|1.||At the Edge|
|2.||The Continuance / Mariners and Musicians|
|4.||Waiting in the Forest|
|9.||Ice on the St. Laurence|
|11.||The Great Divide|
|13.||Mother of Exile|
|14.||Can't Stop Love (Wake Up America) (bonus track)|
|Track lengths not available for this album. If you have track length/time information for this album, please e-mail it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add it to the database.|
|by Andrew Granade
October 25, 2004
Ok, I'll be up front with you here at the, um, front of this review. American River is not a soundtrack. It does not accompany any moving images of any kind. But that does not mean that you should immediately move to the next review. Let me tell you a little about Jonathan Elias, American River's composer, before you make any hasty judgements.
Elias was trained at the Eastman School of Music and originally planned to become and composer and teacher before being lured into film and television work through writing trailers for movies from Alien to Back to the Future. Because of his work in trailers and commercials, Elias has been credited with first using film scoring techniques in those genres. He has also had a fruitful relationship with film composer John Barry, and they have worked together on several projects.
Are you convinced now? Good. American River is not Elias's first compositional concept album. His first production was a rock-influenced homage to Native American culture titled Requiem for the Americas. He followed that over ten years later with Prayer Cycle, an album that holds out hope for a future that oft times seems quite bleak. Now comes American River, which attempts musically to depict the nation's expanse through each of its major regions. In this endeavor he is helped by several country music stars who read short essays over the music.
In spite of the vast differences in the landscapes Elias traverses, the tracks are remarkably similar in sound. The result is a unified effort that speaks well to his thesis of American unity through diversity. The music's foundation is the piano, which is almost constantly in motion with chordal figuration that should be familiar to fans of minimalist and post-minimalist music. On top of this piano figuration, Elias layers solo strings, particularly the violin, numerous bells and chimes that sparkle throughout, and light percussion just to keep things moving.
One of the album's most touching and memorable cues is "The Continuance/Mariners and Musicians," in which the late Johnny Cash and his daughter Roseanne speak over the same instrumental bed outlined above. Johnny Cash speaks of the American river as something living inside each American's soul; it is an ideal that winds its way through freedom and peace to bring life. The river metaphor has become cliché in American music and thought, but the coincidence of timing and Roseanne Cash's participation give the tired idea new life. As the younger Cash connects progression of mariners to musicians in her family, she demonstrates how the land has shaped this nation and underscores the diversity and opportunity America offers. It is a welcome reminder.
Overall, American River is not an album of sharp contrasts. It clearly has a theme, a message to convey, and sticks to that message throughout. The resulting homogeneity is occasionally broken when Elias incorporates regional elements such as the fiddling tune in "Southern Delta," but for the most part the music sounds the same throughout. The album, then, works more as a meditation than as a journey through tension and release. However, it is a pleasant journey, and one that reminds those who take it that our nation's soul should not overshadowed by the fear and war we are daily fed, but rather buoyed the promise that we are all connected and shaped by the land from which we draw life.
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