Sylvia Tosun, Anthem (Sylvia Tosun, 2002)

Following her initial smash debut, Too Close To The Sun, New York based musician Sylvia Tosun returns with a truly exceptional album. Entitled Anthem: National Anthems of Our World, Volume 1, it’s a very simple concept. Take the national anthems of ten different countries, and remix them in her own unique style.

How better to spotlight someone whose true talent lies in her vocal range and the power of her singing, then to perform national anthems, songs meant to be sung and heard? As the liners notes say, “Anthem: A song or hymn of praise, devotion to a cause, a sacred vocal composition with words usually from the scriptures. A song of celebration.” Add to that, songs of defiance, pride, strength, national determination, and energy. National anthems are part of the very spirit and definition of a country, and in this collection, Tosun shows us exactly what sort of power they can hold.

I was floored by the very first song. Tosun’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner is haunting, as she casts her voice to the wind and gives us the sort of passionate energy that the song deserves. Backed by Allison Cornell (violin), Robin Macantangay (electric guitar) and Julie Flanders (who provides a ghostly spoken word accompaniment in the background), Tosun captures the spirit of the song.

Each of the other anthems is performed in their native language, and I’m not the polyglot I wish I was, but Tosun pulls it off like a native for each other country. In succession, she performs the anthems of Israel, Great Britain (with a God Save The Queen/ My Country Tis’ of Thee medley), France, Russia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Australia, and Japan. Also, she throws in a hypnotically compelling trance remix of the Israel anthem, and an electronica remix of the Great Britain medley.

Tosun’s voice soars and dives like an elegant bird, capturing every note with beauty and precision. I’ve never heard some of the songs collected here, or if I had, I’ve certainly never heard them performed like this. While her voice is the true power and guiding force behind each song, she has an extremely capable group backing her up, adding in everything from piano and clarinet to percussion and electric guitar. As well, she moves the songs into the 21st Century with her trance and electronica remixes, which dizzy the senses and breathe new life into old songs.

I’m sorry that lyrics weren’t included in the liner notes, for it would be interesting to see how the songs compare to the source material. But that’s a minor quibble compared to such an impressive album. I wasn’t dissatisfied with a single song; in fact, I’ve had it on constant replay for some days now as good background writing music. I didn’t think it would be easy to top her first album, and I’m pleased to say that she didn’t even try to improve on it. She did something so completely different and audacious that it’ll stand on its own no matter what. She’s taken her music to a whole new level, and us with it. I highly recommend this album, and I’m really hoping that the “Volume 1″ in the title means we’ll be seeing follow-up projects in the same manner.

Her official bio states that she learned these various anthems while serving an unprecedented two year term as “Miss USO in her teens, prior to a scholarship at Juilliard.” She has also performed with the popular operatic rock group, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and collaborated with Julie Flanders and Emil Adler of the October Project.

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