Released by the Australian psychedelic rock label Camera Obscura, Illusions of the Sun is a somewhat strange package that takes Marianne Nowottny's recorded output one step further in terms of recording quality but adds only two new songs to her repertoire. The album has been put together from three recordings: a live-in-the-studio session at WNYC FM in New York City on August 6, 2001, a live set at CBGB's Gallery (N.Y.C.) on May 13, 2002, and a set at Signal 66 (Washington, D.C.) on May 13, 2002, the latter presented as a 13-minute movie file on an enhanced portion of the disc. Most of the songs first appeared on Nowottny's second album, Manmade Girl ("Grey City" was included on her first, Afraid of Me). For the radio session, she brought in a piano, her trusty keyboard, and a portable harmonium. She started with a new song, "Illusions of the Sun." "Mustard Seed" provides a highlight, its melody digging its way into your ears with or without your consent. In "Sweet and Low," the only song from the CBGB show, Nowottny reaches deep into her low register, almost unrecognizable when singing in an Arabic mode. The "Lost in D.C." movie, nicely shot with two cameras in front of a small audience that seem to wish they'd been elsewhere, presents renditions of "Panopticon," "Sapphire," and "Barely Nearly" (all performed on keyboard). Nowottny's voice is an acquired taste, but no one can argue on the intensity of her performance. She matches the likes of Peter Hammill, Filip Topol, and Patty Waters, ruling out keyboard and vocal accuracy in favor of a more expressive, immediate performance. At times it feels like she's looking for the right note to sing; at others she is deliberately avoiding it. Illusions of the Sun makes a good introduction, albeit a short one (29 minutes if you don't count the movie). Maybe that's preferable for a first taste. You decide.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2