Rating: * * * *

The soundtrack for sophisticated, cocktail-sipping summer afternoons starts with this amalgam of pop and classical by an ensemble out of Portland led by pianist Thomas Lauderdale and featuring the pristine, unassuming but convincing voice of China Forbes.

The title track, for example, lifts the melody of Lalo Schifrin's Burning Bridges (the memorable theme to Kelly's Heroes), adds new and romantic lyrics then takes off with a swelling central string section on Tchaikovsky's piano concerto no 1 in B flat minor. (Don't worry, you'll know it and will go "Wow!").

It is strange and extraordinary, and features Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the Dandy Warhols on guitar. And it works.

You could live without their straight take on the MOR standard Sing ("sing out loud, sing out strong") but Forbes' original Over the Valley with Lauderdale is a new standard in the manner of a gorgeous ballad. Wedding singers take note.

When 90-year-old Chavela Vargas guests on the heartbreaking Piensa en mi ("think of me... [my life] is worth nothing without you") it's handkerchief time.

With orchestration and choral parts, and Forbes' vocals, this has a kitsch-free romanticism and is an effortless synthesis of pop ballads, Spanish songs, classical music and heartfelt blue-eyed soulfulness.

It also comes with a 2006 concert DVD of songs not on the disc.

Less ice, more pink martini please.

- Graham Reid (elsewhere.co.nz)