Dee Snider was once the frontman for Twisted Sister, but now he's heading up Van Helsing's Curse, a "Halloween Orchestra" that's released its first album, Oculus Infernum on Koch Records (FYI: This album has no connection to the movie Van Helsing).
It is similar to what Trans-Siberian Orchestra has done over the years in bringing together heavy metal rockers, Broadway singers and symphonic music to create a heavy metal/operatic vibe to Christmas music. Van Helsing's Curse puts together original guitar-shredding riffs with orchestral backdrops on both original and classic music.
Much of the album is instrumental, but Snider also narrates a good vs. ultimate evil story throughout the disc, which includes sinister renditions of Mike Oldfield's Exorcist theme, "Tubular Bells," and interwoven classical works by Beethoven ("Moonlight Sonata"), Stravinsky ("Firebird Suite") and Grieg ("In the Hall of the Mountain King"), as well as bits from Mussorgsky, Chopin and Paganini. It closes with a threatening orchestral stomp in Black Sabbath's "Let the Pain Begin." This is a great disc to haunt your house for Halloween.
Back in their day, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. were at the top of the game and known as "The Rat Pack." Their cooly hip influence still lives on in music today, and Reprise has just issued Live and Swingin': The Ultimate Rat Pack Collection. The previously unreleased two-disc set includes an audio CD of material from a six-night concert stand the three recorded in a Chicago nightclub back in 1962, as well as a DVD of a 1965 show recorded in St. Louis with a young Quincy Jones conducting and Johnny Carson filling in for Joey Bishop. Each disc features the three performing their classic songs solo, as well as bantering and singing together as a group.
Simon & Garfunkel are on the concert trail again, and if you missed them last weekend at the United Center in Chicago, you can pick up a new 33-track compilation set of all their chart-topping golden oldies. The Essential Simon & Garfunkel on Columbia's Legacy label is a two-disc set that includes "The Sound of Silence, "I Am a Rock," "Scarborough Fair/Canticle," "A Hazy Shade of Winter," "Mrs. Robinson," "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and many more of their classics.
Rachael Sage is a New York singer-songwriter who's never waited for the world to catch up with her. She formed her own record label at 24, and has just issued her fifth full-length CD on it, Public Record. A piano-playing singer who's been favorably compared to Lisa Loeb, Ani DiFranco and Tori Amos, Sage spins award-winning instrospective songs that draw elements of style from pop, folk and jazz.
On Public Record she crafts a series of soundscapes that swirl and dance with sensitivity. In "Too Many Women" she bristles against the forces of conformism ("too many people with the same perfume") while spinning a jaunty celebration of her lover ("thanking my lucky scars you found me" she sings.)
Some of her past releases have offered radio-ready pop songs, interwoven with her more atmospheric material. But the 14 tracks on Public Record seem to flow together in a cohesive stream of seductive narrative, from whispering introspection to jazzy yearning. In fact, this disc shows more of Sage's late-night-jazz influences than ever before. "Back to Freedom" finds her low-voiced whispers hovering over an anarchic bass-driven mood, with a blues trumpet crying in the background. From there she moves into a more traditional pop-country ballad in "Ambitious," and eventually closes the album with a musicbox piano in the brittle "Frost." While there are no "sing along" anthems this time out, Public Record offers a poetic, affecting experience. For more information, check her Web site at www.rachaelsage.com.
You can catch Sage when she performs in the intimate setting of Chicago's Uncommon Ground on Halloween night.