I was hoping in this space to offer an enthusiastic review of Ray Charles' 1984 album of country duets, Friendship, recently reissued by Sony Legacy. Certainly, with guests like George Jones, Chet Atkins, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Ricky Skaggs it's almost a sure thing that I would love it.
But I can't. Unfortunately, Sony's proprietary Digital Rights Management scheme has thus far prevented me from hearing the music on the disc. These days I mainly listen to music in three places: on my computer as quiet office background listening, and more seriously on my Ipod and on my car's cd player. So far, my car stereo won't even read the disc, so no go there. The disc informs me that to play Friendship on my computer, I must first let the CD install proprietary Sony software that will monitor and limit the number of copies of any kind I can make of the music thereon. This is distateful at best (even more so if I had bought this rather than gotten a review copy), but I want to hear this record: I’ll bite. Unfortunately, my computers, work or home, won't just play the music even after installing the software; instead, rather than the little player starting up upon disc insertion, I must go into the disc's menus to find the proper .exe file to make it work. And forget about using Windows Media, Real, itunes, or other media software to play it; you must use the disc's own jukebox software only.
Similarly, to put the music on my IPod requires that I download further software, in this case ActiveX 9. I have the choice of ripping to a proprietary Sony audio format (ATRAC) or .wma. Given that Sony promises that ATRAC is "technology that compresses your music so efficiently it’s hard to detect the difference," and given that .wma's audio quality isn't so hot either, Forget all that. My ears are good enough to hear the high-level compression dulling the hi-hat cymbal in some mp3s, so it’s a cinch that “hard to detect” isn’t going to cut the fricking mustard. In fact, I have tried – and failed – to get legitimately copied .wma versions of the album’s tracks onto my Ipod. Guess what: access denied.