Mannheim Steamroller

Saving the Wildlife

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This album served as the soundtrack for a PBS special that focused on endangered species around the world. Call it the Carnival of Animals with a social conscience, Saving the Wildlife is a modern musical bestiary from Mannheim Steamroller. Chip Davis combines the character of the animals with their environment, using two percussionists to evoke landscapes like Africa and the Orient. The poor ol' U.S. of A is often caricatured with musical hokum ("Grizzly Bears," "Barbeque" from "Florida Suite"), but for the exotic locales of India ("Tigers and Lions"), Africa ("Rhinos and Elephants"), and China ("Amanda Panda"), Mannheim Steamroller arrives at a broader musical lexicon that in many ways represents a radical departure from their previous work. The songs actually shed no new light on their subjects; "Eagles" is suitably majestic, "Wolfgang Amaedeus Penguin" is consistent with that creature's clown-like image, "Wolves" sounds lonely and desolate. And the band arrives at similar sounds for similar settings, such as the typewriter tap of the keyboards to suggest the worlds of "Rhinos and Elephants" and "Tamarin Monkeys," or the almost avant-garde amalgam of Eastern and Western music that appears on both "Tigers and Lions" and "Amanda Panda." The lovely "Dolphins and Whales" recycles an earlier song, "Come Home to the Sea" from Fresh Aire VI, and serves as one of Saving the Wildlife's highlights. Another highlight comes at the end, raising their medieval ghost for "Harp Seals." Despite lineup changes that left Mannheim Steamroller at their leanest in years (Eric Hansen is absent and no string section is attached), Davis still produces a color-rich musical canvas. The variety of sounds and subjects results in a few surprises as well, which saves this from becoming the tame soundtrack some might have made it.

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