The Phantom Tollbooth

Touched by an Angel-The Album
Artist: Various
Label: Myrrh/550/Sony Soundtrax (1998)
Length: 16 tracks/71:06 minutes

The great majority of various-artist soundtrack albums tend to be uneven efforts at best, owing to the often eclectic stylistic palettes of the performers involved.  The Touched by an Angel - The Album release is a collection of 16 songs that have either appeared in, or are loosely based upon, the television program of the same name. Not surprisingly, the soundtrack album features a sizable number of soft pop, soul and country numbers, which, for the most part, fare poorly against their more energetic counterparts.  Shaun Colvin's piercing articulation on "I Don't Know Why," for example, is effectively muted by the song's listless texture and indecipherable theme.  And Bob Dylan's inventive lyrical pictures on "Dignity" end up lost in an overly repetitive musical structure that makes the song, which times in at 5:36, seem even longer than it already is.  Overly slick production and the now threadbare idea of love as salvation on numbers like "You Were Loved" by Wynonna ("When someone cares/You've found all you need") and Faith Hill's "When You Cry," ("Lean on me/I'll See You Through It All") cause these songs, innocuous as they may be, to be ultimately forgettable.  Even Keb' Mo's bluesy guitar work and earthy vocals on "Follow Me Up" are dulled by the excessive pop sheen that coats the majority of the album.

Still, despite the dominance of mostly unmemorable material on the soundtrack, a few gems do exist.  The Kinleys' sterling harmony work on "Somebody's Out There Watching" is paired with an engaging chord pattern that gives the country tune a delightfully quirky feel, while prominent acoustic guitar and gospel choir accompaniment give Wynonna's admirable rendition of Avalon's "Testify to Love" an organic quality that distinguishes it from the original song while preserving its superb pop sensibility. Amanda Marshall's "Believe in You" effectively mixes crisp acoustic and languorous electric guitars to Marshall's fervent, breathy voicing for an interesting combination of alternative rock and country music.  And Imani Coppola's poignant "Independence Day" draws a strikingly apt metaphor between emotional bondage in an interpersonal relationship and the Old Testament account of the Hebrew nation's period of captivity. Interestingly enough, the album's most unexpected jewel is Della Reese and the Verity All-Stars' rework of "Walk with You," the show's theme song. The remixed version sports a well-fitted acoustic texture, a heavier percussion track and heartfelt semi-improvised vocals by Reese, that render the original version nearly tepid by comparison.  Of course, given her intimate association with the television show and impressive 50-plus year career in gospel music, it seems only fitting that it is Reese herself who most ably captures the emotional and spiritual essence that has made the television program the rousing success that it is.

Bert Gangl (3/17/99)