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Jonathan Elias

Requiem For the Americas

Review by Gary Hill

I’ve wanted to review this CD for a while. The problem is, it’s been out of print. Early on I developed a practice of only reviewing items that were in print – why tell someone how great something is when they can’t get it? Well, this is still out of print. But thanks to amazon.com and other sites getting your hands on out of print music is not very difficult any more. So, it seemed a good time to have a look back at this unusual and exceptional album.

The disc tells the plight of the Native American. Displaced by European conquest, Native Americans in many ways are a forgotten minority in this country. They don’t seem to get a lot of the press that other minority groups do. Yet, their land was stolen from them and in many cases they endured forms of ethnic cleansing and often times had their entire cultural identity wiped clean.  Elias created a concept album that paid tribute to this group of people while still serving as a near musical masterpiece. You really can’t say enough about how great this disc is.

If the music on this weren’t enough of an accomplishment, just the act of bringing together the cast of characters Elias assembled must have been a logistics nightmare. Everyone from Jon Anderson, Michael Bolton, Toni Childs, Stewart Copeland, Susanna Hoffs, Grace Jones, Simon Le Bon, Dan Reed, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and John Waite show up here. Tony Levin provides stick on much of the disc. Jeff Porcaro of Toto does some drums here, too. Charlie Sheen and Martin Sheen both bring spoken word pieces to the album’s closer. Elias even wrote a couple pieces around poetry readings by the late great Jim Morrison. Of course, that’s just some of the highlights of the cast of characters. This has a credits list that never ends. This album is an incredible work on so many levels. It’s a shame it’s never been reissued. I really don’t know what they are waiting for. Still, hop over to Amazon.com and I’m sure you can find copies of it.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Within The Lost World
Combine pretty and yet ambient keyboard type textures with Native American chanting (more in the backdrop than anything else) and you have the introduction to this. As it moves on through more dramatic and mysterious elements this becomes quite powerful. A Native American chant is combined with keyboards in an effect that reminds me quite a bit of Pink Floyd. The track shifts toward more melodic territory and Jon Anderson’s voice (he not only sings on this, but also wrote the lyrics) soars above. Keyboards and other elements create a beautiful tone as this vocal section continues. A more present bass line sets the stage for a turn to a more “song” oriented movement. This is gentle and yet powerful. When it turns out the more lilting passage this has a definite Yes-like texture. Mid-track it drops to more pure ambience and then Anderson’s voice brings us back. The number becomes an acoustic guitar driven construction that really has a lot in common with Yes music. This builds gradually upwards to a soaring prog ascension. Then it turns to very mysterious tones for Anderson’s angelic climbing vocal line. As it shifts out towards ambience other Native American voices are heard here and there.  Eventually it moves to nearly pure textural sounds to end. Grace Jones is also heard on this song.

I've Not Forgotten You
This also starts with ambient tones. Toni Childs’ first vocals come in a distant, plaintive wail. She continues as the song creates a mellow motif with a ballad type sound. This never really moves into the song type structure of the last one musical. Instead a tribal meets new age ambience meets Tony Levin mode makes up the music here. That said, Childs still sings it more like a “real song.”

Du He Kah (The Healer)
Patti Scialfa provides the female vocal on this, while Elias himself is the male voice and Ian Lloyd handles the backing vocals.  If you combine the music of Vangelis with the rhythm section of 1980’s King Crimson and put it into a beautiful new age meets pop rock arrangement you have something close to this. It builds upward and certainly shares some musical territory with Enigma. This is pretty and essentially an instrumental, although there are non-lyrical vocals. We also get some keys that sound rather like harp on this – perhaps it really is harp, but I don’t think so.

Invisible Man
The dramatic music that leads this off reminds me of some of Pink Floyd’s more ambient works. John Waite’s vocals (he also wrote the lyrics) come in over the top and as it carries on other elements are added. It builds very slowly and gradually, though. Truly Waite brings the only real rock to this – at least at first. A heavier burst of sound is heard here and there as punctuation as this moves forward. Pink Floyd is again an obvious reference, but so is King Crimson. Around the two and a half minute mark it intensifies. More rhythmic elements are introduced and this really kicks into high gear. It feels quite a bit like something from the moodier side of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe.

Talk With Grandfather
This is a fairly short track that combines tribal percussion, atmospheric tones and a medicine man (Ernie Longwalker) speaking in the Dakota language to dramatic effect.
Follow In My Footsteps
Here we have what is definitely a highlight of the disc. While it starts off sedate and mellow it turns into one of the most “rocking” portions of the CD. Simon Le Bon’s voice is unmistakable and brings a certain Duran Duran-ness to this, yet the overall effect reminds me more of something by Yes. Susanna Hoffs provides the backing vocals. This is a powerhouse of a track. The motif on the instrumental movement really makes me think of ABWH. They resolve from there into a very triumphant chorus section.
The Journey
With a spoken poetry reading from Jim Morrison this is a powerful piece of music. In many ways you could imagine that the Doors, with the instrumentation and studio abilities of the 1980’s might have produced something like this. It’s dramatic and mysterious and just a little weird. It’s also very cool.

The Chant Movement
Chant loops and percussion are married to keyboards and other powerful elements for about the first minute. The bass end of things takes a prominence to herald the entrance of the vocals. Wonderful patterns of sound are created here to move this forward. They don’t reinvent the wheel but rather intensify and then bring back earlier portions of the track as additional layers.  Later in the number we get more Morrison readings lain atop some mellower musical motifs with definite Native American elements.

Born In The Dreamtime
This is essentially a dramatic and rather pretty continuation of the track that preceded it. It’s instrumental, but there are some non-lyrical vocals.

Far Far Cry
Another that’s more song like, this features Jon Anderson (on the first half with Ian Lloyd and Tommy Shaw providing the backing vocals) and has a lighter texture than a lot of the CD. It’s pretty and bouncy and reminds me quite a bit of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe mixed with Anderson’s solo work. This shifts out later to a rather gospel oriented segment with Michael Bolton carrying the vocals – alone at first and then joined by Patti Darcy -  in a very soaring way. The music here is far more ambient.

Father And Son
Another spoken piece, this is accompanied at first by some of the most definite Native American music on the CD. That said, this is also quite pretty and rather ambient. A percussive structure starts to emerge after Martin Sheen’s part. This feels here like something from Vangelis. Then Charlie Sheen speaks and stick begins to bring in a certain ominous power. Sheen continues and the song is built upwards until it ends.

 
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