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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
Charlotte Martin
Maria Miller
Anne-Marie Helder
Anna Nalick
Vanessa Carlton
Elizabeth Harper
Paula Brisker
Angel
Angel
Bow Jenkins
Different For Girls
Sharon Lewis

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Test-Drive Songs CD Cover
Image © Word Tree Music
Dreamworks 2002


more Charlotte Martin:
Interview (On Your Shore) (Dec 2004)
Interview (Darkest Hour) (July 2005)
Interview (Veins | Live) (Nov 2005)
Test-Drive Songs (2002)
In Parentheses (2003)
On Your Shore (2004)
Veins (2005)


In Parentheses CD Cover Image © RCA Records 2003

On Your Shore CD Cover Image © RCA Records 2004

 

(originally published 27 December 2004) Our original three album review and accompanying interview was written to introduce Charlotte Martin to our visitors. She is a stunning singer songwriter who has already gathered a worldwide audience from both Kate Bush and Tori Amos enthusiasts.

Charlotte Martin has received significant attention from Musical Discoveries and joined our featured artists page in November 2005. Use the links underneath the album cover to access later interviews and further information about this tremendously exciting musical artist.

While her album Test-Drive Songs presents the closest allusions to these highly acclaimed singer songwriters, Charlotte's In Parentheses and On Your Shore reveal an artist with significant individuality and great promise. And there were previous albums! Learn more about this exciting artist in our indepth interview with Charlotte conducted during December 2004.

Test-Drive Songs. The opening track on Charlotte Martin's eight track debut is a wonderfully powerful piece of music. "Pretty Thing" begins with an hypnotic drum and piano figure and builds to a fine chorus and then builds even more with Charlotte really getting into the vocals. A great way to start. The thing you notice straight away with the piano openings on both "Talk To Strangers" and "Lightblinde" is the similarity to specific Tori Amos tracks. That's not to decry them, just to give you some idea of how good the piano playing is on this album. "Talk To Strangers" unfolds pleasantly enough, but doesn't match up to either the opener here, or the Tori allusion. "Lightblinde" is a much better piece all round--more imaginative and with some interesting backing vocals and she again uses the spaced arpeggio chords that make such an impression on the opening track.

While Charlotte must be tired of the Tori comparisons, it's hard to escape them after listening to this CD. So often the piano opening to a song mimics not just Tori's style, but specific songs. There are vocal similarities too. On "The Girl I Left Behind" Charlotte even immitates Tori's breathy delivery. That's not to say that Tori is the only noticable influence, Kate Bush is there and so, on "Something Like A Hero" is Jane Siberry.

"Last Day On Earth" is another fine song and, for a while, is the most individual and hence least derivative piece on the disc, though the inevitable does kick in well before the end. Charlotte should let herself shine through much more than she does.

The songs are universally interesting with much to recommend them, but apart from the opener they fail to reach the consistent unimpeachable level of Tori Amos. Does this matter? Well actually, yes, it does, because if you happen to sound this similar to an established artist, either by accident or design, then comparisons are inevitable.

"This is a fine disc in many ways and well worth exploring. And if you like Tori, then the chances are you're either going to love it because it's in a similar vein, or hate it as a blatent imitation. The album is available exclusively from Charlotte's website.

In Parentheses. On Charlotte's follow-up four song EP the influences, whilst still there, are less obvious. The opener "Your Armor" has something distinctly individualistic about it. More mellow and reflective than some of her work, she takes the opportunity to use her voice to great effect.

The title track is possibly the weakest on the disc, despite the powerful ending. There follows a revamped version of "Pretty Thing." It is such a good song that it could be played on spoons and still work beautifully. The final track "Monster" again shows a more confident Charlotte emerging. Signed to RCA, this EP works well as an appetiser for her first full length CD, released in the summer of 2004.

On Your Shore. Charlotte's 2004 album turns out to be a very fine CD indeed, for Charlotte has given up the vocal impressions and sings in a far more natural and convincing way. Even if a few of the piano quotes remain, she has discovered, in more ways than one, a voice of her own. The songs show more individuality, and RCA deserve credit for believing in Charlotte enough to let her continue to develop and do things her way, to grow as an artist, writer and singer and for giving her a clearly sympathetic producer.

There's new power, for example, in the terrific, driving "Limits Of Our Love," the breathless and wonderful "Haunted" and "Steel" has Charlotte singing against some gamlan style percussion before the signature open arpeggio piano kicks in--the piano solo just prior to the coda is straight out of the Tori repertoire, but the fact it sticks out as such shows just how little derivative playing there is on this album. Madman builds and builds and builds.

There's delicacy too in "Every Time It Rains," the beautiful "Parade On," and the piano is replaced by a Rhodes in "Up All Night" which is still fine despite probably being--along with "Something Like A Hero"--the weakest song on the album. And anyone who remembers the massively underrated Judee Sill will love "Sweet Chariot" with its straightforward piano and voice approach and gorgeous harmonies.

It's that time of year when people ponder on 'album of year'. In the female singer/songwriter category, this has to be a major contender. Of the album's 13 tracks--two songs put in a reappearance "Your Armor" from In Parentheses and "Something Like A Hero"from< i>Test Drive Songs--which being the earliest song is the one that sticks out on the album as a Tori clone. All the songs bar one are self penned, the exception being the bonus track, a superb cover of the Stones "Wild Horses."

We'd like to think this shows Charlotte's sense of humour - echoing Tori Amos' penchant for covering tracks by rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and Nirvana. Because if the Tori ghost isn't completely laid in her own songs, it's certainly fading fast to be replaced by an extraordinary and exciting new talent.--Jamie Field in Kington, England and Russ Elliot in New York

 
Second Hand Charm CD Cover
Image © Miller/Reeves 2004

More Maria Miller
Interview and Photos (2004)
Crannog: Elegant Disguise (1999)
Crannog: The Deepest Pool (1997)
 

(28 December 2004) Recommended to us by the Capercaillie magazine Sidetaulk, one of the earliest Musical Discoveries reviews was of Crannog's debut five-track EP The Deepest Pool featuring Maria Miller's stunning vocal work. The band followed up with Elegant Disguise with four more tracks featuring the singer's stunning performances.

Maria has returned to the music scene as a solo act. She has toured the UK playing in various clubs in and around London since Crannog called it a day. Her new EP is entitled "Second Hand Charm." In addition to our review below, read more about the artist's background and the recording of her new EP in this exclusive interview. Follow the links left to read reviews of the Crannog EPs.

"Second Hand Charm" contains four completed tracks. A quick tour of Maria's website reveals excerpts from five further and equally promising numbers. The EP begins with tender ballad entitled "Rain." The track opens with simple acoustic guitar backing and then develops further in the chorus with lush piano, keyboard and rhythm section. Maria's voice works well in the light acoustic section and her power is evident when the intensity of arrangements builds.

"The Fool" is a folky track sung tenderly atop acoustic and electric guitar parts. Maria's trademark vibrato adds a lovely texture to the number. The downtempo "Always" is a heartfelt ballad with Maria's evocative vocals performed against the lightest arrangements on the EP with her power developing as the track advances. The EP concludes with the upbeat pop-oriented number "I Don't Want Tomorrow To Be Monday." Rich electric guitar-based arrangements provide a rich foundation for Maria's powerful lead vocal. Stunning.

Maria Miller's EP "Second Hand Charm" is available at her website and local shops. Maria continues to show great promise as the soundbites and demos at her site clearly illustrate. We can't wait for her full length album in the new year.

 
The Contact CD Cover
Image © Anne-Marie Helder 2004

more Anne-Marie Helder:
January 2005 Interview and Photos
Tigerdragon Life Stories
 

(06 December 2004) Visitors To Musical Discoveries will know Anne-Marie Helder from her work with Swansea based band Tigerdragon, and, of course, featured artists Karnataka. She also performs regularly as a solo artist, and has supported rock legend Midge Ure, amongst others.

Her debut solo effort--probably best defined as a six-track mini-album, clocking in at 30 minutes--is called The Contact. It shows off her prowess as a multi-instrumentalist as well as a vocalist, with remarkably varied, yet often sparse instrumentation bringing the excellent songs to life. Anne plays guitar, piano, keyboards, some (barely audible) flute and percussion, while Dave Kilminster and Adam Pain provide solo guitar and bass respectively, as well as recording and mixing duties.

With the exception of the delicious "Exodus," these are all songs based around Anne's acoustic guitar, which allows the most important instrument on the CD--her incredible voice--all the space it needs to show us how remarkable it is. And remarkable it indeed is, passionate, expressive, powerful and yet delicate--often within seconds of each other. She also possesses remarkable range and impressive control. Her vocal performances are simply stunning throughout, and particularly impressive is the variation in vocal tone she brings to each song.

As she is an engaging, likeable, upbeat stage performer, it may come as some surprise that some of the material on this album is haunting, even a little disturbing. The two songs that bookend the album, "Blood Red Sky" and "Murder" are similar in tone, both containing chilling ambient instrumental openings. Lyrically, they both discuss destructive emotions, the first delving into the mind of a madman, the latter widening the subject matter to all those who would do harm to others for revenge. The songs themselves are quite different, the former guitar based and rather lovely, with a dextrous acoustic solo from Kilminster and plenty of vocal pyrotechnics from Anne, while the latter in more aggressive and angular with a shouted, distorted lead vocal.

The exquisite "Exodus" features some still, deeply impressive, minimalist piano and an intimate vocal about post-break up memories and regret. It bleeds emotion and leaves the listener genuinely moved. "Autocratic" is a harder song both in tone and message. It raises the tempo with some looped percussion, a catchy lead guitar break and a soulful vocal from Anne. "Stallions and Nags" is an ambiguous song about addiction of any kind. It drifts along hazily, the sweetness of its melody and Anne's warm vocal masking the slightly sinister tone of its message. "No other lover" continues the sweetness, this time both lyrically and musically, a folky take on pure, romantic love.

Repeated playing reveals plenty of depth in these songs, though a couple drift a little up to five or six minutes when a more concise four might have been advisable. However, Anne is a talented lyric writer, and, combined with her committed singing, has produced songs with the power to get under the skin. Some listeners will be disappointed that there is little here to match the grandeur of Karnataka, but as the first, very personal statement from a talented woman this is hard to fault.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England and Russ Elliot in New York

 
Wreck Of The Day CD Cover
Image © Columbia Records 2004 
 

(10 December 2004) It's got to the stage now where, whenever I see the term 'production team' on a major label album by a young, female singer-songwriter, my heart sinks. I tend to listen in hope more than expectation. A native of Glendora, California, 20 year old Anna Nalick's first album Wreck Of The Day is released on Columbia in January 2005. However, the production team to help this relatively inexperienced singer though the studio process does include Eric Rosse, best known for his work on the early Tori Amos albums, and Anna sites both Tori and Fiona Apple among her influences. Two fine artists. I perk up a little and put the disc in the player.

The opening track "Breathe (2 AM)"--also the first single from the album--is really beautiful. And it's in 3:4 rather than the usual 4:4 opener. The song-writing is good too. It's a stunning way to start an album. The second track, "Citadel," isn't bad either--a great stadium rock type chorus and a big production job--lots of those big, fuzzy power chords currently in favour. Okay, it could be Avril Lavigne--actually, is it Avril? It's good anyway, so who cares!

The next track is "Paper Bag." Isn't that a song title on Fiona Apple's second album? This song isn't a patch on that. Nice enough, but if you haven't heard the chorus before, you've certainly heard a hundred very like it. The title track follows–-and it's bland--there's no other word for it. It's basically a 3:4 county song and even the 'production team' seem at a loss to know what to do with it."Satellite" is another song in exactly the same ilk as "Paper Bag" – and I mean exactly. And the formula is repeated again on "In The Rough."

Some of the song-writing is above average; "In My Head," for example, but others, like "Bleed," pass you straight by. The arrangement of the final song, 'Consider This' is so similar to Fiona Apple's "On The Bound" (the opening track from When The Pawn ... ) that it almost sounds like a tribute track, though it totally lacks Jon Brion's production brio and Fiona's unique delivery.

Despite her record company's claim that Anna is "one of a new breed of singer-songwriters for this young century," what we have here is another in a long line of generic, major-label, female singer/song-writers albums. Some of these are lifted above the pack by exceptional song-writing, or a vocal delivery that sears the soul – or, in the early days at least, by imaginative arrangements and production--which often meant leaving things out rather than adding them in. By those criteria, this album doesn't make the grade.

I would love to hear Anna's rough demos for these songs, to see what they sounded like before the 'team' got hold of them. Some of her writing is interesting and deserves better that the musically cliché-ridden, bog-standard 'pop-rock' arrangements they've suffered here. I hope, in the future, Anna finds a producer to match the best of her songs--someone who will accentuate, rather than bury, that which makes her different from other artists.

The album gets four stars because in one sense, there's nothing wrong with it at all. It's competent, production is clean, Anna sings well, and there are enough good songs to more than offset the weaker tracks. If you like Avril, Alanis, Melanie Doane, Meredith Brooks, Natalie Imbruglia etc, and want more, you will love this album. Whilst it may not be in the top division of that ilk, it can hold its own with most, and I'm sure it will sell by the truckload. Which I guess, if you're Columbia, is the object of the exercise. If you want music with a hint of originality, then I suggest you look elsewhere. But maybe track down Anna in a few years time. There's something in there worth waiting for.--Jamie Field

 
Harmonium CD Cover
Image © A&M Records 2004 
 

Second albums can often be a problem, but Vanessa Carlton, whose debut Be Not Nobody (review), was a considerable success, seems to have breezed through her first major test and produced an album that advances on its predecessor considerably. Her second album is entitled Harmonium (A & M Records (USA) B0003480-02, 2004).

The good news is that the "classic rock" trappings remain from the first album, in fact every effort seems to have been made to give it a "vinyl" feel, from the "two-sided" rhythm of the album's ten tracks, to the delightfully "live" drum sound and Vanessa's use of vintage keyboard sounds. Fender Rhodes and Mellotron, alongside her trademark piano, remain high in the mix throughout, as do her likeable, quirky vocal contributions. With the excellent help of producer Stephan Jenkins, her song writing has been honed to the extent that the occasional padding on Be Not Nobody has been completely eradicated. Having said that, there remain some strong external influences, not only from Tori Amos, but, particularly on this second album, from the great Ben Folds, whose ear for a quirky melody and poignant lyric Vanessa seems to have inherited. That Carole King's name appears in the credits is also interesting. There is a feeling of maturity on this album that she may well have influenced.

Stabbing piano introduces the charming opening song, "White Houses," with a typically cascading piano line and sweeping orchestra. "Who to say" begins with throbbing percussion and bass, not unlike U2's "With or without you," though the melody is reminiscent of Ben Folds, before building into a shimmering power ballad, with some exquisite backing vocals, a feature of the album as a whole. "Annie" begins with a classical piano figure, before launching into the song proper, a lovely piece of sophisticated pop, which dares to hold its chorus back until 2:00 into its length. "San Francisco," a tribute to Vanessa's new home, trips along nicely, with the orchestra again prominent, even developing a few moments of tension towards the end, resolved when a lone piano, playing the songs main refrain, is interrupted by the re-entry of the band and orchestra. "Afterglow" is possibly the weakest track on the album, a slightly meandering mid-tempo piece, saved by a sweet chorus.

"Side two" of our imaginary LP commences with the triumphant "Private Radio," a piece of exuberant, up-tempo pop, a distinct candidate to be a single. The next three songs seem to come together in a sort of suite, with the instrumentation stripped down, pretty much to piano and drums. The acidic "Half a week before the winter" is built around Vanessa's dramatic piano and a complex drum pattern, while the hypnotic "C'est La Vie" features some percussive Fender Rhodes and a much simpler drums placed high in the mix. "Papa" completes the set memorably with nothing more than piano and vocal. Vanessa's piano figure sounds like Czech composer Janacek, and she achieves a similar level of drama with some powerful playing. The album finishes with the lush, intricate ballad "She Floats," which features some wonderful choral vocals and some imaginative scoring for the orchestra. Bonus track "The Wreckage," with its complex classical piano, is also an unexpected delight.

Despite the obvious influences already mentioned, this is a remarkable second album that exceeds the quality of its predecessor by some considerable margin. There are some minor faults, but as these occur in the name of experimentation they are hard to complain about. That Ron Fair, the president of A & M records has put so much faith in the artistic growth of his charismatic protégée, with her quirky manner and unusual looks is encouraging indeed. It gives those of us who remember the days of the 70s when artists like Vanessa were allowed to grow at their own pace hope for the future. Her third album could well be a classic, and this isn't far short. Totally engrossing.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham and Russ Elliot in New York

 
Elizabeth Harper CD Cover
Image © Angular Records 2004 
 

(10 December 2004) New York singer/songwriter Elizabeth Harper has released her debut, a delightful ten-track self-titled album (Angular Records (UK) ARC005, 2004). Full of guitar driven acoustic melodies, Elizabeth has a charming voice that complements the sensitive lyrics in this ten track folk/pop/rock CD.

The opening number "Trouble in Paradise" creates soothing tones that lull the listener into the soft melody. She has tremendous tonal clarity and a forcefulness that is understated. "Rock Like A Baby" is a dreamy tune that highlights Elizabeth's gentle yet clear vocals. "Parlor Window" changes pace with some stunning classic female rock.

Wonderful guitar riffs open to "Charles Bridge" where Elizabeth continues her beautiful vocals and intuitive lyrics. All the tracks on the album were written by her. Also deserving special mention are Scott Rosenthal on guitars, keys, bass and drums; Brian Pearl on bass and keys; and Aaron Siegal on drums.

A floating, soft melody emerges in "Clean Cut" that takes the listener on a smooth and flowing ride. "Don Juan" is another favorite, with her candid, lovely voice being showcased. She sings effortlessly in "Accidental Flirt" and the more melancholy "Turn Down Your Bed." Her magical sound closes with the lilting "Seawater Lullaby."

Elizabeth Harper is an album filled with tender melodies ranging from the melancholy to the more upbeat, soothing crystalline vocals, and rousing lyrics. This debut album is certainly a wonderful introduction to her lovely music, full of lush layering in both instrumentals and vocals. The dreamy sounds are enchanting.

 
Narrow Road CD Cover
Image © Otherdoor Records 2004 
 

(10 December 2004) San Francisco-born indie artist, Paula Brisker, released her ten-track debut album, Narrow Road, in November 2001 under her own label called Otherdoor Records (O5045-1958-2, 2001). The album has influences of Celtic, rock and folk music in this skillful collection.

Paula's unique style is inspired by the work she did throughout the 1990s with Raz Kennedy, one of the members of Bobby McFerrin's a capella group, "Voicestra" and vocal coach to such artists as Adam Duritz and Counting Crows, Los Tigres Del Norte and Lavay Smith to name a few. She learned invaluable vocal technique and singing during this time, and the co-writing with Raz brought in new musical dimensions to Paula's budding career. Raz introduced Paula to guitarist Danny Heines who taught her about open tunings and gave her the confidence to not be afraid to use the guitar as a percussive as well as melodic instrument.

Likened to Alanis Morrisette and Sarah McLachlan, Paula's vocals are powerful and intense. The band was assembled from a group of top-notch musicians: drummer Joey Peters of Grant Lee Buffalo, guitarist Ty Stevens of Mandy Moore, and bassist Tad Wadhams of Cheryl Crow and Bernie Taupin's Farm Dogs. Additional musicians on my "Narrow Road" CD are Rami Jaffee & Ben Peeler of the Wallflowers, Cameron Stone, Tim Pierce, David Channing and Robert Powell. The production, engineering and mixing were handled by Ross Hogarth, whose credits include Shawn Colvin, Black Crowes, REM, Keb' Mo's 1998 Grammy Award winning record "Slow Down" and Jewel's "Spirit."

Powerful lyrics and captivating vocals abound throughout this album. The title track, "Narrow Road," opens the journey into this inspiring CD. The music and lyrics capture the listener and Paula's soaring vocals create a lush atmosphere. There is an honesty as well as complexity about her music, and the melodies are sung with passion and vitality.

The folk, pop and rock songs on this album are exceptional in their fluidity. With the strong interest as a child in folk singers and lyrical storytellers, Paula's mature collection of songs are well beyond one's expections. Her blend of harmonies is outstanding and one is mesmerized by the beauty of her work. She sings with passion and conviction. This fabulous album is certainly one to be listened to again and again.

 
Believe In Angels. Believe In Me CD Cover
Image © Midas Records 2004 
 

(19 December 2004) Midas Records teen sweetheart Angel is making a big splash with her debut record Believe in Angels. Believe in Me (Midas Records (USA) 881529000128, 2004). Since the release of the record, Angel has been heard all over pop and A/C radio, headlined a VH1 Save the Music tour, and appeared at school dance party contests all over the country with MTV's DJ Skribble as a spokesperson for LEI Jeans.

Believe in Angels. Believe in Me is a pop record that draws inspiration from pop music of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The record kicks off with the heavy dance pop beats of the title track. There's more than a hint of disco in its drum and bass tracks and I'm sure that if dancing is your thing you'll be very satisfied. The disco/pop/dance sound starts and ends the record with "Lessons in Love" following the title track and "You Release Me" finishing the record out.

In between though is where it gets interesting. Although Angel stays well within pop's traditional boundaries she touches on quite a few styles. "Wild Guess" and "Just the Way I Am" have a fun and sassy 80s pop flair that brings to mind people like Kylie Minogue and Samantha Fox, while songs like "Chinese Whispers" and "Mama's Little Girl" have a sort of polished funk appeal that gets your head bobbin' and your feet tapping yet again.

"Three Small Words" is a bit more aggressive sounding and has the same sort of "Girl Power" appeal that made Kelly Clarkson and Destiny's Child household names. Of course, no pop album is complete without a few power ballads. Angel delivers on that as well with the Nashville pop sounding "Love Is" and the piano driven "To Forgive You."

Realistically this album is a pop fan's dream. It combines all the elements of successful pop songs and delivers them through a teen sweetheart that has the pipes to pull them off right. A special edition of the album is accompanied by a bonus DVD.

One of the more striking things about this album though is its contrast to today's hottest pop stars. Angel has chosen the road less taken by keeping her clothes on and relaying a positive message in her songs. This is something kids can certainly enjoy and parents don't have to worry about. If you like artists like Stacie Orrico, Mandy Moore, Jessica Simpson and the like then Angel will fit right into your music collection.--Mark Fisher

 
A Gift From an Angel CD Cover
Image © Midas Records 2004 
 

(11 December 2004) Up and coming teen pop star Angel has just released a special holiday EP hot on the heels of her Midas Records debut, Believe in Angels.Believe in Me entitled "A Gift from an Angel." This young lady is seemingly everywhere these days and this EP will certainly keep that momentum rolling. As a matter of fact this EP's single, "It All Started With a Child," has already been featured on TM Hit Disc--which you'll recognize as the CD that you hear over the loudspeakers in places like Wal-Mart and Kroger grocery stores. And it is currently impacting radio nationwide.

This EP is very strong for a pop release. As a matter of fact I was a bit taken aback by the superb production quality. I enjoyed Angel's album but this EP shows marked improvement already in my opinion. "It All Started With a Child" is a wonderful pop piece that is reminiscent of Kelly Clarkson's more pop oriented songs as well as country/pop artists like Shania Twain and Faith Hill. It's definitely a pop song but certainly has an undeniable "Nashville" feel. Next up is "Love Is", which is a featured track from Believe in Angels.Believe in Me. It has a powerful pop edge that fits well with the EP's overall feel.

A great rendition of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", with its bluesy swagger and nice guitar work, is also included. In my opinion Angel's voice is strongest in this style. Her voice fits well with the wailing guitar and full guitar rock sound. The EP is rounded out with a fairly traditional version of "Oh Holy Night".

Ever since I first heard Angel's debut album I have felt like she'd be good at "specialty" music. Perhaps better than she is at generic pop. This record certainly proves that and I'm happy to hear her voice really cut loose on these new tracks. Her voice is much stronger than I gave her credit for and I am certainly looking forward to hearing more from her. Despite the fact that this is a mere four songs it's a great set of songs in an age of awkward and overproduced Christmas music.--Mark Fisher

 
Innocence and Experience CD Cover
Image © Bow Jenkins 2003 
 

(07 December 2004) In some ways this is a remarkable and determined piece of work from fifteen year-old Bow Jenkins who lives in Devon in the UK. Innocence And Experience, her first album, was recorded earlier this year (2004) and Bow not only wrote nine of the ten songs featured (the other being the traditional "Wade In The Water") but arranged all the tracks, did all the vocals on the album and she even plays keyboard on a couple of tracks. She saved up to buy the recording time by baby-sitting and by vocal session work at her local studio. Oh, and she also designed the CD and booklet. There's actually no credit given for production, but Bow comments, "I had to fight every day to keep the technician and some of the musicians from taking my work over and changing it," so we can probably chalk that up to her as well.

The album opens with two terrific songs, the beautiful, piano driven "Say Goodbye," and "I Remember" which has a fine, sing-along chorus with Bow providing some interesting harmony. Certainly ones first reaction is that the mature sound of Bow's voice totally belies her age and she's definitely at her best when singing within herself. It's when she attempts to go beyond the current capabilities of her voice that the album is less successful - for example the bluesy "Walk Away," "The Ghost of Johnny Cash" and the unaccompanied gospel song that closes the album where the American accent she employs detracts markedly from the performance.

Together with the two opening songs, the other standout track is "Sunrise On Venus" which has an mysterious atmosphere – the whispered backing on the chorus is very effective as is the high, almost spoken harmony in the verses.

The musicians that accompany her are various, but the arrangements throughout are for drums, bass, guitar and keyboard. Perhaps this is one of the weaknesses of the album – it needs some variation - her voice would lend itself so well to a couple of just piano and vocal tracks to break up the similarity of each arrangement. One of the keyboard players, Dhevdhas Nair, displays a sympathetic feel on the songs he contributes to. There are also tracks where the electric guitar and/or the drums seem superfluous and/or clumsy.

Greater discipline and some ruthlessness would also have helped. For example "The Devil On The Hill" is potentially a very good and interesting song, at times reminiscent of early Strawbs, but as it stands, it's way too long and any impact is dissipated over its five and half minutes. It could easily lose at least two verses and choruses. The same could probably be said of "Prayer" which has another nice chorus but maybe takes one verse too many to get to it, but it's still a fine track lifted by some lovely Spanish guitar work by David Osbiston.,

Any one of half a dozen of these songs if heard on its own would definitely make you sit up and pay attention – but together there's not really enough variation in the writing, arrangements or accompaniments to hold the interest for the whole 44 minutes of this album. The four best tracks, "I Remember," "Say Goodbye," "Sunrise On Venus" and "Prayer" would have made a terrific EP- for on the tracks where it comes together there's a definite WOW! factor. Innocence And Experience is a promising debut from an undoubtedly talented young artist.--Jamie Field in Kington, England

 
Different For Girls CD Cover
Image © Skipping Discs 2004

More Skipping Discs Compilations:
Love Her Madly (2002)
Spiders From Venus (2003)
 

(29 December 2004) Different For Girls - Women Artists And Female Fronted Bands Cover Joe Jackson (Skipping Discs (USA), 2004) is the third female covers compilation CD in a series that has seen the label dedicate previous CDs to The Doors and David Bowie.

The most successful covers tend to be those which bring something new to a song, often completely reinventing it. Too often on tribute albums 'cover' has become synonymous with 'copy', a trap that the Doors compilation largely avoided but which the Bowie album didn't, though at least with this series the very fact that you have female singers interpreting songs originally performed by men means there's an immediate shift of focus (and occasionally, of necessity, of lyrics too), so they are never anything less that interesting.

Arguably Joe Jackson is the most accomplished (and probably the least well known) song writer so far tackled in this series and thus should give greater scope for interpretation, and the fine opening track "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" from elaine k bodes well.

Fiona Lehn's mostly faithful interpretation of "On Your Radio" retains, indeed, adds to the original's energy and power and, of the 'copies' on the album, is clearly the highlight. Essra Mohawk's reading of "Steppin' Out" is competent, but very safe. Amy Fox's "Be My Number Two/Shanghai Sky" is a straightforward piano/voice interpretation with some subdued strings. Whitney McCray's dynamically flat "Breaking Us In Two" is a disappointing take on a fine song, while "Home Town" is efficiently handled by Mary Lee's Corvette and has nice changes of atmosphere and tempo.

It's Maxine Young who takes on the challenge of "It's Different For Girls," probably Jackson's best known song, and chosen as the title track for this collection. She does a thoughtful job, not attempting what would be a fairly futile task of a straight copy, but prepared to take the opportunit to put enough of herself into it to give it a new slant. It's not entirely successful, but still very worthwhile.

Reinterpreting songs can be a risky business and while Idle Mirth's take on "Another World" deserves plaudits, it doesn't quite come off as there's a lack of dynamics and while it floats along beautifully, ultimately it's too repetitive.

On the other hand, Lisa Mychols work with "Look Sharp!" shows what can be done with a little imagination. One would imagine this to be one of the more difficult songs to put a new spin on, but it is standout track on the album. It opens faithfully before bursting into some stunning Steely Dan type harmonies and it builds and sways and powers and dips and the vocals have terrific character.

The album closes with two of the strongest tracks, Alice Lee's soulful "Sea Of Secrets" and darkblueworld's deceptively complex and powerful "Take It Like A Man"--both bringing more than their share to this particular party.

As is almost always the case with compilations, the quality varies as much as the interpretations. The inclusion of back to back readings of "Got The Time," by Beth Thornley and Fabulous Disaster is an interesting and instructive piece of track listing.

Overall this is a good and thoroughly enjoyable album with the two undoubted highlights being Lisa Mychols "Look Sharp!" and Fiona Lehn's "On Your Radio." -By some distance these are also the two finest vocal performances on the disc as well, both instilling great character into their respective songs.--Jamie Field in Kington, England and Russ Elliot in New York

 
The Hour Lilies CD Cover
Image © Sharon Lewis 2004

Sharon Lewis
Image © Sharon Lewis 2004
 

(29 December 2004) Sharon Lewis was one half--the other half being Natasha Jones--of the UK-based duo Pooka who made three albums and one further limited edition CD in the decade following their debut in 1993. Pooka's music ignored much of accepted songwriting convention, the pieces often being linear in form, and featured some of the most inventive vocal harmony yet commited to little silver discs.

They soaked up influences like sponges and then totally corrupted them to their own unique view of the world. Pooka albums were never anything less than fascinating, full of the unexpected and sometimes the originality was breathtaking. Lyrically they could range from the blatently obvious to the completely obscure, often via the utterly profound. And they weren't afraid to venture into the sexually explicit either. They just wrote as they felt.

The Hour Lillies (2004) is Sharon's first release since the duo went their separate ways. It can be looked upon as a nine track EP as it lasts for barely thirty minutes and it is sheer bliss. The simple, at times almost minimalist, arrangements of the pieces are designed to throw the spotlight onto the songwriting and Sharon's voice--such a change in a world where the norm is for desperate over-arrangement to hide the weakness of the writing.

These pieces are filigree things, fragile and beautiful. Most feature Sharon on keyboards and guitars, and further subtle shades of light and dark are provided by Andy Nice who weaves mysterious cello lines on the opening two songs, "April Fool" and "Lost Soul," Scott Smith, who blows a subdued harmonica on "Old Man Young Town," and Ian Price who adds a distant flute and sax to "Leaving On A Ship." That track and "Avaddon (destruction)" also feature drums and bass, the latter also having strings.

Sharon writes almost all of the material; the closing track "Magic Baby" has Chris Kirkland credited as co-lyricist--he also adds vocals and double bass to this track--and "Heard" is Sharon's setting of words by Manchester based poet, Carole Batton. This song is performed virtually accapella; Sharon playing just seven telling notes on her Rhodes.

Vocal harmonies on the album are used sparingly and are both imaginative--the closing few seconds of "Old Man Young Town" for example is truly magical--and in some cases totally unexpected as in "Avaddon." In such an independent spirit as Sharon Lewis, there are few useful reference points. Certainly shadows of Pooka can be glimpsed on the beautiful "Crazy October Days" with its strange, atmospheric soundscape and unison vocals. More surprising perhaps are the shades of early Kate Bush, most notably on "Leaving On A Ship."

This is an extraordinary album, each song feels like an intimate, stolen moment, as if the artist is revealing something of herself to you alone. Sharon also arranged, mixed and produced almost the whole album and her her grandfather took the cover photo. The album is available from Sharon's website. Unlike anything else you'll have heard this year, this is a little piece of musical heaven. Exquisite.--Jamie Field in Kington, England and Russ Elliot in New York

 
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