Third Ear Band

Hymn to the Sphynx

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Although this double CD comes with an eight-page booklet of thorough liner notes combing the group's entire history, you'll have a devil of a time ascertaining precisely where and when all of the music on the actual discs was recorded. It's divided into "studio" and "live" discs, the studio part split between five 1990 tracks and six 1970 ones. Whether or not these 1990 studio cuts have ever been released before is unclear. In any case, they're well-recorded, characteristically spacey instrumentals, in which placid textures mingle with creepier ones suited for new age Halloween celebrations. The second part of the studio disc is probably of the greatest interest to Third Ear Band historians, taken from the soundtrack to the 1970 film Abelard and Heloise. With entirely different personnel (except for drummer Glen Sweeney) than the 1990 material, it has a far greater medieval-classical air (much provided by Paul Minns' oboe and Ursula Smith's cello), though it's still long on disquieting atmospherics. Disc two, nearly 70 minutes in length, is entirely devoted to 1990 live material. Again it's unclear whether these have been previously available, although as the liner notes refer to five of the six songs also being included on the 1996 release Third Ear Band Live, these could well be taken from that record. Regardless of the source, the band's modus operandi clearly hadn't changed much in the intervening 20 years since their more famous earlier incarnation. The droning, free-form instrumentals, with hints of medieval and Indian music, evoke eerie, unsettling space; occasional spectral scatting vocals add to the otherworldliness; and there's not too much in the way of melodic variation. "Egyptian Book of the Dead" is the soundtrack for the airplane crash you hope you'll never experience first-hand. This package is not recommended for the impatient and more conventionally rock-oriented listener. But for those who have already been seduced by the Third Ear Band's brand of trance rock, it gives good value, particularly as the sound is good and there are well over two hours of music.

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