Various Artists

Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill

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Not to be confused with Sony's 1997 soundtrack release, September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill, which was inspired by this 1985 CD on A&M, and co-produced by visionary Hal Willner, Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill indeed contains the "eclectic updates of Kurt Weill's distinctive German theater music" with help from Sting, Marianne Faithfull, John Zorn, Lou Reed, Carla Bley, Tom Waits, Charlie Haden, and more. This deep and complex work contains a 12-page booklet chock-full of information condensed into tiny, tiny print. Did the onset of compact discs hold this elaborate project back? If it were released on vinyl à la Jesus Christ Superstar, would it have reached a wider audience? With such diverse artists as Peanut Butter Conspiracy keyboardist Ralph Shuckett, Van Dyke Parks, and Aaron Neville, it's literally a cast of thousands. Coming on the heels of new wave as techno and trance were taking more of a hold this extensive presentation may have been a bit too heady for audiences embracing the simplicity of power pop and punk. You expect Marianne Faithfull to hit a home run, and she does on "Ballad of the Soldier's Wife," with some help from Chris Spedding, while superstar Sting is at his underground finest performing a creepy "Mack the Knife," a place his original fans wanted him to stay. Surprisingly, it is Lou Reed who, along with Ms. Faithfull, walks away with the "Oscar" here. Reed's outside appearances on soundtracks and tribute projects is hit or miss, working best when he gets to put together "My Love Is Chemical" for the film White Nights or a "Little Sister" from the Get Crazy soundtrack, disappointing when "Soul Man" for the film of the same name goes nowhere. "September Song" by Lou Reed is such a standout that its almost five minutes get extended to seven plus, as it becomes the title track to the aforementioned film this CD project inspired. Henry Threadgill's controlled cacophony on "The Great Hall" is everything Brian Eno's Portsmouth Sinfonia aspired to be. Had Eno taken that ensemble in this direction, they may have had a chance. Todd Rundgren and Gary Windo sound like Trevor Horn let loose in the studio to have some '80s fun, while Aaron Neville, Mark Bingham, and Johnny Adams are the antithesis of this track that follows them. Sounds and ideas from over a century of music cascade across the 67 minutes and 34 seconds of this CD. Both breathtaking and pretentious, there is so much to discover and contemplate that at the end of the day, Lost in the Stars gets a thumbs up. Interesting to note that in 1998, Marianne Faithfull would release a disc, The Seven Deadly Sins, featuring her performing music by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. For that great artist, this type of material is a perfect fit.

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