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Rachel Taylor Brown
Beto Vazquez Infinity
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image © Metal Mind Productions 2011
More from Travellers' Artists:
Rivers Gone Dry (2009)
Live Strawberry Fields (2012)
Robin: interview and photos (2011)
click on image for band's FaceBook
Travellers - Band Photo
image © Metal Mind Productions 2011
click on image for Robin's FaceBook
image © Metal Mind Productions 2011
(10 July 2011) Travellers, a progressive rock band from Poland, began in 2010 and was founded by Wojtek Szadkowski (Collage, Satellite, Peter Pan, Strawberry Fields). For Travellers, Szadkowski joined with several of his former colleagues including the magical Robin (Marta Kniewska), who as with Strawberry Fields, is their beautiful female lead singer. A major element of the Travellers sound, she sings primarily in a higher register than her Strawberry Fields recordings.
Travellers debut album is a stunning six-track collection entitled A Journey Into The Sun Within (Metal Mind Productions (Poland) MMP CD 0687 DG, 2011). While the entire album is clearly planted in progressive rock territory, two of the extended tracks run over eleven minutes firmly underscoring the point. Robin (vocals, lyrics) and Wojtek Szadkowski (keyboards, percussion, lyrics) are joined by Grzegorz "sencha atta" Leczkowski (guitars) and Krzysiek Palczewski (bass). Three of the band's members also serve in Strawberry Fields whose DVD is due later this summer. Read our exclusive interview with her.
From the opening passage of "Magic," listeners will hear the significant departure of the core artists from Strawberry Fields project. The keyboard arrangements are more delicate and played with significant precision. Bass lines are pronounced, very much in the style of Chris Squire (Yes), Dan Fry (Magenta) and Jon Camp (Renaissance). Robin's solo crystalline vocal passages are sung in high soprano. Vast electric guitar passages add depth and color to the music and at times are even reminscent of a Cirque du Soleil soundtrack. Tempo and style changes within the track are wonderfully constructed and delivered. Enthusiasts of Magenta and Renaissance will be overwhelmed with the introduction to Travellers provided in the opening track. And female vocalist affectionados will fall in love with Robin's stunning voice.
"Letters To God" is equally progressive but more orchestral, primarily from the keyboard passages. A gentler track overall, the power of Robin's voice is evident in her performance sung atop the rich synthesizer and gentle rhythm section. Listen for the harmony layers that back her vocals in this song. The shortest number on the album is the five minute "Dreaming." Dense electronic guitar provides a foundation and melody for Robin's very whispy vocal part sung more in her Strawberry Fields range. Harmony layers also grace the chorus. Instrumental breaks feature keyboard passages that echo the vocal melody.
Robin provides the driving force behind "I Dream Softly" with a haunting vocal introduction that is quickly dominated by rich progressive arrangements, thick harmonies and musical density. Contrast within the song between the quieter instrumental breaks and tenderly sung verses and the more powerful chorus are delightful and perfectly illustrate the strength of progressive rock music. Instrumental breaks are also a testament to the individual strengths of the players.
Electric guitar, warm keyboard washes and crisp production introduce the album's penultimate track "I See The Light," however it is the opening electronic guitar solo that creates the song's first melody before Robin's crystalline vocals join the mix. Listen for the extremely well produced gentle vocal harmonies that initially support her lead. It is an eight minute progressive rock number with a tremendous hook from very dense vocal harmonies in the chorus. The electric guitar solos (a la Chris Fry from Magenta) in the track are almost as stunning as Robin's voice.
Travellers debut album concludes with the band's epic and standout track "The Sun." The track shows Travellers artists at their individual and combined best. Fronted by Robin in solo voice, the artists contribute rhythmic percussion and soaring electric guitar solos. Warm and powerful choruses bring the band into full splendor and draw the audience further into the sound. Instrumental breaks are perfectly integrated into this epic but --even when extended--never over run their welcome by being dotted between the lovely vocal passages. This must be a tremendous track to see the band perform live.
Travellers' A Journey Into The Sun Within is
the best progressive album we have heard during first half of 2011 and the band would win our best new band award if we had one. Listen to this stunning album today.
image © Metal Mind Productions 2009
More from Strawberry Fields:
Live Strawberry Fields (2012)
Robin: interview and photos (2011)
and from Travellers:
A Journey Into The Sun Within (2011)
click on image for band's MySpace
Strawberry Fields - Band Photo
image © Metal Mind Productions 2009
click on image for Robin's FaceBook
image © Metal Mind Productions 2009
(10 July 2011) Strawberry Fields, a rock band from Poland, began in 2008 and was founded by Wojtek Szadkowski (Collage, Satellite, Peter Pan, Travellers). Their music is a unique blend of the old and the new, of rock guitars and soft keyboards, loops and psychedelic soundscapes. But what the band and we feel is most important here is the magical voice of Robin (Marta Kniewska), their beautiful female lead singer. Read our exclusive interview with her.
The band's debut album is entitled Rivers Gone Dry (Metal Mind Productions (Poland) MMP CD 0652, 2009). With a running time of just under 50 minutes, the album's nine tracks span a broad repertoire of blues, electronic, traditional and progressive rock tracks. In addition to Wojtek Szadkowski (keyboards, drums) and Robin (vocals), the band's lineup includes: Sarhan Kubeisi (guitar); Jarek Michalski (bass). Album guest Krzysiek Palczewski (keyboards) has now joined the band. Michal Kirmuc has also joined recently as a second guitar player. Their first DVD will be released in September 2011.
Production on Strawberry Fields' album is superb with arrangements providing a perfect foundation for the singer's crystalline voice. Robin opens the album in the percussively-styled "Your Story." The power of her voice is evident from the opening moments of the track. Layers of keyboards underscore delicate the lead singer's vocal work in the 1990s mid tempo rock track "Close."
The album's statium rock Yes-allusioned "River's Gone Dry" runs just short of seven minutes. A variety of crisp and scratch percussion with dense keyboard arrangement accompany layers of vocal harmonies that back Robin's powerful and soaring lead vocal. Extended chorus passages allude to additonal artists separating the robust verses that divide the song nicely.
In sharp contrast, "Feel" is--in parts--sung atop gentle acoustic passages joined with soothing keyboard washes. The song has a robust chorus as well. The song further illustrates the diversity of the band's lead singer's extraordinary talent.
Expanding the range of the album is the electronically bluesy yet rhythmic track "Moon." Singing in higher register here, listen for Robin's precise delivery of the lyrics in this stunning track. The dance-oriented pop number "Beautiful" provides further contrast. Electric guitar excursions, crisp percussion and lush keyboards lie within the song's arrangements.
The haunting sounds of the verses in "Open Your Eyes" are created from the multilayered vocals and lush keyboards. A soaring electric guitar adds depth to the arrangement. Further layers in the vocal laden choruses are more robust and rock with the power of electric guitars. This dramatic track must be outstanding to see live--we are told that it will be included on the forthcoming DVD.
"Maybe" is a percussive rock track with metal-edged guitar excursions dominating the arrangements. Here Robin's vocals include whispered and contrasting soaring lyrical portions of the number. Instrumental only passages are well played and illustrate the virtuosity of the band members.
The album concludes with the enigmatic sounds of "Flow." Electronics dominate the arrangements of this Strawberry Fields standout ballad come rock number with bright electric guitar contrasting Robin's crystalline vocal delivery. The multilayered and harmonious chorus is especially catchy. Listen for the stunning guitar solos in the instrumental breaks.
Strawberry Fields' Rivers Gone Dry is a perfect album for the lovers of such bands as Goldfrapp, Portishead or Massive Attack and in spots Yes and Asia.
Robin's voice will attract fans of progressive rock's greatest
female singers, especially Christina Booth (Magenta) and Annie Haslam (Renaissance). Listen for strong pop melodies and a tiny bit of Enya and Pink Floyd too.
click on image to visit Iona website
image © Open Sky 2011
.: More Iona :.
Woven Cord (1999)
Open Sky (2000)
The River Flows (2002)
Songs for Luca (2003)
Iona (DVD) (2003)
Rotherham Rocks (2002)
University of London (2004)
Veil of Gossamer (2004)
Iona Live in London (DVD/CD) (2006)
The Circling Hour (2007)
:: Compilations ::
Songs for Luca (2003)
Songs for Luca 2 (2007)
click on image to visit Iona MySpace
photo: Monica Duffels
image © Open Sky 2011
:: Joanne Hogg ::
Looking Into Light (1999)
New Irish Hymns (2001)
(16 July 2011) Iona's latest release is a stunning two-CD set entitled Another Realm (Open Sky (UK) CD16, 2011). Provided as a gorgeous cardboard triple panel gatefold package with a full color booklet with band photos and full lyrics, the hour and a half collection is the UK band's first studio project since The Circling Hour (2006) and seventh studio album. Although there have been a few lineup changes, Another Realm celebrates the band's 23rd year of growth since their debut self-titled album release. Iona's albums and live performances have been reviewed extensively here and were named a Musical Discoveries featured artists in 1997.
Fronted by Joanne Hogg (vocals, keyboard, piano, beer shakers), Iona's current lineup includes stalwarts Dave Bainbridge (electric and acoustic guitars, bouzouki, piano, keyboards, autoharp, beer shakers); Frank van Essen (drums, percussion, violins, violas, electric violin, vocal, gockenspiel, keyboard); Phil Barker (bass guiltar, electric upright bass; and Martin Nolan (took over after Troy Donockley's 2009 departure during the gap between the band's last release and the new project reviewed here.
Since their last studio project, Iona released a live DVD and live album of the same material. The band members have also been active in their own projects, For example, Joanne Hogg released two solo albums entitled Raphael's Journey (2008, with Frank van Essen) and Personal (2008) following her contributions to the four album New Irish Hymns series with Maire Brennan or Kristin Getty and Margaret Fletcher. Dave Bainbridge produced the second complilation in the Songs for Luca series (reviews 1 | 2) and also co-released The Breaking of the Dawn with Nick Fletcher. Another Realm brings Iona, who are geographically separated by a significant distance, back together with all new material. The band have also launched a comprehensive new website to coincide with the album's release.
Iona's music has always been centered between the three forces of progressive rock, modern Celtic tunes and lyrical Christian themes. The fifteen tracks on Another Realm that include two very long tracks turn up the intensity on Christian themes almost throughout but also continue to demonstrate the artist's individual strengths. The band's music has become more diverse with songs that include sweeping orchestral passages, brooding Enya-esque vocal lines and very robust progressive rock arrangements. However the Iona sound is never lost. Recorded material is equally split between the two CDs in the package.
The album's first track is a short and quiet ballad entitled "As It Was." The lyrics begin to speak of Iona, and it will not be the first time in this collection. The first extended track "The Ancient Walls" blends Celtic sounds with progressive rock arrangements and an accessible melody. Listen for Clannad-style vocal harmonies. While Troy Donockley will be missed, Martin Nolan proves his strength immediately in the rousing uillean pipe instrumental breaks. Joanne sings the album's lushly arranged title track precisely. Sensitively delivered verses are followed by memorable choruses.
"Clouds" is one of the album's standout tracks. Joanne's crystalline vocals glide above building arrangements. Tremendous vocal production capture the power of her voice making it glisten, contributing alongside the instrumental arrangements, significantly to the sound delivered in the song. Listeners will adore the tempo and style variety of the progressive rock arrangements--acoustic and electric guitar, bass, drums and keyboards--that accompany the stunning lyrical part.
The first two movements of the fifteen minute suite "An Atmosphere of Miracles" features brooding Celtic themes, lovely vocalise and allusions to the sounds of Enya. The final portion of the track is a lovely ballad that continues to build on the Celtic theme with tender uillean pipe melodies that interplay with Joanne's vocals. The song's final instrumental break features Dave's outstanding guitar solo. Listen for the whistle part that brings the suite to its conclusion.
The first CD of the set concludes with the standout track "Let Your Glory Fall." It is a powerful progressive rock classic Iona number largely led by Dave Bainbridge's guitar work but with equal installments of Frank van Essen's robust drums and Joanne's powerful and crystalline vocals. With a run length of almost seven and a half minutes, it is a perfect way to wrap up the first half of the project.
Frank van Essen's superb violin solo carries the majority of "Ruach," a primarily instrumental track that opens the second CD in the set. Listen for the warm orchestral washes and Joanne's vocalise contributions that drift in and out of the softly arranged track. Uillean pipes and acoustic guitar provide a stunning instrumental backdrop for the everso gentle ballad featuring Joanne's most tender vocal work "Speak to Me." The quiet backing harmonies provide the perfect amount of additional texture to the arrangement.
The most accessible "And Angels Dance" is the premier of the standouts on Another Realm. Those that listen to Iona will understand best when we say it follows on naturally from the tracks on the band's Journey Into The Morn album. The track perfectly combines rock and Celtic arrangements with Joanne's lead and backing vocal. The whistle and acoustic guitar parts shine through the arrangement and contribute to the Iona sound. The Uillean pipe solo during the instrumental break is backed by Jo's superb vocalise. This track will draw a lot of attention when performed live.
In contrast, "Foreign Soil" is sung initially a capella before Jo is joined by building arrangements of acoustic guitar, viola, piano and light self-harmonies. A whistle part echoes the melody and is joined by violin before Iona's full instrumental splendour emerges within the track. The album's incredible production is evident in the outstanding vocal and drum treatment that open the first verse of "Savior." While Another Realm is oustanding in every respect, "Savior" is likely the best produced track on album. Listen to this incredible track through headphones.
The lush progressive arrangements of "Let The Waters Flow" are led by electric guitar and Uillean pipes and provide an excellent foundation for Joanne's soaring vocal parts--lead and densely layered backing vocals--in yet another album standout. Dave Bainbridge demonstrates his musical chops in the most expressive guitar solo on the album during the instrumental break.
Shofar calls--a first for Iona--open "The Fearless Ones," a powerful yet brooding instrumental / vocalise number that opens the final chapter of Another Realm. It serves in many ways as the introduction to "White Horse," a rousing progressive Celtic standout. Joanne Hogg's powerful and crystalline vocal soars above Iona's stunning arrangements with layers of harmony that provide texture only achieved in the studio. Dave's rapidfire electric guitar solo is outstanding. An integration of numerous thematic passages, the powerful and moving eleven minute track is Another Realm's "Encircling" certain to delight the band's live audiences in forthcoming tours. And as a perfect bookend, the album concludes with "As It Shall Be," with Martin Nolan's Uillean pipes and Joanne Hogg's lovely vocal parts.
Another Realm is available from the band's online store as a two-CD set and exclusively as a digital download. The album is not available at this writing from other outlets, but since distributed by Voiceprint, it likely will be more broadly seen in the coming months. Iona are a band and group of artists that go from strength to strength. This long awaited studio project provides over an hour and a half of superb music. Wait no longer. Listen to Another Realm.
artwork: Roger Dean
image © Frontiers Records 2011
(10 July 2011) Although Yes celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2008, the classic progressive rock band's first studio album since Magnification (2001) was released this month. Yes enthusiasts were however blessed with numerous live albums and compilations during the gap. And some will say that the album most relevant to their newest release Fly From Here (Frontiers Records (Italy), 2011) is the Union Live album released earlier this year. Yes has faced numerous lineup changes, and Fly From Here introduces yet another change in the band's personnel. Lyrics perfectly support the extensive title track.
Fly From Here is comprised of six named tracks primarily a result of the six-part 20+ minute title track and suite "Fly From Here." The remaining tracks stand individually and span the Yes repertoire, even including a vast acoustic guitar laden penultimate track. The personnel in the new album's lineup are: Benoît David (lead vocals, sung in Jon Anderson's style); Chris Squire (bass guitar, backing vocals; lead vocals on "The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be"); Steve Howe (guitars, backing vocals); Alan White (drums); and Geoff Downes (keyboards). The singer does a great job creating the Yes sound with his vocal work. Asia's Geoff Downes creates a different than Rick Wakeman and his various replacements. The sound on the album works well and will appeal to Drama and Union era fans as well as those that prefer the classic lineup.
The opening suite is immediately appealing with both accessibility and progressive rock dynamics. Although long, the tempo and style changes provide the necessary variety as not to run on or bore progressive rock listeners. Equally there are segments that will likely find radio play during the rollout of the album across the planet. We thought the reprise did an especially good job to wrap up the suite.
Squire sings the lead vocal track on "The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be" however the harmonies and the rhythmic instrumentation contribute more to the success of the track. Enthusiasts are likely to find the contrasts between the ballad style that opens "Life On A Film Set" with the more upbeat and rousing sections of the song espeically enjoying. Listen for the harmonies that accompany tempo and style changes within this relatively short track to appreciate the classic sound of Yes. The sound effects that underscore the title are outstanding. Steve Howe's guitar work is featured in "Solitaire."
Guest artists have contributed to Fly From Here as well. They include: Oliver Wakeman (additional keyboards on "We Can Fly", "We Can Fly (reprise)" and "Hour of Need); Trevor Horn (backing vocals, additional keyboards); Luís Jardim (percussion); and Gerard Johnson (piano on "The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be"). "Hour Of Need" is a classic Yes harmony with a lighter but full sounding arrangement.
The standout track "Into The Storm" concludes the album running just short of the seven-minute mark. The masterpiece is perfectly constructed, performed and produced. Listen for the classic Yes combination of sung and instrumental parts and lush harmonies. Howe's electric guitar solo in the last interlude is incredible. Also listen for Squire's classic (same as Jon Camp-style) bass part backing the solo. Contrasts between the verses, instrumentals and the choruses are extreme. Yes could have most likely done a better job with a stronger ending to the song.
Thankfully Yes have continued to evolve as a studio act and this album is just another exit off the roundabout. A band whose lineup changes create drama and intrigue leave further opportunities union on the horizon. Fragile yes fans won't get a long distance runaround with the new album nor will they feel close to the edge. Fly From Here is
a tremendous studio outing by a classic rock band that have proven they still have a lot of music to deliver their audience.
click on artwork for Sara's MySpace
version released April 2, 2011
image © A & R Select 2011
click on image for Sara's ReverbNation
image © A & R Select 2011
click on image for Sara's ReverbNation
Sara's first seven-track album
image © Sara Groban 2009
image © A & R Select 2011
(31 July 2011) Originally from Palm Desert, California, Sara Groban is an independent singer/songwriter. She has played guitar for nine years and has been composing her own music since the age of thirteen. Now aged twenty, her influence came from her brother Ehren Groban. Her new album is entitled Notes From Underground (A&R Select (USA), 2011).
Notes From Underground is comprised of tracks that span the artist's current repertoire of folky acoustic tracks and upbeat pop-oriented rock numbers. "Seasons" is the first track. Sara is accompanied by acoustic guitar. "The song is meant to represent the different parts of a relationship that change over time with negative and positive influences," says Sara.
She continues, "Relationships are hard emotionally and physically and the yearning to move forward without dragging in the past puts an emotional toll on ones sytem." These types of emotions are ever present in this song. Her eloquent introduction with acoustic guitar brings an authentica natural feel to this song. Sara's vocals are tender, yet contain power when needed. The sensations that flow are the feeling of calm and peace. "Seasons" is a very introspective song told through a storyteller's heart through her glorious music.
"Trust" is a more upbeat and fully arranged pop song with more robust rock arrangements. Sara's power is underscored by harmony vocals. Listeners are certain to adore the combination of Sara's tender vocal work and the thicker instrumentals. "Try To Relate" is a fast paced rock song that further illustrates the power of Sara's voice and talents of her own guitar work and of her backing band.
The balance of our six track promo copy is comprised of acoustically oriented tracks that vary between singer songwriter and folk styles. "No Accusations" is sung powerfully atop acoustic guitar and light rock arrangements. "Nothings Gonna Change" is a nice ballad that Sara sings with lone acoustic guitar. "Misery Loves Company" is a tender acoustic track with melancholy vocals that give the song a folky texture.
Listeners should note that the songs from this release include those from her former album The Thread Of Things (Sara Groban (USA) 2009). The track list of her first release is: "Misery Loves Company," "No Accusations," "Nothings Gunna Change," "Used Replacements," "Dark Pastels," "Petrified" and "Downtown." Sara's first seven-track album was self-released in January 2009 and is available digitally. Three additional tracks are available on the new release(s).
About her debut album Sara told us, "The Thread of Things was a compilation of those four tracks that I went to LA to record in 2008. Notes From Underground is basically the same album with the same tracks." She told us that the only difference is the addition of six new tracks that were recorded in 2011.
She continued, "Instead of making the [recordings] two separate EPs, I felt since there were only ten songs altogether, to just combine both of them to make the final EP, Notes From Underground in 2011." Concerned in how listeners would perceive the work she said, "... I feel that one half of the EP is heavily layered and more complex while the other half is significantly simplified in terms of arrangement, which has had me contemplating only releasing just the six new songs so as to make it a more powerful EP with less flaws."
Sara Groban is a multi-generational artist that brings her wonderful folk/pop songs to the masses. No matter what age you are, what gender you are, what personality you have, her music will touch your soul. Her new album Notes From Underground is a compilation of songs that represent snippets of her life whether they be melancholy or joyous, you'll experience both with Sara.
The new recording Notes From Underground is available digitally from amazon.com and at other outlets. Two versions are available there, one released on April 1 and the other April 2, 2011 that offer the same tracks but with slightly different running orders and cover artwork. It is obvious that musical talent runs through
her family as Josh Groban is her cousin.
While this is Sara's second release, be sure to watch for more from this very talented emerging artist.
click on image to visit Rachel's website
image © Penury Pop 2011
click on image to visit Rachel's MySpace
image © Penury Pop 2011
(31 July 2011) Rachel Taylor Brown's new album is entitled World So Sweet. What does it sound like, though, you ask? Well, look up "pithy" and "pith." The thesaurus reads: "succinct, concise, compact, to the point, epigrammatic, crisp, significant, meaningful, expressive, telling." "Pith" means "essence, fundamentals, heart, substance, core, crux, gist, meat, kernel, marrow, weight, depth, force." "Pith-rock" is a weird and awkward moniker for Portland, Oregon-based Rachel Taylor Brown's music, and maybe a little too close to "piss" said with a lisp. But, it fits, especially when you put on her seventh full-length, World So Sweet (Penury Pop (USA) 2011). Read our review and some of the artist's comments on the record below.
"I can never come up with anything pithy when someone asks me that. I hate when people ask me that," grumbles Taylor Brown, when asked to describe her music. "As a joke, I sometimes say pith-rock; sharp 'n' pointy! Or spongy and permeable! Or maybe pith 'n' vinegar rock! No, wait: there's that horrible thing they do to frogs in a lab, that's pithing. Maybe igneous-rock is better."
Talk to those who know her music, though, and other descriptions come up. "Unsettling but addictive." "Good stories." "Unpredictable." "Arresting." "Dark, funny, sweeping, panoramic, pretty, ugly, complex, moving." And, "You can dance to it." But to fully grasp and understand World So Sweet and Rachel Taylor Brown, you have only to listen to the record.
"I realized in retrospect how dark these songs may come off. I wish I could explain better how they make me feel hopeful," explains Taylor Brown. "I always feel better when dark things are out in the open instead of hidden away. Looking at the scary stuff makes me more appreciative of the beauty in the world, makes me feel like my feet are on the ground." She continues, "I think it helps that you can dance around to many of them. I can see someone getting down to one of these songs and never knowing what the hell I'm singing about. I like that the songs can be enjoyed on that level--it makes me feel sneaky. Lyrics are very important to me but I know a lot of people don't listen to them, especially now. It's interesting to see who notices the words and who doesn't."
It's that love of life, humor, curiosity, basic compassion, and a healthy dose of skepticism that fuels Taylor Brown. It's heavily reflected in everything she does, including the thirteen tracks found on World So Sweet.
"I love the people I love, and the beautiful world," she continues. "I'm fortunate. There was a time I didn't want to be around. Now that I do, it's sweet, every day; even when it's horrible. There are birds. The world is sweet, even though it's awful. That prayer I had to say when I was a kid: 'Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you, God, for everything.' I've always loved that prayer, even though I don't believe in the God part anymore. I love anything that reflects even some little awareness that we're living with a whole lot of other creatures and that we're just one bit of the whole thing."
Rachel Taylor Brown might best be described as a dubious but hopeful observer who watches the world and the people of the world destroy and create beauty daily, just one witness who can tell a story through song.
"These songs are about the usual mundane things that seem to preoccupy me; how great and how awful people are and how beautiful and ugly the world is," she says. "There's huge scope in that. I know I have a comfort level with some of the things I write about that others may not have, due in large part to my own history. I'm not thinking of how it may hit anyone else when I'm writing. I'm usually surprised when my husband or some other listener points out that it's maybe hard to hear. I really believe in letting a song be what it wants, though. And I guess some (ok, a lot) of my songs want to be peppy tunes about the worst of human nature. I have to say, though, I find that contradiction very satisfying."
It all starts to make sense when you push play. From the opening of "Intro/Sweetness on Earth," Taylor Brown will stop you in your tracks and make you think about what it is your hearing. Never one to play to convention, she's made an intro that some friends and colleagues urged her against but that she went ahead with anyway.
Resulting from a last minute call, fifty-eight people showed up at a downtown Sherman Clay piano showroom to simultaneously play fifty plus pianos, which engineer/co-producer Jeff Stuart Saltzman (with whom she's recorded her last five albums) recorded. The group turned out to be a great pick-up choir as well. What you hear is tension as fifty pianos sound off, building and building until you feel it's going to end, then continuing on, always tugging at you, as you restlessly and anxiously await to see where it's all leading.
"I was told by some people that I should consider shortening the intro. But I tried chopping it and it didn't work," she says. "The thing I like about it at the length it is is that, if you let it, it can put you in a kind of trance state. I think each unique brain will make something different of what it picks out and hears in all that sound. I hear little bits of melody pop out but I'm guessing someone else will hear something different according to their own personal library in their noggin. I like to imagine it's different for everybody and (potentially) different every time you listen, just because of your own magical brain! I'm also aware some people will just hate it and think I'm being self-indulgent. Which I am, but now I've told you why."
That mindset, that unwavering, uncompromising dedication to her music, making sure it translates as well on tape as it does in her head, is what makes Rachel Taylor Brown and thus World So Sweet such an interesting experience. It's the type of record where, if you only casually spin it, it will leave you missing out on nuances, intricacies and rewards that can only come with closer acquaintanceship.
For all the hurt and pain in the world, like all of us Rachel Taylor Brown goes on. Creating music that is equally pretty and haunting, sometimes simple but sometimes epic, the perfect strange cocktail of darkening doubt, lightening hope and "it's got a good beat, you can dance to it." Music that's meaningful but catchy, a paradox of everything the world has to offer. With World So Sweet she brings to the surface good and evil, creating an album that is as rich as it is sparse, dense as it is airy.--Alex Steininger in Portland, OR and Russ Elliot in Boston, MA
click on image to visit artist's website
image © Milton Pinto 2010
Emer Ni Bhroin | Susan Hurley
Milton Pinto | Ann Hallahan
click on artist images to visit MySpace
(31 July 2011) The debut album from Milton Pinto is entitled Full of Flowers (SMD (Brazil), MILOPSMD - AA1000, 2011). The album's fifteen piano-based tracks run just short of 40 minutes and are often graced by the voices of Irish singers Emer Ni Bhroin, Susan Hurley, Maria Fenton and Anne Hallahan
Full of Flowers was recorded in Coolin Studio in Dublin, Ireland in March 2009. Music, arrangements, lyrics and musical direction are provided by Milton Pinto. The recording engineer Shane Brady also did the mixing.
The CD is sold in a lovely cardboard sleeve with full color double sided trifold artwork with complete lyrics and album credits. Pinto's artwork concept was realized by Fabricio Cavalcante. We especially appreciated the quarter inch clear border and stunning silkscreening of the CD itself.
The album opens with the piano instrumental "Forsaken Light" that introduces listeners to Peter Roycroft's stunning piano playing and composition. Susan Hurley sings "Best of Me" accompanied by piano and harp. Her tender vocals allude to Cara Dillon. Layers of Emer Ni Bhrion's vocals accompany rich keyboard washes and a light piano melody in the Enya-styled track "Spioraid Naoimh." All piano and keyboard work is credited to Peter Roycroft.
Pinto's use of layered vocals continues in "Full of Flowers (With My Heart)" sung by Maria Fenton. In this song, she is is accompanied exclusively by Peter's piano. In contrast to the sopranos, Anne Hallahan's deeper and more powerful voice is joined by Pinto's piano in the hymn "Pace In Me." "Escape Into Egypt," sung tenderly by Maria Fenton atop Milton Pinto's piano, with light harmony layers, although brief, is one of the album's standouts.
Emer Ni Bhiroin sings a medatative track entitled "The Unity" which might also be interpreted as "And You And I" (not to be confused with the famous track by Yes). In this longest song of the album running just short of six minutes, the tempo changes and vocalise in this passages of this extended track are perfectly joined between singer and piano player.
"This Green This Harp" and "Full Of Flowers" are sung in Gaelic by Ann Hallahan, the first track with layered harmonies, atop piano and warm keyboard washes and the second solo alongside lone piano. Anne Hallahan and Emer Ni Bhroin join in the album's second standout to provide vocalise to the Enya-styled "The New Jerusalem." Sung atop a piano melody the track is certain to bring these artists significant notariety. The reprise of the chorus will be especially appreciated by listeners.
Maria Fenton returns to sing "Milagro" atop a lovely piano melody joined with sparse yet warm keyboard washes. Listen for the vocal production effects that add strength to her tender voice without adding harmony layers. Anne Hallahan and Emer Ni Bhroin join forces again in "The Ultimate Song," a hymn-like standout delivered atop piano. Keyboard washes add to the track's texture. Their contrasting voices join well in harmonies while their excellent individual vocal solos are also given excellent treatment in the mix.
Susan Hurley's very delicate soprano voice is perfect for "When Segulls Find Heaven." Vocalise and lyrical parts work well with Milton Pinto's tender piano accompaniment on the almost four minute track.
A Celtic instrumental rendition of "This Green This Harp" provides a balance to the album. Mossie Landman contributes Uilllean Pipe and Tin Whistle to the arrangement joining the piano. The album concludes with the short and rousing track sung by Maria Fenton, "Word Of Life." Layers of vocals add power to Maria's delivery.
Milton Pinto has produced an excellent debut album of fifteen Celtic-themed originals with four superb female singers. The album is available digitally from amazon.com.
Visit the artist's official, MySpace and other websites to see additional photos of the vocalists and contributing artists, listen to samples and for further information.
image © tinyOGRE 2011
(02 August 2011) Far From Things That We Know (tinyOGRE (USA), 2011) is a new three-song EP from emerging Nashville-based musician Madi Diaz. The digital EP previews her forthcoming full-length album, which will be released in early 2012. Already receiving critical buzz for her 10 Gun Salute EP (2009) and her independently released full-length Skin and Bone (2009), the artist is said to be "sparkling, smacked of indie-pop sensation Feist."
The EP was recorded in Los Angeles and Charlottesville, VA with world-renowned producer John Alagia (John Mayer, The Dave Matthews Band). The EP and forthcoming full-length feature Diaz alongside her long-time collaborator, Kyle Ryan. Of making the recording process, Diaz comments, "Working with John was great. He helped us really focus on material Kyle and I had been working with for such a long time. He was like a ship captain looking over our shoulders making sure we kept our course steady and headed in the right direction."
The 25-year-old Nashville-based musician is herself a bit of a contrast, growing up in Lancaster, PA, surrounded by Amish farms, where she was home schooled by her Peruvian mother, Nancy, a proponent of early childhood development and the visual arts, and her Danish father, Eric, a woodworker and musician. Madi began piano lessons at age five at the behest of her father, himself a keyboard player in the Frank Zappa tribute band, Project Object. The family's home stereo fed her a steady diet of Metallica, Sheryl Crow, The Beatles and Whitney Houston.
In her early teens, Diaz switched from piano to guitar and when she sought advanced instruction, she landed at School of Rock in Philadelphia. Her family eventually moved to the city and both Eric and Madi’s brother, Max, went on to become part of the faculty.
A highlight on both the EP and full-length is stand-out track, "Let’s Go," with "catchy hooks that rival the pop-laden records that pervade today's charts," writes Seventeen Magazine. The EP is backed with the gorgeously arranged guitar-laden rock track "Johnny" and the wistful "Heavy Heart" that further illustrate the singer's range of talent.
Already gaining notice through television placement, Diaz's songs have been featured on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars and Lifetime's Drop Dead Diva and Army Wives. Additionally, Diaz has toured alongside The Civil Wars and Landon Pigg as well as part of the Ten Out of Tenn collective. Diaz recently collaborated with acclaimed musician Joseph Arthur, providing backing vocals on four tracks from his new album, The Graduation Ceremony. Watch for her full length album in early 2012.
image © Jo Williamson 2011
More Jo Williamson:
Wake On The Hudson (2008)
click on photo to visit Jo's MySpace
image © Jo Williamson 2011
(02 August 2011) Jo Williamson is a Brooklyn-based folkish experimental singer and songwriter. "Jo has an intriguing lived-in quality to her voice and a talent for smart elegant turns of phrase" (TimeOut New York). In early 2011, she released her first full length record, Be the Man (Jo Williamson (USA), 2011), produced by celebrated singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright.
The nine track album features some of New York's finest indie musicians supporting Jo, including for example: Bryan Devendorf of the National, Doveman's Thomas Bartlett (piano, keyboard, organ), Brad Albetta (bass moog, vocals), Doug Wieselman (saxophone, clarinet), Rob Moose (guitar), Jim Campilongo (electric guitar) and Martha Wainwright provides vocals. Jo Williamson sings lead and backing vocals and plays guitar on the album.
Our visitors will likely recall our review of Jo's earlier EP Wake The Hudson (2008) produced by Brent Arnold. It left us longing for more from the artist. Jo plays regularly in and around New York. She has worked with contemporary composers, video artists, and theater and film directors, as singer, writer and performer. Her live music performances have been described as "mesmerizing, haunting, and moving."
Be The Man clearly features Jo's vocal work. The nine tracks on the album, which runs just over twenty four minutes, are primarily sung with very light arrangements. The vocal work is way up there, far above the light acoustic and electric guitar and keyboard washes in the opening title track. Gentle vocal harmonies add texture to Jo's introduction to new listeners here.
Piano and light woodwinds join the arrangement in the crisply sung "Song For You," a track that begins to illustrate Jo's well-developed power and range and heartfelt lyrical delivery. "Hedda" is delivered over extremely light percussion and sung in a story telling style. One of the more experimental tracks is "Pity," which explores the singer's vocal range. The acoustic guitar and light keyboard provide an effective backdrop to the song. An image of the artist performing live will be evoked in the calmest listener.
"Brat" is a more upbeat and accessible number accompanied by percussive piano and drum kit. Layers of vocals and additional keyboard work add texture. Listen to the track with headphones for the full effect. The memorable lyrics and melody of Jo's lead is joined by layers of backing harmonies in the track "Riddled," certainly a crowd-pleaser at Jo's live performances.
The folky "Sky Fed Pond," sung alongside acoustic guitar with slight keyboard washes further illustrates the singer's evocative talent. The backing harmony adds a little more texture to the track. "Hungry Love" continues the folky trend, although additional saxophone provides depth behind Jo's soaring and crystalline voice in the song. The album concludes with the almost a capella "So Long." This tenderly sung and slow paced track is joined by acoustic guitar and light piano before coming to its most emotionally delivered conclusion.
Jo Williamson's first full length album is a tribute to the talent and work of this singer songwriter. The arrangements perfectly support the singer's work and variety of the tracks. Vocal and instrumental production details have delivered an oustanding recording.
We only wish that the album would have been a bit longer, but aside from this one small crticism, Jo Williamson has delivered a winner.
image © Beto Vazquez Infinity 2010
.: More Beto Vazquez Infinity :.
(26 February 2011) The fourth full length album from Beto Vazquez Infinity is entitled Existence. A double album comprised of 20 primary tracks and one bonus track, it is lushly packaged as a double digipak with two CDs and is accompanied by a 28-page full color booklet. Our review was prepared from 20 mp3s provided to us electronically.
Beto Vazquez Infinity (BVI) has had a number of lineup revisions over the four albums released thus far. Today BVI is comprised of Sweden-based Jessica Lehto (lead and backing vocals) and Argentinian musicians: Victor Rivarola (lead and backing vocals), Karina Varela (lead and backing vocals), Carlos Ferrari (lead and rhythm guitars),
Lucas Pereyra (lead, rhythm guitars and programming),
Beto Vazquez (bass, acoustic, rhythm guitars, programming),
Norberto Roman (drums).
Like all BVI albums, contributions from a wide selection of guest artists from around the globe have been included on Existence. As popularized throughout the industry, BVI captures their work remotely. The complete list of artists can be found here or at BVI's Wikipedia entry. See their photos here.
Sadly, while some of the music of Existence can be enjoyed with repeated listenings, the album suffers from two primary faults. First, the album is far too long and consequently it rambles on without having a defined beginning, middle and end. Many of the tracks are samey. Second, the female vocal work has fallen well below BVI standards. It is just way off the mark. Even Jessica Lehto's and Mikki Straatsma's vocal work--which have been superb previously both in their solo and BVI projects--are off the mark. The other female singers vocalists are out of key, at times extremely shrill rather than operatic and are even out of time with the instrumental arrangements.
This album seems to lack the attention to production detail in the orchestration that BVI's former projects had. Maybe it is the remoteness of the guest artists, maybe it's the writing, but certainly it is the production.
The album is not melodic. It is full of guitar and instrumental riffs. Has BVI fallen into a slump?
image © Oriel Smith 2011
(09 July 2011) Orriel Smith is probably best known for the albums of "cluckoratora" released previously. In this quite unusual and interesting style, she clucks famous arias from the likes of Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini. However, her heart has always been close to the folk songs she sang on her debut album, A Voice In The Wind released by Columbia. nearly 50 years ago.
Smithexpressed a hope that one day she would return to those types of songs and this similarly-titled release A Voice Forever In The Wind (Oriel Smith (USA), CD-R 2011) is the long-awaited result. As she says in her liner notes, she has "always kept a special fondness for the poignant melodies and diverse characters in folk music."
Accompanying herself on guitar and with sparse orchestral arrangements performed by Don French, Smith delivers an impassioned collection of traditional folk songs from Ireland, Britain, America, Mexico, Russia, and New Zealand. The backing ranges from a softly intertwined guitar and orchestra on opener, "She Moved Through The Fair" to her gently plucked acoustic guitar on "Lady Mary" and "Songs My Mother Taught Me," to the a capella marvel, "Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies" that finds her in as fresh and fine a voice as her early recordings.
Throughout the album, her crystalline voice tickles the heavens, occasionally operatic, but never less than emotionally enthralling. Think back to that voice wafting from the radio towards the end of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and you'll get an idea of the immaculate purity and emotion in Smith's vocal pyrotechnics.
"Danny Boy’ is as heart wrenching as any version and her other tales of death, forbidden love, and lost virginity snuggle warmly up alongside songs of faith and devotion, including the a capella "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" / "Amazing Grace" medley that’ll bring tears to the eyes of angels. Record companies don't release albums like this any more, which may explain why Smith has elected to release it herself. Check out the artist's new appreciation society site on MySpace. Musical Discoveries' review copy is a CD-R. The album is exclusively available from CDBaby. It is one of the summer's earliest treats.--Jeff Penczak in Tulsa, OK (Terrascope Online)
Image © Kalinkaland 2008
click on image for Chandeen FaceBook
Julia Beyer (lead vocals)
image © Kalinkaland 2008
Spacerider-Love at First Sight (1998)
Bikes and Pyramids (2002)
My World Depends On You (2002)
Pandora's Box (2004)
click on image for Chandeen MySpace
Mike Brown | Julia Beyer | Harald Löwy
image © Kalinkaland 2008
(updated 12 November 2011; original review prepared 27 March 2009) After a moderate hiatus, Chandeen has returned with a new female vocalist. Formed in 1990 by Harald Löwy and Oliver Henkel, the band has always featured the work of stunning female vocalists beginning with Aline Akbari (1991–93) and Catrin Mallon (1993–94), but the longest serving Antje Schulz (1992–2004) and Stephanie Härich (1995–2002). Indeed, Chandeen was regularly featured on Hyperium's 1990s Heavenly Voices various artist compilations. Chandeen's last album before the break was a retrospective style album entitled Pandora's Box.
Henkel and Mallon left in 1994 and released an album entitled Ambiguous under the moniker Edera. Antje Schulz left the band to work initially with In Strict Confidence and is now singing with Spin Spin Sugar. She also sang as a guest on Art of Infinity's stunning new age track "Cosmic Rain" found on their Dimension Universe album. After departing Chandeen, Stephanie Härich joined the band Rosie's Pool who have recorded only demos to date.
We have corresponded with Harald since the band's earliest releases, however, Musical Discoveries first began reviewing Chandeen's music in 1998 coincident with the release of their album Spacerider-Love at First Light. Read the broad selection of Chandeen album reviews and band interviews in links provided in this review's left margin.
Chandeen's new vocalist, Julia Beyer, has a rich history with other bands. Teenage Poetry (Kalinkaland (Germany) KAL33, 2008) is comprised of eleven (numbered) darkwave-styled tracks with some pop influences with a running time of about 53 minutes. It opens with the rather brief title track and ends with an epic atmospheric number entitled "Dreaming A Thousand Dreams" that are most reminscent of the band's earliest music dating back to their Shaded by the Leaves (1994) and Jutland (1995) period. The band refers to its own style as electronic poetry, however, from the middle of the 1990s, the band's style changed to a more pop-oriented sound with influences from rock and trip hop. The new album's title refers to Chandeen's return and a resurgance of their earlier style.
Julia Beyer comes to the fore in "Welcome the Still," demonstrating her power range and sensual style. Listen for the blend of swirling keyboards, light acoustic guitar and rich arrangements that characterize Chandeen's sound backing the new singer. "New Colouring Horizon" is a dynamically arranged number opening as a ballad before Chandeen's full splendour is revealed in the song's rich middle section. While "At The End of All Days" is a dark primarily instrumental number, Juilia's rich vocal harmonies emerge again in the warmly arranged electronic track "From The Inside."
The album's pop-oriented electronic standout is "Looking Forward, Looking Back." With a long fading ending, this stunning Delerium-esque verse-chorus number has a recurring melody and is especially memorable.
Brooding guitar excursions, atmospherics and spoken words in the primarily instrumental "A Last Goodbye" make the track tug at heartstrings. The rhythmic industrial arrangements in "Clean The Traces" have a bluesy texture that provides the backdrop for Julia's soaring lead and warm backing vocal harmonies. Keyboard washes relight images of the very earliest Chandeen, while a stunning bass solo introduces the trance-style second half of the song.
"The Coming Dawn" is also styled with spoken words and features a wonderful flute part in the beginning and acoustic guitar part in the midsecton. Listen also for the sensual lead vocal and stunning vocalise before the powerful instrumental conclusion. It is bookended by "The Sentiments of an Old Love Story" again featuring spoken word backed with warm keyboard washes. The epic and brooding track "Dreaming a Thousand Dreams" is richly arranged with warm keyboard washes and spoken words providing the backdrop for Julia's soaring lead vocal. Note that it also contains the album's hidden twelfth track for those that withstand the wait to the 5:45 mark. Entitled "Tomorrow" atmospherics and a warm piano melody back the stunning lead vocal work of Lovespirals' Anji Bee. Backing vocal layers add terrific texture to the arrangement.
Chandeen's return with Teenage Poetry is certain to rekindle interest in the band.
This new album's blend of atmospheric textures, dramatic numbers with spoken word and more accessible tracks is utterly delightful.