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Album Review

Conductor and orchestra leader George Melachrino charted his only non-seasonal Top 40 long-player with 1958's Old West-themed Under Western Skies. According to the original album jacket notes, one primary inspiration for this dozen-song collection was the proliferation of cowboy programs — or as they were concurrently referred to, "horse operas" — that had all but taken over the then-burgeoning medium of television. Melachrino's sonic animation is stunning throughout, as he brings to life traditional folk and country & western numbers, along with some of his own pieces. Unlike the popular "space-age bachelor pad" and the aural exotica of Enoch Light and Martin Denny, Melachrino's interpretations are prudently and comparatively conservative. Rather than forcing familiar tunes into an ill-conceived or otherwise kitschy mold, he scores with simplicity, using the inherent mood of the music to guide the instrumentation and arrangements. For instance, the practically three-dimensional "Colorado River" is a mini-symphony with the beauty of the natural surroundings, as well as the appropriate bombast of an unexpected ambush. By contrast, that almost cinematic scope would be unnecessary in the even-tempered tranquillity of "Home on the Range" or the particularly quaint reading of "Cool Water." There is a definite feeling of grandeur as the listener is transported into the unexplored wide-open horizons of Melachrino's "Northwest Trail." The melody embodies the sensation of discovery, mixing elements of ever-present danger with the placidity of solitude. "The One-Armed Bandit (Nevada)" is suitably the most showy selection, launching into an early 20th century barroom rag occasionally punctuated by the sound of a roulette wheel and coins being dropped into a tin cup. In 1998 Collectors' Choice Music coupled Under Western Skies with Melachrino's 1954 holiday best-seller Christmas in High Fidelity onto a single CD, restoring their availability for the first time in several decades.

Under Western Skies, George Melachrino and His Orchestra
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