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An Hour Out of Desert Center

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iTunes 
An Hour Out of Desert Center
Chas Smith
2003 Cold Blue Music CB0013 (CD)

This highly-recommended release suggests the stark and chilling beauty of the desert heat's mirage, high streaming clouds, and abandoned desert towns that pass along mid-day drives down nameless desert roads. This release is a current favorite of Steve's and is in constant rotation around the mail-order office. A beautiful, unique release by a true original. A perfect statement of pure harmonic textures and space all on steel guitar, along with instruments invented and built by Chas Smith.

AN HOUR OUT OF DESERT CENTER is scored for pedal steel guitars, composer-designed-and-built crotales and sound sculptures, zithers, and a 1948 Bigsby lap guitar (a one-of-a-kind instrument that was owned by famed steel player Joaquin Murphey, who played with Spade Cooley, Tex Williams, Sons of the Pioneer, and other classic country artists). Here, Smith's musical texture, evolving slowly and continuously over the course of the piece, is without dramatic flourishes. Like the spare landscapes around Desert Center, California, it simply exists in its muted beauty.

"Absence of Redemption" and "Albuquerque 5402" are scored for the same instruments as the first work, but with the addition of Smith's self-designed-and-built three-neck steel guitar, "guitarzilla", which he prepares (a la John Cage's prepared piano) with metal rods and plays with hammered dulcimer hammers. "Absence" develops in the linear fashion of the first piece. "Albuquerque 5402" is a large-scale, two-movement piece constructed from dense, shifting textures that slowly taper away in the first movement and interweave in the next.

Chas Smith is a Los Angeles-based composer, performer, and instrument designer and builder who, in the spirit of Harry Partch, creates much of his music for his own exotic instruments. His compositions, which always display his dualistic fascination with the scientific and the sensual, might owe their split personalities to the diverse collection of composers he studied with in the 1970's: Morton Subotnick, Mel Powell, James Tenney, and Harold Budd.

As a performer, Smith regularly appears on feature-film scores, playing both pedal steel guitar and his personally designed instruments. (He may be heard on such popular film scores as The Shawshank Redemption, The Horse Whisperer, and American Beauty.) Smith has also been featured on recordings by composer Harold Budd and with Rick Cox and film composer Thomas Newman in the experimental music ensemble Tokyo 77 (recorded on Intone Records). Smith has performed his own works at various new music festivals and art galleries. In addition to his two earlier CD's for the Cold Blue label, NIKKO WOLVERINE and ALUMINUM OVERCAST, his music has been recorded on the Arc Light, Cold Blue, Cantil, MCA, and Straw Dog labels.

Although Smith's music is sometimes somewhat dissonant, the manner in which it presents itself is extremely engaging. As one critic put it when reviewing one of Smith's earlier recordings, "if the house band on the Titanic sounded this gorgeous when the ship went down, you might have been tempted to stay aboard."
 
1. An Hour Out of Desert CenterMP38:41 
2. Absence of RedemptionMP313:29 
3. Albuquerque 5402 - A Curse of BeautyMP38:00 
4. A '75 ScircuraMP324:15 




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