June 2001 by Adam Levy
Orchestral Maneuvers/Leni Stern Plays with Symphonic Textures Leni stern's latest album, Kindness of Strangers, features the guitarist/songstress in a setting she hasn't explored on any of her previous albums. Her evocative songs and crystalline, jazz-meets-blues guitar lines are still the main attraction, but, this time out, she has surrounded herself with orchestral textures. Her interest in this new approach began in 1998, when she was commissioned to write and perform a piece for guitar and orchestra. While working on this project, stern became enchanted by the richness and depth of the symphonic sounds, and decided to include the commissioned song, "Vedo Il Tuo Viso ( I See Your Face)," on Kindness.
With the lush, 19-minute piece serving as the album's cornerstone, Stern decided to use orchestral textures throughout the album to shade, color, and highlight her already resplendent songs and guitar playing. To keep her recording budget from going overboard, Stern opted to use sampled orchestral sounds instead of live players. But because she and coproducer/coorchestrator George Whittey took pains to make sure the counterfeit cellos and oboes behave like their acoustic counterparts, the album never sounds less than luscious. Stern's voice and guitar tracks - and her rhythm section's animated bass and drum tracks - all meld perfectly with the orchestrated samples, and the album maintains a live-in-thestudio vibe, even though it was crafted in two different studios over a two-month period. Using a fusion of big-studio and home-studio environments, and high-tech and low-tech tools, Stern and Whitty crafted Stern's most ambitious album to date - and managed to have a little fun in the process.