Back during the mid-90’s when “Evidence” was originally recorded, composer and musician Alan Williams lost faith in the project, shelving that original incarnation after sending out promotional copies. Now a quarter century later he has resurrected the album with newly recorded vocals, some arrangement tweaks, and a completely new mix in stereo and 5.1 surround. The album has been retitled “Evidence Unearthed,” and this update bridges the gap between his time in the folk-rock band Knots and Crosses, and his more recent work with Birdsong At Morning, the later band which has been reviewed for their excellent songcraft, sound quality and surround mixes here on Hi-Res Edition.
With contributions from K&C associates Rick Harris and Tom Hambridge, as well as future collaborators in Birdsong At Morning, Greg Porter, Ben Wittman, and Thomas Juliano, as well as guests Laurie Sargent, Leslie Smith, Ducky Belliveau and Gene Elders, the record stands as a time capsule of the mid-1990s Boston rock scene, while pointing to future directions Williams explores over the following decades.
A study in contrasts, Evidence Unearthed pushes the elements familiar to fans of Birdsong to wider extremes – louder and softer, more complex yet comfortable in simplicity. A once buried treasure is now Evidence Unearthed. For high resolution and surround sound fans, Williams has released a CD + Blu-ray containing 96kHz / 24-bit audio in stereo, LPCM 5.1, and DTS-HD 5.1 on a region free Blu-ray featuring both vocal and instrumental mixes.
When settling into listen to Evidence Unearthed, please remember this is not a Birdsong at Morning release. Williams’ album is a raw and crunchy set of tunes that lean into country with a rock flair tossed into the mix. I can hear some Matthew Sweet blended with John Cougar Mellencamp in a laid back beat that takes some country with a twist of folk-rock.
Fans of Birdsong at Morning naturally will expect the sound quality to be very-high, and Evidence Unearthed delivers this and much more by capturing the live essence of the band with a rawness one would anticipate from a show at a club. Even the newly recorded vocals fit in as if Williams were singing along with the band when the tape rolled back in 1995. It would be interesting from a comparative standpoint to hear the difference from the original vocal tracks to these newly recorded ones, but I do not have an earlier copy on hand of this effectively unreleased album called “Evidence.”
Diving into the actual surround sound version, from an immersive perspective, this is primarily a front centric mix. However, the back channels do take on some moderate discrete elements, along with ambience that provides ample depth to the lead vocals, drums, and guitars. This gives the surround version a wonderful openness, yielding plenty of space for all of the parts.
Regardless of the front centric focus, the 5.1 mix is distinctly apparent from the moment the album starts, wherein a muffled foreign language voice can be heard speaking from the back left channel. As it turns out, during the recording process a neighboring ham operator continued to cause occasional interference, which subsequently became a faint, or in this case a prominent part of the record.
Lead vocals have been spread across the front channels with greater dominance given to the two main front speakers. Also, upfront, and discretely placed in the back on some tracks are the zesty and crunchy guitars which have a fantastic live presence to them. In fact, guitarists who are accustomed to having their amp close by, should easily hear how the immediacy and tone absolutely brings the guitars right into their listening room. The dynamic punch gives the raw edge of an onstage performance while the drums are tucked a bit underneath the snappy well defined snare and the firm thud of the kick drum. Filling out the rhythm section, the bass warmly fills the lower regions, becoming a perfect complement that is balanced by the remainder of the band.
I am elated by the raw essence of these songs and the emotional energy that has been placed into each one. This translates exceedingly well, giving me a sense of the purity of these recordings as the band plays out each of the songs. For me it is this aspect that actually ends up surpassing the overall sound quality, putting the musicianship and performance at a very-high level. Basically, it is the emotional aspect of these life stories that really ends up bringing home the music, and the icing on the cake is that Evidence Unearthed has been presented in a high resolution format, in both stereo and surround sound, allowing audiophiles to enjoy the various tracks without compromising the dynamic range with an overly compressed version that has been squashed into a lossy or lower bit rate formats.
There are a few songs that are truly immersive, making the surround mix that much more compelling to experience. The stand-out track for me is called “And So He Loves You,” a painful ballad that fills the room from all corners. Elegant guitars distinctly pour from the back channels while bass and vocals are centered upfront. The pedal steel and fiddle lend to the country feel as the story unfolds all around the sweet spot.
I compared the DTS HD Master Audio and LPCM surround codecs, and was not able to detect any noticeable difference. One should not expect any differences to be present from these two lossless codecs, yet I can not say this has held true on releases from other artists. Thus, I routinely listen to each codec to determine which one I prefer on any given disc.
Now, on the other hand, the stereo PCM mix does have some minor coloration differences that may annoy some purists. The stereo mix is unique but naturally contains elements from the back channels such as additional harmonics that are not present in the front channels. Thus, not only will listeners get a slightly flattened soundstage but a very slight difference in tonality between the 5.1 and 2.0 versions. Although the surround mix is front centric, I still found it more appealing compared to the stereo mix. But, for those who prefer stereo over surround, it truly sounds great, and like the surround version, does an excellent job at conveying the raw dynamics that give it a very live feel.
There are a couple of display options, including on screen lyrics and a written commentary that tells the story of each track as it is playing. I personally found the menu system to be inconvenient to use, as it has been presented in one long list. Yet, this system is clear and easy to read, unlike many other Blu-rays I have encountered. Also, check out the video, another high quality segment on the Blu-ray.
Evidence Unearthed is a perfect historical companion to the more recent Birdsong at Morning releases, and while musically different, one can hear where Williams has come from in his musical evolution. Collectors of surround sound and high resolution releases should find this to be a worthy addition to their collection, and certainly a must have for fans who seek some of the origins of Birdsong at Morning.
Released August 28, 2020.
CD + Blu-ray with 96kHz / 24-bit stereo and surround mixes, DTS HD Master Audio and LPCM. Region Free.