Review and Analysis of Miracles by Nicholas E. Limansky
From Yma Sumac - The Art Behind the Legend
used with permission - all rights reserved, © Nicholas E. Limansky
Read more on the Legacy of the Diva Web site!
There are, however, some serious problems that prevent this recording from being completely successful. One of the most serious concerns the musical material itself. Although Les Baxter assured Yma that the songs for the album were newly composed, some of them had already appeared on an album called African Blue (Crescendo GNPS 2047). According to the Schwann Record and Tape Guide African Blue was released two years earlier, in April of 1968. Although that album used orchestra and chorus, the songs were as ineffectual there as they are on Miracles.
Baxter's pieces are uninspired creations and the small group of four rock musicians play limply; with little drive or energy. At its best Miracles was before its time; an unusual example of pyrotechnical "New-Wave" singing of the 1980s. At its worst it is a dated curio. It is not, nor has it ever been, a vanity record.
Miracles remains unique in the history of American popular music recording. The appeal that it does have is due to the curious effects of superimposing Yma's voice over a rock band and the use of multi-tracking. Yma's three-octave improvisations (often 3 or 4 at the same time) and the distinctly odd, muffled sound of her top register are decidedly errie. Liner notes still innacurately boast her range as five-octaves. Miracles remains a perfect example of a true "cult" recording in its popularity.
The interest and curiosity for many listeners will center primarily on the condition of Yma's voice after almost thirty years of arduous singing. It has definitely aged. By 1970, Yma rarely ventured above high E natural, and high C, D and E are more delicate than ever before - they are diaphanous wisps of chiffon that Yma coyly flicks at her listeners. The use of "nah" before vocal flights is now the rule for any high singing and her legato line tends to be craggy and under less control. Generally, however, the level of singing remains quite high and still can impress. Of the many novel Sumacian effects, only the "growl" and her beloved pin-prick high staccati remain, but they are as imposing as ever. Most high register work is now done with her mouth almost closed; securely based on the safe, hum technique. With her mouth partially open, Yma places the tone toward the back of the throat and the soft palate. Consonants are chewed rather than articulated. Although manipulative, this technique was largely responsible for the longevity of Yma's top register.
As mentioned before, Yma used this humming technique as early as the 1943 Odeon recordings though to a much lesser degree. Such a contained placement, however, (as heard on this disk) produces muffled sounds, especially here where the voice is surrounded by echo and reverberating devices.
The main drawback to such manipulative control is that the tone is thinner in quality than if full mouth and chest resonance had been employed. Caught in the back of the throat, these notes only receive the resonance of that area, and their projecting power is extremely limited. At times Yma literally squeezes out notes of extreme height.
As one can tell from the song titles of Miracles, there is little chance that the listener will remember specific tracks or associate titles with melodies. Ironically, only the first track, "Remember" and the remarkable "Magenta Mountain" are easily recalled.
The selections on Miracles are difficult to analyse because they are not a form of program music and do not have any particular atmosphere. Like the 1954 Mambo!, concentration is on the sound of Yma's voice and its acrobatics over the instruments of the band and the unusual juxtaposition of her operatic-like singing with rock and roll.
Due to litigation problems Miracles was quickly discontinued. After difficulties with Yma, the producers of Miracles (Bob Covais, Jim Branciforti and Bob Kreppel) abandoned their plans for a proposed second disk.
Originally twelve songs were taped for the Miracles album. London selected ten for release. The two rejected songs were, however, interesting. Fortunately, they were resurrected for inclusion on the July 1998 Compact Disc Yma Rocks! by one of the original producers, Bob Covais, and the webmaster of the Yma Sumac Homepage, Don Pierson.
Yma Rocks! appearance, in newly refurbished digitalized sound direct from the original masters (but with an entirely different mix), was most welcome. Clearer, cleaner and lovingly prepared, it has remained one of the true labors of love in honor of the singer. The end result is rather interesting. In actuality the original release, Miracles, was a rough draft of Yma Rocks!
Additional notes: recorded in Los Angeles, California September, 1971, released January, 1972 in at least six different countries, withdrawn 1972 due to legal issues between Yma Sumac and Les Baxter. An earlier, premature release was made in 1971 in the U.K. from an unfinished mix was on shelves longer than the others so is somewhat more common.
Select song title to read a review of the individual song and to see a listing of releases which contain it.