Songs of the Earth is an unusual title for this Klavier release featuring Col. Lowell Graham and the United States Air Force Band, especially as the cover image is a picture taken from the vantage point of pointing skyward. Inside, Graham explains that the title is derived from the use of folk-based melody in several of the pieces featured here, including works by Percy Grainger, Albert Roussel, Ottorino Respighi, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Robert Russell Bennett. William Byrd is given as composer of the eponymous William Byrd Suite, even though this rightfully should be considered the work of the modest composer who compiled and orchestrated some, Gordon Jacob.
Songs of the Earth begins with a very unusual piece, almost alien sounding in the context of its time, The Duke of Marlborough Fanfare. This is done very well, as is Grainger's wind band masterwork Lincolnshire Posy, although the performance of the latter is unlikely to unseat one's favorite in this oft-recorded work. Roussel's A Glorious Day, however, appears to be a first recording, and as a piece it is brightly colored, optimistic, and fast-paced, but like a hyperactive child it can wear on one's attention span, even though it only lasts six-and-a-half minutes. The Gordon Jacob suite is very nice, but the interpretation sags in spots and weighs it down. Respighi's Huntingtower, though, is an exciting, romping musical adventure that might remind one of something out of Braveheart (the movie, not its score) and redeems Songs of the Earth clear through to the end of the disc. Vaughan Williams' familiar Sea Songs are smooth sailing indeed, and Bennett's Symphonic Songs for Band is a jaunty, quirky little suite that reflects this composer's work for the Broadway stage.
While Songs of the Earth is not a consistent program and the concept is at odds with both package and content, the recording is terrific, as is usual with Klavier in band literature, and the United States Air Force Band remains one of the best-sounding military bands in the country. Most wind band fanciers will find something or another to love in Songs of the Earth, even if its lofty aspirations seem to carry it skyward, rather than toward the earth -- which, if you're in the Air Force, is the way you would want to travel.