True North

Various Artists

Tracks: 1 — True North (Paul Speer); 2 — Flightpath (Jonn Serrie); 3 — Third Stone from the Sun (Speer); 4 — Stolen Fire (Serrie); 5 — Touchwood (Tangerine Dream); 6 — Whispers of Light (James Reynolds); 7 — Adagio Dolente (Speer); 8 — Tingri (Serrie); 9 — One More River Passing (Reynolds); 10 — True North/Reprise (Speer)

Tags: Compilation, New Age, Light Rock

Release Date: Listed as January 24, 1995 (see text for more)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Compilation, theme, and concept albums have a hit-or-miss feel to them, generally. Theme discs like those of Chip Davis’ Day Parts series (e.g., Sunday Morning Coffee) are usually quite good. This particular album is rather like a tire that’s been badly retreaded — not necessarily dangerous, but perhaps not really worth risking taking a ride on.

(Quick note about the date issue. My notes say that the disc was released in 1992, and my original review was on July 2, 1993. I’ve no idea why the Internet says it was 1995. Ah well..)

I purchased this disc, following a tradition of (for lack of a word) New Age music being produced by Miramar. It’s not the sort of “space music” I had hoped for, instead fitting a more “light rock” mood in the form of a soundtrack that was thrown together at the last minute. I’m told that this is actually a fitting comment, as my original notes indicate that there was a full-length video for which this is indeed the soundtrack. I’ve found no trace of that video thus far, so I can’t tell you if it actually fits the music. As it is, let’s have a look at the artists and tracks that have been collected here.

Tangerine Dream has been a lifelong favorite band, starting with the pioneering electronica from the early 1970s. The group has evolved over the years, morphing into many forms, always headed by Russian-born founder Edgar Froese (1944-2015). The band continues even after Froese’s passing, with over 150 albums (including soundtracks) produced to date. The point to be made is that TD’s contribution to this disc is less electronica than it is light rock, befitting the direction they began taking in the mid-1980s with albums like Tyger and Melrose. Their track “Touchwood” is taken, in fact, from their Rockoon album of 1992, and you’d likely be better off getting that disc for yourself.

Jonn Serrie’s music has graced planetariums around the country, and his electronica is terrific. The three offerings here are of two distinct types: Light rock and electronica. “Tingri” and “Flightpath” fall into the first category and, in fact, are the title cuts of two of his albums. “Stolen Fire” is definitely electronica, the sort of mystery and flow that one expects of superior planetarium music, the sound that evokes a sense of the aurora borealis and something greater than oneself. Although the other two cuts are good, this is the cut that represents Serrie’s best work. Even on albums such as those I mentioned, the synthesizer works continue to be the best. “Stolen Fire” is, to the best of my research, available only on this album, although some sites of questionable pedigree claim to have it available for free download.

Paul Speer is a good electric guitarist whose work with pianist David Lanz on the album Desert Vision created some stimulating work that I very much enjoy; it is, however, not Lanz’s usual, quiet, lyrical work, if only because Speer’s guitar must have its powerful, percussive, stinging say. He’s good at what he does, including bringing forth an excellent rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun”; some of us might feel a good acid flashback from listening to it. However, the style does tend to interfere with one’s expectations of the disc.

James Reynolds appears to have created works specifically for this disc. It’s interesting work overall, but it seems to fall short of the mark. “Whispers of Light” is more in the space music genre, but it has a more evident beat than most other offerings in the genre; generally, space music is free-flowing, floating, often without a sense of any time signature at all. “One More River Passing” owes a debt to the title track of Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire, attempting to make the cross between light rock and light orchestral music — a technique pioneered by the Moody Blues in their creation of what is now known as progressive rock, or ProgRock. (For more about ProgRock, see my review of Days of Future Passed.)

All in all, the disappointment of this album may be more about my own expectations than it’s about the works themselves. I bought the disc, so long ago, hoping for electronica, space music, something from the genre of Music from the Hearts of Space. No such luck. With the ability to sample MP3s online, to get a better feel of each track, today’s listener has a lot better chance of finding what he’s looking for. If you can find this disc, or the songs that make up its component parts, you can listen to parts of each track to see if you might agree with my assessment. Take the music for itself, and form your own opinion. After all, this blog is meant to be at least a bit of a dialog.

If you’d like to sample the music for yourself, please consider looking at True North in my Amazon store.

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