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While this website has become known for its in-depth album and concert reviews, the digest contains concise comments on new music our audience has either recommended or might enjoy. Click on album covers or label names for links to further information. Click on the title to view the article.

Content
Edenbridge
Tiger Dragon
Claire Voyant
Cecilia
White Willow
Juliana
ZOEgirl
Glass Hammer
E. S. Posthumus
Renaissance Illusion
Faith And The Muse
Rajaton

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Digest Index
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Instrumental Digest
 
Arcana CD Cover
Image © 2001 Massacre Records


Sabine Edelsbacher
Image © 2001 Massacre Records

More Edenbridge
Reviews and Interview
Sunrise In Eden
Arcana
Aphelion

More Sabine Edelsbacher
Beto Vaszuez Infinity Feature
 

(30 December 2001) The runaway success of Sunrise In Eden (review) has brought Austrian band Edenbridge a lot of attention; they have just released a stunning followup entitled Arcana (Massacre Records (Germany) CD0306, 2001). The album, recorded by the same lineup as their debut featuring Sabine Edelsbacher (vocals) and Lanvall (guitar), has eleven tracks. One member of the former lineup--Georg Edelmann--left the band due to other interests and was replaced by Andreas Eibler. The band's informative website (click on image left to link to it) has had a complete makeover and is worth a visit. Be sure to check out our Edenbridge feature.

One will immediately notice the increased depth of instrumental arrangements and progressive style tempo / volume variations in Arcana. The album is a blend of shorter tracks and longer, epic-length, numbers. With their strong classically trained lead singer and significant instrumental prowess, it is no wonder that Edenbridge have been favourably compared to Finland's Nightwish (reviews).

The album's opening track "Ascending" is an extremely rich and classically influenced symphonic introduction that precedes the 'angelic bombastic metal' sound. Hard driving guitar and percussive energy in the album's romping metal-edged rockers comes close to being too much for Sabine's crystalline lead vocal. However, her voice is actually never over-powered by the instrumentals and she carries off the lead without multi-tracking, a significant achievement for a singer with a metal-edged band. Sabine's solos in "The Palace" and during the intro of "Fly On A Rainbow Dream" are simply tremendous.

The album's anthems are lushly arranged with guitar and keyboard excursions providing a firm foundation for the lovely vocal melodies and powerful solos that illustrate the individual players' virtuousity. The title track offers the widest variation in textures with elements of anthem and ballad woven around lush guitar- and keyboard-based instrumental foundations. Sabine's powerful lead is contrasted here with lovely backing harmony layers.

We especially enjoyed Arcana's ballads. While the energy of the instrumentals is still evident, Sabine's voice comes to the fore, standing out, soars above the instrumentals and explores her vast range. While the rockers and anthems are well written and exceptionally produced, the ballads "A Moment Of Time," "Velvet Eyes Of Dawn" and the everso gentle "Winter Winds" are certainly among the album's standouts.

Click on the images to visit the artists' website where further biographical information, photographs and additional soundbites reside. Find out further information, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Like their debut, Arcana is worth a trans-Atlantic journey. It is certainly a must listen!

 
Life Stories CD Cover
Image © Tiger Dragon 2001 
 

(30 December 2001) The first album by Tiger Dragon (Hot Town Studios (UK) HTR-106, 2001) entitled Life Stories is a 14-track collection of folky rock tunes by the South Wales trio of Anne-Marie Helder, Darren Beale and Chris Woodman. We met Anne-Marie during a backing vocal engagement with Karnataka (review) and note that she's not only a good vocalist but also a strong multi-instrumentalist specialising on flute but also playing acoustic guitar and percussion. Vocal duties on the album are also performed by Chris and Darren.

We were immediately drawn to Anne-Marie's vocal work. Completely committed to the craft, she's got a wide range and lots of power that will strike the listener from the album's opening track, "Frozen Air," however, her backing vocal parts sung on the male-dominated tracks are equally stunning. In Wondrous Stories Martin Hudson wrote, "The songs are moody and of the sort that can paint a picture of a seascape or a landscape or a life setting and with such basic instrumetality the listening is never stressful and mostly delicate to the ears."

While an occasional electric guitar riff can be heard, the material is clearly dominated by acoustic guitar and Anne-Marie's flute, which works extremely well within the group's material. The trio's harmonies are enjoyable, but we most appreciated Anne-Marie's soaring vocal excursions and flute solos. Electronic instrumentation flute parts blend with vocal harmonies in the jazzy number "Nadir."

We appreciated Anne-Marie's evocative, powerful and wide ranging vocal in the acoustic ballads "Jackal Of The Morning" and the incredibly stunning "Ascension." One of the album's standout tracks is "Dead And Gone." Although the vocal is led by Chris, Anne-Marie's soaring backing vocal and lovely flute excursions are just tremendous, adding significant dimension to the number. "Tigerdragon" is an upbeat light rock number that features lovely acoustic instrumental and vocal layers that bring the album to a tremendous conclusion.

Tiger Dragon's broad selection of song styles, clean acoustic arrangements, lovely flute excursions and sweetly sung female vocals will certainly draw Musical Discoveries' readers to Tiger Dragon's first album. Further details on the band and ordering information is presented on the group's website. A lovely first album, with great musicianship, it is a very nice listen!

 
Time And The Maiden CD Cover
Image © Metropolis Records 
 

(30 December 2001) Claire Voyant's album Time And The Maiden on Philadelphia label Metropolis Records (USA) (MET 196, 2001) is a recent reissue of the band's 1998 recording with three bonus tracks. Fronted by the stunning and wide-ranging vocalist Victoria Lloyd, Claire Voyant is also comprised of Chris Ross (keyboards, programming) and Benjamin Fargen (guitars and guitar loops). Further information on the band, soundbites, artist photographs and additional photographs are available at the band's website.

Claire Voyant combines powerful female vocals, hypnotic keyboards, and melodic guitar to embrace this power and deliver ethereal pop sensibility. From the gentle beginnings of the 1995 self-titled debut, to this dreamy and electronic second album, Claire Voyant has managed to please critics and fans alike.

Musical Discoveries' editors originally happened upon Claire Voyant on the Hyperium Records Heavenly Voices Part IV where their track "Her" from the band's debut self-titled album was featured. The sheer vocal energy of Victoria Lloyd is certain to draw the listener into the groove of Claire Voyant's sound. When her voice soars above the gothic-oriented electronic instrumentation and loops, shivers will be sent up the spine of even the most casual listener.

Although many of Claire Voyant's tunes are darker and more melancholy, symphonic-style keyboard arrangements, drum loops and layers of vocal harmonies work brighter textures into some of the track; "Everafter" and "Eventide" are typical examples of the contrast. The tenderly sung ballad "Bittersweet," with its lush electronic instrumentation, and the rhythmic "Blinking Tears" are two of the album's standouts.

The three remixes all feature expanded instrumental arrangements and substantially heavier processing of the vocal passages. With it's instrumental bottom end substantially enhanced, multi-tracked and processed vocals give "Bittersweet" an entirely different vibe. The album concludes with a gothic arrangement of "Instinct."

The follow-up to Claire Voyant's self-titled album is especially enjoyable with the bonus tracks included in this new edition. Listen to soundbites, read further reviews and order the album from amazon.com here. Victoria Lloyd's incredible vocal work with Claire Voyant is certainly worth a journey; this album is a must listen!

 
Let There Be Peace On Earth CD Cover
Image © Northern Light Music 2001 
 

(30 December 2001) Released just before this year's holiday season is the latest recording by Norway's Cecilia. Entitled Let There Be Peace On Earth (Northern Light Music (USA) 8038370111-2, 2001), the album features twelve seasonally-oriented tracks, although Cecilia's unique renditions of "Ave Maria," "Pie Jesu" and "Let There Be Peace On Earth" add to the strength of the material over and above its seasonal appeal.

Cecilia's Inner Harmony was reviewed here (review almost two years ago. Her voice has continued to strengthen; power and range are simply incredible and perfectly suited to the material on this new recording. She is accompanied by Stanley Belotinsky (piano, keyboard, synthbass, programming), whose arrangements provide the effect of a full orchestra. Benjamin Dowling accompanies Cecilia on the Scandinavian hymn "Mitt Hjerte Alltid Vanker. A stunning track, reminiscent of Gjallarhorn's album (review) and vocalist Jenny Wilhelms, Cecilia's delivery is superb.

David Lord arranged and accompanied Cecilia on her version of "When You Wish Upon A Star." Her delivery of the timeless showtune is wonderful. Michael Hoppé wrote, arranged a new song "Pie Jesu" that Cecilia sings in Latin. Performed in a lower register than the Webber tune of the same name, we especially enjoyed the vocal arrangement. Cecilia's handling of the holiday season material is outstanding--better than many of today's well known vocalists including, Charlotte Church, Sarah Brightman and others.

Special mention of Cecilia's rendition of the Schubert traditional "Ave Maria" must be made. We were astounded by the artist's keen ability to sustain the notes and carry the melody soaring well above the thick orchestral arrangement. Later in the album she performs the C. Gounod / J. S. Back traditional version over a much lighter, primarily piano arrangement in a different key with even more power.

Cecilia is has been performing secular music on the west coast of the United States during the last year. This latest release from the Norwegian recording artist is certain to be appreciated by her earlier fans and hopefully is just a whistle stop away from her next album. Lovely arrangements and stunning vocals make this album a must listen!

 
White Willow - Sacrament - CD Cover
Image © The Lasers Edge 2000 
 

(24 December 2001) The Norwegian Progressive group White Willow was one of the acts booked to play Nearfest 2001. Signed to Laser's Edge, and built, initially, around the talents of guitarist Jacob Holm-Lupo and keyboardist / singer Jan Tarig Rahman, their first recorded effort was Ignis Fatuus (1995), but recorded over several years with a variety of musicians and singers. This was a combination of folk and elegant progressive rock, and, though rather patchy, it won the band a rave entry in Billboard Guide to Progressive Music.

The band followed this up three years later with Ex Tenebris, a more cohesive, band-orientated affair, which introduced the lovely, folky vocals of Sylvia Erichsen. The album was a combination of dark, brooding, gothic instrumentals and melodic, romantic vocal pieces, and marked Rahman's last work with the band.

Sacrament (Lasers Edge (USA) LE1021, 2000) features Holm-Lupo and Sylvia alongside an all-new band, and takes them into more familiar Progressive territory, albeit with plenty of the brooding and folky elements showcased in the previous two albums. The lyrics, in English, focus on the band's interest in the religious principals of Gnosticism and the Romanticism personified by the (mainly English) Pre-Raphaelite painters from the mid-1800s. Overall, the music is hugely dynamic, though not overly complicated, championing thematic development over complexity, but it does introduce a jazzy element not found on the first two albums. The other major shift in emphasis on this album is towards the spectacular flute of Ketil Vestrum Einarsen. His playing is very much in the virtuoso, John Hackett (Steve Hackett's brother) mould, and it dominates the album to delightful effect.

"Anamnesis" opens with a lovely, folky melody sung by Sylvia over tuned percussion and breathy flute, then, abruptly, the music shifts character with Holm-Lupo's wailing guitar cutting in with an electrifying lead theme, a sinister organ riff builds tension, and then Sylvia is transformed, spitting the lyrics with almost punky aggression as flute, guitar and organ carry the rest of the song forward in an almost medieval hard rock style.

"Paper Moon", a shorter, less dynamic song, is dominated by Brynjar Dambo's organ and synth and Sylvia's atmospheric vocals. Instrumental "The Crucible" is an album highlight--that elicited spontaneous mid-solo applause at Nearfest--commencing with a gentle medieval-style acoustic guitar and flute piece, before a melodica solo gives the track a vaguely Gallic feel. The track then leaps into life with a stirring, jazzy, flute-and-band section, somewhat reminiscent of the Steve Hackett piece "Jacuzzi", before excellent synth and guitar solos bring this wonderful track to a close.

"The Last Rose of Summer" allows Holm-Lupo an effective lead vocal, and his voice combines well with Sylvia's later in the song. This is very gentle, with the folk element is to the fore. The lyrics are almost unbearably sensitive and the track contains some lovely flute. The mood continues at the start of "Gnostalgia," with Sylvia gently dueting with flute, though the band soon cuts in with mellotron adding a sinister note, building to an upbeat instrumental section and a final vocal coda.

"The Reach" opens with a very sinister vocal section, with Sylvia's voice again cutting rather than lulling. This is followed by a jazzy ensemble section before the music takes on a grander tone, with majestic lead guitar prominent, and a final climax with the band playing at full throttle, before reigning things in to sinister final vocal and instrumental sections, leaving the listener both exhilarated and faintly disturbed.

This is a superb album, and it is a pity this excellent band have been unable to tour more to promote it. They are now "doing a Steely Dan" and are holed up in a studio working on their new album. Further details are available at the band's website. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Certainly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, Sacrament is a must listen!--Stephen Lambe

 
Woman Wisdom CD Cover
Image © New World Music Ltd 
 

(30 December 2001) We were quite pleased to see an album with Juliana's name on it after hearing her vocal work with new age recording artist Llewellyn (Moonlore review). Her debut is entitled Woman Wisdom (New World Music (UK) NWCD 516); arranged by Llewellyn, it features eight all-new tracks and a cover of Enya's "Marble Halls." Juliana has performed on albums by Llewellyn, Terry Oldfield's Across the Universe (review) and the best selling album Comet by Medwyn Goodall.

Woman Wisdom is a new age album with layer upon layer of lush vocals that will appeal to those that adore Enya, Máire Brennan and similar artists. It features personal songs about spirit guides, guardian angels, healing crystals, animals, self-belief, and includes favourite myths and legends about the Celts and Mermaids. The opening track "Runs With The Wind," has a Celtic edge to it but is sung in English. We especially enjoyed Juliana's native American flute passage within it.

Lush keyboard-generated orchestral arrangements perfectly compliment Juliana's sweet lead vocal and backing harmonies. The upbeat sax-accompanied "Arianna" is instrumentally reminiscent of Kenny G, but the sweet vocals that soar above the instrumentals are uniquely Juliana. Her vocal treatment of "Marble Halls" is lovely; the lead vocal is mixed way up with lyrics easy to understand while the backing harmonies add a lovely texture to the instrumentals in the choruses.

The crushing and epic length ballad "Sacred Lake" features Juliana's evocatively soaring solo and gentle backing vocals exploring the full extent of her vocal range and a very delicate orchestral arrangement. "Mermaids," another epic-length number; here Juliana's vocals join Llewellyn and dominate the soothing arrangement which has been completed with a lovely guitar part and oceanic sound effects. "Woman Wisdom" and "Lapis Heart" both have a definite Enya feel with light arrangements supporting highly memorable melodies and lush backing vocal layers.

The atmospheric new age-style ballad "Guardian Angel" is sung softly and evocatively with the lovely melody echoed by piano and supported by gentle backing harmonies. Juliana's album concludes with the standout track "Wonders Of Life," a number with lush vocals and instrumentals and a memorable melody certain to appeal to Enya fans. Well produced arrangements perfectly compliment Juliana's sweetly sung vocal layers.

Although the album has a relative short running time, we were impressed with the overall production quality of the project and remain keen to hear further recordings by Juliana. You can find further details on the album, listen to soundbites and order it from amazon.com here. Currently available at an attractive price, this stunning new album by this emerging new age vocalist is a must listen!  

ZOEgirl Life CD Cover
Image © Sparrow Records 2001 
 

(30 December 2001) Every once in a while Musical Discoveries needs to wander outside its (artificial) contemporary, progressive and crossover boundaries into other territories. A review of ZOEgirl's latest album Life (Sparrow Records (USA) SPD 51828, 2001) is just that. The energising, high-octane pop sound of the band provides a refreshing alternative to mainstream teen-oriented groups currently dominating top 40 radio and MTV.

With talent well above the plethora of similar-sounding pop groups like those seen on MTV and Pop-Stars ("Dismissed"), ZOEgirl deliver sounds similar to Britney Spears ("With All Of My Heart" and "Nick Of Time"), Jennifer Lopez ("R U Sure About That?") and Destiny's Child ("Even If"). Using a canvas of irresistible urban grooves, Alisa Girard, Kristin Swinford and Chrissy Conway showcase their spirited vocals to communicate a message of eternal hope. Photographs of the artists are available at their website. The band have had a very busy--and well attended--touring schedule as well.

The members of ZOEgirl use their accompllished songwriting skills to address the issues confronting today's youth in an open and honest fashion. Naturally, this is a pop album and topics such as dating relationships, self image, and personal evangelism are all addressed in a biblical framework. And the production quality perfectly suits the incredible vocal prowess and onstage talents of the three young women.

The album's tracks are each individually memorable whether they be just plain pop, trip-hop, dance or anthem. Various vocal and instrumental effects add to the accessibility and popularity of the material. A heavy rhythm section, characteristic of pop music, is evident throughout. Our editors preferred the album's ballads--"Plain, "Forever 17" and whispy "The Truth"--which are tremendous. The artists' vocal prowess is simply incredible and each of the tracks, despite style, are enjoyable. The pop number "Here And Now" is a certain standout.

Caren Joy said, "They have come a long way since their debut album and when I first heard Life, I could hardly believe this was the same three girls! It is amazing what a year of teamwork, touring and friendship can do."

With Life ZOEgirl have come into their own. They have a bold message and do not show away from the gospel on this new album. You can find further information on the band, see lovely photographs of the artists, hear soundbites and access their touring schedule at their website. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. This album is worth checking out and as a pop album it is a must listen!

 
The Middle Earth Album CD Cover
Image © Sound Resources/BMI 2001
first half—Tolkienesque
second half—progressive
 
 

(30 December 2001) Glass Hammer were one of the first progressive bands this year to release an album inspired by one J. R. R. Tolkien. Indeed, the author's material has been an inspiration for music and film for some years but 2001 has seen the first major budget motion picture Lord Of The Rings--The Fellowship Of The Ring (original soundtrack review). Glass Hammer's most recent release departs from their ELP-styled earlier work (review) in this folky collection of thirteen tracks inspired by Tolkien's characters. Indeed, these themes snuck into their earlier albums and similar sounding tracks appear on Journey Into The Dunadan.

The collection of material is sung in a story-telling style against the background of what sounds like an English pub. The instrumentals are well-played and produced but are not heavily arranged. Lyrics are by Steve Babb and the music is by Fred Schendel. Babb contributes vocal, bass, additional keys and percussion while Schendel does vocals, main keys, guitars, mandolin, percussion and wind instruments. A vast array of guests contribute additional vocals.

When enjoying the album the listener will be surrounded by halflings and other inhabitants of the Shire who come to the pub to have a pleasant and feastfull evening. The first six songs are folk-songs straight from Tolkien's Middle Earth. The others are tales that take place in the same fantasy, except for the closing song, where the story returns to the Inn.

Our readers will especially enjoy the second half of the album where the tracks featuring female lead vocals can be found. Babb and Schendel have found three wonderful singers. Susie Bogdanowicz does an outstanding job on "Mirkwood," is supported by a lovely acoustic guitar and Celtic whistle arrangement. We were reminded of Michelle Young's (review) work with Glass Hammer.

"As I Walk" is delicately sung by Felicia Sorensen supported by bodrhain, mandolin and whistle. "The Last Ship" is performed as a multi-part male and female harmony; Sarah Snyder's and Susie Bogdanowicz' parts add a lovely contrast to the male vocals. A true standout is "Mithrandir" featuring Susie on vocals and a more typically Glass Hammer orchestrally lush arrangement. Equally superb is the progressive ballad "Sweet Goldberry" sung by Walter Moore.

While The Middle Earth Album is a clear departure from Glass Hammer's earlier work, some have described it openly as a 'work of genius.' It is an album that will grow on you with repeated listens. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Certainly worth a journey, this one is a nice listen!

 
Unearthed CD Cover
Image © Wigshop Records 2001
(album cover is really this dark)


More E. S. Posthumus:
Cartographer (2008)

 

(31 December 2001) The debut album from the orchestral and choral ensemble E. S. Posthumus is entitled Unearthed (Wigshop Records (USA) WS 2236, 2001). The album can be ordered online from their label's website. Soundbites are also available there. While there are at times, striking similarities to the instrumental arrangements of Adiemus throughout the album's thirteen tracks, the album is vocally more sparse than the world famous Karl Jenkins website) / Miriam Stockley (website) British ensemble. It is perhaps more closly aligned to Jenkins' Imagined Oceans recording.

The Seattle Choral Company is credited with choir parts while the orchestra credits only that it was recorded by Woody Woodruff with both orchestra and choir being conducted by David Sabee (for Seattle Music). Additional musicians include Davy Spillane (Uilleann pips and low whistle), Efrain Toro (percussion), Pedro Eustache (woodwinds and reeds), Micheal Landau (guitars), Matt Long (drum loops) and Lance Morrison (bass guitar).

The album is hard to classify in one particular genre because classical movements are heavily contemporised with percussion moving the material into a substantially more accessible regime. Several of the selections have an almost pure classical instrumental flavour to them while others are thematic soundtrack-oriented numbers. Various electronic effects take the music beyond soundtrack proportions into the contemporary new age at times.

The most notable vocal numbers range from the blending of electronic and traditional arrangement of "Antissa" to the serious tone and ethnic E.R.A. sound of "Harappa," "Ebla" and "Pompei." The album also differs from Adiemus vocally. The choir arrangements are well performed but are darker, more gothic—most notable in "Menouthis"—and lack the cheerful happiness that Miriam Stockley's vocals bring to Adiemus.

The fast moving instrumental pace of "Tikal" and "Nineveh" is most reminscent of the Adiemus sound; the percussion is very 'Jody Jenkins' in style. Davy Spillane's Uillean pipe and low whistle parts on "Ulaid" makes this a lovely Celtic-oriented (Ronan Hardiman style) piece and one of the album's clear standouts. The whistle parts on "Nara" and the brighter, Celtic-flavoured "Cuzco" are also lovely. We especially enjoyed the acoustic guitar and choir blend in "Estremoz."

The final piece blends traditional with electronic arrangements entitled "Isfahan" and builds to include choir as the album comes to a close. Certain to appeal to fans of Adiemus, Enigma and ERA, E.S. Posthums' Unearthed is a must listen!

 
Through The Fire CD Cover
Image © Kissing Spell Ltd. 2001 
 

(31 December 2001) The history of the progressive rock group Renaissance is presented in detail at Northern Lights and needn't be reviewed again here. Through The Fire, released by Jim McCarty under the monniker "Renaissance Illusion" (Kissing Spell / Spiral (UK) SCD 923, 2001) is a ten track collection of material written and performed in the original Renaissance style, albeit fronted by McCarty's voice rather than Jane Relf's. John Hawken (piano and keyboards), Louis Cennamo (bass) and Jane Relf (vocals) from the band's original lineup all perform on the recording. Click on the album cover to visit Jim McCarty's website.

Jim McCarty (voice, drums, keyboard) is clearly the mastermind of the recording. He writes, "It became clear to me that some of the lyrics and compositions had the distinct quality of the earlier work of Renaissance and Illusion and so I began to contact the former members. The outcome of this for me was a new realisation of the particular and unique musical talent that John, Louis, Jane and I have together and the ideas gathered impetus." He further commented on the album's other musicians, "On guitar I enlisted Dzal Martin, an underrated guitar player, who contributed to the Box of Frogs album in 1984/85, together with John Idan, now bass player and lead singer with the reformed Yardbirds, Jackie Rawe and Mandy Bell contributed on backing vocals, Emily Burridge on cello and my Canadian friend Ron Korb, the excellent player of flutes."

While much of the early Renaissance and Illusion sound is evident in each of the album's tracks, a clear standout is the title track "Through The Fire" where John Hawken's classically-influenced piano riffs perfectly compliment the art rock style arrangement. We loved the way Jane Relf's backing vocals broke through and complimented McCarty's lead. An stunning acoustic guitar solo is featured during the bridge.

The tracks are serious, evocative and moody. "Blowing Away" perhaps typifies the darker side while "Mystery Of Being" is brighter, spritual and more upbeat with Jane's voice and Hawken's piano adding lovely textures to the sound. Jim's lead vocal style, John's piano and Danny Relf's orchestral keyboards effectively capture the 70s sound in "Beat Of The Earth." We adored the harmony vocal arrangement.

The new millennium's resurgence of progressive rock has brought a renewed interest in both the McCarty/Relf- and Dunford/Haslam-eras of Renaissance. While we would have liked to hear Jane Relf sing lead, this new release captures the band's earliest sounds. The newly recorded material is worth a journey. The album can be obtained from the label; click on the link under the album cover to visit them. An essential for Renaissance enthusiasts, it is a very nice listen.

 
Vera Causa CD Cover
Image © Metropolis Records 
 

(31 December 2001) The latest release by Los Angeles-based singer songwriters William Faith and Monica Richards (Faith And The Muse) is entitled Vera Causa (Metropolis Records (USA) MET 225, 2001). Two 14-track CDs comprise the album.

Vera Causa isn't the standard retrospective; the two CDs aren't filled with all the songs you've already heard fifty times, followed by the requisite Rosetta Stone remix. This album is an awesome collection of rarities, covers, live cuts and remixes. This collection does give you an accurate portrait of the band's sound, but you're nuts if you don't go out and get their other releases.

If you haven't listened to Faith and The Muse before, the best I can convey their sound is Myth-Rock Romantique. That may be way off the mark, but I haven't eaten in four hours. From their 1994 debut Elyria, right on through to Evidence of Heaven, they've always melded styles as varied as film-score romanticism, celtic rock, 80s power pop and 90s darkwave. The lyrics are always intelligent, Monica and William are both gifted singers, and their albums always have the coolest art/packaging courtesy of Monica.

The first disc, Night, is a jackpot of compilation tracks, covers and demo cuts. If you're a devotee of the band, it's that much more fun to hear the development of their trademark sound. Their cover of "Romeo's Distress" is a nice tip of the hat to the late great Rozz Williams.

The second disc, Morning, is a selection of live tracks and remixes. Of course the live stuff is great, since the band can all play their instruments. Monica and William have stage voices as good as their studio ones. I'm not partial to remixes, but these versions prove that if you start with something good, you can end with something good.

Vera Causa does what the best "collection" CDs do: If you like the band, you'll love the new depth and perspective these songs provide. If you're new to it, you'll get neck-deep in it pretty quick. Faith and The Muse make addictive music, and I am gleefully hooked. If you get a chance to see them live, just do it.--Scott Sweet

Now signed to Metropolis Records, Faith And The Muse appear to have an even brighter future. This album of live material, compilation appearances, acoustic versions and rarities served as a good introduction to their work. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the Vera Causa double album from amazon.com here. . This album is not only a great introduction to Faith And The Muse but, with so much material included in the two-CD set, is an equally great value. Worth a journey, it is a very nice listen!

 
Boundless CD Cover
Image © Plastinka Records 2001

Nova CD Cover
Image © Music Makers 2000

Rajaton Ensemble
Image © Plastinka Records 2001

 

(31 December 2000) In Finland there are currently only a few vocal groups that do a cappella-style music, although Finnish music culture includes choral music. I have always liked choral and a cappella music, and, after listening The Swingle Singers (two of them—Heather Cairncross and Sarah Eyden—perform on Karl Jenkins' album Imagined Oceans) and a bit later, a wonderful Finnish group Human Organ (two of the Finnish Adiemus Singers—Säde Rissanen and Veera Railio—perform with them), I suddenly found out about Rajaton. Find out more about them at their website.

Nova. Rajaton's debut album (Music Makers (Finland) MMCD 111, 2000) got a very warm welcome by the Finnish record-buyers after its release last year and was number one at Classic FM—Finland's official classical chart—for quite a few weeks. This is not a surprise since all of the tracks are sung in Finnish and the lyrics are based on texts by both Finnish poets and of the ancient poem collection Kanteletar.

In addition to these, there are also some traditional Finnish songs in this album, which have been finely arranged for the ensemble. However, those arrangements are not very standard-like at all, because Rajaton has wonderfully managed to make each song on the album shine.

Like most a cappella groups, also Rajaton uses a lot of vocal solos in their music, and the result is very, very enjoyable. Although this album is 100% Finnish and Finnish has been used in all songs, the music may not "open up" for a foreign listener very quickly. However, I believe that the Finnishness is an advantage for the group, because that character can be referred to as exotic and therefore it may be a positive thing. For example, another Finnish ethno music group Värttinä (where Riikka Timonen-Heinilä/ née Väyrynen, one of the original Finnish Adiemus Singers, was singing few years ago) has also created a successful career abroad. Rajaton is not too far away musically from Värttinä either, both groups use same kind of lyrics in their songs whereas in the piece "Mitä kaikatat, kivonen?", Rajaton shows how "Värttinä-like" or "Adiemus-like" they really can sound. It may actually sound like Adiemus does to English-speaking people!

Boundless. The ensemble's follow-up album (Plastinka (Finland) PLACD 004, 2001) was released in 2001, and it again soared to number one on the charts for some time. Now the track listing seems to be a bit more "international," since only two pieces have been sung in Finnish and the album cover booklet does have all the lyrics written in English so that almost everyone can understand what the group is really singing. The composers and lyricists are strongly Finnish; some tracks have been composed and/or arranged by the group members, but there are also guest composers / lyricists and some folk tunes featured on the album. By the way, the title of the album is a literal translation of the group's name Rajaton, so it is at least very aptly said.

On the very first listen, I was already taken by surprise how versatile Rajaton's second album really is, and so I think that this is even more versatile than the debut album Nova. Some characteristics of Adiemus / Värttinä can be found once again, especially from the wonderful beginning of "Un-Wishing Well" and through the whole piece "Armahan Kulku" (Lover's Path). The reason for those features on the latter track can be found from the name of the album's producer, namely she is Anna-Mari "Adiemus" Kähärä. She has also composed the mentioned track for the group, so it's no wonder.

In addition to already known composers and lyricists (e.g., composers Heikki Sarmanto and Lennon-McCartney and lyricist William Blake) Boundless features also some new Finnish music makers, for example the young ladies Mia Makaroff and Laura Sippola. I think that this is a wonderful thing, because by doing this Rajaton doesn't need to focus only on making arrangements of already familiar pieces nor composing all the piece's by themselves. However, on this album there is one cover song by The Beatles ("Lady Madonna"), but this version is equal to the original.

Rajaton has also now taken some further steps on their way to explore the musical globe. While performing in Cork (Ireland) in 2000 they started to collaborate with Michael McGlynn, the director of the world-famous Anúna (review) choir, so one of the results, a beautiful "Summer Song," can be heard on this album. Another wonderful Irish piece on Boundless is "Dobbin's Flowery Vale," which shows the a cappella music and Rajaton at their very best.

Although vocal ensemble Rajaton has been existing only for few years now (in fact the baritone singer, Mr. Ahti Paunu, has been singing the bass part on Human Organ before joining Rajaton), they have already made themselves known in quite many countries with their wonderful music. Therefore I really hope that they could continue doing so in the future as well, because as Rajaton put it on their website, "Music is boundless"! Although the albums could be difficult to obtain in some countries, Nova and Boundless are highly recommended for anyone who likes to listen a cappella or "crossover" style music!--Suvi Kaikkonen

 
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