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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Angelica

Angelica

Review by Larry Toering

In late 1997 (released in 1998) a thing of beauty was recorded between opera singers and rock guitarists called “Angelica.” This is a CD that is hard to credit in the who's who department, as there are so many involved, and on different levels as well, contributing to the engineering and other factors. It's almost too much to absorb without spending hours on end trying to piece it all together, and that might have been its fate, but these things can happen when such a project is embarked on by so many people. Either way the end result is a massively enjoyable effort. Never before had I heard a project quite like this one, nor since. In fact I was surprisingly turned onto this by my wife whose musical taste leans more toward rock than opera but she has a great singing voice herself so she was enticed by the combination. This is no longer in print in the US but can be found on import and in used auctions at outlets such as Amazon.com, and it's worth seeking out just for the chance to hear such a meeting of art forms. This doesn't work in every single aspect of the project, but where it doesn't, one would be hard pressed to really point out. It's the overall performance that makes it what it is. Opera has never been considered prog as far as I know, but here it crosses over with ease because of the guitars.

In order to distinguish who contributes to what tracks on guitar here without reading the very hard to read liner notes that are printed in red on black, one must really know one virtuoso guitarist from the next and that just isn't easy. This CD features many musicians, including guitarists: Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa, Eric Johnson and Steve Stevens. It also features opera singers: Sewell Griffith, Anita DeSimone, Rebecca Semirau and Julia Bonilla. This is a must have for both opera and instrumental guitar enthusiasts, and for that I recommend this extremely experimental CD.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
O Mio Babbino Caro

Starting off a bit slow and mellow, this turns into a guitar extravaganza in parts but finds its way back to its classical feel by the time it's over. The vocals are stunning, as are the guitars.

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
This is one of my favorite melodies of all time. I love it and here it's as good as in any capacity I've heard. This is an amazing version!
Un Bel Di
A much faster pace is displayed here with a lot of beat behind it. This is fantastic, but there is an uneven issue with the mix as far as the blend of musicians is concerned. I only get this vibe looking back, because at the time I didn't notice such differences in the mix.
Der Holle Rache (Queen of the Night)
This has a dominating guitar sound that slightly washes out the opera voices, but it still hits home either way. Excellent guitar work by all is featured here, as well as the vocals.
Lo Son l'Umile Ancella
A moody sound gets this one started and the lovely voices take over before bursts of guitar come in and do their best to complement. These voices simply have to be heard to be believed in such a setting. It is another grand effort by all involved. This features classical, rather than rock guitar.
Ave Maria
One of my favorites here, this one is structured more like pop music and it helps with the guitars and everything, but I'd just as soon hear this track in acapella. That is, if it weren't for the layered guitars that wind up making the track, which is otherwise a fantastic vocal piece. This is how well they blend, and this piece is one of the best examples of their equal but completely opposing talents.
Caro Nome
A Spanish guitar sets this number up, and it's lovely but there are these clipping sort of sounds that almost sound like the CD is skipping. If not for that this would be a much better track. Still, not all is lost as the guitar starts to take off at speeds that are hard to equal. In the end it's another fascinating tune to say the least - very well written, arranged and produced.
O Divine Redeemer
This has a similar sound to the previous track, but the differences really shine on the guitar and vocals. It's another masterstroke.
O Soave Fanciulla
On this track a male opera singer adds some fine work to go with the female in what turns out to be an excellent duet. The guitars once again tend to dominate and almost drown out the voices. However, that doesn't happen this time, as it comes to an end before they get their chance to control the situation like on several of the  other tracks.
Panis Angelicus
This would have to be my favorite by far. It's an amazing combo, and the guitars are just completely off the charts here, as they get totally freaky and gritty sounding. The only thing that doesn't bode well here is the constant brush sticks from the drummer. The guitars are fuzzy and very technical in their approach in this rather all over the place arrangement. One word best describes it for me, “majestic!”
Quando M'En Vo
They take things out with more of a church choir approach than hardcore opera. This features a quiet piano that adds a delicate touch to the proceedings, but once again the mix leaves a thing or two to be desired. Otherwise it's another track to add to a collection of very interesting music.
 
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