If you were going to make a list of classic rockers whose music is best suited for the orchestral treatment so popular among rock musicians nowadays, Peter Gabriel would probably sit atop the pile.

So it should be no surprise that his just released album, 'New Blood,' which features new arrangements of 14 of Gabriel's biggest solo hits, recorded live with a 46-piece orchestra, is a highly thought-out, precisely executed and generally very impressive exercise in musical experimentation.

We're not naming names, but there's been a few of these "rock band meets orchestra" albums over the last few years, and quite frequently, you get a highly traditional rock performance with some strings added on. That's not the case here, with a piano being the only connection to the rock world, and highly creative re-imaginings of songs like 'Intruder' and 'San Jacinto' (in particular) performed entirely by the orchestra.

Those tracks aside, most of the songs don't offer dramatically different re-inventions of Gabriel's work, it's more of an expansion. Opening track 'Rhythm of the Heat' was already a dramatically paced, widescreen marvel of brooding atmosphere when it appeared on 'Security' (or 'Peter Gabriel,' depending on your loyalties) in 1982, but now it's been given a big classical booster rocket of whirling, thumping musical accompaniment.

The only limiting factor in our rating for this album, and it's slight, is the idea that 'New Blood' is most likely going to remain somewhat of a curiosity, or side-trip, within Gabriel's catalog. It's hard to see into the future and imagine these versions taking over from the studio originals in people's hearts. More likely it's something that will be pulled out from time to time by more loyal or experimental fans looking to hear their hero perform in a different setting. Still, within the framework of this specific genre, it's about as good as you could have hoped for.


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