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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2002
Format: Audio CD
These kinds of tribute albums are always tricky, even when they are just dealing with a musician's body of work. What Hal Willner has done on this two-CD set is amazing, though. To try to collect the pieces from Edgar Allan Poe's eclectic catalog of stories and poetry, find the write artists to read, sing, and/or interpret those works, and then to package it all appropriately was a major feat. Every track is not a five-star work, but the collection earns the five stars for sheer effort and uniqueness. From the cover art by Ralph Steadman, appropriately weird and spooky-looking, to the fabulous liner notes by Charles Baudelaire and Willner, himself, this CD set has been an indispensable part of my Grade 11 English (American Literature) curriculum since its release.
Everyone is going to have his or her favorite tracks/stories/poems, but here are mine:
1. Gabriel Byrne reading "The Masque of the Red Death" -- great accent, cool music and background noises; nicely understated, Byrne lets the story tell itself.
2. Diamanda Galas reading "The Black Cat" -- smoking five packs a day does pay off for some people. . . . I almost wet my pants when I first heard her read the opening line of the story.
3. Dr. John reading "Berenice" -- not the typical Poe selection, very cool New Orleans accent and grovely voice.
4. Iggy Pop reading "The Tell-Tale Heart" -- classic story, great voice and interpretation.
5. Marianne Faithfull reading "Alone" -- again, great voice and creepy effects.
I'm leaving out Ken Nordine, Jeff Buckley, and Christopher Walken, all of whom turn in outstanding performances.
Weak points aside, this CD earns five stars for the total package. The cover art is very cool, the liner notes are very interesting and informative, the sound production is superb, and a vast majority of the renditions maximize Poe's eccentricities and creepy weirdness. The musical artists and actors put themselves somewhat at risk with these alternative performances, and their risks pay off big time! If you are a fan of Poe, this is a must-have CD set. If you are a fan of any of the performers, you likely won't be disappointed either. If you are just a fan of creative and alternative works, this is well worth a try. Everybody wins!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2001
Format: Audio CD
If you are a Poe fan, this is a must for your collection. The title, taken from a recent theory that Poe died of rabies contracted after a dog bite, is just the beginning of the creativity behind these CDs. Christopher Walken's reading of "The Raven" is second only to Vincent Price. Iggy Pop's rendition of "A Tell-Tale Heart" is chilling, to say the least, and is definitely worth getting the CDs for. I love listening to the stories and poems on a regular basis, and have a great time setting up the fog machine and blasting these CDs from my stereo on Halloween.
I also use this in my classroom every year. Poe, in general, is great for helping resistant students discover a love of literature and this CD is specifically responsible for creating readers out of some of my most unwilling students. While I am not too fond of the musical tracks on these CDs, my students enjoy them very much and they have inspired some of them to set Poe's work to their own music. All in all, I truly feel as if I've gotten my money's worth from these CD's and find them to be both enjoyable and useful.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2009
Format: Audio CD
I've been wanting to hear this for years. Unfortunately, I couldn't afford the out of print prices. Recently, I was able to scare up a copy using my state's library system (a cassette copy no less), and I've been absorbing it in my car for the last few weeks. I wanted to love it unconditionally, but I do have some issues with it. It is admirable that some different pieces were chosen than you'd think. The poetry is equally represented along with the stories.
The album starts with Marianne Faithful's spooky reading of "Alone". It is only a brief passage, but it sets a mood and then leads into "The Raven". Like many, my ears perked up at the prospect of hearing Christopher Walken do this poem. And it is a brilliant reading. It almost seems like it was written for him: the familiar verses combined with his unique rhythm and timbre make for a different experience. His voice is recorded in a very echoing place (I don't think it's fake echo), and it adds some spooky atmosphere.
Then Iggy Pop does "The Tell-Tale Heart". I wasn't sure how this would be, but I needn't have worried. Iggy speaks very precisely at the beginning, and appropriately starts going quite gonzo at the end - which is just what this story requires. Then we have Ken Nordine doing "The Conqueror Worm". WOW. I've been listening to the man for a few years (I heartily recommend his Word Jazz or Colors CDs), but I didn't know how amazing he would be on this. It's criminal that he reads only a 3 minute piece. I think he would have been even more amazing reading something like "The Pit and The Pendulum," or even "The Cask of Amontillado". Heck, the CDs could've been filled with just Ken Nordineand I would have been happy. Forget James Earl Jones or Orson Welles - this man is THE VOICE.
Then comes the piece that sets the standard for what something like this should aspire to - Diamanda Galas' reading of "The Black Cat". Upon first hearing this, my wife asked me if she was trying to sound like Eartha Kitt. While that would've been appropriate, I don't know if that's the case. What I do know is that it is an amazing performance. Someone in another review stated how she must smoke 5 packs a day. Nonsense - Diamanda has like a 4 or 5 octave vocal range and can make her voice do whatever she wants to. She is very closely miked - so much so you can hear the clicking of her tongue as she makes words. She speaks at a very slow speed, emphasizing particular words much heavier, often to great effect. There is the this cold ageless rage and, dare I say it, sexuality than I thought the story possessed. Just listen to the way she says "perverseness". It is truly chilling. She completely gives herself over to Poe's work. She puts you under a spell for 36 minutes.
I am not too familiar with Gavin Friday, but he does justice to "For Annie", injecting it with just enough wistful romanticism.
The next two tracks are the real head scratchers - Ed Sanders (?) song versions of "To Helen" and "The Haunted Palace". To me, the fact that these are done as songs really breaks the mood of the whole album. While "To Helen" is all right, doing "The Haunted Palace" (one of Poe's best shorter stories I think) as a mid-tempo tepid rocker approaches blasphemy. While the instrumental touches underneath the speakers on the other tracks are used for atmosphere or emphasis, having these two "songs" show up in the middle is a little too jarring. It breaks the mood that had been created.
Next you have Jeff Buckley doing "Ulalume". His voice gives the piece kind of an elfin grace. It also injects a large portion of regret and dread into it. Then comes the 2nd-longest piece on the album, Dr. John's reading of "Berenice". I want to like it more than I do. But the good Doctor (whose music I love) has a heavy New Orleans accent, and for me, this got in the way of a Poe story I wasn't too familiar with anyway.
Debbie Harry and The Jazz Messengers do "The City and the Sea". This was another I just couldn't get into. It changed its faces so much. It's scale is admirable, but for me it destroys the image in my mind I had about that Poe poem.
Marianne Faithfull comes back for a reading of "Annabel Lee." Remarkable. She obviously enjoys the wistfulness and sadness of it. Then there's the other piece I was waiting for, "The Masque of the Red Death," my favorite Poe story. Gabriel Byrne has a great voice, but it was a botch recording it. The producers use the same kind of echo from Walken's reading of "The Raven," and I think it hurts it. This was one where just a simple, closely-miked reading (without effects) would've been enough.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2002
Format: Audio CD
This is a mixed bag all right, the most egregious negatives being perpetual freak-fringe figure Ed Sanders' ostenisble "songs", and Abel Ferrara's too-jokey "Raven". But -oh- Dr. John's reading of "Berenice" is sheer magic. This underrated tale in the Poe canon, of incestuous necrophile dental obsession is totally buoyed by the swampy southern stylings of music and voice. It's perhaps the best recording of a Poe story ever, and I'm a huge fan of the Vincent Price/Basil Rathbone recordings of the 1960s. Ken Nordine could read a cereal box and make it sound good; I wish he had a longer selection on this CD-set. Marrianne Faithfull croaks out "Alone" with that special vocal quality that only years of smoke, whiskey and drug abuse can engender. It's all peaks and valleys - but what peaks!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2005
Format: Audio CD
There isn't a child who grew up in this country who hasn't been influenced, in one way or another, by the poems and short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Or writer or producer or musician, for that matter, it seems. If we have one thing in common, one little shared bit of ourselves, it may be a love (or at least respect) of Poe - his irony, his forboding sense of things not really the way they seem, his ability to look not only into the eyes of us all, but into our dreams, our nightmares, our inner, hidden secrets. That was his talent.

Musical producer Hal Willner knows it. The beat poet Allen Ginsberg once told him in passing, "Everything leads to Poe." And seeming to follow that lead, Willner ushers everyone and everything he can think of into his project - "Closed On Acount Of Rabies" (the title is based on a new theory that Poe may actually have died of rabies instead of the alcoholic debauchery that is a major part of the Poe legend) features the talents of varied performers such as Marianne Faithfull, Christopher Walken, Diamanda Galas, Iggy Pop, Ken Nordine, Jeff Buckley, Dr. John, Deborah Harry, Gabriel Byrne... Ginsberg was right.

The disc is beautifully produced. From Marianne Faithfull's opening reading of "Alone," a moving, mood-setting short poem that sets the stage and establishes the late poet's sense of isolation (she returns later to read the famous "Annabel Lee"), the listener knows a special treat is in store. Careful, subtle sound effects and musical accompaniment accent the performances with added drama. Actor Christopher Walken's reading of "The Raven" is right in synch with the quirky characters he's known for portraying in film, and Iggy Pop delivers "The Tell-tale Heart" with just the necessary overly-controlled restraint the story demands.

Other highlights of the two disc set include Ken Nordine performing the poem "The Conqueror Worm" and full-length renditions of the Poe classics "The Black Cat," read by Diamanda Galas, a particularly hypnotic "Berenice" read by Dr. John and "The Masque of the Red Death" read by Gabriel Bryne.

Oddly, the discs' weaker moments come from musical interpretations of "To Helen" and "The Haunted Palace," sung by Ed Sanders, and a strangely uninspired "The City and the Sea," sung by Deborah Harry and the Jazz Passengers.

One of the most entrancing performances comes from Jeff Buckley as he reads "Ulalume." When he reads "...I replied, 'This is nothing but dreaming, let us on by this tremulous light - let us bathe by this crystalline light... Then my heart it grew ashen and sober, as the leaves that were crisp'd and sear, as the leaves that were whithering and sear; and I cried "It was surely October on this very night of last year that i journeyed, I journeyed down here, that I brought a dread burden down here, on this night of all nights of the year ; oh what demon has tempted me here?..." it's clear that Edgar Allan Poe's influence remains stong, true and unabated to generation after generation of creative talents.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
Poe, in spite of the fame and adulation directed at him these days, has seldom been interpreted with any degree of success on either vinyl or CD. Basil Rathbone did a workman-like job with "The Masque of Red Death" decades ago, but even he fell short of the hysteria and ecstasy Poe should invoke. The CD under consideration, "Closed on Account of Rabies" (a silly title taken from a Sept. 15, 1996 NY Times story about a crackpot hypothesis regarding Poe's death), is mostly more of the same. Christopher Walken gives "The Raven" a rendition that sounds like an Umberto's Clamhouse wise guy on valium. Gabriel Byrne makes the aforementioned "Masque of Red Death" as much of a chore to hear as it must have been for him to record, and so it goes through much of the Poe repertoire covered here.

So why does this disk have an honored placed in my collection? Due to the presence of one lone track, Diamanda Galas' performance of "The Black Cat." Before you think me far too improvident with the coin of the realm, consider that the Galas reading is over a half-hour in length (almost 37 minutes to be exact). In that time, one is transported on a greased chute straight into the 13th floor of Poe's darkness, dementia and obsession. Galas' rendition of "The Black Cat" is as intense an excursion into the ambiance of homicidal insanity as one is likely to encounter this side of a jail cell.

Even more gratifying to Poe scholars is the fact that Galas groks Poe's bizarre but highly disciplined mentality. G.K. Chesterton said that madhouses were not stocked so much with empty-headed people as with people who think too much. One glance at the size of Poe's forehead should give some indication of the extent to which he was haunted by a surfeit of thought, on the razor edge between genius and insanity. Poe walked that edge in "The Black Cat" and Diamanda Galas gives voice to it with unforgettable sympathy, power and authority. True Poe fans will rejoice. Those who imagine themselves qualified to read Poe in public would do well to harken to Galas with the humility of the apprentice.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2010
Format: Audio CD
This is a classic collection of many familiar celebrities reading the words of Edgar Allen Poe. With the natural haunting voices of Marianne Faithful, Gabriel Byrne, Dr. John, Christopher Walken, and many others make this a great chilling collection to hear along side of some of my other favorite gothic vocalists and instrumentalists.

This is a double CD, and I have two absolutely favorite readings from this collection. Hearing Diamanda Galas telling the story of "The Black Cat" and hearing Iggy Pop tell the story of "The Tell Tale Heart" still sends chills down my spine. And it's more the just the readings. It's the incidental music in the background that compels the terror of every word, so well.

I mix these stories with the music of Midnight Syndicate, Nox Arcana, Delerium, Dead Can Dance, Cradle of Filth, Switchblade Symphony, Dark Sanctuary, and various horror soundtracks. I shuffle all these CD's in my carousel CD player, just as I have tonight playing to my front porch to the "trick-or-treat"-ers.

This is also a wonderful collection to listen to on a dark rainy night.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2000
Format: Audio CD
Mr Walkins does a great telling of the Raven and Diamanda Gala's has the prefect voice for the Black cat. Walkins was in Tim Burton movie Sleepy Hollow and Diamanda is a well known musical artist in the gothic music world . Both Actor and Artist are highly look up at in the Gothic Scene. Anyone into Poe's work and into dark lifestyle will like this Album.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2000
Format: Audio CD
Mr Walkins does a great telling of the Raven and Diamanda Gala's has the prefect voice for the Black cat. Walkins was in Tim Burton movie Sleepy Hollow and Diamanda is a well known musical artist in the gothic music world . Both Actor and Artist are highly look up at in the Gothic Scene. Anyone into Poe's work and into dark lifestyle will like this Album.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 1998
Format: Audio CD
This album of some of Poe's more famous stories and poetry does an excellent job of presenting them in their phantasmagorial brilliance. If you like Poe's work at all, these spoken renditions will delight you, carrying you to another world of evil, darkness, and beauty.
Although the songs on this CD (some poems have been put to music) were all relatively uninspiring, the spoken poetry easily makes up for this weaknes. "Ulalume" read by Jeff Buckley is the most moving piece of poetry I have ever heard, and all the other poems are almost as magical.
This album brings a new dimension to Edgar Allan Poe's work. Buy it, listen to it (skip the songs), and you will not be disappointed.
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