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Designs in Music

5.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 16, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com

Rarely does one record so confidently honor a category like Ben Vaughn's Designs in Music. This fun, audio soundtrack for what could be spaghetti westerns, quirky sitcoms, romantic cinema, and jazzy incidental moments creates its own kind of visual stories, moods, meditations, and more than its share of whimsy. You're bound to hear echoes of Henry Mancini, Enrico Morricone, and others whose film scores from the '60s and '70s remain some of the most unsung works of pop culture even today. On "While We're Here," Vaughn and various member of his exquisitely assembled 15-piece ensemble also give a bold shout out to Mark Isham, who scored many of Alan Rudolph's films in the '80s. You can also tell the way he voices various instruments and vocal splashes throughout that he's yet another Brian Wilson aficionado. Which is not to say Designs is a retro album full of homage. Rather, it's Vaughn and company exploring terrain that is familiar and foreign and always original, with inventive flourishes and cool and occasionally abstract song titles. Like the best of the genre, these intriguing music beds always seem to lie right below our consciousness and yet right on our radar screens, too. --Martin Keller
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 16, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Soundstage 15
  • ASIN: B000FBFSL0
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #237,898 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
Guitarist and composer Ben Vaughn has obviously listened long and hard to early-'60s exotica, TV themes, spy films, spaghetti Westerns, and cocktail music. His Designs in Music -- a highly arranged, richly textured collection of original instrumentals -- manages to pay tribute to guitarists Hank Marvin, Duane Eddy, and Vinnie Bell, and composers Martin Denny and Ennio Morricone, without being utterly derivative. Hearing the peppy themes and doo-ahh vocals, one might be tempted to write off Vaughn's music as kitsch. But a careful listening reveals a depth in the orchestration and writing that's totally AWOL in modern pop. Vaughn's guitar palette runs the gamut from spanky, tremolo-drenched lines to moody jazz-noir, and his vintage tones are always cleverly framed by various combinations of strings, brass, reeds, old-school analog synth and combo organ, harp, percussion, pedal steel, and wordless singing. Going on a road trip? These quirky sounds will make a perfect soundtrack.
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This album is a true masterpiece of easy listening music -- it is easy listening with an extremely cool edge. Ben Vaughn uses all the tricks of 1960s instrumental music -- tons of reverb, wah-wah pedals, crystal-clear horns, dreamy soprano voices, organs, and professional whistlers -- and brings them up to date. Of course there is plenty of synth work as well, but it's good synth. And thanks to Vaughn's extensive work making music for Hollywood, he was able to recruit LA's best studio musicians to play on this record.

The title "Designs in Music" is extremely appropriate. The songs are all built around catchy tunes, there is no problem there. But the real achievement is not that Vaughn was able to come up with ditties, but that he was able to design perfect structures around them. There is a wonderful catalog of things you can do in this genre of music, and Vaughn pulls all of them out at exactly the right times. I had the feeling that it was almost an architectural process -- "designing" music rather than just writing it. And they are very hip designs indeed.

I bought this CD after hearing an NPR story about it -- the interview with Ben Vaughn, dated May 28, 2006, is still up on the NPR homepage and is basically a great 11-minute audio featurette about the record. It turns out that the album was inspired by a "beautiful music" station out of Palm Springs CA, which was the only station he could pick up on the radio in his truck in the desert when driving home from Hollywood. If you have any doubts about whether you want this record, listen to that interview and have them dispelled.
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Format: Audio CD
Don't dismiss this collection as a goof on easy listening or lounge music--it's carefully and creatively arranged, with moods that range from sultry to sunny. The musicians are obviously expert, but just as obviously, really digging what they are putting together. Truly a great addition to anyone's collection, especially when you have a nicely frosted martini glass in hand.
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Format: Audio CD
I heard Ben Vaughn interviewed on NPR. When he described the story behind this CD, I just had to check it out. I am really thrilled with this CD. Not only is it reminiscent of film scores and music of the sixties and seventies, it holds your attention no matter what age. I think this one will become a classic.
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