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CD Reviews: Fear No Evil, They and Alexander's Ragtime Band

Fear No Evil *** 1/2


Percepto 013

16 tracks - 37:34

Unless you're a genre devotee, not many aspects of the trippy 1981 occult offering Fear No Evil have held up over the years, but the music proves to be a pleasant exception. Fear No Evil is a lush, medieval score, rich in melody and cleverly orchestrated to generate a sense of dramatic grandeur that transcends the film's "shoestring budget." For a film about the coming-of-age of a teenage antichrist involving zombies, archangels, and a laser light spectacular, the music is surprisingly tender and intimate -- the lovely flute and guitar combo of "Mikhail's Prayer," for example. Some spare electronics come into play in cues like "Battle Ball/The Funeral," but the drama comes primarily from the orchestra. It's the Omen effect, but without being truly derivative of that Goldsmith opus.

My favorite melody is the delicate piano-led theme that opens the disc and appears throughout the score. It compares favorably to '80s Goldsmith, as does the suspense generated by cues like "Gabrielle's Vision" and "Finale."

The score was jointly composed by the film's writer-director Frank LaLoggia, and composer David Spear. The two share equal credit, with Spear fleshing out LaLoggia's musical ideas, and the result is a cohesive and enjoyable listen. At under 40 minutes, it's not long enough to overstay its welcome.

I would encourage readers to take a chance on this score. It's a refreshing change of pace from alike-sounding modern horror scores, but also distinct from the classic genre scores of more well-known (and better represented) composers. Packaging, as with all Percepto releases, is superb, and the liner notes are exhaustive. The release is a limited edition of only 1,000 copies.  -- John Takis

They *** 1/2


La-La Land LLLCDD 1005

20 tracks - 41:01

In Robert Harmon's They, the walls that separate the imagination from reality cease to exist and the film's characters, in order to survive, must fight and flee from monsters which they've created themselves, in their thoughts and nightmares.

"Presented" by Wes Craven, the man behind the Scream pictures, this supernatural thriller offers viewers yet another endless onslaught of horrific images and situations. Appropriately, Elia Cmiral's score sounds a lot like one long, gasping shriek. Filled with piercing strings, rattling drums and scraping industrial noises, the Czech-born composer's music rushes, halts and speeds up over and over in its attempt to evoke the crazy threat the characters in the film are forced to face. For instance, on a track like "Can't Take It," violins heave as an electric guitar bangs out distorted notes in an echo chamber. And in "Billy's Nightmare," drums and strings slash at one another as a train rushes along its tracks, tolling a ghostly bell.

Occasionally, however, Cmiral tempers the score's pitch and pace, introducing melodies that are simple, slow and almost pretty. Cues like "Video Tape" and "Back Home," for example, feature hushed piano parts that pulse with an artificial serenity, a quality that strangely suggests the influence of Chopin. And "Julia with a Little Girl," before it transforms into electronic dissonance, begins with a gorgeous juxtaposition of piano with synth chords.

Generally, Cmiral's opus is a study in noise, a cacophonous assemblage of ideas, motifs and figures pulled from composers as diverse as Stravinsky, Cage and Glass -- as well as Herrmann, whose score for Psycho haunts this work like an angry ghost. Understandably, ugly, angry music of this sort will alienate some people. But it's supposed to. Horror films, and the scores that accompany them, should rattle our senses. And for creating music that achieves this effect as well as it does, Cmiral deserves praise.  -- Stephen Armstrong

Irving Berlin's Alexander's Ragtime Band ****


Screen Archives Entertainment SAE-CSR-0007

48 tracks - 71:23

Come on and hear, Come on and hear...Alexander's Ragtime Band. Listening to this staggeringly scrupulous Screen Archives Entertainment edition of the 1938 Irving Berlin classic is like watching a particularly intriguing episode of Antiques Roadshow (and I say that without a trace of condescension). As each vintage ditty or nostalgic instrumental waltzed by, I couldn't help but admire the dedicated craftsmanship in nearly every selection. If you were ever in doubt that "the good old days" actually existed, here is the auditory proof.

Most of the 48 tracks included on this release are brief, adding up to a soundtrack with an appropriately breezy, vaudeville quality, precisely the treatment this backstage musical deserves. Featuring a trio of 20th Century-Fox's most photogenic contract players, Tyrone Power, Alice Faye and Don Ameche, Alexander's Ragtime Band busies itself with romantic triangles and a patriotic plotline. But this is all an elaborate excuse to trot out one sublime Irving Berlin evergreen after another. As the detailed liner notes report, this movie marked the first cinematic exploitation of one composer's entire song catalog, and it's fair to say that there isn't a rotten berry in the batch.

Although Alice Faye is no Garland or Streisand, she does exhibit a charmingly simple, straight forward singing style and wins the listener over with her tender rendition of "All Alone." The wistfully poignant "What'll I Do?" is one of Berlin's best ballads, and probably should have been the movie's big torch number. Instead, the overtaxed "Now It Can Be Told" turns up a little too frequently, though Ameche delivers a pleasant performance of that warhorse in an earnest baritone. An astonishingly subdued Ethel Merman offers a restrained interpretation of "Say It With Music," but she tears into "Blue Skies" and the deleted "Marching Along With Time" at full throttle, accompanied by her trademark turbo-charged brass.

It's interesting to note that several numbers heard in Alexander's Ragtime Band received superior treatment in later Berlin extravaganzas. "When The Midnight Choo Choo Leaves For Alabam" and "My Ragtime Violin" are both expertly performed in M-G-M's Easter Parade (1948). Merman's "Heat Wave" pales in comparison with Marilyn Monroe's sultry delivery in There's No Business Like Show Business (1954). Still, musical director Alfred Newman and orchestrator Edward Powell work wonders with chestnuts like the title tune, "Everybody's Doin' It Now," and "Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning."

Michael Feinstein, American popular music's best friend, contributes informative liner notes which include comments from the legendary David Raksin (Laura), who reminisces about his days in the Fox Music Department. Ray Faiola's superb producer's notes lead into a terrific synopsis of the plot which is augmented with choice frames from the film.

This a sterling tribute to the genius of Irving Berlin and Alexander's Ragtime Band remains the best band in the land.  -- Mark Griffin

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