Pull" but no less enjoyable. The 16 songs in the set list draw from Brooke's earliest work with The Story, a contemporary folk duo consisting of herself and musician Jennifer Kimball, and her four subsequent efforts as a solo artist. Her latest release, "Back in the Circus" provides the overall theme for the show, reflected in the opening number ("Damn Everything But the Circus"), Brooke's fetching ringmaster outfit, and the somewhat fetishistic concert poster of her hanging from a trapeze. Brooke, bass guitarist Darren Embry and guitarist Goffrey Moore have been recording and performing together since 2001 and the familiarity shows when the band goes all out in numbers like "Deny," "Room In My Heart," and "Linger." New addition to the group Ann Marie Milazzo acts as the Jane of All Trades, providing powerful backing vocals, keyboards and a sentimental clarinet for the song "Sally." The selections for the set list are well chosen overall, ranging from pensive and heartbreaking ("No Net Below," "So Much Mine") to the maturely romantic ("Everything I Wanted") and rocking ("Landmine"). Existing fans should have no complaints, while those unfamiliar with her work should get an effective introduction to her songwriting and performing skills. To put together the video footage Brooke called in director and editor Emily Branham. With material ranging from okay to good - never quite excellent or even very good - this could not have been an easy or enviable task. But Branham, who directed Brooke's "Better After All" music video, manages to create something watchable and, certainly for an existing fan, enjoyable. However the frequent use of fade-to-black at the end of each song makes the 90 minute run time feel more like a series of highlights rather than a complete show. Once again, where Brooke's DVD release shines is the audio presentation. Though the audio options have been cut back, the DD5.1 mix is a pleasure to listen to, expertly recorded by engineer Paul Mitchell and mixed by music industry veteran Bob Clearmountain. Video Quality: 2/5 The weak point of Brooke's DVD releases continues to be the video production. With four or five cameras covering the concert, about half yield footage that is properly exposed. The problem ultimately lies in the show's lighting design, as Brooke is often washed out under the spotlight trained on her while the rest of the band is fine. I imagine if the show had been planned from the ground up as a video - rather than a stage - production, the lighting would have been adjusted accordingly. Other issues with the footage include focusing accuracy and shot stability, but this raw quality may give the program a greater authenticity depending on one's perspective. Despite the technical problems with the video acquisition, the transfer to DVD looks as good as it can, with very good black levels (in the properly exposed footage) and no signs of compression noise. Audio Quality: 4.5/5 As with Brooke's previous release, the quality of the audio makes up for the lack of polish in the video. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is beautifully mixed, with great clarity, bass extension and balance. The front and center speakers get the most activity, with placement of instruments and vocals in the sound stage corresponding to how the band is seen from the audience. Though this is standard practice for surround sound music productions, the effect is sometimes undermined when the video footage does not show the same arrangement. Sticklers may prefer to listen to the DVD with their displays turned off. Surround channel usage is effective, providing performance hall echo and audience applause to further the "you are there" experience. Special Features: 4/5 The release includes a CD of the same 16 songs (minus some of the stage banter) from the DVD. Though the discs are packaged in a CD Digipak as opposed to a typical keepcase, it is not meant as a Live CD release with the DVD as a bonus item. The packaging and the eventual placement in stores' music sections were marketing decisions to keep the release from getting lost on DVD shelves. We'll see if it proves effective. Recap and Final Thoughts The Feature: 4/5 Video Quality: 2/5 Audio Quality: 4.5/5 Special Features: 4/5 Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5 Though audio production continues to be top notch, video production quality continues to be the weakness of Brooke's DVD efforts. Should she gather equal expertise in both disciplines, she will have one stellar release. Despite its flaws, "Jonatha Brooke Live in New York" is a good introduction for the uninitiated and will certainly please existing fans. Equipment: Toshiba 42" CRT RPTV fed a 1080i signal from an Oppo DV-971 DVD player. Audio evaluation is based on an Onkyo TX-SR575x 5.1 AVR running JBL S26 mains and surrounds, JBL S-Center, and BFD-equalized SVS 20-39 PCi subwoofer.