Snow on the Sahara

Anggun wasn’t at the Lilith Fair at The World a couple weeks ago, but she may turn out to be the hottest new female artist of the summer. The 24-year-old Indonesian singer (whose full name is Anggun Sasmi) has a cross-format radio hit with her enchanting “Snow on the Sahara” and offers 10 more exotic pop hybrids on her American debut album (she’s already sold millions of records in her native Indonesia).

Anggun is gifted with a warm, full voice that can tackle slight pop songs without overpowering them as well as swoop with depth and ease over heavier emotional numbers. While “Snow on the Sahara”  brings to mind the evocative pop tapestries of Sophie B. Hawkins, much of the rest of the album treads an even more exotic path, combining some of the Eastern sounds of Anggun’s homeland with the sound and structures of Western pop and dance. The result is a treasure trove of sound and feeling that is both familiar and fresh.

Snow on the Sahara opens with its title hit single and closes with a well-read cover of David Bowie’s classic “Life on Mars.” In between Anggun punches out a galloping singalong in “Dream of Me,”  croons on “Valparaiso,” a wild mix of Spanish guitars, funky background singers and beats, and belts with smoky feeling on an anthemic ballad of horizon-wide harmonies and spiritual awakening in “A Rose in the Wind” (All alone as I wake/Moving in a new place/shivering as I trace/A road of my own/cut by the deep cold”).

Anggun mixes in just enough touches of her own language and cultural sounds to make this an exotic album, but with the help of producer-songwriter Erick Benzi (who’s worked with Celine Dion) keeps enough of a Western song structure so that she won’t alienate her new audience.

Snow on the Sahara is a delicious mix of beautiful mood and melody and one of the best  albums of the summer. For more information about Anggun, check out


Kansas Live:

Back in June I wrote of a new album, Always Never The Same from ‘70s progressive rock band Kansas, released on River North Records. The disc included a couple new songs, but was essentially a rerecording of old Kansas material with the addition of the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios. Last week, Kansas, featuring founding members Steve Walsh (vocals, keyboards), Robby Steinhardt (violinist and co-vocalist),  Phil Ehart (drums) and Rich Williams (guitar) recreated that album’s rock band-goes-classical atmosphere onstage at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival outdoor theatre with the help of conductor Larry Baird (who arranged the orchestral parts on the album as well).

This summer Kansas is teaming up with local orchestras around the country to perform their old hits with a powerfully rich sound, and in Chicago, they teamed with the Ravinia Symphony Orchestra. The result was an astounding show; Walsh’s typically manic stage presence never slowed as the band moved easily through hugely satisfying orchestral moments in songs like “Nobody’s Home” and “Point of No Return.” Having seen Kansas several times with and without Walsh over the past 15 years, but never with the support of an orchestra, I can easily say the Ravinia show found Kansas sounding its best instrumentally in two decades. The addition of the orchestra (a natural for Kansas, which always specialized in complex, multi-instrumental arrangements) created a rock show of rare power, depth and intensity. Walsh’s vocals are thinner than they once were, but the band remains tight and the string and timpani support on old Kansas works like “The Wall” and “Song for America” made for breathtaking moments.

The true showstopper, however, was when Chicago violin prodigy Rachel Barton came out to duet with Robbie Steinhardt on “Dust in the Wind.” The two ended the song with an extended duet of extemporaneous violin that was absolutely spellbinding.
The band hopes to be able to come back next year and pair with an orchestra once more; until then, the Always Never The Same disc is certainly a decent taste of the Kansas of now playing the music of the Kansas of then. With 50 or 60 chairs of orchestral help...


Back to CCR:

First their was Electric Light Orchestra II (sans singer-songwriter Jeff Lynne), now there’s Creedence Clearwater Revisited. The best Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band of all time (a shoe-in for that title since they include two-thirds of CCR!) played Rosemont Horizon on August 7, supporting a new live double album of Creedence hits. The band includes the original rhythm section of CCR but can’t use the band’s name because they lack CCR’s heart, soul and voice - John Fogerty, who has his own live album out this summer (which also includes some CCR standards). Creedence Clearwater Revisited features CCR’s Stu Cook and Doug Clifford, as well as former Cars guitarist Elliot Easton. John Tristao fills in at the mic and does a pretty fine impression; his vocals are a little deeper and heavier than Fogerty’s, but on a passing listen, you might not tell the difference. If you missed their live act and could use a dose of CCR nostalgia, the double CD on Fuel 200 Records offers 22 songs, including all the CCR hits: “Born on the Bayou,” “Green River,” “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” “Hey Tonight,” “Bad Moon Rising,” Proud Mary,” “Fortunate Son,” a 10-minute jam of ‘Suzie-Q” and more.


Music for Causes:

Listen to love songs and contribute to curing two diseases which destroy love. That’s the thesis behind Friends for Life, Men and Women United in Harmony, a collection of male-female duets on Hammer & Lace records. The CD features hit songs from Peter Cetera and Crystal Bernard (“I Wanna Take Forever Tonight”), Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes (“Up Where We Belong”) and Diana Ross and Lionel Richie (“Endless Love”), and a portion of the proceeds from the album sales will benefit the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and Cap Cure, the Association for the Cure of Cancer of the Prostate. Other duets included include Andy Gibb and Olivia Newton-John’s “I Can’t Help It,” James Ingram and Patti Austin’s “Baby Come To Me” and Sarah Brightman and Jose Carreras’ Spanish-tinged but operatic “Amigos Para Siempre (Friends For Life).” The album also features a new original song from Clarissa Dane and Gary Cirimelli, “We Will Always Survive” which sums up the collection’s central sentiment: “We will survive where others have failed/I won’t let you go there alone.” This is a relaxing, romantic album for quiet, intimate nights, with a sobering cause behind it...

The Hammer & Lace label is also marketing Saving Grace, another “various artists” collection featuring country stars. The sale of this disc benefits Families and Schools Together (FAST), a program desiged to increase the self-esteem and improve the school performance of elementary school children. Included are Shania Twain’s “God Bless the Child,” Kathy Mattea’s recording of Steve Earle’s “Nothing But A Child,” and The Judds’ “Love Can Build A Bridge.” Also included are Cat Stevens’ classic “Morning Has Broken,” Diana Ross’ “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s and)” and Rod Stewart’s recording of “Amazing Grace.” Other aritsts include Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers, Patti LaBelle, Joan Baez, Vanessa Williams, Willie Nelson and more...

What person under 35 didn’t hum the Schoolhouse Rock version of “The Preamble” to remember the text of the Preamble and thus pass their 8th grade U.S. Constitution test? Now a new collection benefitting Rock The Vote is out on Rhino Records in cooperation with ABC that updates those Schoolhouse Rocks public service announcements. Schoolhouse Rocks the Vote features Blues Traveller’s John Popper singing that famous “Preamble” number and Joan Osbourne and Isaac Hayes team up for a hysterical revamp of another memorable old Schoolhouse Rocks classic, “I’m Just A Bill.”

Essra Mohawk & The Killer Groove Band recounts the history of American political parties in the handclap happy “Do You Wanna Party?” and The Roots with Jazzyfatnastees sing abou the “Three-Ring Government.” Their are 10 tracks in all, and while most don’t have the memory-triggering power of “The Preamble,” it’s great fun to hear some of these “teaching classics” alive and working again.