Les Baxter

With song titles such as "Hong Kong Cable Car," "Bangkok Cock Fight," and "Shanghai Rickshaw," Les Baxter's The Fruit of Dreams will likely yield the sort of faux-exotica music that was all the rage in the space age Fifties and Sixties before making a hipster-fueled comeback in the Nineties. But don't dismiss it as kitschy tiki-hut music just yet; there's some real compositional mastery in Baxter's songs. The Fruit of Dreams is the combination of two of Baxter's better albums, Ports of Pleasure and The Sacred Idol (both out of print), and features an adventurous brew of disparate sounds, odd instrumentation, and choral arrangements. The music here is more subtle and pastoral than Baxter's later quirky experiments with the theremin, and not as campy as fellow exotic-nauts Esquivel and Yma Sumac. Throughout Dreams, you can hear the influence he had on later popsters such as Brian Wilson and Beck. For true exotica aficionados, Baxter's work represents a high-water mark for the genre.

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John Anderson