Various Artists

Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars

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Never mind the "dreams" part of the title: Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars is just flat-out unexpected, and rather unprecedented. The album is a benefit record for "Music Matters," an educational program of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the idea is this: pair selected musicians from the Philharmonic with various celebrities who are singing a variety of ballads and lullabies. Since the arrangements don't feature the full Philharmonic, they're neither lush nor overblown; they're rather sleepy and spare, providing a gentle bed for actors who are, by and large, not known for their singing. Sure, there are a few actors who have done musical theater or have appeared in movie musicals -- and, in the case of John Stamos, toured with the Beach Boys -- but even so, Ewan McGregor and John C. Reilly, who both acquit themselves well, aren't the first names to pop to mind when you think of singing actors. Nor are Scarlett Johansson (a lush version of "Summertime" that escapes being sultry), Xena the Warrior Princess (Lucy Lawless), Jeremy Irons, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nia Vardalos, Teri Hatcher, or Jack and Sidney Bristow (Victor Garber and Jennifer Garner), for that matter -- none are names that would entice casual listeners to give this album a chance, unless these stars wind up with performances that could fit onto the next edition of Golden Throats (also released by Rhino, as it happens). But the actors respond accordingly to the tasteful, understated arrangements, and rarely give embarrassing performances. Yes, it's possible to hear Garber struggle slightly with "No One Is Alone" and Garner doesn't have the most distinctive voice, and Jeremy Irons winds up being less creepy than expected with his version of Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love," but only Nia Vardalos and Teri Hatcher come close to embarrassment with their overly enunciated, theatrical readings of two Beatles tunes, "Golden Slumbers" and "Good Night" (meanwhile, it's just plain odd that Julia Louis-Dreyfus sings a song written by her husband, Brad Hall, since it's the only unfamiliar tune here). But, for the most part, Unexpected Dreams is simply too flat and low-key to be memorable, or useful as anything except something to lull children to sleep -- which is kind of the point of the record, but it's possible for Songs from the Stars to simply be just a bit too sleepy.

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