The Free Design

Umbrellas

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Left in the '60s shadows by fellow pop harmony groups the Association and the Beach Boys, New York's the Free Design finally got their due when modern sound collagists like Cornelius and Stereolab began to rave in the late '90s. Compiled from their first six albums, and covering the years 1967-1973, the 20-track Umbrellas is one of three top-notch Free Design retrospectives on the Siesta label, and it offers a fine showcase of the quartet's subtly complex blend of ethereal harmonies and cinematic arrangements. Siblings Chris, Bruce, Sandra, and Ellen Dedrick gingerly arrange their chorale-styled vocals over a Bacharach-inspired backdrop of organ, brass, flutes, and percussion, and in the process helped create the kind of nouveau easy listening the Carpenters would subscribe to throughout the '70s. Amidst a sea of ballad and mid-tempo material penned by Chris Dedrick -- including their most successful single, "Kites Are Fun -- the band nicely expand on perfect-fit covers like "Eleanor Rigby," "Happy Together," and Francis Lai's movie theme "A Man and a Woman." Blessed with clean production by lounge innovator Enoch Light, Umbrellas is the perfect way to breathe in Free Design's rarefied air.

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