HiFi Pig

STS Digital Madeline Bell, 'Blessed With Your Heart' Tape (STS.T6111144)

Reviewed by for HiFi Pig, July 2016

There’s a bit of a buzz around reel to reel recordings at the moment and the number of audiophiles and music lovers taking up the format is clearly on the rise…and in response there are a growing number of companies offering up reel to reel recordings to cater to their needs. Step up to the plate STS Digital from The Netherlands and headed up by the lovely Fritz and Netty de With.

Many readers of Hifi Pig may well be familiar with the name Madeline Bell as she’s worked both as a solo artist as well as with Dusty Springfield and Serge Gainsbourg. In the UK she was a member of Blue Mink who scored a few top twenty hits. She’s sung with Joe Cocker, had Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones produce her album Comin’ Atcha and did some backing vocals for Elton John’s classic Honky Chateau…plus a whole load more including being part of disco band Space and appearing on Giorgio Moroder’s EMC2.

She’s still singing and performing and this particular album Blessed With Your Love was originally released in September of 2000 on the Dutch label Challenge as simply Blessed and it’s a bit of a belter! Blessed kicks off with The Look Of Love (Bacharach/David) and sets the laid back jazzy theme for what is to come. Sail on Sailor is a tune you’ll know the moment you hear it and Bell does an absolute stunning job with it and musically it’s really nicely done without detracting or taking over from the main course which is Bell’s beautifully silky vocal style…so effortless and unforced!

Gershwin’s Home opens with cool with strings, pianos and again Bell’s deeply seductive vocal talent before the sax comes in and lifts it a little. Jonathan Larson’s Season’s Of Love from the musical rent and with the unforgettable “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes” opening is up next and has more of what this album is all about – cool, relaxed and exquisitely performed jazz which is given space to breath. Even the Beach Boys’ Medley sounds just right…and I really expected this to be a cheesy non-entity but it’s far from it and I absolutely loved its foot tapping familiarity, delivered in such a different style.

Good Morning Freedom from the aforementioned Blue Mink is an absolutely cracking tune, first released in 1970 on the Philips label and if you were around at this time you’ll know it… I was three at the time and I recall it somehow. It’s given a bit of a polish and update here but still maintains its funkiness.

Dreams, the penultimate tune on the album and written by Landesbergenand is a dreamy laidback Sunday morning affair. This is perfect drift away Sunday morning music that is more of an instrumental enhanced by Bell’s sparse vocal to begin with, but here we have her in more plaintive mood and expressing the sentiment of the tune magnificently and in such a restrained and controlled manner.

Final tune on the album is The Last Laugh, co-written by Bell and Landesbergen and it finishes off the album much in the way it started and continued. I don’t know the tune but it seems instantly recognizable in some way that’s indescribable. I think this is perhaps down to the way that Bell manages to be instantly likeable and accessible. No, this is not my usual kind of thing but it’s been on the tape machine loads since I picked it up in late February and is great to have on as background music whilst working or reading, but it’s also engaging and thoroughly enjoyable when you sit in front of the main rig and give it a proper, more involved listen.

The real star of the show on this record is of course Bell’s vocal talent, but in this format, recorded without Dolby or other wizardry being added really allows her to shine. Yes it’s a bit dirty and very analogue sounding, but it’s dynamic, wonderfully charming and a real treat to sit and listen to both for the sheer gorgeousness of Bell’s vocal talent and the way this has been recorded to allow instruments to shine in their own right.
Highly Recommended.

HiFi Pig's 'Recommended' award

Highly Recommended.

Read the full review here.

View product on Air Audio Distribution here.