Some albums take you by surprise, leaving you a little bit changed for the better. Innocence and Despair does just that, subtly grasping you by the hand and guiding you on a lovely, lo-fi, majestically imperfect journey.
The Langley Schools Music Project is a collection of cover songs, originally recorded in the mid-1970s, by a chorus/band of rural Canadian school kids with little musical training but lots of soul. What they may have lacked in skill they more than made up for with sheer truth and youthful enthusiasm. But what also makes these kids' renditions different than any others is the emotional honesty and joie de vivre spirit that infuses each song. David Bowie's "Space Oddity" is a beautiful, crashing interpretation complete with not-quite-on timing, cascading electric guitar and an admirably eager drummer. Langley Schools' plaintive, haunting expressiveness on "Desperado" puts the Eagles' version to shame, with the lead vocalist sounding like a world-weary angel.
The use of Orff xylophones, National steel laptop guitar and varied percussion instruments adds a fourth-dimensional, atmospheric quality to the music. There is something intangibly melancholy about this music and the way it is performed by these children, making you want to mourn the loss of innocence and the despair at growing up that they so perfectly express through these songs. I found myself alternately weeping, laughing and sitting in stunned silence that these kids could channel such purity and unexpected grace. With accolades (among many others) from David Bowie and John Zorn, Langley Schools Music Project is an experience for anyone interested in what the heart of music sounds like.
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