Album Review | BMG | Review by Liam Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5
In other hands, an orchestrated release of one’s back catalogue might prove to be something of an act of desperation. Indeed, who needs a large and expensive orchestra only to have it drowned out by the sound of a barrel being scraped? In the hands of legendary songsmith Albert Hammond, the reality is quite different. Hammond is one of the few songwriters whose songs, thanks to their incredible durability, cross genres and generations and never seem to be tarnished by repeated handling. Take the opening song on this treasure chest of Hammond originals; “It Never Rains in Southern California” has been covered by a long list of diverse artists including Sonny & Cher, Barry Manilow, Agnes Chan, Trent Summar, Japanese musician Saori Minami and Latin singer Andy Russell. And yet, on In Symphony, the latest release from its composer, this classic 1972 song seems fresher than ever. At last, a record of well-known songs treated to orchestral arrangements is something to be celebrated. Flourishing flutes, lush strings, majestic brass and inspiring choral arrangements are lovingly layered over a tight band, widening each track to reveal curious nooks and crannies that may have been overlooked during previous covers. Hammond’s splendid and timeless masterpiece “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before” sounds monumental with its lavish string accompaniment, as do “When I Need You” and “Don’t Turn Around”, both better known via versions by Leo Sayer and Ace of Base but, perhaps, never better recorded. There are also moments of eye-opening delight as you realise the sinuous journey that Albert Hammond’s songwriting has taken. A Spanish version of the Celine Dion-recorded “Just Walk Away” is included under the title “Alejate”, as is a somewhat Disney-fied rendition of Hammond’s “I’m a Train”. Of course, no matter how these songs are arranged, much of the quality that’s ingrained here comes from the songs themselves – melodies that seem to be sewn into the very fabric of our shared musical consciousness – as well as Hammond’s suitably weathered vocals. In Symphony is a gift of precious treasures, wrapped in new paper and bestowed upon us with loving care.