Milos, guitar – Blackbird – The Beatles Album – Mercury / Universal

by | Feb 1, 2015 | Classical CD Reviews

Milos, guitar – Blackbird – The Beatles Album – Mercury /Universal Classics B0024425-02 [1/25/16], 42:19 ****1/2:

Classical guitarist delivers Beatles classics with style.

(Milos Karadaglic – guitar; Chriss Hill – bass; Christopher Austin – string arrangements, with guest vocalists Gregory Porter – vocal; Tori Amos – vocal, Steven Isserlis – cello; Anoushsa Shankar – sitar)

Certainly there has been a plethora of classically-interpreted Beatles music (their producer George Martin established a career in this milieu). Other rock and pop stars courted classical musicians for involvement in creating pop classical music. The Beatles never had to coerce anyone to cover their music. Orchestras, philharmonics, ukulele players or singers were anxious to do Beatle music.

The latest classical artist to take a shot at Beatles music is Milos Karadaglic. Milos, who has released highly-regarded classical music, decided to head in a new direction, and that tangent resulted in Milos –  Blackbird The Beatles Album. As a younger man, the gifted thirty-two year old guitarist tried to get some of his demos to Paul McCartney (to no avail). So he released a tribute to the iconic band. There are covers of familiar material, but with consummate instrumental passion.  His choice of material clearly favors Paul McCartney. With occasional string and vocal accompaniment, timeless pop classics come alive. The opening track, “Blackbird” has always challenged acoustic players with its precise fretting. Milos’ fingering is graceful and nimble and he injects cadence into the arrangement. He has an instinctive feel for melody. “And I Love Her” captures the sentimental whimsy of the composition, but expands the musical context with his talent and finesse, slowing parts down and adding some chord shifts. It is exhilarating. With string counterpoints, “Eleanor Rigby” is compelling. Christopher Austin’s string arrangements are complex and stirring.

Milos is equally comfortable with a jazzy read on Yesterday” (which was the source of his inspiration in an earlier arrangement by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu). This solo performance radiates the melancholy at the song’s core.  A third section of the McCartney “super-song trio”, (“Michelle”) is awash in gentle romantic nuances, and Steven Isserlis contributes a vivid cello part. The Beatles Album boasts two radically different vocal performances. Gregory Porter injects restrained gospel r&b into “Let It Be” that meshes with the strings and the glowing optimism of the lyrics. On the mournful “She’s Leaving Home”, Milos creates a great duet with singer Tori Amos. Her idiosyncratic, ethereal voice (which includes the expected chorus counterpoint) is elegiac and the guitar envelops it with warmth.

There are only two John Lennon tunes in this collection. The dynamic elements of Lennon songwriting are on display.  On the Abbey Road opener, “Come Together”, Milos covers the vampy bass lines but transitions to an intense spirited version, eschewing the pop-like groove structure. He recites the fundamental core of the opus, but changes it to edgier guitar riffs (classical style of course). Lennon’s less predictable musical patterns include a lot of old school blues that doesn’t complement a purer classical format. The other Lennon song, (despite the perfunctory Lennon McCartney co-writing credits) is “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. It is infused with psychedelic sitar by Anoushka Shankar. Her swirling, punctuated lines touch on the Beatles’ association with Indian music.

Speaking of George Harrison, his shining moment arrives with two hits off “Abbey Road” and a game breaker off The White Album. Milos’ reserved, uplifting cover of “Something” features  Latin flavor and deft picking. Harrison’s second hit from Abbey Road, “Here Comes The Sun” bristles with optimism and a string boost. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” mirrors the sorrowful context of Harrison’s writing. When Milos solos at 2:00, the song radiates glowing imagery. The music is heartwarming and expansive. Nearly a half-century ago, Jose Feliciano did an instrumental version of “Here There And Everywhere”. Milos maintains the sweet essence and ballroom chord changes that define some McCartney Beatle songs.

The overall sound of this CD is excellent. The sound mix is even and the guitar has a rich, deep tonality. Violins and cello sound mellifluous and sharp when needed. It is a worthy testament to great songs.

TrackList: Blackbird; Come Together; The Fool On The Hill; And I Love Her; While My Guitar Gently Weeps; Let It Be; Eleanor Rigby; Yesterday; Something; She’s Leaving Home; Michelle; Here There And Everywhere; Here Comes The Sun; All My Loving; Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

—Robbie Gerson