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Review Blue Lily Commission - The Undrugged Orchestra (released July 31, 2016)

Multi-instrumentalist Steve Palmer returns with his second Blue Lily Commission release of 2016 (and 14th release overall), The Undrugged Orchestra.

The album follows in the footsteps of two 2015 releases: Undrugged and Drugged. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but my impression was that Undrugged presented a less weird, less psychedelic, more acoustic side to Blue Lily Commission’s music, focusing more on the world music elements, whereas Drugged, while still incorporating those world music elements, was trippier, with more electronics and stranger sounds. The Undrugged Orchestra again returns to the more stripped down, acoustic side that Palmer presented on the original Undrugged album, but this time cradles the songs in splendid orchestral tones and deep symphonic ambiance. What comes out is a far more atmospheric album than the first two in the series. This is great music to just lay back on a rainy day with the headphones on and chill out to.

At times mist haunted and melancholy, at other times almost otherworldly (one of the tracks is actually called Otherworldly), Palmer, as usual, takes the listener on an exotic ride that shifts and changes in tone and feeling as it slips from track to track. It’s not all completely ambient in nature though as many of the pieces do feature some form of drums or percussion providing a solid rhythmic base. There is the remarkable Snow, for example, the longest track on the album at 11 ½ minutes. It’s a rush of propelling drums blended with exotic, mysterious melodies and more of that deep orchestral ambiance. This one is fast paced and exhilarating to listen to, like the soundtrack to skiing down a mountain in the Himalayas, yet thanks to the spacious ambiance, fits in perfectly with the overall more peaceful vibe of the album. Elsewhere on this release, you’ll find a wide range of moods, each one ready to take you on a trip anywhere from the other side of the world to places possibly right around the corner from you. The track Phoenicia, for example, would have fit in perfectly on the soundtrack to one of those old Sinbad movies from the 1950’s. The aforementioned Otherworldly is a spacious and dreamy excursion with a touch of jazz to it, and the closing track, Phon, whisks you off and leaves you standing on a hillside on the Asian steppes, tending your herd of yaks.

The music of Blue Lily Commission often has the power to place you in exotic lands and surround you with remarkable ambiance and wonder. The Undrugged Orchestra adds a stately and reverent element with its lush, symphonic atmosphere, and ends up adding an extra layer to the sound that packs a beautiful, emotional punch. Let it take you away.

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