Album Reviews

Anita Kerr/Rod McKuen/San Sebastian Strings: The Sea, The Earth, The Sky (El Records)

mckuen

Anita Kerr/Rod McKuen/The San Sebastian Strings
The Sea, The Earth, The Sky
El Records/Cherry Red

Did the trippiest, most surreal album of the heady Summer of Love go unnoticed? Is it possible that it slipped by, obscured by the fact that it was produced by a source that would never be considered a part of the counterculture, much less by mainstream culture. Listening to el Records’ compilation of the Rod McKuen/Anita Kerr trilogy The Sea, The Earth, The Sky, it’s hard not to think that this is a lost treat, a heady memento of 1967.  Between the writings of poet and musician Rod McKuen, vocal arranger Anita Kerr, and the addition of session chamber group San Sebastian Strings, the listening experience found here is quite heady indeed.

McKuen’s poetic style is very reflective—often overly melancholic—and against the sweeping, intricate arrangements, the albums quickly draw the listener into a landscape thats quite dreamy. It’s the flourishes, though, that really add a depth to the music that engages the listener; moments like the vibraphone pings on “Capri In July” and “When Winter Comes,” the samples of ocean waves on “Afternoon Shadows,” and the hushed harmonies on “A New Lullaby” are delightful.  Kerr’s arrangements here mostly eschew the vocal harmonies that she is known for, showing that she was as brilliant an instrumental arranger as she was with vocals, and the use of additional narrators–actor Jesse Pearson (The Sea) and musician Gene Merlino (The Sky) keeps the trilogy from becoming monotonous. 

As beautiful as these albums are, it’s also important to note that the earnestness of McKuen’s style can be a bit…much. Sincerity of this nature can be winsome, and at times, it’s hard to restrain a giggle or a cynical “hah!” when listening to these records. McKuen’s reputation at the time these records were released was such that it was understood that any time he read his poetry, it was going to be melodramatic and heavy-handed in its nature.Taken out of that era, it’s easy to forget that this is Rod McKuen’s way. If you’re not familiar with his style, The Sea, The Earth, The Sky might not be the best place to start. But if you’re into spoken word accompanied by gorgeous orchestral arrangements, then dive into this sublime set. 

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