Emma Shapplin

Carmine Meo

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Every year or two somebody from the classical world gets the bright idea to record a classical album with a little something extra for the groundlings: some percussion, some sound effects, maybe some strings. Sometimes the result is insulting, sometimes it's just gilding the lily, and sometimes it works. Carmine Meo, however, sidesteps this problematic phenomenon altogether by making up its own classical music and then turning it into pop. That's right, most of the numbers on the album, even though they sound like lush, romantic arias, are originals.

And despite the disheveled-hair packaging of Emma Shapplin and the truly bad poem she contributes to the liner notes, it works. Why? Because Shapplin, notwithstanding her less-than-opera-caliber voice, sings with absolute conviction, and because her team is determined to entertain. So what if "Cuor Senza Sange" borrows its opening from Peter Gabriel, or if the synthesizer from "Favola Breve" is right off of Who's Next? None of that matters because "Spente le Stelle" truly reaches for the stars, and so do many of the other tracks. To be sure, the classical music aficionado is going to hear this album as slightly "off" in much the same way that "Adiemus," for all of its glorious aspirations, sounds slightly "off." But the composers, producers, and Shapplin are to be congratulated on creating something better than the alt-rock perversities and syrupy ballads that seem to have dominated the airwaves. Excelsior! [The U.K. edition includes 12 tracks.]

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