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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Asher Quinn - Songs Of Love And Chains

Asher Quinn - Songs Of Love And Chains
2008, Oreade Music

Asher Quinn is best known as a new-age/ambient composer, selling over half a million albums since his debut in 1987, but at heart he is something of a balladeer.  His 2007 album, Songs Of Love And Chains, covers several decades of musical history with a collection of cover songs done in the simple and clear style of a bard. Artists such as Leonard Cohen, The Righteous Brothers, Jimmy Webb and Jimi Hendrix get Asherized on the two-disc set, with varying degrees of success.

Quinn opens with an ethereal cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire".  Sung over a thin veil of undulating synth, Quinn's voice just seems out of place here.  It's a solid rendition, but something just doesn't quite work for Quinn here.  "Golden Brown" is pretty and watery and undulating in its feel, fading away in much the same rippling fashion as it plays.  Quinn paints The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" with a similar brush in a minimalist synth arrangement.  Quinn's distinctive vibrato plays about the melody in memorable fashion, although he struggles with the lower notes at times.  Quinn takes more of a folk-inspired approach on "Dona Dona Dona", sticking to guitar and harmonica in an energetic and inspired arrangement.  Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" gets softball treatment, setting it up as tortured piano ballad.  While Quinn's take is solid, it pales in the shadow of the original.

Quinn takes emotive turns in "Hang On To A Dream" and "Lift Me Up", the latter saccharine and drawn out to extreme, but recovers nicely in the tragic "Down In The Willow Garden".  Love goes violently wrong in this classic-style folk song, and Quinn gives it voice in a blend of denial and delusion mixed with love.  Quinn hits all the right notes on "Do What You Gotta Do", making the most of Jimmy Webb's creation in a touching performance that's full of emotion and nuance.  "Pastures Of Plenty" doesn't go quite as well, with Quinn setting the key too low for his own vocal comfort.  The low notes here have an unfortunate sound that simply doesn't work.  Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" gets much better treatment, an almost wavelike feel that speaks of cycles within cycles.  Quinn is perfectly matched to this song, and it's one of the absolute highlights on the album.

Quinn's take on "The Highwayman" is solid if uninspiring.  He hits all the right notes in a technical perfect performance, but the heart of the piece just isn't there.  "Only You" goes a bit better, with Quinn capturing the heart and soul of the Erasure Song while using a surprisingly fitting harpsichord sound.  Quinn makes easy work of "Mr. Bojangles" in a solid performance that's filled with the quiet awe the song achieves in its best moments.  Quinn revisits Leonard Cohen with "Hallelujah", sticking very close to the feel of the original in a quietly moving performance. 

Quinn fumbles a bit before stumbling into his wonderfully stripped down and lovely take on Willie Nelson's "You Were Always On My Mind".  Simplicity is the key here, allowing Nelson's classic melody and lyrics to speak for themselves.  Quinn likewise scores with a take on Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me", an understated but likeable interpretation to one of Cooke's finest songs.  "All Along The Watchtower" doesn't fare quite so well, lacking any of the intensity you might expect from the song.  "Not Dark Yet" has its own magic, a quiet penultimate track that finds Quinn raising his game at just the right time.  Songs Of Love And Chains closes with "Jah No Dead" in a flat an uninspired performance that is an unfortunate piece of punctuation on an up-and-down album that has more positives than negatives. 

Asher Quinn's expertise and talent as a composer is unquestionable, but as essentially a solo performer in the pop/folk realm he struggles at times.  Songs Of Love And Chains is aptly named both for the song selection and for extremes Quinn hits in his interpretation of classic songs that cross boundaries, genres and generations.  It's not entirely surprising that some of Quinn's best performances are covers of classic singer/songwriters of the 1960's, but the unevenness of the album may scare off some fans from dropping for a two-disc set.  There's enough here to make the album worth owning, but you couldn't be blamed for selecting your favorite fifteen tracks or so and sequencing your own Quinn album out of the lot.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

 Learn more about Asher Quinn at Of Love And Chains is available from as 2-CD Set or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

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