As a member of the Clubfoot Orchestra, San Francisco multi-instrumentalist Beth Custer helped graft musical landscapes onto the blank slates of classic silent films like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. After spending much of the 1990s dividing her time between works with that ensemble and recordings with Eighty Mile Beach and Trance Mission, she released a series of works under her own name. Certainly from a compositional standpoint, In the Broken Fields Where I Lie was the most ambitious of these early solo efforts, collecting a staggering body of Custer originals that are as rich in style and varied in scope as anything by the Clubfoot Orchestra. From the amusement park theme of "Carnyville" to the eerie piano tinkling of "Brenda's Music Box," the opening quartet of cinematic vignettes establishes the approach, each clocking in near the half-minute mark. Custer continually changes the scenery before you've had a chance to take in the sights, stripping the landscape from beneath your feet and plunging you into an entirely different setting. It's to her credit that the method works, at least initially, with nearly every composition a stunning, perfectly executed structure. Yet even though longer pieces are interspersed throughout, including an exquisite, reed-heavy reading of Duke Ellington's "Echoes of Harlem," the sluggish, junkyard beats of "Hannah's Groove," and the ghostly clamor of the stunning title track, the end results don't quite cohere. In the Broken Fields Where I Lie is like a series of striking, wide-screen soundscapes stripped from their images and, thus, their context. However, it remains undeniable proof of Custer's kaleidoscopic vision as a composer and arranger.
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AllMusic Review by Nathan Bush