Bel Canto

Magic Box

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It's a sign of the times and relative fame that the opening track, "The Magic Box I," immediately calls to mind Tori Amos, where some years previous it would have just sounded like Bel Canto through and through. While Drecker and Johansen have never achieved the thorough fame of Amos or many other well-known names, the duo still stick to their strong guns throughout Magic Box with generally fine results. Much like Birds of Passage, here the core performers are augmented by a number of guest performers, including such omnipresent musicians as guitarist B. J. Cole, drummer Jaki Leibezeit, and bassist Jah Wobble (all appearing only for one song each). While a bit of Bel Canto's mystic and dark elements are lost as a result, it's more than offset by the generally positive, uplifting flow of the music, often influenced by hip-hop and bhangra more than anything else. Calling one of the songs "Bombay" is a bit of a giveaway with respect to the latter genre. Admittedly, hearing Drecker bust out rap/scat chops on "FreeLunch in the Jungle" -- in French at points, no less -- while a male guest singer adds some B-boy attitude is a bit surprising at first, but the musical flow is still Bel Canto's. Drecker's singing abilities are ever more improved, capable of calling to mind such singers as Oum Khartoum on the distinctly Arabic-sounding "In Zenith." Johansen's violin work on this track is equally inspiring -- one has to double-check the credits to rest assured that it wasn't in fact done by someone else. Songs of note include "Paradise," effortlessly blending an older Drecker style of singing with newer percussion approaches and sounds, and the wonderful "Big Belly Butterflies" -- the title may sound a bit goofy; the song, however, is anything but.

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