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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
Fanni Völgyessy Szomor
Marina Belica
Sentiment
Project Winterhaven
Pitch Black Dream
Rajaton
Rachel/Common Ground
Oliver Wakeman/Rachel
Norah Jones
Vienna Teng
November Project
Grace Griffith

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Previous Digest Entries
Instrumental Digest
 
Tündér Rózsa Book Cover
Image © Bestline 2002

Fanni Image © Más-Kép Management 2002

alternative cover art concept
alternative cover art - title concept
Image © Más-Kép Management 2002

Fanni Image © Más-Kép Management 2002

More Fanni Völgyessy Szomor
February 2003 Interview
An Illustrated Biographical Sketch
You And I Exit Review


 

(26 November 2002) Hungarian singer Fanni Völgyessy Szmor has been a Musical Discoveries featured artist since early 2000 when her album Hajnalban (Dawning) and recordings with the progressive rock group You And I were reviewed here. In April 2001 the group released their third stunning album Exit (review) and, after a series of live dates to promote the release, the artists continue to diversify and pursue various music projects.

Fanni's latest project combines a lovely book of Hungarian poems with a new solo album comprised of eight tracks. She is joined instrumentally by two members of After Crying. Although the lyrics to the music are in both English and Hungarian, the book is presently only available in Hungarian. We are told that an English version is planned when interest in this project builds. All of the artwork is first class; the booklet accompanying the compact disc contains all lyrics and several photographs.

About the title, Fanni's manager Robbert van Ende, says, "Tündér Rózsa is actually a play on words. When the words are written as one, tündérrózsa means waterlily or lotus. When seperated the two words get a different meaning." An earlier version of the project cover was a photo of Fanni amongst waterlilies (see artwork left). Robbert continued, "The classical meaning of tündér is pixie, elf, little person or fairy. Rózsa means rose."

Robbert explained, "The whole word game gets clearer when we know that the region called Erdély--in the west, better known as Transsylvania, now a part of Romania, but until the end of the first world war it was a part of Hungary--is called tündér ország or country of the elves. It is from this part of the country most of the known Hungarian folk songs originate." He continued, "We know Ireland is known as the country of the elves, pixies, and what have you, thus making the connection to the featured Irish folk songs." When compared Irish and Hungarian folk music have a lot in common. "The rose is a symbol of love everywhere in the world. The rose in Hungary has an additional meaning as the person who is loved."

The Book. The jewel case-size 50-page hard bound book is extremely well produced, chock full of artist photographs and other illustrations to support the writings. Says Fanni, "I never started out to write a book. I’m really a singer. I have been singing as long as I can remember. Singing in school, at home, in my head, in bands and as a solo artist, in studios and on stage." She continued emphatically, "So, I’m originally a singer, not because I’m in any trendy ‘hit list’ or because somebody in the media tells me that I am, but because I was born a singer."

About the book Fanni says, "Already a long time ago I started out scribbling down my thoughts, my feelings, my pains and honestly never even thought of publishing them." She said, "For me these small ‘creations’ were just part of my everyday life like they are for everybody else. Just most of us never bother to write what we feel. I never even thought anybody else would get to read any of what you are now about to read."

So how did the project come about? Fanni says, "It was only after people who are close to me kept telling me that I should let other people read these [poems], that I came up with the idea to bundle these small fragments of my, until now very private, inner world in a small book--that happens to comfortably fit any handbag!"

She summarised, "[It is] a book with poems and illustrations that create an atmosphere that speaks of unfulfilled love, of pain, of longing for perfect unity, longing for a state of being that one might or might not be able to reach on this earth, depending on one's views and experiences."

The Music. Originally planned to be a very short selection of only a few tracks, a full album emerged with eight tracks spanning a range of the artist's repertoire. Two are unique covers of traditional tunes including an extended version of "Wedding Day" ("She Moved Through The Fair") complete with lush keyboards and layered vocals and "The Bride." Enthusiasts will recognise a lighter version of "Utazás" than the one on Fanni's first solo album.

Fanni is joined by Károly Binder, Zoltán Lengyel (After Crying) and Péter Pejtsik (After Crying) who contribute various string parts to the lightly arranged and delicate instrumentals. This is, of course, a vocal album and it features Fanni's voice at her finest. Says Fanni, "These are songs that were taken from, or inspired by, Hungarian and Irish folk music--a magical world in it’s own. I just had to record this music of course with help from my friends." The album begins with a spoken word poem read evocatively over light orchestration; Fanni's singing then soars over the instrumentals in "Márvány az ég alja" ("Heaven's Bottom is Made of Marble").

Fanni continues, "Being a musically oriented person I immediately combined the things that I wrote with music, with songs and tunes that are close to my heart and which for me perfectly match the atmosphere that I feel when I write--where words meet music." Wrapping up, Fanni said, "The CD complements--completes--the book with music, my music." And jokingly, "as I wouldn’t like people to start thinking I’m a writer!"

A rich progressive-style tune full of lovely vocalise entitled "Bánat" ("Heartache") precedes the traditional tune "The Garden" sung gloriously in English and accompanied by lush equally strong instrumentals. Listeners will especially enjoy the piano and cello solos. In "Szép szivárvány" ("Beautiful Rainbow") and "Szerelem emléke" ("Memory of Love") Fanni's sensually sung vocals are intertwined with classical piano melodies as well as prominent, moody and well-played After Crying-style cello parts.

Layers of Fanni's a capella vocals provide a striking difference to the sound in the short "Imhol elén menek" ("Wherever I Go") which is recorded without further instrumentation. You And I enthusiasts will likely be entralled with Fanni's rendition of "Wedding Day" mentioned above; keyboard parts add a lovely texture to the tune. We especially enjoyed the piano and cello accompanied version of "Utazás" ("Voyage") which concludes the album.

Fanni Völgyessy Szomor's latest project Tündér Rózsa is a passionate presentation of new music and the artist's personal writings. The plentiful inclusion of stunning photographs in the book and accompanying CD artwork is appropriate and not over-stated. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, this is a very highly recommended package; the CD is a must listen!

 
One Sky CD Cover (Steven Lowy)
Image © Decembergirl Records 2002

Marina Belica
Image © Steven Lowy 2002

More Marina Belica
decembergirl EP / Interview
October Project Three
 

(15 November 2002) Singer / composer Marina Belica, known for her vocal and keyboard work with October Project, has released one sky (Decembergirl Records (USA), DEC022, 2002), an instrumental album featuring ten of her own compositions. Three of the songs on the album also include Marina's vocal textures.

Described by Marina as "modern, intimate chamber music," each track is arranged for acoustic ensembles that feature a unique palette of string, wind and percussion instruments. The music is rooted in romanticism, with an emphasis on emotional and lyrical melodies and occasional hints of ethnic and folk music traditions.

one sky is produced and arranged by Marina in collaboration with producer / performer / composers Randy Crafton and Christopher Cunnignham. Crafton is an acclaimed world music percussionist with over two dozen CDs to his credit as a producer / engineer, including the most recent Richie Havens release. Cunningham is a producer, guitarist and film composer; he produced Marina's first solo CD decembergirl, and has toured and recorded with a variety of well-known artists including Marianne Faithfull and Marshall Crenshaw. String quartet arrangements are provided by Ralph Farris, a Grammy nominee for his work on Five for Fighting's Superman.

Says Belica, "Our approach to arranging was a lot like a game of musical chairs." World music multi-instrumentalist Jorge Alfano appears on fretless bass, indigenous wind instruments and sitar (to name only a few), while noted Irish musician Ivan Goff adds penny whistle to the trio recording "First Star." Seth Farber appears on accordion in "Simple Things," and clarinetist / saxophonist Amy Platt carries the melody on four tracks (especially "Bedouin"). Marina plays keyboards and adds vocal textures throughout, including solo piano on the closing track, "A Way Home."

The many different colors of the music are reflected in the cover art, a panoramic photograph over the Pacific that inspired the album title. The stunning image, which actually wraps around three panels of the digipak, was shot by artist / photographer Steven Lowy who also did the photography for decembergirl.

The melody on the opening and title tracks, "I Was There" and "One Sky," performed by alto flute, oboe and clarinet, belies the folk song tradition of Marina's Sovak heritage, with its strong sense of melancholy and yearning. "Simple Things," was co-written by Emil Adler of October Project and features the unusual combination of accordion, guitar and marimba.

"Waterwheel," is the first of three tracks on which string quartet appears. Kelly Peral plays the melody on oboe and Randy transforms a bucket filled with water into a percussion instrument. "Bedouin," explains Belica, "came into my head and through my hands one day completely intact, along with an image of Bedouins on horseback racing through the desert at night." Amy Platt opens and closes the piece with a dreamy and seductive improvisation on clarinet, accompanied by Jorge Alfano on sitar, Randy on percussion and Dave Phillips on upright bass.

"Scene From Afar" features piano and string quartet, with the melody line performed by Christopher Cunningham on 12-string guitar. Randy lays down the foundation with djembuka, a relative of the djembe. The simple plaintive nature of "First Star" inspired the choice of penny whistle on melody. Ivan Goff, an Irishman in New York, adds a genuinely Celtic feel.

"Early Morning" was the first track recorded for the CD. Amy Platt's lead line on clarinet is offet by a repeated motif featuring cello and voice. Jorge performs on the bansuri, an Indian bamboo flute, and joins up with Christopher on guitar at the end for an improvised duet. "Western Light," the last ensemble track, "helped renew my appreciation of how beautiful the soprano saxophone can sound," offers Belica. Piano and string quartet accompany. The recording ends with a piano solo from Marina on "A Way Home." A short and lovely unidentified woodwind bonus track brings the album to its final conclusion.

An expansion of her work on decembergirl and with October Project, one sky is certain to delight enthusiasts of Marina Belica's music. Surrounded by superb musicians, her compositions shine and are underscored by her keyboard and vocal contributions. We hear a consistent "voice" in Marina's solo work. This material is a cohesive piece--presented with sincerity and depth--with a mood and lyricism that uniquely identifies it as Marina's. This album is certainly a must listen!

 
Demo Tracks CD Cover
Image © Sentiment 2002

Sentiment
Image © Sentiment 2002

More Sentiment
Interview

Sentiment
Image © Sentiment 2002

More Sentiment
Interview

 

(23 December 2002) Metal-edged rock bands with female vocalists have become a tradition in their own branch on Musical Discoveries. For the first time now our audience can observe a music career a bit ahead of time. Sentiment is presented allthough no commercially recorded material is yet available. With this review Musical Discoveries make an exeption, but same time hope to encourage talented bands and their female vocalists to keep up the good work and believe in bright future.--Mauri Osterholm, Scandinavian Bureau Chief.

Although their eight demo tracks are only available as mp3 downloads to newcomers and existing fans, Sentiment's music is gathering tremendous momentum both at home in Finland and abroad. The five piece melodic metal-edged band immediately drew our attention with sounds drawn from Austria's Edenbridge (feature) and Poland's Centuria (review). Sentiment are a young band ranging in age from 18 to 20 years old at this writing; clearly a band to watch, they could be the next Nightwish! Read our exclusive interview with the band as well.

Fronted by lead singer Emmi Pakkanen, the lineup is completed by Toni Huovinen (guitar), Teemu Lindroos (keyboard), Jami Huovinen (drums) and Rauno Vaaranen (bass). The band's eight tracks are divided into two works and span roughtly 35 minutes of music. The first is entitled "Night Holds The Key." Comprised of four mid-length tracks, a symphonic intro and "Night Holds The Key" opens the set. Sentiment's roots in powerful metal-edged music comes through from the outset with rapidfire percussion and thick guitar dominating the arrangements, however the recording team have mixed Emmi's sweet vocals right up on top where it effectively penetrates the powerful guitar, drum and keyboard work. Emmi demonstrates incredible vocal prowess with an expansive range and depth for being only 17 years old. This opening track is very Nightwish-oriented.

Sentiment make equally effective use of guitar and keyboard adding to the melodic aspect of their metal sound. In the more accessible pop-oriented yet metal-influenced number "Rules of Secrets," we were drawn to make comparisons between Emmi and Landmarq's Tracy Hitchings (feature). Some layering has been used to provide the pop texture. The keyboard excursions are especially notable, revealing the more progressive edge to the band's sound; and the vast guitar solos demonstrated Toni's virtuousity with the instrument.

We found the track "Castles In The Sky" to be among the most accessible of Sentiment's tracks with pop-like vocal layers contrasting soaring metal guitar, vast keyboard solos and percussive rhythm section during the instrumental bridges. Here Emmi's voice is most reminscent of Centuria's singer Anna Wojtkowiak. The first set concludes with "Lost But Never Forgotten," full of soaring instrumental excursions and powerful rhythms, it is laced with Emmi's sweet Centuria-like vocal work.

Their second collection is entitled "Eternal Dream." Like the first one, it is split into four average length tracks. "Eternal Dream" opens the set with a distinctly harder metal edge driven by rapidfire guitar licks. Emmi's soaring and powerful solo voice perfectly compliments the sound through verse and chorus. "One By One" continues the thread of highspeed melodic metal instrumentals yet here Emmi's solo and backing vocal layers add texture adding richness to the production.

One will be instantly reminded of early Nightwish in the standout track "While The World Awaits." Symphonic metal arrangements--with ample individual instrument excursions-- are perfectly complimented by Emmi's soaring solo voice which adds a significant dimension to the overally sound. This must be a tremendous track to see the band perform on stage.

The demo set concludes with "Wisdom Of The Time." In contrast to the tracks that precede it, this one opens with a gentler, more symphonic metal introduction. Another album standout, "Wisdom Of The Time" is generally slower and more serene than the others included in their demo set. With a similiarity to Edenbridge's music, it is instrumentally well arranged. The track also features stunning vocal work and equally strong instrumental solos. After the eight songs had completed we were left longing for more!

The band's management is beginning to shop their material around to the major labels in Finland and Scandinavia and a spring 2003 album release seems possible. Until then be sure to visit Sentiment's website for news and listen to their material via mp3 download. We were impressed with the material from first hearing it. Worth a trans-Atlantic journey, Sentiment's material is a must listen!

 
Project Winterhaven CD Cover
Image © Project Winterhaven 2002

Julie
Image © Project Winterhaven 2002
 

(12 December 2002) A seven-track self-titled promotional CD from Project Winterhaven was sent to us by Kevin Stanton from Associated Music International in London a couple of weeks back. The Australian band is Julia Parker (guitar/vocals), (brother) Joe Parker (bass) and Chubby Winterhaven (drums). Julia has a great set of pipes; the girl can really belt out the tunes. Check out photos at the band's website by clicking on the album cover.

They are presently gigging around London and shopping for the right record deal. Impressed with this first recording, our editors don't think their search should last too long. Not the most common construction for a band--Project Winterhaven are a threepiece with frontperson being the singer/guitar player. Guests on the recording include DJD7 (decks), Sean Ikin (vocals on "Catch The Glitter"), Jimi Nintendo (sax) and Phil Emmanuel (nylon string guitar).

The recording opens with a short, electronica-style, introduction running just under a minute. The full electronic splendour of the band comes to life just before "Arabian#" begins. They can rock--a bit metal-edged--but they have a sensitive side that is brought out by melodic guitar and Julia's edgy layered vocals. The variety of sound is certain to draw the listener into their lair especially with the the very tight (think King Crimson) guitar-playing.

Alternative sounds within "Natural Ending" show another side of the band. Yes, they are still edgy but they can shed the metal-edges as quickly as they can turn them on and reveal just the evocative vocal element of their sound. The track "94" is a dynamic track varying between gentle and rougher with a lovely underlying melody that turns raunchier as the layers of Julia's sensually sung vocals build to the chorus.

"Catch The Glitter" is the gentlest track on the album. Backed with acoustic guitar and bluesy sax, Julia's lovely vocal melody shows the softer--ballad-style--side of the band who can play as cohesively in this style as with the harder and rockier bits of the recording.

Project Winterhaven are not an entirely typical rock band but they can certainly bring the house down with their energy. Perhaps most illustrated in the powerful instrumental sections of "Bitza," heavy guitar and various vocal effects when combined with the sweet vocal treatment in the chorus reveals the edgier and certainly more diverse side of their sound. The concluding track, "Pets," is substantially raunchier with powerful electric guitar underscoring Julia's most soaring and dramatically delivered lead vocal.

Interested visitors will want to point their browsers to Project Winterhaven's website. There, in addition to the band's biography and photos, you can also sample the recorded material and write away to them for a CD. Worth a journey, the band's material is a must listen!

 
Never Going Home CD Cover
Image © B. McCallion / R. Gaglia 2003 
 

(12 December 2002) The latest project from Bernadette McCallion (vocals) is a co-writing collaboration with Rich Gaglia (synths, guitars, programming) who produced Bernadette's first record (Cry Wolf review). The two decided to team up and write a new electronica-pop project together and Never Going Home (Pitch Black Dream (USA) PBD001, 2003) is the result.

Musical Discoveries was provided a pre-release promotional copy for review and we must admit it went into heavy rotation right away. The music is characteristically rhythmic and, as planned, very electronic with effects spanning both instrumental arrangements and treatments applied to Bernadette's sweet vocal lines.

The wave of pop-electronica has caught the attention of Musical Discoveries' visitors with recent reviews of albums like Balligomingo's Beneath The Surface (review) and related albums like Rhys Fulber's Conjure One (review). Some of the percussion and recording effects tend to draw a bit on cliches.

Never Going Home is a well produced selection of etheral vocal tunes and it is certain to draw our readers attention. Instrumentals are well-performed and crisp. Bernadette's evocative vocals span the range of electronica music presented from the clubby sounds of "I Will Wait" and "Feel You" to the rhythmic "That's The Way It Goes" to the gentler and more subtle arrangements of "Just Another Night" and "Tell Me What You Want" which concludes the album.

Of immediate appeal was the intentional lack of extended remix segments so often found on an electronica album. Each song is well-written and well-performed. None of the electronica effects are over-egged; the tracks each sport enough of the technique to make them sensible and accessible.

And we especially liked the treatment of Bernadette's voice. Sweet, sensual and evocative, we heard variations from a densely-layered Julee Cruise-style ("Invitation Only") to that of the singers of Balligomingo--Beverley Staunton, Jody Quine, Jennifer Baldwin, Camille Miller, Colleen Coadic, Jennifer Hershman and Kristy Thirsk--in other tracks like "Until I" and "Remember This."

An album certain to do draw much attention over a broad musical listening spectrum, Never Going Home is worth a long distance journey. Watch for its general availability in early 2003! In the meantime click on the album cover to visit the artists' website.

 
Sanat CD Cover
Image © Plastinka Records 2002 
 

(26 Nov 2002) During the latest years vocal ensemble Rajaton has been widely known both in their origin country Finland as well as in several other countries throughout the world. And now the group has been able to gain even more success, thanks to their release Sanat (Plastinka Records (Finland) PLACD 005, 2002). The new album entered the national Finnish Classical chart at no. 3, it also entered a bit later to the national Top 40 chart at no. 22! Not bad at all, since nowadays it is very difficult for a 'classical' album to compete with international and national pop and rock music entries. The other thing that may have influenced to the recent rise of Finnish a cappella music is that Rajaton has been lately given the chance to arrange more radio, TV and live appearances within Finnish media. This has now proved to be an efficient way to boost both the record sales as well as the continuing interest, including both Rajaton's music and a cappella music in general.

Through these years Rajaton has successfully been creating their own, personal aspect towards a cappella music, and with their previous two albums (as well as several concerts in Finland and abroad) they have been continuing to be "boundless" as the group's name indicates. The unique and personal Rajaton sound as well as the idea of embedding various styles to their music plays therefore still a very important role in their music, and this is certainly one way to their success. With their latest release Sanat (literally translated as Words) Rajaton again adds something new and interesting to their repertoire. This time the new album contains twelve pieces of "modern Christian music," according to the group's own definition. To have such a wide variety of styles in use is not always very common among choirs nor vocal ensembles.

The theme on the album being "Christian music," the group chose to make the recording work "live." However, this does not mean that the pieces are taken from a live concert, but the pieces were recorded in an environment that can provide best mood for the album. Instead of going to a studio, Rajaton recorded all pieces "live" at Siuntio Church in Finland, which really gives the music more space to breathe.

Many of us Finns, and also some of the foreigners interested in Finnish literature can notice some familiar names from the lyric providers' list, for example Mr. Mika Waltari ("Aurinkolaulu" / Sun Song) and a poet Mr Aale Tynni ("Stabat Mater" and "Vain taivasta kukkaset katsovat" / The flowers only look at the heavens), while those who have been following Rajaton's career can notice some already familiar composer names as well. For example, a young female composer Mia Makaroff who wrote the music to "Butterfly" (the album "Boundless" 2001) has now provided a rejoicing song "Kaikki maat, te riemuitkaatte" ("Praise the Lord, each tribe and nation"), while another female composer, Anna-Mari "Adiemus" Kähärä, has continued to provide music for Rajaton. This time two songs ("Aurinkolaulu"/ "Sun Song" and "Weary In Well-Doing") are written by her.

In addition to these already familiar composers, also two Rajaton's male members have participated to the composing process (Mr. Jussi Chydenius composed "Vain taivasta..." and "Nearer, my God, to thee" and Mr. Hannu Lepola provided the composition for "Pia Desideria"), which shows how versatile a vocal ensemble can really be. One more composer deserves a special mention here, namely Mr. Jaakko Mäntyjärvi whose compositions have been widely used by a variety of choirs/vocal ensembles throughout the world. Mäntyjärvi has provided two songs to this record, a stunning "Stabat Mater" and a wonderful "Tórramat do nóebaengil". The latter has been one of Rajaton's basic material already since 2000, when the group performed the piece together with Anúna during their concert in a choral festival in Cork (Ireland). The text of the piece is indeed sung in Irish!

Some listeners may also find very familiar Christian songs which have now been re-arranged for this record; pieces such as "Were you there?" and especially the new arrangement of "Iltavirsi" / "Evening Hymn" (which is one of the most loved Christian song in Finland) are just gorgeous. The song entitled "Nearer, my God, to thee" can also evoke some "dejavu" feelings in some people, but the Rajaton version here is not the same that is well-known as the "Titanic Hymn". Instead, this is a totally new arrangement, but it is excellent!

Although the media has been describing Rajaton's latest album as an album of 'modern Christian music', it is neither too modern nor repulsive. The vocal structure is mainly remained "traditionally harmonic", the solo parts are very versatile (alternating between each voice i.e. solos are sung by both male and female singers), and the melodies are catchy enough to be remembered easily and you can hum them along even though you could not pronounce the lyrics. The tempo is also alternating sensibly from one piece to another. This does not mean that there is no wholeness at all; rather the opposite. All of the songs are part of a wonderful and versatile tray full of new musical experiences.

The album Sanat provides, indeed, music for everyone's taste, as well as wonderful new music for all the choirs and vocal ensembles to perform in the future (if only Rajaton decides to publish their songs in sheet music format which I, at least, hope very much). If one feels mellow, then e.g. "Stabat Mater" would be a right choice (if thinking of choirs/ensembles, this would be ideal for the Easter), while e.g. "Kaikki maat, te riemuitkaatte" / "Praise the Lord, each tribe and nation" would be a bit more "happy" song. In this phase as there are not any sheet music available yet, one can, however, read the lyrics (and their translations between English/Irish and Finnish) from the album cover booklet, and, by doing that, get a bit closer to the music itself while listening. The lyrics are also ideal for sing-along.

In my opinion the Christian music has always had a permanent position within various musical genres throughout the world, and because religious songs have always had an important role as part of the repertoire of many choirs, ensembles and orchestras, this album by Rajaton can be concerned as a wonderful source when searching new material for performances. And, although this album is mainly a Christian one, I think that it can appeal to other people as well, regardless of listeners' religions or nationalities. So, just open your mind for the most recent a cappella experience, it may give you more than you could expect! The album "Sanat" may not be available outside Finland as yet, but I hope that the group would be able to release this album abroad like they have done with their two previous albums (Nova & Boundless)! And, while waiting to the possible release of Sanat, why not try to experience a Rajaton concert? The group has recently been performing live in many corners of the globe, such as Europe and the USA, so check out their current concert calendar. With Sanat, Rajaton has once again been able to prove their name to have a true meaning; they have proved that music can really be a boundless experience!--Suvi Kaikkonen

 
Head 2 Head and Fabulous CD Cover
Image © Toll Records 2002

More Rachel & Common Ground
A Blonde Moment (2001)
Rachel Common Ground (1998)
 

(22 December 2002) The latest recording from Rachel & Common Ground is a nine-track album entitled Head 2 Head and Fabulous (Toll Records (UK) 009, 2002). As with earlier recordings by the group as well as Rachel's collaboration with Oliver Wakeman (review), her crystalline vocals are mixed well above the instrumental arrangements. The group have received critical acclaim for their recordings and live performances, especially by the Classic Rock Society. Rachel's success, initially found winning International Pan Celtic Song Competition, is certain to continue.

Rachel provides lead and backing vocals, folk harp and guitar. She is supported by Tery Wallwork (guitars, harmony vocals), Chris Lobb (bass, harmony vocals), Richard Penrose (piano, keyboard) and Pip Harbon (drums, percussion). The album was recorded at Goodmerry Farm Studios in Cornwall.

Head 2 Head and Fabulous is a more dynamic and rock-oriented album than the group's earlier recordings. It opens with the rousing number "Time To Kill" and then transitions into a lovely version of D. MacLean's "Ready For The Storm" with vocal layers to kill for. The evocatively sung "Mice & Men" blends rock sensibility with folk- and latin-styled elements; rich piano, electric and acoustic instrumentation--including harp--perfectly suport Rachel's lead vocal. Lush keyboards and lovely vocal harmonies emerge in "Down To You," a lovely and catchy mid-tempo tune. Listeners will adore the way Rachel's vocals soar above the arrangements.

"Weather Report" is the first of two longer-length and more electronic-style tracks on the album. Funky electric guitar, bass and keyboards underscore a jazzier vocal arrangement, with lush harmony layers adding texture in the choruses. The sensitively sung "Summer Sent To You" is a catchy folk-rock love song whose instrumentation blends gently played harp with electronic arrangements, crisp percussion and lush vocal layers in the choruses. The instrumental buildup is perfect. Clearly it is one of the album's standout tracks.

The pace is reduced and lush keyboards, harp and further strings dominate the arrangements in "Beginners Guide To Love." The band's jazzier and rockier edges are combined in the lovely tune "Au Revoir." In addition to the robust instrumental excursions, including a vast guitar solo, Rachel's vocals are doubled up in spots to give the impression of a lead and backing vocalist. The rocker "Gypsy" concludes the album. All the band members contribute to the vocal harmonies and lush keyboard guitar-based instrumentals dominate the arrangement. The solos are tremendous--this must be another great track to see performed live.

Rachel & Common Ground's recordings are available from the band's website. Click on the album cover to point your browser there now. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, Head 2 Head and Fabulous is a must listen!

 
The View From Here EP Cover
click to visit Oliver Wakeman's website
Image © Watermark Records 2002


visit Rachel's website
 

(22 December 2002) The first recording to emerge from the collaboration of Oliver Wakeman and Rachel Heffer is a 4-track advanced and limited edition EP from their forthcoming album Anam Cara. The team performed selections from The House Of The Baskervilles with their band most recently at the Classic Rock Society Best Of The Year awards in Rotherham to vast acclaim.

Oliver Wakeman's piano and keyboards are perfectly complimented by Rachel's stunning crystalline voice. The lineup is completed by Landmarq's Dave Wagstaffe (drums), Tim Buchanan (bass) and David Mark Pearce (guitar). The EP opens with the title track, a steady ballad featuring layers of Rachel's crystalline vocals supporting her lead and classical Wakeman-style piano-based instrumentation. The blending of styles is perfectly illustrated by the robust guitar solo during the bridge.

The EP continues with the rocker "Instead Of My Fear" which blends keyboards with robust guitar excursions that support Rachel's crystalline vocals. Another gentle ballad that would be equally at home in the West End as on this EP is entitled "1000 Autumns." In addition to the piano melodies in the verses, rich synth washes add texture to the chorus. We especially enjoyed Rachel's vocalise during the bridge. The additional instrumental solos are equally stunning.

A stunning reprise and extended arrangement of "The View From Here" concludes the EP. We especially appreciated the crispness of the harp and Rachel's additional vocal layers as well as the extended Celtic-style keyboard solo.

Interested visitors should see our review of the Nolan/Wakeman album Jabberwocky and also our review of their follow-up The Hound Of The Baskervilles. Also check out our review of the Rachel and Common Ground recordings Rachel Common Ground and A Blonde Moment. Our review of Rachel and Common Ground's latest album Head 2 Head and Fabulous is also online.

This limited edition EP is available my mail order or the internet. Visit Oliver Wakeman's website (click on CD cover artwork) for further details. It is worth a trans-Atlantic journey and is a must listen!

 
Come Away With Me CD Cover
Image © Blue Note Music 2002 
 

(revised 17 August 2003) Norah Jones' award winning debut album album Come Away With Me (Blue Note Music (USA), 2002) has caught the world by storm. It is not just the timbre of Norah Jones's voice that is mature beyond her 22 years. Her assured phrasing and precise time are more often found in older singers as well. She is instantly recognizable, blending intimations of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone without sounding like anyone but herself.

Anyway you slice it, she is a singer to be reckoned with. Her readings of the Hank Williams classic, "Cold Cold Heart" and Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" alone are worth the price of the CD. Jones's own material, while not bad, pales a bit next to masterpieces such as these.

They might have fared better had she and producer Arif Mardin opted for some livelier arrangements, taking better advantage of brilliant sidemen such as Bill Frisell, Kevin Breit, and Brian Blade; or if the tunes had simply been given less laconic performances. Jones has all the tools; what will come with experience, and some careful listening to artists like J.J. Cale and Shirley Horn, is the knack of remaining low-key without being sleepy--sometimes less is not, in fact, more. --Michael Ross (amazon.com)

Norah Jones' first full-length disc is excellent. Arif Mardin does a masterful job of production. The disc starts with a pretty lounge tune "Don't Know Why," "You'll be on my mind forever." The guitar on the quiet "Seven Years" is beautiful as Norah sings the Mona Lisa-like lyric, "Crooked smile on her face tells a tale of grace that's all her own."

Lee Alexander's thumping bass and Jones' piano distill with simplicity the elements of melody & emotion on Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart." Alexander's "Feelin' the Same Way" is a perky love song with nice energy. Jones wrote the title track "Come Away With Me." It is one of the most beautiful of melodies.

"Shoot the Moon" with its languid guitar is a slow song of lonliness. My favorite track is J.D. Loudermilk's "Turn Me On." Norah's sultry vocal entices, "Like a flower waiting to bloom, like a lightbulb in a darkened room, I'm sitting here waiting for you to come home and turn me on." "Lonestar" is a slow country blues. "I could almost go there just to live in a dream," Norah sings on the torch blues "I've Got to See You Again."

"Painter's Song" is whimsical. "One Flight Down" has a smoky vocal with a pretty melody. The Jones' penned "Nightingale" has a pretty guitar part with dreamy vocals. Jones' piano gives a sense of flight and freedom as she sings, "You can take me away." "The Long Day Is Over" has a stately feel. The CD concludes with Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You," "When you're in my arms and I feel you so close to me, all my wildest dreams come true."

For me, this CD could only be stronger with a few toe tappers and a little more variety in tempo. This is a strong effort, a refreshing and rewarding listening experience. Let Norah turn you on!--Lee Armstrong (amazon.com)

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Come Away With Me is a tremendously produced work with stunning vocal work, rich production and the outstanding overall quality one should expect from the Blue Note label, and is a must listen!--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Waking Hour CD Cover
Image © Soltrana Records 2002 
 

(12 December 2002) The debut album by singer songwriter Vienna Teng is a thirteen track recording entitled Waking Hour (Virt Records (USA) VRT 1003, 2002). The album is a rather eclectic yet lush collection of folk, rock, pop and new age bound together by Vienna's crystalline vocals stunning songwriting and tremendous piano playing. Visit the artist's website for further biographical information.

Teng provides all vocals as well as piano and keyboard. She is accompanied by Jim Batchco (drums), John Tiven (electric guitar), David Henry (cello, bass, guitar), Will Kimbrough (acoustic and electric guitar), Eric Miller (synthesizers, bass, guitar), Peter Wetherbee (percussion) and Craig Wright (drums). The ensemble have produced a stunning album with lovely vocal work accompanied by rich and mature instrumentals. Guests on the album include Jacom Eisenstein (bass), Dave Kim (violin) and Tiffany Smith (backing vocal on "Lullaby For A Stormy Night").

Teng raised local interest when leaving her career as a Stanford-degreed computer professional to turn to music full time earlier this year. She and the band have toured extensively since to promote Waking Hour. While the music covers a broad range, it centers on Teng's sweet and crystalline vocals, always produced above the instrumentals but never so far as to lose touch with the arrangements. Vocal layers add texture to Vienna's sweet and light melodic voice. An occasional guitar excursion reminds the listener of the album's depth.

The album is a reissue of the artist's highly sucessful self-released version, but now includes three tracks produced and mixed by David Henry (Cowboy Junkies, REM, Josh Rouse, Yo La Tengo). Guest musicians added their talents to the ner version include guitarist Will Kimbrough (Kim Richey) and drummer Craig Wright (Steve Earle).

Said Virt Records Founder and President Michael Tarlowe, "Vienna's songs completely blew me away upon my first listen. The combination of her articulate lyrics, pristine vocals, and musical intuition, particularly at such a young age, is unparalleled." Musical Discoveries could not agree more. This album is certain to please our frequent visitors with its range of styles and stunning production quality.

Vienna's compositions range from gentle piano ballads to multi-layered productions with lush landscapes. The album's thirteen melodic songs take listeners on an emptional ride through the haunting, the ethereal, and the comforting. Waking Hour features explorations into not just pop, folk and rock, but also new age and world beat stylings.

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Clearly worth a long distance journey Vienna Teng's Waking Hours is a very nice listen!

 
A Thousand Days CD Cover
Image © November Project 2000

November Project
Image © November Project 2000
 

(04 November 2002) After Epic Records cancelled its contract with October Project, their beloved fans were left bewildered by what appeared to be a severe lapse in judgment on the part of Sony Music Entertainment Inc. Considered by critics and fans alike to be one of the best new bands of the 1990s, October Project created music that was uniquely lush and provocative.

The primary composer for the original October Project was the gifted Emil Adler. Wife and partner Julie Flanders provided the lyrical content of the band's material. Together, the two provided the foundation upon which singers Mary Fahl and Marina Belica added their rich and distinctive vocals.

After the demise of October Project, Mary Fahl and Marina Belica embarked upon solo careers. Emil Adler and Julie Flanders, after some time off, formed November Project. The two went on the hunt for a charismatic and talented lead female singer and discovered Maryanne Marino. Combining the earthy quality of Sarah McLachlan and the clarity of Suzanne Vega, Maryanne's voice was the perfect vehicle for Julie's words and a beautiful match for Emil's music.

The trio were joined by Doug Yowell (drums), Mike Visceglia (bass), and Rob Friedman (guitars). Together, November Project released their only recording, an EP entitled "A Thousand Days" in 1999. Despite the fact that the EP contains only five tracks, each song is so beautifully crafted on the album, that any fan of October Project will find the EP to be a must have.

Upon hearing the first few measures of the opening title track, "A Thousand Days," it is obvious that Julie and Emil were back in true form. Julie's poignant and though-provoking lyrics are sung with deep conviction by Maryanne. The melody of the song demonstrates Emil's sensational trademark ability to write complex and impactful music.

"Out of the Past" is a solidly rocking number that allows Maryanne to make full use of her vocal range. Complete with organ and strumming guitars, the song moves from mysterious and haunting minor chords to sweet and full major chords in the chorus. The bittersweet and touching "It is Time" is a transporting piece that strongly echoes Sarah McLachlan's "Elsewhere." Throughout, the skill of the players is strongly apparent.

Piano, keyboards, guitar, drums, and bass all combine to provide a scintillating backdrop for Maryanne's vocals. The unusual beginning of "Are You Sleeping" immediately demands the listeners attention. By the time the song reaches its pre-chorus and chorus, one realizes that this song will be another classic Adler/Flanders piece. The melody and timing seem to move all over the place without ever sounding disconnected or unharmonious. Original and inventive.

"Endless Circle" is simply one of the best folk songs this reviewer has ever heard. With its almost medieval sounding instrumentation and Maryanne's emotional voicings, "Endless Circle" provides a perfect finale for the EP.

After listening to the EP, it is clear that Emil is endowed with a real, true, and beautiful gift as a composer. Equally, Julie Flanders harbors such skill as a lyricist that it seems that the two were almost destined to do what they are doing together--almost as if the largeness of their repsective talents could only be matched and complimented by the other's great ability.

Much to the sorrow of October Project and November Project fans, November Project broke up after releasing "A Thousand Days" but before a full length album could be released. However, Emil and Julie have rejoined forces with October Project vocalist Marina Belica and are currently working on a new full-length album under the name October Project (EP review).

In addition, Julie and Emil have collaborated with the vocalist Sylvia Tosun on her first EP (review) release. Although it has been a bumpy ride for artists and fans alike, the wonderful fact is that Emil and Julie continue to create inspired music together. The fans are listening and eagerly await whatever "projects" Julie and Emil have in store for us in the future!--Justin Elswick

 
Minstrel Song CD Cover
Image © Blix Street Records 2000

More Grace Griffith
Grace
Sands Of Time
Interview
 

(16 November 2002) The second album by Grace Griffith is a ten track collection entitled Minstrel Song (Blix Street Records (USA), 2000). Elegance in the beauty of movement or expression and in verb form: To make more attractive by adding ornament, color, etc. This is the vocal descriptive adjective of the word ‘grace’ – Grace Griffith!

Using the building materials (techniques) of music-imaging, Griffith produces a distinctive ten-track ‘grace-note’ form of emotion-related music awareness that cumulates in a vocal nucleus (the audio-aspect) of Contemporary Folk Cantabile Celtic Beauty, which gives to us (the listener) the final musical (beautiful) equation Minstrel Song!

In Greek mythology ‘Graces’ were three sisters who were the givers of beauty and charm but in musicology it is Griffith who ‘Graces’… singing beauty and charm - into song. Written by Jane Siberry, “Bound By The Beauty” bears witness to the power of good vocal augmentation. Not just lyrically singing what the writer said, but emotionally singing, what the writer, did not say./p>

“My Life” written by intelligence and heart (Iris Dement) is vocal provocation for tears. Do not listen twice! It is addidtive musically and leaves the listener with the sound effect (side-effect) of too much reverberation of thought. In her rendition of Bruce Cockburn’s “Wondering Where The Lions Are”, Griffith releases or more appropriately stated, ‘Unleashes’ her voice into a powerful backdrop of a well-arranged acoustical string instrumental approach. The guitar work (Al Petteway) is excellent, as is the mandolin work of Marcy Marxer.

In “Searching For The Lambs” (traditional Scottish) it is the playing of the penny whistle (again, Marcy Marxer) that guides Griffith’s voice into ‘grace’. It is both Melodically haunting and Griffith(ly) beautiful. The voice - sings for itself! Combined with the sound-use of good musicians, writers and of course “Kind Friends and Companions” (the ninth track). Minstrel Song is a musically brewed ten-track serving that is sung well beyond any suggested writing strength. It is- ‘gracefully’ good!--Steven Digman

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Clearly worth a journey, the album is a very nice listen!

 
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