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Duncan Sheik

WHITE LIMOUSINE  •  Duncan Sheik

What does a singer/songwriter do after he/she has had a hit single, written a couple of musicals, and had music in enough movies to fill a suburban multiplex? If he is Duncan Sheik, he gives you--his audience--a shot at producing him.

"Barely Breathing" was one of those rare top-forty hits that you didn’t have to feel guilty about liking, but it was a decade ago and since then, for all his activity, Sheik has remained somewhat below the media radar. That should all change with White Limousine. Regardless of its chart success or lack of same, it will go down in history for introducing a unique format.

The CD package offers two discs, labeled "Mine" and "Yours." "Mine" contains the music as envisioned and produced by Sheik, and mixed by Kevin Killen. "Yours" is a DVD offering each tune broken down into its essential tracks: i.e. bass, drums, guitar, vocals, strings, etc. These are contained in a software program called Ableton Live, which allows you to do as you will with them. If this sounds daunting to the non-musician/non-engineer, rest assured that the program is incredibly simple to operate. Your options range from slight adjustments in the volume of any of the parts to complete remixes.

Sheik is not the first to offer this basic idea, but may be the first to offer the option for an entire record--and it is an idea whose time has come. We live in an age of interactivity; video games compete heavily with CDs and movies for the entertainment dollar; programs like Final Cut Pro allow Average Joes to recut Hollywood movies to their liking and upload them to the web; and remixes of pop tunes have become quotidian.

Still it took great courage for Sheik and Rounder to pioneer this presentation. The artist needed to be willing to let go of his concept of how the tunes should sound, and be open to hearing them in radically different forms. The label had to be willing to cough up the expense of a double disc, and deal with the complicated copyright issues involved. In the end, it should pay off for both. The net worth of the publicity generated by this groundbreaking release should easily offset any additional production cost, and Sheik will be exposed to a whole new audience. The real danger is that the story of the format will overshadow the music--sort of like what has happened here so far.

Truth is, the whole idea wouldn’t work as well as it does if the tunes weren’t so strong. Sheik’s songs of love, loss, and "Shopping" sound beautiful in their original form and are well-constructed enough to bear up under the most extreme tinkering. The melodies should cut through any added noise, and the lyrics are sure to move you no matter what the setting, yet remain ambiguous enough to sit well in a variety of arrangement and production concepts. The title tune in its original form has all the earmarks of another hit, while the inventive, atmospheric guitars of Gerry "Spooky Ghost" Leonard and the supportive drumming of Doug Yowell provide plenty of fodder for remix ideas.

Being very familiar with the software offered I had a great time remixing the "Star-field On Red Lines" [see note below]. It is a tribute to the quality of the material that in the hours I spent re-vamping it, I never got tired of listening to the tune, or the brilliant performances contained therein.

If you are thinking that you are a traditionalist with no interest in fancy production stuff, keep in mind that you can just as easily strip away the moody electric guitars, the gorgeous string arrangements, and keyboards, leaving simple acoustic guitar and vocal performances of terrific tunes. • Michael Ross

[We figured you’d share our curiosity, so we asked Michael if we could include (on the Listen page) his remix of "Star-field on Red Lines" next to a clip of the official mix of the same song. The CD clip gives you the first minute and a half of the cut. The "reviewer’s remix" features an added introduction: Michael isolated a portion of the strings track from the body of the tune and relocated those 50+ seconds to the front end, forming the basis of his new intro.]

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