Contemporary Praise Music Gets Major Lift

MANILA, Philippines --- The 10-track self-titled debut album of Where's The Sheep? contains mostly covers songs but still makes a strong case for a pop crossover, mainly because of the original single entitled "Buksan," a tune that's already playing at local pop FM. Written by singer Mike Shimamoto and guitarist Hero Mauricio, the song is an alt-rock flavored number driven by its soaring melodies and choruses anchored on fresh sounding vocals.

They tackle (Christian rock band) Casting Crown's "Who Am I" and mellow it down to the acoustic guitar-driven ballad that open their set. They then proceed to cover the Switchfoot hit "Only Hope" and effectively take it back from Mandy Moore's chick-pop clutches, opting for a laid back feel with acoustic pianos, guitars and a backdrop of synth-strings. They also take on Chris Tomlin's "Indescribable" and the OPM praise staple "I See You Lord," infusing them with a pop friendly spin.

Basically an album of love songs - not the romantic kind, really, but more on His kind of love - it also features the pop ballad "Deeply In Love" (a Kate Spence original), and the romantic number that is actually a popular contemporary praise song, "God Gave Me You." The message is about God's unconditional love and how it is a blessing to everyone, and the duo effectively sets this theme to music.

Singer Shimamoto has a clean, clear-bodied voice with a good range that can give his contemporaries a run for their money; his heartfelt singing practically adding emotional weight to every line he sings. Meanwhile, lead guitarist Hero Mauricio dishes out uncomplicated but melodic motifs. Check out the cascading chord patterns that open "Still," (a Reuben Morgan original) and the feel-good, almost country music-like accompaniment that Mauricio provides to carry the tune home.

The duo also scores major musician points for writing the alternative music influenced original "I Am Home," a song of reflection easily at par with the best songs in the praise music genre today. Indeed, singing alleluias never sounded better.

• • •

We're sure that most of you are familiar with the story of "Titanic," the gargantuan luxury ship that sank on its maiden voyage a hundred years ago. You also know the movie "Titanic," the story of the doomed ship and the star crossed lovers that met in said vessel - a career-making winner for James Cameron, its stars Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet that made history as the first billion-seller at the box office.

The movie was recently resurrected in 3D for its 20th anniversary and the accompanying OST, titled "'Music From The Motion Picture Titanic - Anniversary Edition," got a revamp as well. While Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" made the soundtrack such a big hit, thankfully there will not be any 3D version of the Canadian hit maker here. But the original soundtrack - whose first release only features the orchestral work of James Horner - has now been beefed up with a whole album's worth of movie music.

The group I Salonisti "played" much of the music on the ship [those "actors" that played the musicians were actually members of a real chamber music ensemble] and also recorded a lot in the studio under the supervision of historical music adviser of the film, John Altman. Altman chose 25 or so pieces from the era - classical pieces and those that passed for "pop" music in the early 20th century - that resulted in the "White Star playlist" composed of 15 tracks of the finest ensemble-performed waltzes such as "Valse Septembre," "Marguerite Waltz," "Poet and Peasant," "Estudiantina," "Titsy Bitsy Girl," "Sphinx," and some really familiar pieces such as "Wedding Dance," and "Blue Danube."

The "Titanic Anniversary Edition" is an excellent source of the orchestral music for its fans. Classical violin pieces such as "Sphinx," "Song Of Autumn," the subdued "Baracole" and the harried pitch of "Orpheus" will certainly take the listener back to a romantic time. And "Nearer My God To Thee" seems a fitting lament to one of the most famous disasters in history. James Horner's excellent orchestral score is still in the original soundtrack, which also makes up this two-disc collectible.

• • •

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's "The Sound Of Music" was originally a play that featured actors Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, and had its first showing on Broadway in 1959. The original play, based on a book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse culled from Maria Von Trapp memoirs, "The Von Trapp Family Singers," was a success and had several incarnations, one of which was the 1965 movie that starred Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Now a classic, the movie spawned songs such as "Do - Re - Mi," "Sixteen Going On Seventeen," and "My Favorite Things," among others, now standards in the Broadway canon.

All of these songs and much more are included in "The Sound Of Music Special 45th Anniversary Soundtrack Edition" and in "The Sound Of Music Original Broadway Cast" recordings, with movie soundtrack having more tracks that include orchestral overtures and reprises of the main songs. While I am partial to the movie version, having seen it years and years ago on TV and having a big crush on Liesl (Charmaine Carr), the original Broadway cast's versions has its own charm as well.

While Julie Andrews' renditions sound sweeter, Mary Martin's originals are traditionally theatrical in execution. And the same goes for the more recognizable songs in "Sound Of Music" selection. But whether you are listening to Christopher Plummer's "Edelweiss" or Theodore Bikel's plunking acoustic guitar version of the song (complete with an Austrian accent), Rodger and Hammerstein's work here are clearly some of their most memorable.

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