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Damon Albarn (Virgin)
Eclectic is Damon Albarn's middle name. From Brit pop with Blur to the Chinese opera Monkey: Journey to the West and the Gorillaz in between, his musical journey has gone in pretty much every direction.
His latest offering is different again; Albarn refers to the album as "strange pastoral folk." ''Dr Dee" is from an opera which premiered last year during the Manchester International Festival in the United Kingdom. It tells the story of John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I's medical and scientific adviser, whose career ended in sexual scandal and disgrace. Albarn created the stage production of "Dr Dee" alongside theater director Rufus Norris.
The album opens with an instrumental track called "The Golden Dawn," which employs birds singing and the chiming of a clock, with an organ ominously introduced midway through.
"Apple Carts" sees the welcome introduction of Albarn's vocals and is strangely beautiful, his dulcet tones paired with a flute and lyrics that reference nature. This melts into "O Spirit, Animate Us," where Albarn's lyricism turns almost biblical -- "Oh father, animate us," he asks, before the song is pierced, rather uncomfortably and unexpectedly, with operatic female vocals.
Without the visual accompaniment of the stage production, it's hard to grapple with the material. Perhaps aided by visuals, the tracks would have more purpose and impact. As it stands now, it's an odd but interesting album that's hard to truly enjoy.
-- SIAN WATSON, Associated Press
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DEE DOES BROADWAY
Dee Snider (Razor & Tie)
In a signature song early in his career, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider vowed "I'll Never Grow Up." But bless his twisted heart and frizzed-out hair, that's exactly what's happening to the heavy metal legend, best known for hits like "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock."
Dee Snider has become a brand. He's done stints as a commercial voice-over actor, a radio DJ, a reality TV star, and budding author. But "Dee Does Broadway," a collection of iconic classics from the Broadway stage, is the boldest departure yet from the MTV fixture of the '80s. It melds the timeless melodies and passions of musical hits with the fire, intensity, and energy of heavy metal. (Think Angela Lansbury meets Alice Cooper.) It makes more sense when you consider that Snider had a featured role in 2010 in the '80s rock musical Rock Of Ages, which put the Broadway bug into him.
They don't keep records on this sort of thing, but it's a safe bet that Snider is the first heavy metal star to record the words "ol' chum" in a song when he covers "Cabaret," the scene-setting opening track. "The Ballad Of Sweeney Todd" sounds like a perfect third act to Twisted Sister's "Horror-Teria" and would fit seamlessly in one of the band's live shows.
Like a great Broadway production, the album builds to a final crescendo in "Tonight/Somewhere" from West Side Story, in which Evita star Patti LuPone and Snider give the '80s power ballad treatment to one of the stage's most enduring melodies. Haters beware: The dude really can sing!
-- WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press
Edmar Castaneda (Arpa y Voz Records)
Edmar Castaneda's virtuosity on the harp remains stunning, one in which he again takes command of the harp like he was playing jazz guitar and with a sophistication that puts him in a class by himself either way.
This all-instrumental album, which also includes top-shelf talent on piano, mandolin, and saxophone, offers a somewhat frenetic and complicated hybrid of jazz, folk from Castaneda's native Colombia homeland, and classical, with hints of New Age.
Castaneda originals are on nine of the 10 tracks. Listeners may find some of it mathematical and even a bit tedious, yet there's an intensity and fury rare among what few harp players there are out there capable of venturing beyond traditional musical boundaries.
-- TOM HENRY