Tag Archives: Classical

Roy Orbison: A Love So Beautiful

Roy Orbison’s vocals backed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Roy Orbison’s sons – Roy Jr., Wesley and Alex – have done much to preserve and expand their father’s legacy. They’ve overseen reissues of Roy Orbison’s MGM catalog and an expanded thirtieth anniversary version of the Black and White Night concert film, released the first-ever issue of 1969 album One of the Lonely Ones, and wrote a new biography. Their latest offering grafts classic Orbison vocals onto new, classical arrangements, multiplying the vocalist’s operatic flights with the power of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This is producer Nick Patrick’s third such creation, having pioneered this concept with Elvis Presley’s If I Can Dream and The Wonder of You.

Although there is certainly a marketing angle to this release, there is also a great deal of thought in the conception and artistry, and the execution rises well above pure commercialism. The strings of Orbison’s original hits pointed the way, and these full orchestral arrangements fill out the emotional images drawn by Orbison’s soaring vocals. Patrick’s arrangers have studied the original records and leveraged many of their percussion and melodic motifs. The results remain familiar while also feeling freshened up; they don’t always have the raw impact of Fred Foster’s original productions, but neither do they stray so far away as to lose the connection.

Some tracks fare better than others. The intro to “It’s Over” offers hold-your-breath drama, “Running Scared” reaffirms the song’s basis in Ravel’s “Bolero,” and expanded strings on “Blue Angel” and “Love Hurts” add lushness and power to the originals. On the other hand, “Oh, Pretty Woman” seems to diminish the original’s wonder and yearning, and the vocal on “Dream Baby” doesn’t quite sit in the pocket. Later material is given ELO-styled rock treatment that’s less effective than Jeff Lynne’s original productions. As with most covers projects, this one won’t have you tossing out your singles and albums, but for fans who’ve listened to these songs a thousand times, it’s nice to hear something new in the familiar. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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Chris Stamey: Lovesick Blues

ChrisStamey_LovesickBluesA pensive set from a legendary singer-songwriter

It’s been nine years since Chris Stamey’s last solo album, Travels in the South. In the interim he’s worked with Yo La Tengo on A Question of Temperature., re-teamed with fellow dB Peter Holsapple for Here and Now, regrouped with the dB’s for Falling Off the Sky, and continued a busy career as a recording engineer and record producer. The long years between solo outings are certainly understandable, if not necessarily a happy state of affairs for fans; but those same fans should feel rewarded by this collection of eleven magnificent new productions. Stamey’s melancholy tunefulness has never sounded more graceful, rendered in contemplative tones and finely crafted instrumental textures that shift seamlessly between rock, soul, jazz and classical.

Stamey’s formal education in music theory and composition has never been a secret, but his recent work on the Big Star Third concerts seems to have deepened his thinking about how orchestral instruments could fit into and augment his music. He interleaves strings, woodwinds and brass with guitars, bass and drums, dotting his musical landscape with cello, bassoon, flute and trombone. The results are both ethereal and dynamic, offering everything from neo-psych dreaminess to symphonic vigor, sometimes within the same song, as on the sky-gazing “Astronomy.” This coalescing of musical influences is seemingly foreshadowed by the merging of souls in the opener, “Skin.”

At 59, Stamey’s long since expanded upon the punchy guitar rock with which the dB’s introduced themselves, though “You n Me n XTC” has a chorus hook that will make listeners think back. The album plays as late-night ruminations on metaphysical wanderings, philosophical wonderings and haggard day-end inventories. Stamey sings with a thoughtful absorption that suggests Paul Simon’s folk songs, and the self-referential “I Wrote This Song for You” has the charm of an Alex Chilton love song. Stamey’s lyrics remain poetic, but his vocabulary and singing have softened from their earlier percussiveness – a change that fits these pensive songs. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

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David Axelrod: David Axelrod’s Rock Interpretation of Handel’s Messiah

1971 rock orchestrations of Handel’s Messiah

Producer/arranger David Axelrod’s rock interpretation of Handel’s Messiah has twin histories. Originally released in 1971, it was part of a stream of God rock that included Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell and popular hits like “Spirit in the Sky,” “One Toke Over the Line” and “Jesus is Just Alright.” But as part of Axelrod’s personal oeuvre, it also followed in the footsteps of his literary and social-themed works of the late ’60s and his 1968 albums with (or perhaps, “as”) the Electric Prunes, Mass in F Minor and Release of an Oath. Taken in the retrospective stride of his full career, the album now feels less tethered to its 1971 theatrical contemporaries than to Axelrod’s long-running exploration of concept albums, jazz, soul and rock orchestration.

All four of those influences are heard here, with string arrangements that are as much Chicago soul as philharmonic concert hall, and full-kit drumming and fuzz guitars that reach back to his earlier experiments with psychedelia. The album was recorded with key Los Angeles sessions players, such as Carol Kaye, and features a 38-piece orchestra conducted by jazz legend (and Axelrod collaborator) Cannonball Adderley. Axelrod astutely observed that by 1971, rock music had developed album-oriented fans whose attention span was longer than the two-minutes-forty of AM radio hits, and that FM radio had developed listeners whose tastes spanned beyond pop music.

In contrast to his earlier instrumental work, and in deference to the piece being an oratorio, Axelrod arranged this with vocals, though sung in shades of soul and gospel that befit the era and arrangements, rather than with classical choruses. Axelrod interlaces electrically-orchestrated pieces with more strictly symphonic arrangements, such as “Pastoral Symphony,” lending the finished work the imprimatur of both rock and classical music. The set’s uncredited stars are its recitative leads, whose lead vocals give soul power to “And the Glory of the Lord,” “Behold” and “And the Angel Said Unto Them.”

There are moments of EL&P-like prog-rock, but the album’s bombast is mostly contained to the keystone “Hallelujah,” on which the backing gospel chorus melds with the familiar melody into a stagey declaration.  The closing “Worthy is the Lamb” brings the tone back on course. Real Gone’s reissue includes the album’s original nine tracks and no bonuses, housed in a gatefold mini-LP sleeve and featuring a six-page booklet with notes by Ritchie Unterberger. This is likely to be of interest primarily to Axelrod’s fans, though those interested in the early ‘70s God Rock phenomenon (and those who’ve enjoyed Andy Belling’s 1972 New Messiah or the more recent Messiah Rocks) should also find time for this one. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Flotilla: One Hundred Words for Water

Flotilla_OneHundredWordsForWaterUnusual Canadian quartet mixes progrock, classical and more

One spin of this Montreal band’s second full-length made me belatedly realize that my infatuation with Stereolab and Portishead traces a straight line back to an earlier infatuation with Soft Machine, Hatfield and the North, and many other ‘70s prog-rock giants. It’s not that these bands share the same exact melodic, rhythmic or instrumental sensibilities, but they each temper rock elements with something progressive, such as jazz, classical, and world music. Flotilla augments their keyboards, electronics, bass, and drums, with ethereal, delicate touches of fingertip plucked harp. Their blend of rock, jazz, folk, lounge, pop and classical surrounds the multihued vocals of Veronica Charnley. Her voice rises into an upper range that brings to mind Kate Bush, but also has the warm sophistication of a torch singer and moments of gothic mystery. The arrangements include punchy post-punk, classical horns, dreamy keyboard and harp, and heavy ensemble jams, often changing styles and tempos within a single composition. The poetic lyrics are image-inducing at the line level, but opaque and abstract in stanzas. No matter, the music provides plenty of hooks without the benefit of concrete characters or stories. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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