Nick Webb and Greg Carmichael, the duo core of Acoustic Alchemy, forego the traditional greatest-hits route by taking an amazingly fresh approach to the concept on their ninth venture Arcanum, which presents the spruced-up live performance evolution of nine old favorites along with three solid new tracks. Yet the best-selling British melodizers even twist the conventions of a typical concert disc by opting to record those takes at England's legendary Pinewood Film Studios, away from the roaring crowds and in the presence of string members of the London Metropolitan Orchestra. The most striking new element is the explosive electric guitar approach of longtime cohort/former producer John Parsons, who adds some staggering zing to the kinetic "Reference Point" and "Casino," while shading in a slightly more subtle manner on the loping "Catalina Kiss" and "Mr. Chow." The strings don't receive a huge workout, but they add new drama and flair to the Western movie themes of "Lazeez" and glamour to the new ballad "Chance Meeting." Those with really keen sonic discrimination will also detect a slightly relaxed tempo on an all-time top Acoustic Alchemy tune, the autobiographical "Same Road Same Reason." AA's ongoing brilliance for creating images by tying together title, rhythm, melody, and mood is the true charm of the disc, and the duo's storytelling abilities are in crisp bloom on the soaring "Columbia," the opening and easily best new track. The piece, inspired by the musicians witnessing a space shuttle launch, speaks eloquently of their wonder and anticipation while effectively suggesting the rocket's propelling thrust.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran