When composer Jonathan Elias heard Alanis Morissette's ballad "Uninvited" on the
radio, he said it was something of a small miracle.
Elias had been looking for a female pop singer for The Prayer Cycle, his album of
rock and world-music artists singing prayers over choral and symphonic backing.
He wanted someone who could measure up to the artists he'd already recruited --
musicians such as mellow singer/songwriter James Taylor, former Jane's Addiction
frontman Perry Farrell, Malian singer Salif Keita, Pakistani qawwali artist Nusrat Fateh Ali
Khan and Israeli vocalist Ofra Haza.
But until Elias heard "Uninvited" (RealAudio excerpt) on
his car radio last fall, he wasn't sure such a person existed.
"I just thought, 'Alanis is probably the only pop singer who could hold her own with [Keita
and Fateh Ali Khan],' " Elias recalled. "I sent her a CD of where I was at with the project
and she called back immediately and loved it."
The multiplatinum-selling Morissette is heard on four tracks of the multilingual Prayer
Cycle, due Tuesday. The Canadian songstress sings in both French and Hungarian
on the songs "Mercy," "Hope," "Faith" and "Innocence."
Morissette, whose latest album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, has gone
platinum, wrote her own lyrics for the songs "Mercy" and "Innocence." All the other lyrics
on the album were written by Elias.
For the song "Innocence," Morissette's parts were added to previously recorded vocals
by Ofra Haza and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. "Alanis is really gifted and has a really good
sense of improvisational melody," Elias said.
Her tracks are segments of what Elias calls the "nine movements" of The Prayer
Cycle. Each has a single-word title representing an aspect of spirituality. "They are
sort of the cornerstones in almost all religions," Elias said.
Elias, who has written award-winning music for the films "Chaplin" and "9 1/2 Weeks,"
began the project more than three years ago, recording the orchestral parts before
adding a choir and the individual singers. "It's a heavy project," he acknowledged. "It's
certainly not going to be everyone's taste. It's really just whether it's your cup of tea."
Well before Morissette came to the project, Farrell was the first of the Western singers to
sign on. The multifaceted rocker, who fronted Jane's Addiction and currently leads Porno
for Pyros, contributes a personal chant to the track "Strength," joining Tibetan singer
Yungchen Lhamo (who has performed at the Tibetan Freedom concerts).
Taylor sings the album's lone English vocal on the track "Grace." "We felt it would be
good to have one [artist] who had credibility as a real American legend, and certainly
[Taylor] fit that," Elias said.
Also featured on the album is pop artist Linda Ronstadt, who sings in Spanish on the
Rock buyer Howard Krumholtz of the Sunset Strip Tower Records in Los Angeles is
optimistic about sales of The Prayer Cycle. He said he placed an order for 100
copies of the album -- a large quantity for a classical record -- in anticipation of demand
from the hard-core fans of each artist on the disc. "I brought it in fairly [strongly] more for
the names involved than the actual content of the record itself," Krumholtz said.
One Morissette fan, Ami Mehringer, 21, said she was eager to hear The Prayer
Cycle. "Alanis is a very spiritual person and performer, and it will be really cool to
hear her singing prayers she wrote in different languages," Mehringer wrote in an e-mail.
"Who knows? Maybe she'll decide to do something similar on her next album."
Music from The Prayer Cycle will be included throughout the ABC Television
special "The Century," hosted by Peter Jennings and airing March 29 and April 1, 3, 5, 8
Tom Yellin, executive producer of "The Century," a history of the 20th century told in 12
specific stories, said the music on The Prayer Cycle appealed to him because "it
doesn't sound like your average television music."
"It's got a kind of fresh and dramatic quality that doesn't sound like the normal music
that's composed for TV news projects," Yellin said.
The Prayer Cycle is used at the opening of each of the six segments of the series,
accompanying short stories designed to entice people to watch the program.