Orpheus in Exile is Marc Almond's tribute to the great, famous, and persecuted Russian singer and songwriter Vadim Kozin. Kozin was a superstar in the Russia of the '20s and '30s, and even entertained at the meeting of Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill; he became a USO-type of entertainer, performing for troops across the front much as Bob Hope did for Americans. That said, his politically ambivalent music and songs in which he alluded to his homosexuality were enough to land him in the notorious Kolyma Gulag near Magadan -- twice -- and leave him in permanent exile in Magadan until his death in 1994. Orpheus in Exile was produced by Alexei Federov and features the Rossia Orchestra Ensemble arranged by Anatole Sobolev. “Boulevards of Magadan” is a song of defiance and rage, performed by Almond in perfect Russian romantic style (though sung in English) that resembles a cabaret song. Almond's voice is undiminished by time, and his discipline at carrying off the tune is not only convincing, it’s amazing. Likewise with the uptempo homoerotic ballad “Brave Boy.” While a conventional rock band -- with a bayan -- backs him here, he nonetheless sticks carefully to the melody and spirit of the original. The shimmering 4/4 of the sensual love song “I Love So Much to Look into Your Eyes” is lusciously adorned with strings. “Pearly Night” is strikingly lush and lyrical with guitars sounding like balalaikas, and a clarinet punctuating verses. “A Skein of White Cranes" is among the most mournful and haunting songs on the set, as is the closer, the tragic but proud “Letter from Magadan.” Ultimately, while these songs are from an earlier time and place, they are timeless; Almond renders them that way. They are not museum pieces, but part of a living tradition that reminds us that song is perhaps the most communicative of popular art forms. The way that Almond resurrects and delivers Kozin's music is the stuff of poetry itself, and we are led to believe, because of his authoritative performance, that every word in them is true -- and not just for the singer. Orpheus in Exile reflects and invokes the deeper emotions these songs convey in anyone open-minded enough to give them a sincere listen.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek