A couple of cellos, a fiddle, a band, and an orchestra
by Gregg Shapiro
2Cellos’ eponymous 2011 domestic debut disc was an immediately accessible crossover delight. The Croatian duo fiddled about with songs by Muse, U2, Nine Inch Nails, and Kings of Leon, among others, finding a way to transform the tunes without turning them into a Hooked on Classics horror show. Expectations were high for their sophomore release In2ition (Masterworks), but to be fair, they’re just stringing us along. True, they do uncover nuances in the boring and repetitive Rihanna cut “We Found Love,” take rewarding liberties with Coldplay’s “Clocks” (featuring none other than Lang Lang on piano), and express themselves clearly on the original “Orient Express.” But some of their choices work against them. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” and the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” come off like a cross between elevator music and a high school recital. The addition of guest vocalists, particularly in the case of Elton John on Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” and Glee’s Naya Rivera on Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole,” are, well, super-massive black holes. Here’s the thing—while a couple of the guest performers (Sky Ferreira on the Cher cover “Bang Bang” and a restrained Zucchero on “Il Libro Dell’Amore,” an Italian reading of The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love”) don’t overpower the 2Cellos, next time out, they should trust their intuition, their (cat)gut feelings, and skip the guest stars.
Every once in a while, pop fiddlers come to the forefront and get the attention they deserve. In the 1970s, there was Jean-Luc Ponty and the late Papa John Creach (from Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Hot Tuna). Beginning in the 1980s, Lisa Germano and Susan Voelz played stints as fiddlers for John Mellencamp and Poi Dog Pondering, respectively. The first decade of the 21st century brought us the all-female string quartets Bond and Escala. More recently, The Dolls, featuring violinist Caitlin Moe accompanying DJ Mia Moretti, played some dates opening for queer singer/songwriter Mika. But it’s YouTube hit Lindsey Stirling who seems to be making the most of her moment in the spotlight with her self-titled debut disc on Bridgetone. A collection of originals, Stirling favors dance loops and synthesizers in the background on most of the songs. Definitely a new breed of dance diva, Stirling should have no trouble packing dance floors with “Transcendance,” “Electric Daisy Violin,” “Moon Trance,” and the house-y “Spontaneous Me.”
Bryan Ferry, the man who co-founded one of the most important glam/progressive/pre-punk rock bands of the 1970s and ’80s, has never been shy about his affinity for music of the retro variety. His numerous solo records, including 1974’s Another Time, Another Place on which he covered “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “You Are My Sunshine,” are evidence enough of his varied musical tastes. What makes The Jazz Age (BMG), credited to The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, different from the others is that it is an album of Ferry originals (not covers) performed in a vintage, instrumental, big-band jazz style that harkens back about seventy to eighty years. That’s right, Roxy Music songs such as “Love Is the Drug,” “Avalon,” “Do the Strand,” and “Virginia Plain” have been re-imagined in ways that you probably never imagined. The same holds true for Ferry solo numbers including “Slave to Love” and “Don’t Stop the Dance.” If this is meant to be a novelty, it sure is novel. It also allows Ferry fans to hear familiar songs in a sophisticated new setting.
One of the most popular jam/dance bands around, Lotus continues to blossom on their latest release Build (Sci Fidelity). As jammy jams go, the ten songs here are mostly (and gratefully) at around the four-minute mark and under. There are no long, masturbatory solos, and when Lotus wants to get you on your feet and dancing, they know how to do it. “Massif,” “Uffi,” “Neon Tubes Part 1,” “Cutinuo,” and most especially “Neon Tubes Part 2” are respectable dance jams. If your taste runs toward improvisational instrumentals with pop music flair, then you should bring Lotus into your pad.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.