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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
Rebecca Pidgeon
Rebecca Pidgeon
Lucie Silvas
Cristina Branco
Rebecca Luker
Club For Five (Club 45)
Ashlee Simpson
Minnie Driver
Jennifer Cutting
Lori Schneider
Tenfold Loadstar
Jane Siberry

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Tough On Crime CD Cover
Image © Hot Milk Records 2004

Rebecca Pidgeon Image © Hot Milk Records 2004

More Rebecca Pidgeon:
The Raven
The New York Girl's Club
Four Marys

Rebecca Pidgeon Image © Hot Milk Records 2004

 

(02 December 2004) Tough on Crime (Hot Milk Records (USA), 2004) is Rebecca Pidgeon's latest CD that continues to feature her wonderful vocals and sensitive lyrics. This album is her first release in six years. All the songs were written and composed by Rebecca on this ten track album. She also performed guitar and vocals on all the tracks. Nip/Tuck fans will recognize the title track from the eleventh episode of the popular television drama.

"Music has always been a passion for me because it is something that makes me so happy," according to Rebecca. She teamed up with Larry Klein on this project since she adored his work. Larry was also intrigued with Rebecca's material and said, "I found working together to be absolutely the easiest, most blissful experience that I could imagine as a record producer."

Rebecca said the sound was unique in Tough on Crime and loves to create the characters in her musical stories as she writes. She stated, "After listening to Tough on Crime, I hope my fans will come away with a sense of fulfillment and enjoyment and I hope that it grows on them, that they learn to love the deeper nuances in the stories and the music. Every song is special to me, yes."

Sultry tones abound as the album opens with "Learn to Fly." Rebecca's exquisite vocals set the mood for this sequence of ballads. "Tangerine" is a wonderful, sexy and entrancing melody, sung with her gentle yet strong voice. Adding to the ambience is the marvelous alto sax played by Albert Uring. The title track, "Tough on Crime," is a song based on a man who was with Delta Force. Rebecca wrote the song while she wondered what it might be like to be married to a superhero. Scott Amendola on drums and percussion keep the strong beat exciting, with support from Larry Klein on bass, wurlitzer piano and guitar.

"Ordinary Blues" also has an upbeat melody. Rebecca said that during a bad winter in Boston, she was looking through a magazine that was depicting a great life, and this song was written to take her away from her ordinary blues. The jazz/blues feel throughout the song is featured.

"Nasty Guy" continues the bluesy air with Larry Klein on bass, Billy Preston on hammond organ, Jimmie Wood on harmonica, and Scott Amendola on drums. The instrumentals in this song are outstanding, certainly complementing Rebecca's marvelous vocals. "Magazine" begins with a more haunting tune, and then falls into dissonant tones that work well to create the mood.

When speaking about "The Romance of Everyday Life," Rebecca said that the song was about a romantic encounter. She said that the encounter was a "normal, standing in the coffee line" type, based loosely on her famous husband, David Mamet. The song has a very relaxed, jazzy feel to it, certainly enhanced by her breathy vocals.

Although she first got into music by accident and eventually learned how to play guitar with the Ruby Blue band, it is no accident at the musical talent and expertise displayed in this intriguing album. Rebecca creates a stunning atmosphere and captures the mood easily, taking the listener on an expressive journey. Her lush arrangements with marvelous instrumentation are sybiotic with her beautiful and heartfelt ballads. This is not an album to be missed!

 
Rebecca Pidgeon Retrospective CD Cover
Image © Chesky Records 2004

More Rebecca Pidgeon:
The Raven
The New York Girl's Club
Four Marys
Tough On Crime

 

(02 December 2004) Modern pop singer/songwriter Rebecca Pidgeon takes the best songs from her three previous albums for a commemorative CD, Retrospective (Chesky Records (USA) SACD242, 2003). With a career that not only includes three solo albums, she is an accomplished motion picture, theatre and television actress. Her distinctive recordings span a broad range of vocal and song styles. This collection of songs offers the individual titles that together create an exciting mosaic of this amazing singer/songwriter with the outstanding sound quality of SACD format.

Although born in the USA, she was raised in Scotland. She studied acting at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, which has trained some of the finest classical British stage actors. Her background seems to have strongly influenced her musical approach. Her deeply rooted Celtic influences are blended with the fundamentals of old school jazz, blues and folk music in order to create her own signature musical style. Her crystalline vocals emanate throughout this collection. Songs range from light acoustic folky numbers to moderate rock tracks along with some spoken word pieces.

The album starts off with her signature work, "Spanish Harlem," which is stunning and will be most appreciated by her strong contingent of fans. There are light and airy songs, such as "Kalerka and "Fhear a Bhata," that are lyrically and vocally strong. Some other favorites on the album include "24 Hours of Love" and "Primitive Man."

The final track, "Auld Lang Syne/Bring It On Home to Me," is a wonderful piece, combining the spoken word with Sam Cooke's well-known song and Robert Burns' famous poem. This unique accomplishment highlights Rebecca's broad range of talent on this marvelous collection.

Our earlier feature presents detailed reviews of the three albums that these tracks were selected from. Rebecca's splendid voice is a pure pleasure to listen to. She presents an album that focusses on the best lyrics and tunes that she is renowned for. For those who have not listened to Rebecca's beautiful voice in the past are in for a treat with this solid collection of her best songs in her unique style. Rebecca captures you with her smooth and seductive vocals that have clarity and sheer perfection.

 
Breathe In CD Cover
Image © Mercury Records Ltd. 2004

What You're Made Of Image © Mercury Records Ltd. 2004

Lucie Image © Mercury Records Ltd. 2004

 

(22 October 2004) Lucie Silvas first came to our intention in 1997, when, as a teenager, she sang backing vocals on Judie Tzuke's 1997 Under the Angels tour. She then commenced a stop-start solo career that never really took off despite considerable record company interest. Until October 2004 that is, when the full marketing might of Mercury records catapulted her into the UK charts with her new single "What You're Made of" (Mercury Records (UK) 9867463, 2004) and album Breathe in (Mercury Records (UK) 9867025, 2004).

Lucie is being presented very much as the sophisticated singer-songwriter, emphasising her stunning looks and piano playing. Think of a white, British Alicia Keys you pretty much have it. Certainly she has the beauty and voice to justify the effort put in by her record company. Though possessing the vocal range and mobility of Christina Aguilera, she not over use her voice, allowing the songs to breathe without too much vocal showing-off when inappropriate.

She is also an excellent and varied songwriter, and has gathering some remarkable talent around her to assist with this process. The songs move with ease between gospel, soul, lush ballads, catchy pop and soft rock with the aid of producer Mike Peden, Judie Tzuke, guitarist Graham Kearns (also a current member of Judie's band) and keyboard player Peter Gordeno (also a past Tzuke collaborator), amongst others. This cast of talented writers and performers have worked with Lucie to hone the songs into a classy and engaging set. An orchestra is used frequently and to good effect, and the London Community Gospel Choir make two excellent contributions.

The album opens with the disciplined, acoustic guitar-led, catchy pop of "Don't Look Back," before the orchestra makes its first appearance on the dramatic ballad "The Game is One," the sort of song chosen as a Bond theme, which gives Lucie a chance to cut lose vocally. "Last Man Standing" is a piece of familiar pop / soul with genuine chart potential, while "Forget me not" is a gentle, shimmering piano ballad. After the stillness of the proceeding song, the up-tempo soft rock of the delightful title track provides a welcome contrast, before a wonderful orchestra and solo cello introduction leads into the soaring ballad "Nothing Else Matters".

"Without You" is a cool slice of pop / soul, reminiscent of Judie Tzuke at her most laid back (though, surprisingly, she was not involved in its writing), with some lovely solo guitar from Kearns. Lucie's elder sister Mia (yet again, a part of the Judie Tzuke band) assists on backing vocals throughout, and is featured on this track. "What Your Made of" is the hit single, another dramatic ballad, followed by the excellent pop / rock of "Twisting the Chain" which makes inventive use of the orchestra. "No Defence" is a bluesy, guitar and piano led ballad, while "The Longer we're apart" builds from a quiet acoustic beginning into a huge gospel tour de force.

The album feels like it should end there, but there are two further tracks: the mediocre pop of "Like you love me" and the delightful, gentle soul of album closer "Seven Veils". The EP includes two further songs not included on the album: the ballad "Love you this much" and the guitar pop of "Build Your World Around", which is reminiscent of The Corrs. It also includes the video for the single, which is designed to enhance off Lucie's singer-songwriter credentials--and to show off how beautiful she is.

Breathe In is unlikely to stun the music world with its originality or lyrical insight, but as Britain's answer to the pop divas currently dominating the US charts, Lucie seems set for a glittering career. Furthermore, this is an album awash with consistently excellent, chart worthy songs that seem likely to keep CD buyers, in the UK at least, busy for months.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England

 
Sensus CD Cover
Image © Universal Classics 2004 
 

(08 November 2004) Sensus (Decca Records / Universal Classics (USA), 2004) is the heart of Portuguese soul, exquisitely presented by modern day fado artist, Christina Branco. Fado is considered to be the oldest urban folk music, and was adopted by Lisbon's working class by the early twentieth century. Due to the melancholy nature of the songs and the strong emotional power, fado is sometimes coined as the "Portu blues."

The late Amalia Rodrigues who died in 1999, was the reigning diva of fado, having been worshipped by the Portuguese, and even awarded a state funeral and official mourning for three days. In being compared to Amalia, Christina says, "Besides loving her very much, loving the way she sang and all the songs she recorded, it's different for me. She was a very sad person -- I'm not. I have no particular problems, except the normal problems of every teenager, or every adult has. I have to be an optimist. Why be sad if I'm not?"

Christina has revitalized fado, and employs the essential element of saudade, a Portuguese word meaning longing, or nostalgia for unrealized dreams. Her stunning alto voice is divine, and exemplifies the deep, rich passion and emotion of this music genre which connects poetry, music and vocals. "Nowadays, some of the people my age prefer the traditional roots, they prefer to sing only traditional fado. But there are other people like me that prefer to show the traditional part, yes, but are trying to make new compositions, to mix different styles...because you are being influenced all the time by different cultures."

The music throughout this album has a lightness mixed with haunting melodies, highlighting the soulfulness and passion of the songs. Her guitarist/music director/husband, Custódio Castelo, is an integral element in their joint musical efforts in mesmerizing the listener. The sensual ballads accompanied by guitar and piano presented by Christina are chosen from modern Portuguese poets such as Pedro Homem De Mello, Maria Teresa Horta and Vinicius De Moraes as well as from sixteenth century poets Luis Vaz De Camoes and William Shakespeare, whose sonnets have recently been published in an excellent Portuguese translation and are sung in Portuguese here for the first time.

Christina's expressive, lush vocals are captivating. Reading through the English translations of her ballads helps one to realize the intensity and subtlety of the connection between the words and music. Her dramatic interpretations are powerful and full of a subdued energy. "Each piece of music is born when I discover a new poem. The words are the major element of my whole concept."

Even though these songs are performed in Portuguese, the sensitivity and meaning is not lost to the English-speaking ear due to the magnificent vocal and instrumental interpretations. Christina exudes intense passion with a contemporary edge to this incredible mournful traditional music. Her voice is sensual and one can actually feel the emotions as her stunning vocals radiate from this collection. She has successfully and expressively blended voice, poetry and music. Sensus, enhanced by Christina Branco's dazzling and awesome voice, is a work of beauty that should be part of everyone's music collection.

 
Leaving Home CD Cover
Image © Norse Star, Inc. and
Christopher McGovern 2004
Album © PS Classics 2004
 
 

Broadway musical diva, Rebecca Luker, deviates from her normal repertoire and sings some wonderful folk/rock covers in her new album, Leaving Home (PS Classics (USA) PS415, 2004). She was very much into rock and folk music as a youngster and the idea behind this album was to pay tribute to some of her favorite folk/rock singers from her youth. Rebecca has certainly put her special touch on some classic songs. Rebecca is the stunning voice of the Aria series of classical crossover albums by Paul Schwartz (review).

With crystal clarity, Rebecca's vocals are showcased throughout this CD. She pays homage to great singer/songwriters in some folk/rock classic melodies by Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Janis Ian, and of course Lennon and McCartney. She also includes a few show tunes which beautifully balance this collection. "Cherish The Child" from Lizzie Borden (written by album producer Christopher McGovern and Amy Powers) and a duet with Alison Fraser of "Wick" from The Secret Garden are flawlessly performed, and the listener is immediately drawn into the lilting melodies and emotive presentation.

The album includes Stephen Foster's ode, "Old Dog Tray," which Rebecca treats with a tenderness and freshness in her approach. Rebecca also introduces a couple of songs from upcoming musicals: "Ophelia" from Amanda McBroom's Will's Women and "Fine" from Bill Whitefield and Bill Castellino's Crash Club. She is meticulous in her technique and her gorgeous soprano voice is stunning, although there isn't much call for her higher vocal range in this collection. "I am so not a musical theatre person. I never put on a musical (record at home). I love it, but I do it so much I don't want to listen to it when I go home. I love rock music, and jazz. I love the '70s stuff that I grew up with. I grew up listening to Karla Bonoff. I like mostly that '70s rock. I love Carlos Santana, too."

The CD is overflowing with Rebecca's heartfelt and inspiring musical interpretations in this blend of folk, theatre and pop songs. Drums by Joe Brady, cello by Jennifer Gravenstine, reeds by Pete Kikidakis, piano/keyboards by Christopher McGovern, guitar by Sean Harkness and violin by Jessica Wright are integral in making these songs a standout. The excellent production of this CD only adds to the stunning recordings by Rebecca. One can feel her warmth and personality shining through. Her remarkable rendition of "She's Leaving Home" is a highlight and her efforts are lovingly felt in this exquisite version.

Her dazzling, dramatic vocals are expressive and touching, and transport the listener to a peaceful and idyllic state of mind. Rebecca Luker displays her versatility in this wonderful album, and she certainly cannot be labeled only as a theatre musical singer. Leaving Home evokes delightful memories of classic folk/rock songs that make you feel that you are home.

 
Ensi0Ilta CD Cover
Image © Universal Music Finland 2004

Club For Five Image © Universal Music Finland 2004
 

(07 November 2004) It is a joy to notice how vital the a cappella music has been able to stay throughout the years, and how the tradition started by the early Swingle Singers in the 1950s or so is still flourishing and evolving onwards. Several new groups are born every year, many of them being successful not only within their home country, but also around the world, both in terms of the sales of albums as well as concert tickets.

One of the new entrants on the a cappella field is a Finnish group of five singers: Ninni Poijärvi (soprano), Susanna Hietala (alto), Jouni Kannisto (tenor), Tuomas Ahola (baritone) and Tuukka Haapaniemi (bass) called Club For Five (Club45). Like the now world-famous fellow vocal group Rajaton (album reviews: 1 | 2 | 3; concert review), Club For Five has stepped to the limelight by winning the annual vocal group competition Tampere International Choral Festival in 2001. So far the group has made only small-scale live performances mainly in Finland, but as they have now released their debut album Ensi-Ilta or in English Premiere (Universal Music (Finland) 986 826-0, 2004), there will surely be chances to enjoy the group's live music also abroad. Although the debut album indeed contains music sung mostly in Finnish (the only piece, the ever-funny and clever "Oula, take a Coca-Cola" being the great exception!), the usage of Finnish language should not put off the foreign listeners at all. In fact, it is part of the songs' moods really.

Most of the pieces are truly "classic of the classics" for Finns and many wonder why there aren't so much previously unrecorded material on the album, but every single one of those classics has been carefully rearranged by the very skillful Club For Five singers, so well that even I was able to find out several new aspects of the pieces on each time of listening! For example, the hilarious "Mikki-Hiiri Merihädässä" (Mickey Mouse on the Sea Danger) sounds even more lively than its original version made in 1936, whereas the lullaby "Sininen Uni" (Blue Dream) should also cause drowsiness for the foreign listeners! Not to say that the lullaby is dull, but it simply works!

Not forgetting of course the humour, which is a vital part of Club For Five's album. Of course some may think that the humour can be opened for us Finns only, but luckily this is not the case with Club For Five. It can really be heard from the music, one does not need to be an expert of Finnish music to enjoy the album in full.

To summarize, all the pieces on Club For Five's debut album Ensi-Ilta are really unique, showing all kinds of miraculous possibilities that one can do with a simple human voice. The music on the album is full of life with all kinds of hilarious instrument imitation effects made by the singers themselves, so those elements really make many to think how on earth the singers are not using any kind of "real" musical instruments in addition to their voices. Of course the group has used some echo machinery to boost their music, but that's indeed all of the technical side, believe it or not.

The album is a masterwork of showing the versatility of the human voices, and it really glues the listener next to the CD player over and over again without causing any fed up symptoms. It would be a very big pity if this album would not be released also outside Finland, because an album made this well and containing this unique and inventive a cappella music really deserves a much wider audience than just us Finns, not forgetting of course the live concerts! While waiting the international premiere, this album is a must listen if you happen to visit Finland and would like to place something new to your collection of CDs.--Suvi Kaikkonen in Oulu, Finland

 
Autobiography CD Cover
Image © Geffen Records 2004

Ashlee Simpson Image © Geffen Records 2004
 

(01 November 2004) Considering the formularised pop that her elder sister Jessica churns out, not much was expected from Ashlee when she released her debut album Autobiography (Geffen (UK), 2004) in the summer of 2004. That the resulting CD is as good as it is--a bona fide rock album of considerable energy and skill --must go down not only to Ashlee’s energetic vocal performance and direct lyric writing, but to the talent of her collaborators, especially multi–instrumentalist / producer John Shanks and co-writer and backing vocalist Kara DioGuardi who have fashioned some of the songs into minor pop / rock classics.

Despite her black hair--dyed to make her look as unlike Jessica as possible--the parallels with Avril Lavigne are obvious. Both perform rock with a chart-friendly pop edge, but whereas Avril has moved down a darker, punk /metallic path, Ashlee's music jangles as often as it crunches and a number of the songs on this album suggest a strong Beatles influence. Whether this influence is hers, or her collaborators, this certainly gives the music more variation than that of her blonde rival. Indeed looking at the cover art, it is hard to tell that a rock album is inside.

But a rock album we certainly get. The title track opens the album in mid-paced, hard rocking style, Ashlee's very feminine rock voice spitting the aggressive lyrics of the chorus in ear-catching style. Acoustic guitar opens the catchy single "Pieces of Me" – the song has a similar feel to Avril Lavigne's own ultra-catchy debut "Complicated." The excellent "Shadow" is next up, its lyrics openly commenting on her relationship with her sister and parents, while the song itself has a distinct 70s feel, before the crunching "Lala"--a song obviously about sex--picks up the pace and the volume of it’s guitars, as well as throwing an exciting middle eight. "Love Makes the word goes round" starts as a ballad before developing into an up-tempo jangley rocker with a winning chorus. "Better Off" promises to be an album filler for its first few bars. But no, another excellent chorus keeps the song afloat.

"Love for Me" sounds for all the world like Aerosmith--a slightly toned down version for sure--but Ashlee's vocal is delivered with a Tyler-esque swagger. "Surrender" is rather more modern in tone, but once again includes an excellent chorus, a meaty guitar riff and a brief but effective guitar solo. "Unreachable," with its piano and Mellotron-like keyboards suggests the Beatles delightfully, while "Nothing New" is another hard rocking pop song with plenty of tension in its verse leading to a great chorus. "Giving it away" is rather more wistful--even a little folky--its fast acoustic guitar providing a welcome moment of variation without disturbing the overall tone of the album. The final track of the album proper--"Undiscovered"--suggests U2's ballads with its repetitive guitar and droning keyboards. The reviewed version of the album also includes two good bonus tracks--the ultra-hip "Harder Everyday" and the sing-song punk / metal of "Sorry."

While Ashlee may not have a voice that will win her awards, she delivers her vocals with conviction and passion, and she and her collaborators have created on album of likable, catchy pop / rock of amazing consistency that should gain her hit singles on both sides of the Atlantic. Aside from a few moments of lyrical truth, the album lacks a little depth, and one has to wonder whether people will still be playing it in twelve months time, but it is massively entertaining and deeply impressive nonetheless.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England

 
Everything I've Got In My Pocket CD Cover
Image © Zoe Records 2004

Minnie Driver Image © Zoe Records 2004
 

(08 November 2004) Despite her Oscar nomination and celebrity as an actress, giving a major record contract to English star Minnie Driver must have been something of a risk, especially as the music itself is very far from the usual bland celebrity fare. With the assistance of producer and musical mentor Marc "Doc" Mauer she has delivered a pleasing debut, showcasing her pleasing voice and talented song writing. The album is entitled Everything I've Got In My Pocket (Zoe Records (USA), ZOE 1072 2004).

It is also interesting that, a few lyrical moments notwithstanding, this is an album steeped in Americana, ploughing a narrow furrow between the mellow country style of KD Lang and cool, languid pop with a strong suggestion of Brian Eno's shimmering atmospherics on U2's 80s albums. Almost all the drums are played with brushes, and most of the guitars are acoustic with a just hint of pedal steel. The keyboards are played with almost impossible amounts of sustain, each of the eleven songs drifting in and drifting away again on gentle sonic pulses.

The elegant title track is a typical example--gently melodious, and held together with shimmering atmospherics--while "Invisible Girl'' is as close at the album gets to pure pop. Its excellent chorus makes it an obvious single. "Fast As You Can" is almost pure country, while "Living on a Wire" moves back towards KD Lang-influenced pop, with some subtle electric guitar. It is back to traditional folk / country for "Home," while "Deep Water" is an ethereal ballad of which Nancy Merchant would be proud.

"So Well" is an opportunity for Minnie to use her voice a little more over a slightly more upbeat backing, while Bruce Springsteen's "Hungry Heart" takes an up-tempo song and slows it down with slightly uncomfortable results. "Down" successfully continues the laid back pop vibe, before the fragile "Yellow Eyes" showcases Minnie's own guitar playing and features some lovely harmonies. The delightfully charming and catchy "Ruby Adeline" completes the album.

Though the album has its faults, the sum of its gentle, illusive parts does not quite match up to the promise of individual songs, leaving the listener a little frustrated by a lack of substance. The production team were clearly hoping to present a consistent mood and have managed that with aplomb, and while Minnie herself will turn few heads as the find of the decade, she has produced, nonetheless, an excellent debut that should justify her label's faith in her.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England

 
Ocean: Songs for the Night Sea Journey CD Cover
Image © SunSign Records 2004

Jennifer Cutting Image © SunSign Records 2004
 

Jennifer Cutting recently released a wonderful collection of folk/rock and traditional songs called Ocean, Songs for the Night Sea Journey (SunSign Records (USA) SCD2004, 2004). The album was seven years in the making, and certainly well worth the wait. Jennifer is the composer, arranger and director of this lovely collection, also contributing her expertise in piano, organ, electronic keyboards, button and piano accordians.

She is a formally trained classical musician and a folk musician. Apparently, Jennifer is the last in a long family line of composer/ensemble leaders (her grandfather conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra and her great-grandfather was a published composer), as well as the first woman in her family to take up the baton. She has a bachelor’s degree in band and orchestra leadership and a master’s degree in ethnomusicology (the study of the music of non-Western cultures). She chooses to compose (for groups) new settings of traditional folk music, and innovative original music inspired by the tradition.

The album boasts contributions from guest artists including Maddy Prior and Peter Knight from Steeleye Span, Troy Donockley from Iona, and Dave Mattacks from Fairport Convention. Grace Griffiths, who performs vocals and whistle, built a reputation as a singer in Irish pubs and folk coffeehouses, as well as performed at the 1991 Philadelphia Folk Festival and later became known as the voice of the Celtic trio Connemara. Another contributing vocalist is Chris Noyes, former member of the original Chesapeake Bay folk trio, Crab Alley. Also deserving mention are vocalists Polly Bolton, Lisa Moscatiello and Tatiana Sarbinska.

Jennifer has put together a collection of beautiful, soothing melodies to rival bands such as Clannad, Capercaille, and Iona. The CD is a mix of folk/rock songs and more traditional Celtic music. Beginning with "Call of the Siren," the listener is gently lured into the aura of the sea. Sounding like the ebb and flow of the ocean, you enter an ethereal sounding world. "Out on the Ocean/Rolling Waves" are lively traditional jigs, enhanced by wonderful fiddle, Uilleann pipes, bouzouki and bodhrán instrumentals.

Grace Griffiths' beautiful vocals flow in "The Gladdest Breeze" and the haunting "My Grief on the Sea." Jennifer performs the spoken word in "Dissolving/King Neptune" which is a song about coming apart and purification. The melody is quite uplifting, intertwined with a regal feel. "The Sands of Time" richly sung by Lia Moscatiello is an oceanic wedding song for lovers who are chasing one another through time.

"Sleep (On the Deep)" is a touching instrumental, and Troy Donockley's low whistle adds to the peaceful ambiance. The title track, "Song for the Night Sea Journey" is a melody by Gustav Holst. The song is sung in Gaelic and is a prayer for safekeeping and an hymn of comfort. Maddy Prior sings the lush and powerful "Forgiveness." Her exquisite vocals are a highlight in this wonderful collection of songs.

"Neptune Reel/Woman of the House" is a lively tune, complete with bodhrán and bones as well as that infectious foot tapping melody that even has some of the Adiemus vocal sound. Bach's "If You are Near," a celestial lullaby, and "The Siren's Farewell" complete this beautiful album.

Ocean is an amazing and inspiring album, showcasing Jennifer Cutting's wonderful talents. She blends the contemporary and the traditional to create a magical and magnificent work that can be listened to and relished over and over again.

 
Legend
Image © Sparky! Records 2004 
 

(22 Octobwer 2004) Legend: A Knight's Opera (Sparkyl Records (USA) LS1108, 2004) Lori Schneider (USA) is a medieval rock opera written, produced and arranged by Lori Schneider. This work blends progressive rock, medieval, classical folk and world music. The album took three years to create and was originally developed as a conceptual composition, meant to be played in itsentirety, even though it is divided into twenty-twotracks.

Lori has performed over the years in NYC nightclubs, exploring different music genres including rock, jazz and blues. She was a founding member of a female rock/pop duo called Crystal Rose in the early 90's. She expanded her talents as a songwriter and classically trained pianist and built up her expertise instrumentally on guitar, flute and keyboards. Crystal Rose performed over a ten year period and released two albums along the way. Lori also had the honor of singing the national anthem at Shea Stadium for the past five years.

In addition to her musical talents, Lori has college degrees in Business Administration and Psychology, and graduated with honors as Valedictorian. She continues to study classical piano and teaches music full time in between gigs and composing her music.

Lori said, "This entire opera began with a dream I had." This innovative achievement tells a story of a Frenchman from the courtship of Burgundy in the 1400's named Treseblu. He grew to be a noble prince and great warrior, but was pursued by Cordahan, Dark Lord and ruler of Spain. After a war developed, the conflict resulted in Treseblu's death. The people of Burgundy were all grief-stricken at this great loss.

In addition to Lori performing vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar and flute, three other musicians contributed to this poignant work: Joe Cesare on electric bass, electric/acoustic guitar as well as vocals, Anthony Zammit on electric guitar, and Toro Gianchino on drums and percussion. These musicians also co-arranged the opera along with Lori.

The moving lyrics and ethereal music marry beautifully in telling this imaginative story. The remarkable music, filled with classical melodies with a strong progressive edge, transports the listener back to a magical time.

It is evident that Lori has put her heart and soul into this stunning work. Her lovely vocals are filled with emotion and sensitivity, making her efforts a captivating experience.

 
Mellow Garden CD Cover
Image © L'age D'or 2004 
 

(23 November 2004) Tenfold Loadstar are a three-piece based in Hamburg, Germany consisting of Caro Garske (vocals/guitar), Bjoern Matthias (drums/electronics) and Felix Wiesner (guitar/vocals). Mellow Garden (L'age D'or LADO 17115-2, 2004) is their second album; the first, simply entitled, Tenfold Loadstar was only available in their home country, and this one may be a little hard to find, but believe me, it's worth the effort.

It's not an easy album to review because every track is distinctive--it simply doesn’t lend itself to overall comparisons, yet the whole is given unity by Caro Garske's astonishing voice.

It's extremely melodic, could at times be considered as minimalist indie pop or rock, but that would be to ignore the ambient, electronica and occasional dance influences. And one can't really escape the notion there's some alt folk, alt pop and alt country hiding in the speakers as well. The whole thing is sheer alchemy.

The album kicks off with the hook laden "High From Down" a stunning melodic pop song with Caro sounding not unlike Tanya Donelly, and goes straight into the single "Sun And Rain" with its sparsely arranged verse and lovely chorus underpinned by a discrete string line. And so it goes.

Sometimes the music sounds like Mazzy Star crossed with Massive Attack, (if you can get your head round that) at other times a little like Saint Etienne, or more specifically on "New Young" where they get to sing "hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die," like Saint Etienne mixed with a good dose of Neil Young (and of course, Saint Etienne covered Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" so I guess there’s a tradition here).

Even the backing vocals are various and strange, moving from spoken words on the opening song to some whispers and the guys offering some distinctive harmonies on "Rockers." On "Umbrella" there's some ethereal singing of Bacharach and David's "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," and on the acoustic “Little Planet" Caro offers her own unsettling vocal harmony. I mean, it’s not often you can recommend a CD on the strength and imagination of the backing vocals alone is it? Not that that is all that’s worth hearing – every note played, every word sung, every weird electronic beep is part of a spell-binding whole.

It’s a genre-bending album, impossible to categorize. On first hearing each track leaves you a little confused but with a feeling that you’ve just heard something extraordinary if only you knew quite what it was-- but you do know you’re going back for more. It’s a CD best approached with opens ears and an open mind. Tenfold Loadstar appear capable of doing anything and prepared to attempt everything. Wonderful.--Jamie Field in Kington, England

 
When I Was A Boy CD Cover
Image © Reprise Records 1992 
 

(25 November 2004) Between her self-titled debut released in 1981 and this year's Shushan the Palace: Hymns of Earth, Jane Siberry has released, at a rough count, eighteen albums of varying styles and quality, each different from the last, each unexpected and ambitious. In her native Canada, she's achieved almost iconic status both within the music industry and among the music-loving public. In 1992 she released the CD that many consider, not just her finest album, but one of THE finest albums. Period.

When I Was Boy (Reprise Records (USA) 7599-26824-2, 1992) explores love in all its wondrous manifestations, with the joy and sensuality as well the hurt and loneliness of its painful twists and turns. It is light years distant from the way the subject is dealt with in the music world generally. The emotional intensity of this album is extraordinary. People have been known to break down in tears when hearing it for the first time and it clearly has the ability to touch something deep inside in a way very, very few other albums can.

There are numerous stories of the affect this music can have. For example, on its release, a DJ at a community radio station in Canada played the first track 'Temple" and decided it was so incredible, he let it roll over to track 2 ... 70 minutes later, he'd played the whole album uninterrupted by a even a single word from himself. And Tom G. Anderson, Ph.D. uses it in his University classes. "In the teaching of existential-ontological perspectives for therapeutic helping. Siberry's treatment of human authenticity and the givens of being/nonbeing are supurb." So now we know. He adds, "Most importantly, When I Was A Boy is simply beautiful."

And it's true, it is a very beautiful album, but it is also very difficult music to get into. It's a complex tapestry of sounds and vocals, and whilst the lyrics are imaginative, quirky and poetic, they are also at times obscure, and will lead you to places you don't always want to visit (or revisit), but ultimately it will reward many-fold those who make the crossing.

"Sail Across The Water" is the most accessible track with a chorus that will lodge in your brain for hours afterwards. Follow this with "Temple" which at least has something that vaguely resembles a verse, chorus and middle 8 structure. On "The Gospel According To Darkness" Jane gets some vocal assistance from, among others, fellow Canadian, Holly Cole, and she duets with another fellow citizen, k.d. lang on 'Calling All Angels" which has a countryish feel. Well, country, but not as we know it.

The musicians on the album are people she's worked with for a number of years and who are clearly in tune with what she's attempting to pull off here - and the production and sound quality of the CD is stupendous. It's largely self-produced, though Brian Eno's name is appended to a couple of the tracks and one senses Jane learnt a lot from the experience of working with him.

It's best to build up slowly to tracks like "All The Candles In The World"--though you could certainly dance to some of it from play one--and "Sweet Incarnadine" which was edited down from a 20 minute improvisation. Parts of an "An Angel Steps Down" remind one a little of a high church service with it call and response and spoken sections--but it also has some of the catchiest rhythms and lyrics on the album--and it's as varied a track asyou'll find anywhere. The nine minutes of "The Vigil" is like a film.

Ultimately, this CD is best listened to from start to finish, through headphones, and in a darkened room. But for those new to Jane Siberry or who've just experienced turmoil in their love life, it's perhaps best used sparingly. It's undoubtedly a five-star album, but you really do have to earn them.--Jamie Field in Kington, England

 
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