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Product: Audio CD
Title: Alchemy: An Index of Possibilites
Label: Caroline
Artist: David Sylvian
Rating: 4/5
Customer rating - 4 out of 5
An Enigmatic and Eclectic Mix

David Sylvian, the Lord Byron of Post-Rock, is infamous for obscure and limited edition releases. Now that he has left Virgin Records after more than twenty years, much of this rare material is finally becoming widely and affordably available. This CD collects remastered instrumental tracks from projects Sylvian was involved with in the mid to late eighties. Here's how it breaks down....
Words With The Shaman (tracks 1-3) is a three-part EP recorded with John Hassell in 1985. The first section is rhythmic, mysterious, and features wailing female vocals in a foreign tongue. The shorter second section is much like the first, but when the rhythm shifts, horns and an electric guitar kick in. The third and final section starts as a gentle Gamelan piece but grows more intense, like the fall of spring rain on tin rooftops. Words With The Shaman has been available for years as three bonus tracks on the Caroline Records edition of Brilliant Trees.
Preparations For A Journey (track 4) was originally recorded in 1984 with Seigin Ono for a Japanese documentary about Sylvian's life. Characteristically, the film eventually aired on Japanese television with no accompanying music. It is the most East Asian sounding song on this collection. Its electronically treated melody is enchanting, exotic, and sublime.
The Stigma Of Childhood (Kin) (track 5) is a ravishing fragment of a longer piece written for Gaby Agis' modern ballet of the same title back in 1987. It sounds like a long, ambient, arabesque outtake from the instrumental half of Gone To Earth. Sylvian refuses even now to release the entire score, saying only that this song represents the strongest material from the project.
A Brief Conversation Ending In Divorce (track 6) is a curiously ludic and clever, jazz-inflected b-side from Sylvian's 1989 Pop Song single.
A skeletal version of the final song on this compilation, Steel Cathedrals (track 7), was written for the Japanese documentary mentioned earlier. Finishing touches were added in London with the help of Ryuichi Sakamoto (of YMO), King Crimsoner Robert Fripp, Masami Tsuchiya (Japan's tour guitarist), and Kenny Wheeler among others. This long, atmospheric, composition sounds New Agey but slightly unsettling. It reminds me of the albums Sylvian would do later on with Holger Czukay, though the horn section clearly anticipates "Laughter and Forgetting" on the vocal portion of Gone To Earth.
The tasteful packaging and crisp sound quality will do these songs justice for Sylvian completists, but this is not a good choice for people new to Sylvian's work. Find out why Sylvian has been called the last romantic and the most beautiful man in the world by beginning with Brilliant Trees, Secrets of the Beehive, or Japan's swansong: Tin Drum. Once you're hooked you'll make it to this disc sooner or later.

Product: Audio CD
Title: Nixon: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [Enhanced CD]
Label: Hollywood Records
Artist: John Williams
Rating: 3/5
Customer rating - 3 out of 5
flashes of brilliance, along with some snoozers

There are several stand-out cues on this disc that make Nixon worth having. Track 1, used in the theatrical trailers, is a really powerful piece of music that sums up what the score and the movie is about. It's incredibly dark, yet emotionally powerful. Track 3 features a great wistful trumpet theme performed by the great Tim Morrison. Track 10 is another dark, turbulent piece of music, really bombastic. Track 11 is a terrifically mysterious, sinister, and sweeping theme all at once. The finale of the score is likewise great, recalling the grand, heroic aspect of Nixon. The rest of the score consists of a lot of brooding atmospheric cues that can be a bit dull on CD. Hence the score has moments of greatness but is far from Williams' best work. The moments of brilliance on this CD make the album worth having--every Oliver Stone-John Williams score is worth it, as a matter of fact. by the way, Nixon is an "enhanced" CD. I was able to view some of the enhanced features, including some amusing interview clips with Williams and Stone, as well as the terrific trailer. The enhanced-ness of this CD is screwy though... you may have trouble accessing these features. :(

Product: Audio CD
Title: Big Beautiful Sky
Label: Mca
Artist: Venus Hum
Rating: 5/5
Customer rating - 5 out of 5
Beautiful, eclectic electronica

My introduction to Venus Hum came about through the Blue Man Group's album "The Complex" and the song "I feel love," sung beautifully by Annette Strean. I had no idea who they were and was so impressed by their collaboration with Blue Man Group that I had to give a listen to "Big Beautiful Sky." Strean's lyrics are whimscal and she sounds like an angel. The electronic palette painted by Tony Miracle and Kip Kubin provide a spectacular backdrop to Annette's voice, covering a wide variety of electronica styles that reminds one of the great synth-pop bands of the 1980s, like Depeche Mode and Erasure, coupled with an enigmatic voice best compared to Kate Bush. "Big Beautiful World" is an album deserving of more attention to this talented trio from Nashville. A must-have for any record collection.

Product: Audio CD
Title: The Full Monty: The Broadway Musical
Label: RCA
Artist: David Yazbek
Rating: 4/5
Customer rating - 4 out of 5
Not Full...But Not Bad Either

Saw the play in London. Great songs, both sensitive and hilarious.