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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
Love Her Madly
Kayanis
Mary Fahl, Dylan, et. al.
Evanescence
Carolyn Leonhart
Janna Long
Soniq Theater
Nanyana
Arrakeen
Bonnie Tyler
How Many Sisters?
Elfonia

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Instrumental Digest
 
Love Her Madly New Women Artists Cover The Doors CD Cover
Image © Skipping Discs 2002

More Evelyn Downing
Album Reviews and Interview
Mermaid Kiss Feature

More Dor Lata
Interview
Different Life

 

(24 January 2003) Love Her Madly New Women Artists Cover The Doors (Skipping Discs (USA) SKD002, 2002) is a nineteen track collection, as the title implies, of classic tracks written by the Doors performed by a wide range of established and rapidly emerging female vocalists. It is the perfect compilation for Musical Discoveries visitors. Skipping Discs is proclaimed to be a covers-only label and future releases are likely to be of equal interest to our visitors.

"The idea for a covers-only label came about last December," says Rick Schober, Skipping Discs founder and one-time musician in the now-defunct obscure Boston-based Dislocated Hipsters. "While listening to the radio during Christmas dinner with some friends, we wondered why nobody had ever recorded klezmer versions of traditional holiday tunes for the Jewish listening audience. As it turns out, a band called the Klezmonauts had already released a CD entitled "Oy to the World!" in 1999, but it got us thinking about what other cross-genre cover songs might work."

Love Her Madly includes recordings by widely-reviewed Musical Discoveries artists Rachael Sage ("Twentieth Century Fox") and Bernadette McCallion ("Love Me Two Times") and a bevy of other highly notable singers. For long-time Doors-tune affectionados, new recordings of the band's classic tracks female vocalists is a rare treat.

The covers vary from respectible reproductions of the Doors original intentions to more radical re-arrangements. Certainly Simon Stinger's (Alicia Perrone) version of "Love Her Madly," Krank's (Ginger O'Day) version of "I Looked At You" and Amy Ketchum's "Unhappy Girl" fall into the latter while Rachael Sage's rendition of "Twentieth Century Fox" and D'or Lata's version of "The Spy" lie between the two extremes. "Touch Me" by the May Hart Band, "Alabama Song" by Mars Arizona (Nicole Storto), "Love Me Two Times" by Bernadette McCallion, "The Soft Parade" by The Saucers (Mere) and "Take It As It Comes" by 2 Tone Blonde (Heide Schauer), with its excellent guitar solos, are examples of accurate reproductions.

One of the most stunning and strongest tracks on the album is "Summer's Almost Gone" by Evelyn Downing. Vocal layers perfectly blend with instrumentals and a stunning flute solo by the singer in this absolute knock-out. Additional album standouts include "People Are Strange" by the Cyndi Lauper-sounding Wendy Ip and the faithful yet brief cover of "Hello, I Love You" by Joe K's Kid (Justine K) with vocal harmonies, shimmering guitar and richly arranged keyboards. The Julee Cruise-style Lazy (Lily) Lane rendition of "Indian Summer" is lovely. Superb instrumentals in "Riders On The Storm" by Essra Mohawk make it a delightful conclusion to the album.

In addition to being an album of superb tracks in their own right, this collection exposes artists to new listeners. In addition to Rachael Sage and Bernadette McCallion, singers not previously reviewed at Musical Discoveries to be further explored include Evelyn Downing, Amy Ketchum and D'or Lata.

Clearly an album made for Musical Discoveries most frequent visitors, Love Her Madly is worth a trans-Atlantic journey and is a must listen! The album is presently available through the label's website. We eagerly await their next project!

 
Synesthesis CD Cover
Image © Kayanis Music 2001

Kayanis Live
Image © Kayanis Music 2001

Kayanis Live
Image © Kayanis Music 2001

 

(24 December 2002) Kayanis is one of the most popular EM composers in Poland. He took first guitar classes in 1982, aged ten. Two years later he enrolled at the State Music School of Slupsk, where he learned the acoustic bass and the piano. Between 1984 and 1987 played bass guitar and keyboards with local rock bands and further developed his style during the early 1990s.

Machines & Dreams (Hardbeat Records, 1998) was his first solo album. Kayanis then began to appear on Polish national TV channels, produced and directed his first video. Polish Radio 3 began to play the album and "Arecibo" and "Lost Tribe” ultimately reached numbers 7 and 9 respectively on Jerzy Kordowicz's Top TLEN--an electronic music hit list, the most popular EM radio show in Poland. Kayanis played a lot of concerts, including the ZEF festival--at that time the biggest electronic music festival in the country.

Synenthesis (Luna Music (Poland) LUNCD074-2, 2001) is a much larger scale project. It is comprised of nine tracks that work together as a cohesive whole. Tempo and style changes are frequent--there are touches of classical, new age, progressive and even metal. Kayanis, accompanied by Jacek Szczepkowski, the sound engineer, entered the Keyamo Studio (built specially for the project) on January 2, 2001. The left it for good in June--yet still some work was to be doney at a mastering facility. More than a hundred and fifty musicians and vocalists participated in the recording.

The album involves a good load of synth sounds, extraordinary guitar work, vocals, choirs and a chamber orchestra. The album is a union of styles--it cannot really be compared to anything, Synesthesis marks a new path in synth-based music: somewhere between EM, progressive rock and classical film music. Gentle yet extremely powerful at times, classical yet modern, passionate and strong but still melodious, sometimes even relaxing, this is an album of tremendous proportions. It won't leave your CD player for long once you put it on.

The album's strongest vocal numbers are album standouts. They include the choral "Synethesis I," the layered multi-tracked new age metal rossover "Nevertheless" and the synthesizer-backed ballad "Sad Song" sung solo joned by saxophone in spots. Listeners will be enthralled with the metal-edged power of the choral stylings in "Inter Arma Silent Musae" and "Willow Green."

Kayanis’s Synesthesis concert involves twenty musicians and vocalists. The show presents music from Machines and Dreams, Synesthesis and Keyamo albums, the last one which has not yet been released. A four minute live video excerpt of "Synethesis" was viewed by our editors during the preparation of this review. Return to Musical Discoveries for our forthcoming reviews of additional material by Kayanis. Further information is available at the artist's (click on images) and label's (click on label name) websites.

Synethsis is as much an instrumental album--perhaps even moreso--as it is vocal. Enthusiasts of Yanni, Rick Wakeman, Kitaro will be as excited with the project as fans of Adiemus, Enya and the like. But it is the harder, metal-edged progressive bits that truly make this an incredible work of global proportions. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, it is a must listen!

 
Gods and Generals CD Cover
Image © Sony Classical 2003

click on album cover to
visit soundtrack website

More Mary Fahl
Lenses Of Contact
Gods & Generals [Soundtrack]
The Guys [Soundtrack]
The Other Side Of Time
Artist's Website
 

(24 January 2003) In support of the major motion picture opening 21 February 2004, the original soundtrack to Gods and Generals (Sony Classical (USA) 2003) will begin to delight audiences on SuperBowl Sunday when two stunning videos promoting it are aired on the TNT network. The album is released from 4 February. The epic film tells an unforgettable story of the Civil Wwar.

Drawn initially to the soundtrack by the opening title "Going Home" sung by Mary Fahl, formerly with October Project we were equallly inspired by the closing title, "Across The Green Mountain," sung by Bob Dylan. That two such significant artists' work grace a motion soundtrack implies correctly that the 17 tracks between them and running time of almost 62 minutes is filled with equally delightful soundtrack music. The project is composed by John Frizzel and Randy Edelmen.

Music plays a powerful role in the film -- in addition to the haunting score by composers John Frizzell and Randy Edelman, with solos by Grammy-winning fiddler Mark O'Connor, the soundtrack features two unforgettable original songs. The first, "Cross the Green Mountain," is written and performed by the legendary Bob Dylan, marking his return to his roots as a folk balladeer. Mary Fahl, Sony Classical recording artist (and formerly lead vocalist of the Epic band October Project), has contributed the original song "Going Home," which opens the film. Directed by Ron Maxwell (Gettsyburg), Gods & Generals is based on the best-selling book recounting the dramatic early years of the Civil War -- from Manassas to the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Mary's opening track "Going Home" will introduce her powerful and evocative voice to a significant audience. Those not familiar with her October Project recordings are certain to be impressed with is warmth and lushness that has been criticially acclaimed and compared to a fine burgundy. Although the number shares its name with a well-known British hymn, this is an all new track with period orchestration and a modern almost Celtic texture that runs in and out through the rest of the album as well.

Enthusiasts of classically-influenced motion picture soundtracks will find Gods and Generals to be among the best new projects to emerge in recent times. Orchestration is lush and violin work plentiful. Arrangements are evocative and naturally moody, supporting themes and messages that run out as the film advances. Individual musicians' parts are played well, mixed superbly and mastered for repeated listening. The instrumental parts are equally notable, introducing individual musical themes and carrying them through the almost sixty minutes of running time included on the CD. Instrumentally the material balances strings, woodwinds and brass with crisp war-themed percussion. Accents of choir, bells and tympani evoke the grandeur this motion picture demands.

Interested readers should note that a (no more expensive than normal) special collectors edition of the soundtrack that can be ordered online includes a bonus DVD with video segments of Mary Fahl's and Bob Dylan's tracks and five scenes that have been deleted from the motion picture. That this product is available prior to the picture's release date is exciting.

Equally impressive is the extended closing folk ballad "Across The Green Mountain" sung by Bob Dylan. Like Mary Fahl's song, it enjoys the lush arrangements provided by the album composers but couples them with Dylan's folk-style lyrical delivery. Listeners will note the increased vocal depth and warmth that has developed since earlier albums. It is certain to enthrall long-time and new-found fans.

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. This is indeed a stunning soundtrack in all respects but the inclusion of an all new opening track by Mary Fahl and a closing theme by Bob Dylan tips it over the top making it a must listen!

 
Evanescence Origin CD Cover
Image © Bigwig Enterprises 2000 
 

(01 February 2003) The debut album from the Little Rock, Arkansas-based trio Evanescence entitled Origin (Bigwig Enterprises (USA) BW002, 2000) is an eleven-track collection of eclectic tunes. The band's music revolves around their stunning lead vocalist Amy Lee. Unfortunately now out of print, the album joins their earlier EP and demo releases as a much sought-after rarity; search for second hand copies online. Certain to appeal to enthusiasts of Lacuna Coil (review), Brave (review) and Persephone's Dream (review), Origin is a masterpiece and has rightly launched the group to a new commercial level with their follow-up Fallen (review).

The band's debut album is built around the heavenly vocals of Amy Lee. "We're definitely a rock band," says the 20-year old Lee. "But the twist is that the band's music is epic, dramatic, dark rock." It clearly fits into our alternative/progressive category with elements of gothic, metal, progressive and rock.

Co-founders Lee and guitarist/songwriter Ben Moody met while in their early teens. "We were at a youth camp," Moody recalls. "During some sort of recreational period held in the gymnasium, I heard Amy playing Meat Loaf's 'I'd Do Anything For Love' at the piano. So I went over to meet her, and she started singing for me. I was pretty much blown away, so I suckered her into joining a band with me." Since that day, the musical relationship has remained dependably loyal. "We have the same exact vision regarding what we love about music," Moody says. "When it comes to songwriting, we finish each other's thoughts." Prepare to be blown away by the band's material.

On the debut album, Lee and Moody were joined by David Hodges as the third band member. Additional musicians include: William James Boyd (bass on "Away From Me"), Bruce Fitzhugh and Stephanie Pierce (vocals on "Lies"), Suvi Petrajajrvi, Sara Moore, Catherine Harris and Samantha Strong (female vocal ensemble on "Field Of Innocence"). The band has undergone line-up changes in the run-up to their second album Fallen.

Todd Brown of True Tunes magazine writes, "Origin is a stunning record, sweeping in scope and power and absolutely pristine sonically. That the band could produce something this textured, subtle, and gripping on a negligible budget is a testament to Moody’s enormous innate skills as a producer, Amy Lee’s gripping vocals and the band’s gift for balancing aggression and beauty within their powerful, layered arrangements." We could not agree more.

The album is a gripping project, one that will strike listeners from first play. A limited use of effects and timely use of metal-edged arrangements contributes attitude to the otherwise heavenly sound of Amy Lee's vocals right from the title track. The drone of electric guitar is perfectly complimented Lacuna Coil-style by sweet lead and backing vocals in "Whisper" which follows.

"Imaginary" is one of the album's standouts. Layers of Amy's tender vocals are supported by powerful metal-edged instrumentals. Additional further layers of Amy's vocalise soar in the background contributing depth to the arrangement. "Where Will You Go" is a storming rocker with lush keyboards underscoring the arrangement. But Amy's vocals remain on top, right where they belong.

The album's ballads reveal the range, power and depth of Amy Lee's incredible vocal talent. "My Immortal" is simply stunning, evocatively sung supported by piano and light electronic undertones. Both Lee's and Moody's harmony vocals add a lovely texture. The mysterious morse code sequence in the background has drawn extensive discussion at the band's website. "Field Of Innocence" continues in a similar vein but is instrumentally thicker; the female vocal ensemble contributes depth to the tune. "Anywhere" is equally stunning with rich harmonies in the choruses contrasting the verses.

The band's ability to weave gothic textures into their sound further emerges in "Even In Death" and "Away From Me." We especially enjoyed the beauty and beast style of "Lies." Lee's soprano vocals soar through scales during the instrumental sections and heavy metal-edged passages, complimenting the arrangements in a style most reminscent of Lacuna Coil. The extended and progressive-style instrumental "Eternal" concludes the album.

Evanescence is rapidly capturing the attention of an ever expanding listener base. Their debut album Origin demonstrates the band's songwriting abilities and instrumental talents but most importantly it provides the platform for Amy Lee's incredible vocals. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, this album is a must listen!

 
Steal The Moon CD Cover
Image © Sunnyside 2000

Carolyn Leonhart
Photo © Juliane Zitzlsperger 2000

More Carolyn Leonhart
Lyn Leon - Glass Lounge
 

(01 February 2002) For a young singer who was literally born into the jazz scene Carolyn Leonhart has an uncommonly diverse resume and a surprising range of options. American audiences are getting to know her as one of the backup singers to Steely Dan, a position she has occupied since the Becker/Fagancombine reunited in 1996. Others may know her as the singer fronting Lyn Leon on the Glass Lounge (review) album. Steal The Moon (Sunnyside (USA) SSC 1086D, 2000) is her solo album. It is a ten-track selection of jazz-influenced material.

The album includes four quality standards and a choice Mose Allison tune ("It Didn't Turn Out That Way") as well as a number of songs by pianist, composer/lyricist and vocalist Rob Bargad. Many will be familiar with "Nature Boy," but Leonhart's evocative treatment will delight listeners to this album.

Steal The Moon also serves as a reintroduction to Bargad, who has previously been known for his playing and instrumental composing ("Juju Knows"), who who was featured for years in the quintet of the late Nat Adderley. One key to Bargad's success is his insistence on creating lyrics and music together. Bargad had no second thoughts about giving "All Because Of You," "Steal The Moon" and "Yesterday's A Dream" to Leonhart. The songs speak lyrically to their audience.

The album also features a supporting cast of musicians that share a history with one or the other of the singers. Jay Leonhart, of course, is Carolyn's father. Jimmy Cobb was Bargad's rhythm section partner in the Adderley group. Both Billy Drummond and Daniel Sandownick participated in the pianist's 1993 debut CD. The players have helped Leonhart and Bargad to create an album with all the charge and feeling and far more originality than we have come to expect from young singers. It offers the promise more great promise from both.

Bob Blumenthal comments, "Someone with Carolyn Leonhart's talent and intelligence can surely pursue more than one path, and will no doubt go her own way. Based on the music she creates here, those of us who treasture truly great singing, whatever the marketing forces in the music industry choose to call it, will be following her progress for a long time."

Learn more about the artist at her website. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Clearly an recording be explored at length, the debut album by Carolyn Leonhart is worth a trans-Atlantic journey; it is a must listen!

 
Jana Long CD Cover
Image © Sparrow Records 2002 
 

(01 February 2002) For Avalon's Janna Long, her first solo project, Janna (Sparrow Records (USA) SPD 51854, 2002) is ready to reach the church and the culture at large with a unique R&B/ Gospel sound. With the astounding talent of Janna, this solo debut is unparalleled. Fans of Whitney Houston are certain to be enthralled with Janna's debut.

Many people want to sing like Aretha Franklin or Patti LaBelle. Singer Janna Long, however, is one of the few women who actually can. Janna began listening to female diva vocalists at three years old and continued to be influenced by powerful vocals as she grew up. She would listen, wondering how they do “that” with their voices. After one listen to her self-titled solo debut, Janna, it’s clear she’s figured "that" out.

Janna grew up a preacher’s kid in Baltimore, birthplace of another diva, Billie Holiday. Like her hometown, Janna's family appreciated the power of music, including mainstream music, which is where she initially found her inspiration. She knew she always wanted to be a singer and began singing professionally right after college, spending her musical career to date as a member of a group. She has now taken her God-given vocal talent and coupled it with fulfilling a lifelong dream of making her own album. And she's done it with a skill and passion that proclaim Janna worthy to be in the same company of the great female divas that have inspired her.

Blessed with a voice and a look that could all but assure her of mainstream accolades, Janna has chosen something different for her self-titled debut. Superficial lyrics attached to a great beat do not appeal to her. Instead, she wants her music to encourage and inspire listeners. For Janna that means singing about her Creator. “A lot of artists sing about love and relationships,” Janna says. “Those are great, but I miss hearing songs that are blatantly about the Gospel. Music has power to heal and bring joy, and I always said if I ever got the chance to make my own record, I’d want to sing that kind of music."

To help her, Janna called on some of the top producers in the business. Brown Bannister (Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, CeCe Winans), Mark Hammond (Anointed, Jump5) and Mookie (TobyMac, Lamar Campbell) all came together to lend their diverse talents to this project. Their collaboration contribute to a tightly produced but electrifying collection of music that will appeal to anyone who loves great songs sung by a truly great singer.

As part of the Grammy-nominated and Dove Award-winning pop quartet Avalon for the past seven years, Janna has already experienced success as an artist. But, she, like her fellow group members, is able to only express one-fourth of herself because of creative compromises that come with being part of a group. Creating a solo project allowed Janna to reveal her unique heart so hand-picking each song concentrating on authentic lyrics became a huge priority. Musically, Janna uses her unmistakable voice to let her old-school gospel influences come belting through with a high voltage urban pop beat.

From the powerful "Call" to the soaring ballad "More" to the lighthearted and upbeat "Superman," Janna is soulful and soul-filled throughout. One song, “Nothing is Impossible,” became personally applicable in Janna’s life as she was forced to record the bulk of her album with a severely broken ankle suffered after a fall while running through an airport. “I found myself needing to hear the words of that song,” she remembers. “I never had anything in my life happen that made me so dependent on other people.

Janna also performs her rendition of the Dove Award-winning song "In Christ Alone" first released by Michael English and a song she considers one of the most beautiful songs she has ever heard. “This song is very much about giving glory back to God,” she says. “The only reason any of us have anything is because of the Lord. People always ask me if there is one song I wish I’d written and this was always it.”

Though she doesn't consider herself a songwriter, Janna did contribute to "What Would I Do?" a song written by Janna, Narada Michael Walden and her executive producer Grant Cunningham, who died not long after the song was written. Cunningham had been a mentor and friend to Janna and the song is a bittersweet addition to the record. "While the song is primarily about how much we need God, when I sing, 'What Would I Do,' I can't help but think about all that Grant has contributed to my career as an artist and to my personal spiritual growth. His death has left a huge void in my life and in the lives of so many."

Janna’s husband of two years, Greg Long, makes an appearance on this album. Greg, who is also a recording artist, backs Janna up vocally on "Superman." Aside from this musical collaboration, Janna says she and Greg are opting to keep work separate from their relationship. “The great part of being married to an artist is that we have a good understanding of what the other does. We both know what life is like on the road, for instance. But, we also celebrate each other's individual achievements."

Janna has the highest of hopes that she and her husband will be celebrating the success of her solo record, and more importantly, the impact it will have on all those who listen. She says, "I want this to be an album people can listen to now and 10 years from now, a record that can inspire and bring joy and hope in all seasons of life."

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. A mix of urban, R&B and pop textures amongst some very tender ballads are driven home by Janna Long's outstanding voice. A very nice listen!

 
A Second Of Action CD Cover
Image © Soniq Theater 2002 
 

(01 February 2003) The second album from Soniq Theater is a 12-track progressive instrumental project by German artist Alfred Mueller entitled A Second Of Action. The album builds on Mueller's debut self-titled album (review) with additional depth, range and power. While it is vocally sparse, this is a tremendous keyboard-based project but additional samples from guitars, bass and electronic percussion clearly presents the sound of a five-piece progressive act.

The album is heavily themed and additional effects tied into the song titles underscore the arrangements. Such is the case with "The Gold Rush," "Elephant Race" and "Transsiberian Railroad." Jazzy female vocal samples in "Marakanda" are stunning. Think of Rick Wakeman, Yanni and John Tesh, but add Yes and some metal-edged influences and that's Soniq Theater. Tremendous.

We asked Mueller if he really performed all of the material and about the vocal work. He told us, "I really performed all the material, with the exception of the samples, but finally I "performed" the samples into the music. The vocalist you mean is the same one as on the first album on 'Cinemagic,' maybe you remember, her name is Suzann and she was performing on a CD specially for sampling use, which fell into my hands."

We asked Alfred about Soniq Theater's musical style. He told us, "I present a blend of progressive styles, mainly symphonic progressive rock with elements of metal, electronic, classical music, and even jazz and world music." He told us about his influences, "Too many to mention, the most important: the great progbands of the 70s, like Yes, Genesis and Kansas, also progmetal (Dream Theater, Symphony X), electronic music (Tangerine Dream, Vangelis) and the great classical composers."

Release plans are a little sketchy just now and the artist's website is presently under revision. Mueller tells us, "Well, this one is the second release on CDR, and it seems to be the best for me, to go on this way. You should know, that my intention is to get known as much as possible. In fact Soniq Theater was played on about 40 radio stations all over the world in 14 countries. This is a very effective way to reach as many people as possible, I suppose that many thousands have heard the music of Soniq Theater until now. And if people look for Soniq Theater in the web, they can find many reviews about the albums, and also, on the coming Soniq Theater website a possibility to order a copy."

Don't judge the music on this album by the simplicity of the cover. This project is a symphonic masterpiece with a range of epic tracks that will delight a broad range of audiences. Worthy of a trans-Atlantic journey, it is truly a must listen!

 
Nanyana CD Cover (center section)
Image © Nanyana 2002 
 

(01 February 2003) The debut album from Nanyana is a twelve-track self-titled and self-released project. The band, fronted by the singer of the same name, is based in Atlanta, GA. We've been listening to their CD since November 2002 and found their sound to be somewhat reminscent of November Project (review) primarily from the vocal similarity of Nanyana to Maryanne Marino.

Nanyana blend jazz, funk rock and blues into their sound. The band is high energy and their album has been professionally arranged, mixed and mastered. Vocals are evocative and powerful with lush layered harmonies that contribute a lovely texture. But Nanyana's lead vocals are powerful and wide ranging. Keyboards perfectly compliment the guitar work and crisp percussion provides a rhythmic edge to the material. In addition to the guitar, keyboard and percussion bits, the band has occasional saxophone parts that add to the jazzy edge they develop.

About the Vocalist. Nanyana Summer has been crooning as long as she can remember. As a child, she locked herself in her room to listen to music and express her young inquisitive thoughts in poetry. With her Pops in the military, Summer's family traveled quite a bit. On road trips, he would pop in Sade cassettes; and Mom (who is from Thailand) sometimes threw in her favorite Thai jams.

At age eleven, Summer started writing songs with a neighborhood girl group, and at fifteen, she taught herself to play guitar. Her main influences (other than Sade) were Chris Cornell, 311, Stone Temple Pilots, Jamiroquai and Sarah Vaughn. Nanyana loves the deep lyrics and amazing vocals of Chris Cornell and Sade. Jamiroquai inspires the desire to be free in the funk, and Sarah Vaughn draws out the soul to sing like an angel.

Nanyana's aggressive side relates to the groove and metal of 311 and STP. When asked, she laughs, remembering her younger Rock-N-Roll days in Atlanta hanging out with the former Atlanta band Stuck Mojo, where she had a bit part in their "Pig Walk" video.

Summer eventually had an opportunity to co-write with Arrested Development's own Speech Thomas and is grateful for the advice and encouragement she has received from him. She is also extremely grateful for what she has in her band-mates.

"There is such a tremendous amount of talent in these guys. I love the diversity contained in our sound. Each song holds the flavor of all our favorite avenues of music. We all come from different aspects of life, yet are unified by our love to create music."

Highlights. We were immediately drawn to a few of the album's standouts. These include the very November Project-sounding tune "1000 Miles Away" with its rocking beat and lovely vocal harmonies. We were equally inspired by the progressive rocker tune "Falling" with its sweeping instrumentals, crisp percussion, vast tempo changes and the lushest and widest ranging vocal arrangement--listen for the lovely harmonies--on the album. It must be something to see performed live.

Nanyana's vocal power continues in the rhythmic track "Limbo," a moody track that shows the band's instrumental, especially guitar licks, prowess as well. "Somthing About You" is a rapidfire and storming rocker; listen for the vibrato in Nanyana's voice and the rich keyboards and vocal harmonies that underscore the guitar-based arrangement. "Who's To Blame" is equally evocative; a down-tempo ballad-like track, the whispy vocals show yet another dimension of their lead vocalist. The album concludes with the jazzy but orchestral ballad "You Loving Me." Listen for the superb piano solo during the instrumental bridge

The album is available from the band's website. Click on the image top left to point your browser there. There are twelve eclectic tracks included. Vocally dramatic and instrumentally rich, this debut album is worth a journey--check it out!

 
Patchwork CD Cover
Image © 2C Production 1990

Mosaique
Image © 2C Production 1992

Arrakeen are:
Eric Bonnardel (keyboards)
Cyril Achard (guitars, backing vocals)
Maïko (lead and backing vocals)
Gauthier Mejanel (percussion)
Yves Darteyron (bass)
 

(24 January 2002) Arrakeen's debut CD Patchwork (2C Productions (France), 1990) is, even for English-speaking people, very accessible. It has sort of a prog-pop feel to it not unlike Fish-era Marillion, and most of the time the album is very energetic.

Speaking of Marillion, guitarist Steve Rothary guests on the final live cut on Patchwork,I'm assuming that Arrakeen are either protégés of the band or at least somewhat influenced by them. All you keyboard fans out there will be happy to find that keyboardist Eric Bonnardel dominates their music, and his style is very similar to Marillion's Mark Kelly. Guitarist Sylvain Gouvernaire is an adequate folk-rock style guitarist, although much of the time he's overshadowed by Bonnerdal's keyboards. Still, however, Gouvernaire seemed to work very well with Rothary on the final live track.

Of course, what will catch the attention of most listeners is Arrakeen's lead singer Maïko. Suffice to say that she's as easy on the ears as she is on the eyes. Maiko definitely stands out, as she has the distinction in my mind of being one of the most powerful soprano singers I've ever heard in prog/pop-rock. Although her singing is quite high, her voice has a very rich, full quality to it more typical of alto singers. Indeed, she's the best soprano I've heard since Annie Haslam of Renaissance. Although I think that on the whole altos make better rock singers, Maïko is a notable exception.

It should also be noted that the album has a very interesting fantasy painting on the front cover. It depicts a strange small mammal that looks to be a cross between a dog and a monkey (which the band also uses for its logo) playing chess with what looks like Gollum from "Lord of the Rings". The chess pieces are a tree, a seahorse, a single die, a heart card, and a cage. They are obviously meant to be symbolic, although exactly what they are symbolic of escapes me. A very intriguing album cover, however, and definitely in keeping with prog rock mysticism.

Criticisms of the album are fairly minor. For one thing, Patchwork is very short by contemporary standards. It consists of four tracks at just under 30 minutes total. At a time when many CDs are way too long and have too much padding, Patchwork is rather short and sweet. Further, those looking for ultra-sophisticated prog rock like Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Yes are going to be disappointed. Arrakeen is more at the speed of a Marillion or an Alan Parsons Project. Finally one of the photos in the montage on the back of the CD show a couple of partying Frenchmen whipping their beers in front of the camera which is kind of tacky and more typical of something you would see on a straight rock-and-roll album rather than a more serious prog rock band. Again though, these are all minor, nit-picky details.

Above all, Arrakeen sounds very, very French. If you've ever wondered what French prog-rock sounds like, you need look no further than Arrakeen's Patchwork. Further, although the tone of the album is generally serious like most prog rock, it is never dark. Indeed, one of the endearing criticisms of prog rock has been that much of it is way too dark.

Fortunately, Arrakeen has no such problem. Although not a seminal prog rock work, it is very accessible, and most prog and pop/rock fans should like it. It is accessible, energetic and has excellent female vocals. If you've ever wondered what French prog rock sounds like, prefer female vocals, and don't like your prog rock too sophisticated, then this album is for you.--JTR

In addition to Patchwork, Arrakeen also recorded a second album entitled Mosaïque (2C Productions (France), 1992). The album is an eight-track collection of accessible neo-prog tunes that are certainly as appealing as the four on Patchwork. The album has a significantly longer running time. Layered vocals provide an extra special texture.

The band plays in full splendour with guitar- and keyboard-based instrumentals effectively complimenting Maïko's stunning vocal parts. The recording and production quality is outstanding and the layered vocals work quite well, especially with the solo keyboard and guitar excursions in the various instrumental bridges. Some Yes and Mike Oldfield riffs show band roots but are obvious rip-offs.are reminsicent of the debut self-titled album by You And I.

The accompanying booklet offers some better photographs than the band's debut album, full lyrics and contact information, although no official or fan-supported website is identified; the CD is a gold disc. Both vocal and instrumental arrangements on this extended length album are an improvement on Patchwork. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, the album is a must-listen!--RWE

Although it has been over ten years since Arrakeen's albums were released, both are currently available at Syn-Phonic progressive rock mail-order. Contact Greg Walker there for ordering details.

 
Heart & Soul CD Cover
Image © CMC Faster Productions 2002 
 

(30 January 2003) Although not previously a sincere fan of Bonnie Tyler-type music, having heard so far only occassionally some of her basic hits from the 1970s and 1980s like "It's A Heartache", "Lost in France", and "Total Eclipse of The Heart," her new album Heart & Soul: 13 Rock Classics (CMC, Faster Productions, 2002) has opened us up to new possibilities.

This album by Bonnie is a covers album, and it is the first time she has done so. Surprisingly or not, Bonnie hails from Wales, so she has now chosen a very interesting way to work with at least one other music person from Wales, namely Karl "Mr. Adiemus" Jenkins himself, and decided to sing cover songs which have been arranged specifically for her band plus a symphony orchestra! So, the album has been made with the help of six arrangers (Karl Jenkins, Nick Ingman, Alan Darby, Matt Prior, Gerard McBurney and John Young), a bit more "electric" band, and The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Karl Jenkins.

Nowadays almost every artist decides to do a cover album at some point, but this album makes an exception towards the positively surprising direction. On the album Bonnie sings more or less familiar pop/rock classics, for example "Everybody Hurts," "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)," "Lean On Me," "Right Here Waiting" and "It's Over". Artists/bands covered feature Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, U2, The Beatles, Richard Marx, and Roy Orbison among others. As I mentioned above, there have been six professional musicians/conductors making the arrangements, but majority of the arrangements has been made by Karl Jenkins. So, knowing him from his "classical/crossover" music, the album is more exciting.

Basically, one can either like or dislike artists covering others music, but this album really takes the listener by surprise, positively. The arrangements really fit like a glove to Bonnie Tyler's famous hoarse and "rasping" voice. As Karl Jenkins has spent his early life working with pop/rock/jazz genres, he has now succeeded to fuse the earlier influences to his present styles, and under his baton, Bonnie, the backing vocalists, the band, and the symphony orchestra all are "pitched to their very maximum" and really show their abilities musically. The usage of reeds, brass and percussion are at times very typical for Karl Jenkins, and the strings support the moods of each song finely, with their cascading arpeggios and softer elements. Not to underestimate the other arrangers, their work sounds as wonderful as Karl's!

The new arrangements really bring much wonderful ideas to the album, for example a bunch of new dimensions, and this approach makes the album to sound all new. The style of using symphonic elements has not been very typical for Bonnie, but in my opinion, she sounds wonderful even like this! On each time of listening, one can find something new from the pieces, each arrangement being different from each other. And this makes the listening a very enjoyable experience! Highly recommended for everyone, also those who have not liked Bonnie Tyler's music before, since I bet that one will not become tired to listen to Heart & Soul's classics in a new form!--Suvi Kaikkonen

[Editor's Note: This album is presently not available as a domestic North American or British product.]

 
Stolen Moments CD Cover
Image © Proprius Music AB 2002 
 

(08 Feb 2003) Stolen Moments (Proprius PRCD 2023, 2002) is the latest album by the Finnish group How Many Sisters?. The group consists of three female singers. They were founded in 1982, when the "primus motor" of the trio, Mrs. Anna-Mari Kähärä, formed the initial line-up in Kuopio Senior Music High School while studying there. Their first song was therefore performed more than 20 years ago, and soon after that How Many Sisters members moved to Helsinki to both continue their music studies and to make their debut self-titled album (released in 1985). All the members of the group are very versatile musicians, for example Anna-Mari has studied both classical and pop/jazz music, even in Sibelius Academy, and in addition to composing, arranging and performing music, she is a multi-instrumentalist: violin, piano, voice, accordion, keyboards, and so on!

How Many Sisters? today's line-up is a bit different from the group's early days; Anna-Mari is still the key person, but in 1989 the trio was consisting of Anna-Mari, Mrs. Pirjo Aittomäki(-Rantanen) and Mrs. Mervi Hiltunen(-Multamäki). The group intended to make their second album already quite a while back, but for various and numerous reasons the work was put on hold. During the 1990's all three ladies have been pregnant every now and then, they have been involved in singing background vocals for various Finnish artists both live and for records (more or less together or separately), then came Anna-Mari's own jazz-pop-world-crossover group ZetaBoo which has been touring in Finland and made two albums so far.

From the late 1990's onwards up until today, all three singers of HMS have been singing vocals for the world-renowned cross-over musical "project" called Adiemus by Karl Jenkins, appearing on both albums Adiemus III Dances of Time (Mervi & Anna-Mari) and Adiemus Live (all three) as well as singing together with Miriam Stockley in live concerts from UK and Helsinki to Tokyo. So, it's no wonder at all that the recordings of this HMS album has spanned from as early as 1996 to October 2002, just a couple of months before this last release! The name of the group, "How Many Sisters?", pays tribute to "Harmony Sisters," a Finnish female singer trio of 1930s/1940s, which sang quite similarly to this follow-up group. In addition, both group names are even quite similarly pronounced!

Categorising the group's current album is not very easy but some will clearly recognise their jazz roots. Nor necessary at all, since as the singers themselves have written to the album booklet: "One must be prepared to accept many different views to our music." The "creative break" that happened to the group has been successfully able to open up whole new musical worlds and aspects for the singers, giving them ideas to improvise, fuse even more musical styles together uniquely, make interesting compositions and arrangements, and so on. All this ends up to perfect, versatile, but not at all "ear-disturbing" music.

Anna-Mari Kähärä has recently gained even more recognition in Finland, by winning almost consecutively two art awards. In November 2002 the Finnish Jazz Association awarded her with the "Yrjö" prize, "The National Jazz Musician of the Year" title, and just a bit later Anna-Mari was one of the very honoured receivers of annual "Art Finland" prize (given to groups and/or individuals who have recently been successful within the fields on performing arts, including music and theatre). Indeed, very well done for a woman, since a female artist is still relatively unrecognised and awarded like this!

Now back to Stolen Moments. The newly released album of HMS is versatile. In addition to the How Many Sisters singers, the album features two orchestras, the Finnish UMO Jazz Orchestra with its 18 musicians, and a smaller ensemble "Kirmo Lintinen Trio". What makes the line-up interesting here is, that all the musicians except the singers are male, but this really doesn't affect to the listening experience nor the professionality of a musician at all. In fact, every single one of the musicians, both female and male, show really their abilities in music by putting their souls entirely to music--and, that professionality can be heard from the album!

Stolen Moments contains mostly quite "classical" songs from jazz/musical/theatre world, but in addition it also contains original music by Anna-Mari Kähärä herself. Not forgetting Finnish music, French chanson nor schlager-type music. Both the orchestra and the smaller ensemble musicians and the singers have been arranging the music for the album, and the results form a very seamless and ear-friendly musical tapestry of sounds. Not meaning that the album would be "flat" and too homogenic, but rather a happy, colourful and "positive" patchwork quilt. The listener easily can pick up one favourite, maybe two, then a bit later another, then more--ending up to pronounce the entire album as a favourite! This was also what happened in my case.

Indeed the album contains music for every taste, for example "I'll Take Romance" (Oakland/Hammerstein II), "It's Only A Paper Moon," "Cheek to Cheek" (Irving Berlin), "In A Sentimental Mood" (by Duke Ellington), "They Can't Take That Away From Me" (Gershwin), "A Night in Tunisia" (Dizzy Gillespie), "Speak Low" (Kurt Weill), and "Les Feuilles Mortes" (known also as "Autumn Leaves" by Kosma). Well-known and familiar pieces for most of us, but these new HMS treatments really are outstanding and give some more aspects to already existing songs.

A special mention should be made of two particular tracks. "A Night in Tunisia" is the most humorous song on the album, featuring the singers as "The Jazz Squirrels." They are singing the song in a "chipmunk style", and as the lyrics of the song (sung mostly in Finnish though) form quite an absurd love song, the "squirrels" really are "the icing on the cake." Whereas, an a cappella multi-layered song "New Every Morning" easily causes goose pimples for the listener, for the harmonics are just so beautifully done. And, because the album contains stylistically so many different songs, even the Adiemus composer Karl Jenkins would be proud of the album after hearing it since he has also been influenced by various musical styles during his professional music life, including even one of this album's styles, jazz.

As a whole, the versatility of Stolen Moments as an album and the professionality of the musicians involved make this album worth for having, even if you don't like jazz so much. Certainly it would be a pity if How Many Sisters' albums would remain released only in Finland, because this kind of style could be very interesting to be presented to world-wide audience, too! Of course the audience have perhaps heard their Weill's or Berlin's, but these versions are giving something new and exciting to the listener. The women are having very hectic days with their other musical projects, so gigs are very few and only in Finland so far. But, if you are very lucky to visit Finland some day, even Stolen Moments makes it worth for purchasing as a musical souvenir. And, if you are even luckier, you might also see the group performing their outstanding music live somewhere. Only time will tell the future of this group, but this album is really stunning!--Suvi Kaikkonen

 
Elfonia CD Cover
Image © Elfonia 2003

Elfonia
Image © Elfonia 2003

 

(10 February 2003) Elfonia are an emerging progressive rock band from Mexico. Built upon the stunning soprano lead vocals of Marcela Bovio, the band's symphonic sound includes vast keyboard washes, lovely violin excursions, ample guitar work and crisp percussion. Their debut self-titled album (2003) is a collection of eleven symphonically arranged tracks sung in Spanish.

Founding Elfonia band members Marcela Bovio (vocals, violin) and Alejandro Millán (guitars, keyboards) as well as Roberto Quintanilla (guitars) previously were at the core of the band Hydra (website). Pablo González (bass) and Javier Garagarza (drums) complete Elfonia's lineup. Enthusiasts of Renaissance (website), Projeto Caledoscopio (Seven revew, Carrossel review) and similar progressive bands are certain to be delighted with Elfonia's debut album. Interested readers should also seek out Hydra's rare Bosquejo (Asenath Records (Mexico), 1999) five-track EP (tape) as well.

The material on Elfonia is sung entirely in Spanish which works well with the band's rich symphonic instrumental foundation. Marcela's powerful and crystalline vocals soar above the arrangements drawing the listener in right from the gentle opening tune "eldalinalë." The material is moody with dramatic textural and tempo shifts occurring multiple times within a track. Heavy guitar riffs compliment the gentler vocal and keyboard parts. Several stunning violin parts are featured but they are less prominent in Elfonia than in the Hydra recordings.

In addition to the more symphonic-styled arrangements, crisp Steve Howe-like acoustic guitar is also found within the music. Such is the case with "nuestro descanso" in which Marcela's sweet, yet soaring lead is contrasted by jazz textures with acoustic guitar, bass and further sound effects. The evocative "aura" continues to illustrate the variety of material on the album. The gently sung, jazz influenced ballad, is underscored by thick progressively styled guitar arrangements. "drama" is a lovely acoustic-guitar-based balled and the only one sung solo by Alejandro.

In the progressively styled "dentro," Marcela's evocatively sung lead is supported by light piano in the verse and contrasted by heavier guitar-laden choruses. It is here and in the rocking standout track "de todas mis heridas" that the power and sensitivity her the lead singer's voice is most evident. The crystalline texture of Marcela's soprano is contrasted by vast guitar excursions in "modos humanos." Her vocal resemblence to Annie Haslam is clearly illustrated in the vocalise segments of this track.

One of the album's standouts is the symphonic progressive tune "hatshepsut." An extended instrumental with rich keyboard arrangements and crisp percussion is complimented by powerful guitar excursions that perfectly introduce Marcela's tremendous violin part and scales of instrumental-style vocalise. While somewhat darker and serious, the tune "añoranza" has an equally rich orchestral texture; Roberto's guitar solo and Marcela's vocalise add brightness to the track.

The lovely melody of "la vida que emana" is played by piano as the introduction to the epic "de todas mis heridas," an upbeat and powerful progressive rocker which is clearly the album's standout track. Marcela's vocal range and power are evident in the performance; her violin solo is equally outstanding. "alma infinita" begins seamlessly where "de todas mis heridas" concludes--almost as a continuation of the previous track--with evocative crystalline extended vocal notes soaring above the lush keyboard- and guitar-laced arrangements. These three tracks constitute a progressive epic. It must be wonderful to see the band perform this on stage. An evocative and emotionally sung a cappella twelfth (un-named) bonus track on our demo is a tremendous testament to the tremendous power, broad range and complete virtuosity of the band's lead singer.

Elfonia's debut album is an album for female vocal enthusiasts regardless of their grounding. That the music is progressive with an occassional Latin and Celtic edge makes it even more exciting. The album can be obtained from the band's website or at their live performances. One of the great finds as 2002 came a close, this 2003 debut album is worth a trans-Atlantic journey and is a must listen!

 
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