Leave it to Marc Almond to bridge the gap between covers and concept albums. Shadows and Reflections is both. Its track list reveals iconic '60s-era pop songs of astonishing variety. There's Burt Bacharach's "Blue on Blue" and Johnny Mandel's "The Shadow of Your Smile," as well as the Herd's "From the Underworld," a gorgeous, daring read of the Yardbirds' "Still I'm Sad," and Bobby Darin's "Not for Me," to mention a few. Almond and his chief collaborator, British composer, arranger, and saxophonist John Harle (who wrote the set's "Overture" and "Interlude," and co-wrote the closer "No One to Say Good Night To" with the singer), used a guiding aural aesthetic in opting for expansive panoramic sound; they sought to emulate "a very late 1960s Italian cinema soundtrack...." Conceptually, the album begins and ends in a luxury apartment; its protagonist surrounded by objects of art and beauty but emotionally empty. He's alone throughout. As the lyric in the closing track states: "...I'm rich in the bank but the poorest person you know."
Musically, this deep dive into '60s-era mood music, with its lush strings, lilting and twanging guitars, muted brass, and imaginative percussion, sounds timeless. Almond imbues these songs without a trace of nostalgia or irony. The orchestrations are complex and imaginative, and reinforce the notion of isolation, loneliness, and the desire for intimate connection. After the relatively restrained "Overture," the listener is jolted for a moment by the jaunty yet somehow forlorn use of harpsichord in the reading of the Action's title track. Almond sticks close to its melody, but puts his indelible handprint on it through his phrasing, which both illuminates and deepens the lyrics. The reading of Julie Driscoll's "I Know You Love Me Not" possesses the aching drama Dusty Springfield's mid-'60s material did, as well as evoking Driscoll's sense of indictment -- Duane Eddy-esque guitars and all. The set's first single is a reading of the Young Rascals' "How Can I Be Sure." This version, like the original, is innocent, but this blue-eyed soul can't help but make its question existential. It's followed by Timi Yuro's "Something Bad on My Mind," where its teen pleading is replaced by a heartbreak and disbelief so profound it breaks free of the boundaries in its lyrics. The Baroque string charts in "From the Underworld" are bridged to electric guitars and drums by no more -- and certainly no less -- than the passion and pathos in Almond's singing -- as if he knew what its writer (Peter Frampton) was predicting all along. Finally, his versions of the Mandel and Darin tunes smoke, smolder, and burn, earning their place in the hierarchy of interpretations. At the age 60, Almond delivers Shadows and Reflections with absolute commitment. On its surface, it is an exotic encounter with the sound of another era, but this is not merely an homage, but a work of tremendous musical vision and emotional depth. ~ Thom Jurek