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Innocence & Despair
     

Innocence & Despair

by The Langley Schools Music Project
 
At first glance, Innocence and Despair is an unlikely candidate for the most touching recording ever made, but it is. These low-fi recordings of elementary-school children in western Canada, made in the mid-'70s -- a project spearheaded by an ambitious music teacher named Hans Fenger -- are filled with strange mixes, liquid tempos, and clunking accompaniment.

Overview

At first glance, Innocence and Despair is an unlikely candidate for the most touching recording ever made, but it is. These low-fi recordings of elementary-school children in western Canada, made in the mid-'70s -- a project spearheaded by an ambitious music teacher named Hans Fenger -- are filled with strange mixes, liquid tempos, and clunking accompaniment. All blemishes are wiped away, however, by the energetic and deliriously innocent performances of the kids. As voices soar above the chaos on spirited choruses of "I'm into Something Good," "Good Vibrations," "Rhiannon," and many other tracks, it's impossible not to smile. Other moments are heartbreaking -- the children's voices give new meaning to the Beatles' "Long and Winding Road," and a version of "Desperado," soloed by little Sheila Behman, is as haunted and lonely as any version by the Eagles or Linda Ronstadt. Despite the dated nature of the songs here -- "Band on the Run," "Sweet Caroline," "Wildfire" -- Innocence and Despair is less a time capsule than it is timeless: The uplifting power of children singing unabashedly never wanes. As for cynics wary of treacly kid stuff, this record fits comfortably and proudly beside naive masterpieces from the Shaggs, Jonathan Richman, and others

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Richie Unterberger
These 19 tracks are taken from the two albums Langley Elementary School students recorded and released in small quantities for themselves and their friends in British Columbia in the mid-'70s. Innocence & Despair is a subtitle etched onto the sleeve, to which could rejoin, is it the innocence of ineptitude, or the ineptitude of innocence? On its own merits, it's not great listening. The kids are engaged and having fun, certainly; there's not much despair here. But they sound close to what you would expect 50-strong vocal ensembles of nine- to 12-year-olds singing in a school gymnasium to sound like. What does probably lift this above most other vanity school music class pressings (and you know there must be plenty more where this came from) is the spooky, minimal strangeness of most of the arrangements. It does indeed sound refreshing and interesting to hear the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and Neil Diamond songs with weird off-kilter xylophones, off-the-wall cymbal crashes, and teacher Hans Fenger's basic singalong acoustic guitar and piano. It's more valuable as a cultural curiosity and something to get the guffaws going at parties than it is a deep listening experience. There's something undeniably otherworldly about much of it, though, particularly the cover of "Space Oddity," with its scrape-slides and ridiculously over-tremoloed guitar. The strangest cover choice is undoubtedly Klaatu's "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" (well, Klaatu was Canadian). And there's an interesting comment about nine-year-old Sheila Behman's solo vocal showcase by Fenger in the liner notes: "I always felt [her version of] "'Desperado'" was better than versions by the Eagles or Linda Ronstadt." If you're not a fan of those artists, which probably could be said of the majority of consumers purchasing this disc, you might well agree.

Product Details

Release Date:
10/23/2001
Label:
Bar/None Records
UPC:
0032862012228
catalogNumber:
122
Rank:
90732

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