The Salsoul Orchestra

Magic Journey

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Sadly, the Salsoul Orchestra's third album does not live up to its fanciful title. Magic Journey forsakes the consistent feel of the group's past albums in favor of an odd assemblage of material that never comfortably coheres. In fact, it goes all over the map -- from soul ("Runaway") to traditional tunes ("Guantanamera") to pure orchestral instrumentals ("Theme From Montreal Olympics, 1976"). The strangest inclusion is a cover of "Short Shorts" that forsakes disco entirely for a '50s nostalgia feel and goofily rewrites the lyrics to mention the members of the band. Another problem with Magic Journey is that it allows the "orchestral" to overpower the "soul" in their orchestral soul sound: "Theme From Montreal Olympics, 1976" is a straight orchestral instrumental that is lacking in any kind of R&B content while "Journey to Phoebus" and "Alpha Centuri" feel like outtakes from a science fiction film score instead of the dancefloor material the Salsoul Orchestra is known for. Despite these problems, Magic Journey does have its moments: "Getaway" is a high-octane instrumental retooling of the Earth, Wind & Fire classic and "Magic Bird of Fire" transforms musical themes from Stravinsky's Firebird Suite into a thrilling and hard-grooving slice of orchestral soul that pulsates with frantic percussion and swirling strings. The Salsoul Orchestra also manages to transform the Latin standard "Guantanamera" into a credible mid-tempo dance track layered with a classy string arrangement. Despite these occasional bright spots, Magic Journey is too inconsistent in both the quality of its material and its danceable content to qualify as a solid disco outing. Completists may want to add it to their collection but the casual listener would be better off sampling Magic Journey's highlights on the group's Anthology retrospective.

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