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Savatage: Still The Orchestra Plays Greatest Hits Volume 1 and 2

Still The Orchestra Plays has just been released across Europe by Ear Music / Edsel and acts as an appetiser for the bands fully re-mastered back catalogue being made available at intervals throughout the rest of the year. A 2Cd package it brings together twenty songs from across the bands career and gives an added bonus of three acoustic cuts recorded by Jon Oliva last year in the shape of "Anymore", "Not What You See" and "Out On The Streets". For those unfamiliar with the bands extensive back catalogue this release will serve as a perfect introduction whereas long term admirers will debate the track selection ad infinitum and mourn the absence of their personal favourites, but of course Savatage were always a band that polarised opinion.

Kicking off with the title track of album number three, "Power of the Night" we then get three selections from Hall of the Mountain King and further on disc one are obvious choices "Gutter Ballet" and "Edge of Thorns". "Handful of Rain" and "Chance" which kick off disc two are amongst my own Savatage highlights but equally I wouldn't mind if I never heard "I Am" ever again but such is the way with compilations of this nature. The acoustic bonus tracks are a welcome addition and should be more than enough to tempt completists.

With the inaugural TSO European Tour having been delayed until 2011 we at least have the sweetener of the Savatage re-issue campaign to keep us occupied; and whilst their albums are undoubtedly best appreciated as a whole concept this still represents a welcome beginning.

Track Listing
CD-1: Greatest Hits Volume #1:
1. Power Of The Night
2. Hall Of The Mountain King
3. 24 Hours Ago
4. Legions
5. Gutter Ballet
6. Summers Rain
7. When The Crowds Are Gone
8. Ghost In The Ruins
9. If I Go Away
10. NYC Don't Mean Nothing
11. Edge Of Thorns
12. All That I Bleed
CD-2: Greatest Hits Volume #2:
1. Handful Of Rain
2. Chance
3. One Child
4. I Am
5. Anymore
6. Hourglass
7. The Wake Of Magellan
8. Morphine Child
Acoustic Bonus Tracks:
9. Anymore
10. Not What You See
11. Out On The Streets

Added: April 1st 2010
Reviewer: Dean Pedley
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 2990
Language: english

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Savatage: Still The Orchestra Plays Greatest Hits Volume 1 and 2
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-04-01 13:27:55
My Score:

Savatage is one of those bands to which no best-of compilation can do justice. Each period, from the band's early era to their encounter with Paul O'Neill during their mid era where they produced their absolute masterpieces (Gutter Ballet - Streets - Edge of Thorns) to their more progressive and symphonic stuff, is vastly different and should be listened to in its entirity. It is virtually impossible to cover the Savatage sound in a double CD.

Therefore, this compilation is primarily recommended only to die-hard fans and completists. I doubt even they would actually prefer to listen to Still the Orchestra Plays, though. Listening to only two or three songs from an album is far from leaving a huge effect, especially if said songs are from concept albums such as Streets, Dead Winter Dead, The Wake of Magellan, or Poets & Madmen (which is represented with just one song -- blasphemy!).

When the band released the compilation From the Gutter to the Stage in 1995, they included some bonus material, of which "This Is Where You Should Be" and the acoustic version of "D.T. Jesus" were absolutely mindblowing. Still the Orchestra Plays also contains three bonus tunes: acoustic versions of "Anymore", "Not What You See", and "Out on the Streets". All of them were recorded in 2009 by Jon Oliva. I remember reading somewhere that Jon also plays the guitar on the songs, but the booklet won't confirm me. The songs sound okay, but nowhere near as powerful as the original versions, especially "Not What You See". I was looking forward to hearing this one in an acoustic setting and Jon's unique singing, but it sounds totally uninspired and it seems like they were recorded because they had to be recorded as bonus material for a compilation.

My point is get this package if you want to have a DVD copy of the band's Live in Japan disc (recorded at a club in Kawasaki on 11/12/1994). This has already been available on VHS tape for years, but having it on DVD is still great. For those of you who haven't heard/watched this show, the lineup consists of Zak Stevens on vocals, Alex Skolnick on lead guitars, Johnny Lee Middleton on bass, Jeff Plate on drums, and Jon Oliva on keys. Given that this album came out shortly after Handful of Rain, the first album without Criss Oliva on lead guitars, it mostly contains songs off of this record to accommodate Skolnick's style of playing. Exceptions are songs like "Edge of Thorns", "Damian", and "Jesus Saves", but I've always felt the lead guitars on "Edge of Thorns" sound quite different even though I love Skolnick as a guitar player. Also, while Zak Stevens is an absolutely perfect singer, he doesn't capture the same intensity on the Jon Oliva pieces. Oliva also does some vocals at the end of the show, sharing vocals with Zak on "Gutter Ballet" and wrapping things up with "Hall of the Mountain King".

This is a digipack -- I've always favoured jewel cases, so I can't say I am thrilled by that. Also, there is nothing special in the booklet: no liner notes, no new pictures, or anything. The booklet contains lyrics and credits, and the cover art looks rather rushed compared to the band's studio releases. At least the SPV reissues that came out a few years ago had great liner notes, explaining the songs and how they were written and recorded. This one pales in comparison to it. The songs are arguably remastered, but Savatage has always been one of the greatest produced bands on the planet, so the original songs sounded perfect already. Maybe the ones on this compilation are slightly "louder" but honestly who cares about the loudness war?

Bottom line is get this if you want to have the DVD. For the music, go to their studio albums.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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