Oberon - Sonnet Oberon
Sonnet featuring the Music of Oberon

Here's a unique one: an album that features dramatic readings of the sonnets of William Shakespeare by actors from London's famed Globe Theater intertwined with (as the title suggests) ambient music. Oberon, a duo composed of Taliesin Orchestra keyboardist/producer Trammel Sparks and TV and movie soundtrack vocalist Felicia Sorensen (and featuring a number of other players, including New Age woodwind ace Paul McCandless) provides the music that turns this from a standard recitation of poetry to a transcendent work of art.

The music is a cross between Enya, Enigma and October Project (with a touch of the light jazz style of Kenny G); these songs are swirling streams of modern instruments and medieval feeling that encircle and support the magical poetry of the bard. Included are readings of Shakespeare's Sonnets 18, 23, 24, 30, 43, 44, 55, 60, 75, 106, 107, and 116.

While the focus is easily thrown here to Shakespeare, the power of Oberon's music should not be overlooked. Sorensen is a wonderfully evocative vocalist and this could easily have been a strong collection of music released on its own, without the drama of the poetry.

Starks has said that "we strive to create memorable melodies with all of the hallmarks of the greatest pop songs. At the same time, our most significant goal is to create recordings that are full of emotion. To this mix we blend world, ambient, and classical influences."

Oberon definitely succeeds at the mission it set itself. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a Shakespearean reading should own this disc and play it often on quiet nights in a dimly lit room with eyes closed. Sonnet is an easy transport to a sonic place of delicate, ageless beauty.

Oberon is also planning a PBS special performance of this work live from the Globe Theatre. For more information, check the record company's web site at www.kochint.com.


Savage Garden - Affirmation Savage Garden

Three years ago, Savage Garden broke out of the backwoods of Australia to wow the world with their impossible to resist pop rock hit "I Want You," followed by a couple of nice midtempo ballads in "To The Moon And Back" and "Truly Madly Deeply." Savage Garden updated and mixed the synthesizer wall of sound sense of Johnny Hates Jazz with the pure pop sense of Wham! and came out a big winner.

They're back on the charts now with "I Knew I Loved You," a falsetto-blessed ballad from their second disc Affirmation, but may be hard-pressed to duplicate the 11-million selling chart success they had with their debut. Affirmation is a slower, darker record than their upbeat self titled debut, singer Darren Hayes wrestling more often with the themes of loss and emptiness. The disc's strongest track leads it off; "Affirmation" comes the closest to the fast-paced infectiousness of "I Want You," as Hayes affirms all of his homespun beliefs for living a good life, among them:

"I believe the sun should never set upon an argument ... I believe that junk food tastes so good because it's bad for you ... I believe that beauty magazines promote low esteem ... I believe that trust is more important than monogamy ... I believe in Karma what you give is what you get returned."

Produced by Mariah Carey's studio mentor, Walter Afanasieff, Affirmation is a slick-sounding disc of love and loss songs featuring Hayes' soothing vocals and restful synthesizers. It's a very pleasant listen, but ultimately could have used a few more upbeat tracks like "Affirmation" and sugar-sweet ballads like "I Knew I Loved You." Much of the CD goes by as bland, easy-to-ignore listening. The songs are not bad, but they won't leave you humming either. Buy this for the background.


New On The Shelves

The band has now been around for 30 years (though with increasingly less fanfare), but in the early to mid-70s, Blue Oyster Cult stomped across the hard rock scene with classic FM songs like "Godzilla," "Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll" and bona fide Top 40 hits like "Don't Fear The Reaper" and (in 1981), "Burning For You." They also touched the Top 100 with "Shooting Shark" and "In Thee." Columbia/Legacy collected those and 10 other BOC tracks in 1983 on The Best of Blue Oyster Cult and has just reissued the album on CD.

It seems like Rhino Records clocks in with a cool collection on almost a weekly basis. Their latest is Machine Soul: An Odyssey Into Electronic Dance Music. Opening with Kraftwerk's "The Robots," and ending with BT's "Godspeed," this 28-song two-CD collection canvasses some of the most important electronic dance songs of the past 25 years while at the same time showing the growth and expansion of the genre. A booklet gives a thumbnail history of the innovations in electronic instruments that made techno music possible, as well as the artists who took the form to different levels. Included on disc one are Donna Summer's disco smash "I Feel Love," OMD's "Electricity," Gary Numan's cold New Wave breakthrough "Cars," New Order's goth-goes-dance classic "Blue Monday." The CD also has songs from The Normal, Sparks, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire and more. Disc Two covers the mid-80s-'90s pop techno, rave and ambient scenes, with M/A/R/R/S' hit "Pump Up The Volume," Inner City's "Big Fun," Depeche Mode's "Enjoy The Silence," The KLF's "What Time Is Love?" and L.A. Style's "James Brown Is Dead." Also included are tracks from Moby, The Orb, The Shamen, The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and more.