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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
Marina V
Tirill
Sonicjoy
Keri Noble
Tracey Brennecke
Megan Slankard
Megan Slankard
Spiders From Venus
Casey Stratton
Melanie Doane
EastMountainSouth
Leona Naess

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Instrumental Digest
 
Something Of My Own CD Cover (2003 reissue)
re-release album cover
Image © Marina V 2003


Marina V Image © K. C. Ma 2003
 

(22 February 2004) Marina V's Something Of My Own (Crazy Apples Worldwide (ASCAP) / Songcastle Music (ASCAP) (USA) 6 59057 49462 3, 2003) is best classified as alternative American pop mixed with the taste, of vocal vodka. The album--certain to appeal to Tori Amos fans with her material's amazing similarity--originally released in October 2002 and re-released during 2003 with a new front cover, is comprised of nine main tracks and two bonus tracks. Our review and interview with the singer, Marina Gennadievna Verenikina, follows.

Singer/songwriter, pianist, model, translator, female athlete (a former hockey player), and daughter to a communist nuclear physicist, Marina brings to America the alternative music of voice active Russian physics. It is the quality of voice that sings the quality of meaning into song--an old musical proverb, or at least it should be. And Marina's voice should musically convince any listener, in the legitimacy of the above and recently written proverb.

Opening with the title track "Something Of My Own," Marina sings the beautiful vocal interlingual rendition (from Russian to English) of lyrical melting soul. Sung within the landscape of well-driven piano, Marina dreams and sings about "Feeling strangled for voicing different thoughts." And it is just this voicing that makes this melody, into a very verb intensive, beautiful song. It has to be heard to be appreciated.

"Falling" is driven by the rhythmic touch of percussion within the surround sound, of tasteful passion in Marina's voice. "That's The Way It Goes" features the wonderful punctuation of verbalized vocal humor, which is sung against and with a well-played piano--gone mad! Her best song however is "Taet Sneg," the first bonus track). She sings the vocal interlingual reinterpretation of the first track from English back to Russian--only this time singing with the original emotion with the Russian interpretation.

Musical Discoveries: What inspired the beginning of your musical career?

Marina: Music has always been a huge part of my life, so you can say that music itself inspired me. But more specifically, it was the first time I played my own song in public. I was a part of a talent show at my college; there was a big crowd so I was really scared. But I got a standing ovation and won first prize. Several people wrote to me afterwards saying how much my song moved them. It was such an amazing experience that it became a deciding factor. It was also my songwriting partner, Nick Baker, who gave me the confidence to do this professionally and record a CD. It was Let Me Dream, my first CD that is now long out of print.

Would you describe the inherent influences your native country Russia, has had on your music?

I grew up listening to a lot of Russian classical music, a lot of which had been influenced by the Russian traditional songs. I list Tchaikovsky as one of my influences, and he himself was a huge fan of Russian motif. I also knew many Russian folk songs, which are amazingly beautiful. The melodies simply give me goose bumps.

How has America changed or added to this musical influence?

Living in America opened my mind in so many ways, especially in music. I keep watching VH1 programs to catch up on music on which I've missed out, because almost all "Western" music was prohibited in the Soviet Union.

How would you describe your music?

It's very personal and intimate, yet universal. I owe it to my other big influence, the Beatles. I listened to a lot of Beatles music in my early teens and started imitating them in my own songwriting. Before I heard the Beatles, the little songs I wrote were more classical and folk sounding.

As a singer/songwriter what do you consider to be the deeper art: writing the song or singing the song?

I would say writing. But then there are those singers like Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks (or Elvis) who doesn't write a lot of the material she performs, but her vocal delivery is so mesmerizing, I really don't think she is less deep than the songwriters who wrote the song.

Would you compare the music industry in Russia to that of the United States?

I really don't know that much about Russian music industry. There are fewer labels and fewer artists in Russia. Most people are concerned with day-by-day survival, not their dreams of becoming a music star.

How has the internet influenced your music?

I love the internet. Having a website is great, having my music in online stores is great, having my message board (www.MarinaVKomrades.com) is fantastic. I am not too worried about people downloading my music for free. Obviously, I would much rather have someone buy a CD and support the artist. In the 80s people used to make cassette copies, and what's going on today isn't that much different, in my opinion.

And finally, how do you hope the listening audience will describe your music?

Something that really moves them and something they can relate to. I just want to say thank you to all of my incredible fans, friends and komrades for reading this and for all of their support.

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from Marina directly here. With eleven tracks written and recorded by Marina and Nick Baker, this album is the high value distribution of good Vocal Vodka, it should be taken by the ears and administered to the soul!--Steven Digman (Maryland) and Russ Elliot (New York)

 
Tirill - A Dance With The Shadows - CD Cover
Image © The Wild Places 2003

Tirill Mohn
Tirill Mohn
Image © The Wild Places 2003

More Tirill Mohn
Interview and Photos
Nine and Fifty Swans (2011)
Tales from Tranquil August Gardens (2011)
White Willow's Sacrament (2000)
 

(01 February 2004) Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Tirill Mohn will be best known to progressive music fans as violinist with progressive rock band White Willow, playing on their debut album Ignis Fatuus as well as performing in the live incarnation of the band for a number of years. Her first solo album--three years in the making and including songs dating back as far as 1996--will certainly appeal to all those who enjoy the more lyrical, folky aspects of the band. It is entitled A Dance with the Shadows (The Wild Places (USA) WILD013, 2004).

The ambience throughout is one of haunting beauty--of mystery, longing and calm. The tone is set even before the CD is removed from its case, by a wonderfully presented booklet, with its subtle, ghost-like eroticism. This is continued as the album weaves through an almost impossibly beautiful 50 minutes. Though each of the eleven songs maintains the same, tranquil atmosphere, the arrangements are amazingly varied. Tirill and Oystein Vesaas' wonderfully liquid production lifts each instrument from the speakers, especially the vocals which are delightfully intimate.

Tirill herself is a revelation, singing lead on ten out of the eleven songs in her unpretentious, girlish and deeply effective soprano, writing, arranging and contributing: violins, keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, percussion and flutes. The other musician (of several) worthy of specific note is Ketil Vestrum Einarsen on flutes. Readers of our review of White Willow's Sacrament album will know of our regard for Ketilís virtuosity. Here, again, he is wonderful, delivering a more atmospheric, less showy performance. Interestingly, there are no kit drums on the album, though a variety of percussive instruments keep time through most songs, lending a pleasing, intimate feel to the music.

The album opens in broody, melancholic fashion. Strange, ambient noises and hushed voices introduce "Nights are Colder," which makes excellent use of a lower male voice singing in unison with Tirill. "Don't Dare to Love You" begins with Tirill's voice and an acoustic guitar singing a lovely, simple tune over lush keyboards and percussion, with subtle interventions from Ketil's flute. This tone continues on "Winter Roses"--familiar from the pre-release mp3s--with its delightful chorus. "June's Flowers" employs cello, guitar, flutes and lovely harmony vocals to articulate a delightful, simple arrangement.

Highlight of "Dressed in Beauty" is the fragile theme played by Tirill's overdubbed violins during the vocal sections, while the songs mid-section adds an unexpected sinister note. "Heavy Heaves" again allows Ketil's breathy flute to dominate over funereal keyboards and more surreal noises, while Tirill sings a mantra-like refrain. The brooding "Vendela" is the song in which listeners will find most parallels with White Willow. Lead vocal duties are here handed over to Odd Hakon Solbakken and White Willow's Sylvia Erichsen, and the edgy backing builds to something bordering rock music for the only time on the album.

The last few songs are lighter with a more traditional folk feel. Wailing flute and gentle piano introduce the quiet "Gold's of Morning," which its superbly intricate arrangement. Highlight, here, is Ketil's flute which breaks into a half-familiar folk tune as the song concludes. "It was Blue" has simpler, yet equally delightful instrumentation--light and melodic with Espen Lette's accordion to the fore. Trekkspill (an accordion-like instrument) and gypsy-style violin give "Ruby" a sensual, Eastern European feel, and the album finishes in similarly Southern European style with the playful "When you sleep" featuring the impressive bouzouki of Christos Sarakatsianos.

The album also includes a hidden instrumental version of "It was Blue" (before track one) and a charming video of the same song. This is a quite stunning album, which rewards repeated plays and considerable concentration to unpick Tirill's intricate, sensitive arrangements and each songís subtle melodies. On the other hand, as the root of each song remains Tirill's nylon-stringed guitar, it is not difficult to imagine them performed entirely solo. Lyrically, the album considers simple themes, moments of melancholy and joy, the sadness of passing seasons and remembered love.

However, whether you choose to concentrate on every moment or allow the general mood of the album to wash over you, this is an exceptional album by a hugely talented musician. Buy it for those quiet, contemplative moments. Return to read our interview with Tirill planned for publication in March 2004.--Stephen Lambe

 
Urban Angel CD Cover
Image © Sonicjoy 2003 
 

(21 February 2004) Sonicjoy is an electronica dance band that has recently been announced as the British Columbia regional winner of the 2004 National Songwriting Competition in Canada for their song "New Again" off their debut album, Urban Angel. The group is noted for its soaring vocals and trippy dance grooves.

The first track, "Never Never Land," combines electronic and acoustic sounds to create a trance-like melody. Beautiful, rocketing vocals by Joyelle Brandt capture the listener with her tonal clarity. "Critical Mass" claims the "energy is rising" and the description is spot-on. The percussion throughout is magnetic and just makes you want to dance. Co-writers Brandt and Sam Ryan as well as Mike Jevne bring great lyrics and and melodies to the forefront. Sonicjoy feature a wide range of instrumentation in their album including characteristic piano, guitar/acoustic guitar, synthesizers and traditional drums ranging to tabla to snake charmer to djembe.

"Transformation" continues with the hypnotic rhythm that has you swaying to the beat. "Furka" has almost a hindi sound with its whispering interjections and well-defined vocals. Mia Serra joins Brandt in the vocals for this song. African beats and thumping sounds bring about a sensuality in their music. Gentle acoustic guitar riffs in "Ong na mo" lead into an eeriness in "United." The song awakens to the continued distinctive Sonicjoy percussion. "New Again" is a refreshing and beguiling dance tune that your body cannot resist moving to.

The high energy continues throughout the album, ending with the sultry and soothing vocals and mesmerizing flute melody in a reprise of "Never Never Land." Sonicjoy has a unique style of electronic and rhythmic convergence that lends to the allure of their sound. It is no wonder they were chosen as songwriting winners, and Sonicjoy have a bright future ahead.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Fearless CD Cover
Image ©: Manhattan Records 2004 
 

(21 February 2004) Keri Noble possesses a richness of tone and explosive vocal quality as expressed in her debut album, Fearless (Manhattan Records (USA) 7243 5 95829, 2004). This polished Texas born songstress distinguishes herself from the crowd with a soulful and lyrical perspective in her singing. She started singing in her father's Hispanic church as a teenager, and moved on to performing at clubs and coffeehouses in Detroit in 1999. These successes earned her three Detroit Music Award nominations and pushed her career more into the spotlight.

There is a pureness and clarity in her vocals. "Look at Me" and "Talk To Me" draw you in from the very first note and don't let go. There is an easiness to her sound which continues in "Piece of my Heart" and "A Dream About You." There is a passion that comes across in her singing, and sometimes is reminiscent of Sheryl Crow in tonal quality.

This singer/songwriter accomplishes her task beautifully through her thoughtful lyrics and emotional interpretations. "About Me" lures one into the lyrics about issues that affect our daily lives with her soulful alto. Keri's strength in performance continues with "Let It Rain" with a jazz/pop feel to the music. Her polished and distinictive vocals are highlighted in the ballad, "If No One Will Listen." One is carried away by the emotion and complexity of her music.

Exquisite and inspired melodies along with soaring vocals single out Keri Noble in this album. There is a passion, gentleness, yet powerful talent that is going to propel this lovely vocalist's career into the limelight. Her flowing melodies and poignant, sensitive vocals have conviction and reach the highest expectations.

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Fearless certainly enchanting and definitely worth the listen.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Alibi CD Cover
Image © Halo Management 2003

More Tracey Brennecke
Interview and Photos

 

(02 February 2004) The debut recording by singer songwriter Tracey Brennecke is a stunning four-track EP entitled "Alibi." A single from the EP will feature the track "The First To Know" backed with "Alibi." A full length album is planned for release early in the second calendar quarter of 2004. Read more about Tracey in our exclusive interview.

Tracey Brennecke is a muti-talented female bass player, singer and professional songwriter with music in her life and soul. Since graduating from Middlesex University with a music degree she launched herself into session playing for various artistes from pop, rock to jazz, which has seen her touring in the Far East and Europe.

In 2000, Tracey was signed to Halo Management with the pop band 'Slinky Minx.' A four track CD was produced and the band did various gigs around the UK. All tracks were written by Tracey and her writing partner/drummer Gail Louise. Halo Management recognised their talent, and also offered them a publishing deal.

In 2001, 'Slinky Minx' dissolved, due to a band member leaving, opening the way for Tracey as a solo performer and singer. She now performs under the name Tracey Brennecke with her own live band. She has already supported 'Medicine Hat' on a few dates of their UK tour and has continued to do gigs around the country.

EP Review. The four tracks on the EP vary across the pop-oriented singer/songwriter genre. "The First To Know" is a powerful torch ballad featuring Tracey's soaring crystalline vocals atop lush vocal harmonies, acoustic guitar and crisp percussion. "Alibi" is a country-tinged rocker, with Tracey again singing atop lush instrumentation, this time dominated by electric guitar and crisp percussion--vocal harmonies back the lead in the heartfelt chorus.

Another torch ballad entitled "Best Of Us Yet" showcases Tracey's voice, soaring from note to note in a Star Search style with loads of reverb. Production showcases not only the songwriting but the singing and arrangements. The EP concludes with the light almost country style rock number "Lovesick." Again lush vocal harmonies back the lead but strings join the arrangement to contribute to the country feel of the number.

We obviously adored our introduction to Tracey Brennecke and are as keen as her already loyal following to hear the full length album when released later this year.

 
Freaky Little Story CD Cover
Image © Megan Slankard 2003

More Megan Slankard
Lady Is A Pirate
 

(02 February 2004) Megan Slankardís debut album Lady Is A Pirate (2001), recorded at home when she was 17, was a very fine album (review). Despite the simple instrumentation of acoustic guitar and bass, Megan's extraordinary voice and varied, accomplished songwriting maintained interest effortlessly over the album's thirteen tracks. The songs had the feel of stripped-back rock numbers rather than folksy female singer-songwriter, so it's no surprise to find that for her second album Freaky Little Story (MSB2386, 2003), Megan's gathered a band around her. There is a certain danger in this.

A band can, as often as not, place a straightjacket around the material of some of the more imaginative and individual songwriters, but on this album, Megan's unique songwriting hasn't been hindered in any way and the band proves very sympathetic to the material while filling out the sound and succeeding in making it more accessible to a wider audience than its predecessor. Mike Hsieh plays electric guitars; Dave Moffet handles the bass and Ian Stambaugh plays drums, with Megan playing acoustic guitar. This time around the band tracks were recorded at a professional ProTools studio, with the vocals again being recorded at her home.

The new approach is stated boldly with the opening chord of the opening track "Too Bad You." The whole band hit it! The song's got a really fine chorus hook and the lyrics show the same sense of subtle, sly humour that marked her debut. "It's too bad you hate the way I laugh / you think it's phony / but sometimes this can be so damn hilarious." Unsurprisingly, her voice has matured a lot in the two years between albums. There are not many who could sing the word 'pretentious' and make it sound so damn sexy! Also, she seems to be far more aware of her voice as an instrument and what it's capable of; the range, tone and emotion of the vocals on this album is extraordinary.

"Mocking Bird" opens with voice and rhythmic, high-fret acoustic guitar, the band joining in on the second verse. The song has a lovely feel. It also contains some subtle scratching and sampling (courtesy of Anthony Cole) which actually proves a little distracting. It's a nice idea and worth trying, but I'm not convinced that it adds anything to the song as a whole. In contrast, the vocal harmonies do. "Dirty Wings" is another with a great chorus hook and the band aren't afraid to pull back for the verses, giving Megan's voice plenty of space. This is followed by "Captain Madness," which contains even better harmonies; the snare is maybe a little too aggressive in the mix, especially in the intro, otherwise this is a gorgeous track with a fine chorus, but an even better verse.

"Addy's Tattoo" is basically Megan with her acoustic guitar, the depth being given by some plaintive cello (Sam Leachman). Again there's some wonderfully effective vocal harmony. The overall effect is utterly beautiful. A fabulous track. "Lose Me" is another upbeat song with some fine lyrics. "Give Life" is musically complex with a verse in 5:4 and the chorus in 6:8. It works seamlessly and to great effect. "Forgive," and "Nearly Almost Always Nearly Almost Anything," though very fine, perhaps don't quite match up to the rest of the album. The former has a good groove in the verse due to a terrific bass line, but it doesn't seem to gel as a whole quite as well as the other songs. The latter is accompanied by two acoustic guitars (Mike Hsieh adding his to Megan's), but the song, though very pretty, doesn't seem to be quite certain where it's going. Possibly both these were written before Megan had got the band together rather than being written with the band in mind.

"Holding Off" opens with the lines "Pierre is walking under a red umbrella / the clouds look like an animal." Observational Surrealism (if it didnít exist before, it does now!) "Whispers are spreading like miles of winter." ... "Someoneís lonely saxophone strangles him with a lone note." This is wonderful stuff; and there's another great chorus to go with it all too.

"Itís All My Fault (But Iím Not Sorry)" also has a fine chorus, there's a little echo of Alanis Morissette in this song--as there is in the opening track--the octave leap in the vocal. "Flying Backwards," is the most intimate song on the CD performed as just Megan and her acoustic guitar. In isolation, it's very, very effective with a fine lyric, but it doesnít quite fit with the mood and style of the album as a whole. The closing track "The Freak Out Song," has a great rhythmic feel to it, beautifully arranged--possibly inspired by Fiona Apple and her producer Jon Brion--and there's a hidden track too, so donít eject.

Megan Slankard is gifted with a wonderful and distinctive voice together with a way of looking at the world that isn't quite like anybody else's. On this CD she's successfully managed to walk the fine line between originality and commerciality, and that's a very rare trick indeed. She wrote and arranged all the songs and, with Chris Holmes, co-produced and co-mixed the album. She took the photos of the boys in the band used in the artwork too.

Megan Slankard is a unique talent and if she can maintain her individuality and independence (heaven forbid any of the majors getting their hands on her!) and just keep doing things in her own way and in her own time then who knows what she might be capable of. Great voice, great songs, great album--and if thereís any justice in the world, a great future.--Jamie Field

 
Lady Is A Pirate CD Cover
Image © Megan Slankard 2001

More Megan Slankard
Freaky Little Story
 

(02 February 2004) Lady Is A Pirate (MS2966, 2001) Megan Slankardís debut album reflects the place of its genesis, Tracy, California--it's full of beautiful, warm songs. She was 17 when she made it and had already been playing professionally for two and a half years. She borrowed a mic and recorded it her living room using her brother's Digital Performer software. The result is an extraordinarily warm sound with crystal clear vocals. What lifts this CD and Megan Slankard above the many other west coast female singer-songwriters currently doing the rounds is the quality of the song writing, her exquisite voice and her distinctive vocal delivery which means that, despite the simple instrumentation throughout. Megan plays guitar and sings and Rich Talley adds bass and there's always something to grab you and hold you in thrall.

There's a tendency to call any music produced by a young woman playing an acoustic guitar 'folk.' This definitely canít be applied to this album; most of the songs have the feel of stripped down rock numbers. Only her guitar style in "Haven't Been Down" approaches anything folk-like; and even then it's in an early Joni Mitchell/Neil Young kind of way. Megan also uses some interesting tunings like Joni did.

There are two distinct Megan Slankards on this CD. The first is the one singing songs in her own 'voice.' Tracks like "Landed," "Damn You," "Second Best" and "Me Again" are simply brilliant. The other 'Megan' uses a voice with slightly overdone jazzy/blues tendencies which just doesn't match up. By far the weakest track--in fact the only weak track--on the album is "Radio Blues." This version of Megan's voice detracts from the otherwise very fine "Strictly Mr T." And then, just to confound me, the smoky delivery on "Company" is brilliantly effective. The songs in her own voice are simply so much better.

Where age often shows is in the lyrics. But, but there's no hint of a surfeit of teenage angst here; in fact many of the lyrics are complex, offbeat and sophisticated in both construction and delivery, showing personal insight and a sense of self-deprecating humour too. "I said, 'what's up?, howís it going? what's been happening my man? Yo! / But what I really meant to say was just 'hello'." [Havenít Been Down]. She often uses this conversational style, a personal approach which succeeds in pulling the listener in, getting them really involved. "First of all," he said, "what is this? Are you trying to make my heart beat faster or are you trying to stop it?" [Damn You]. Even the more conventionally constructed songs are full of neat lyrical twists and turns--they just tend to rhyme more. In fact the only lyrically weak song is, once again "Radio Blues."

Overall, this is a gorgeous, beautifully realised, debut album, full of imagination and clever observation. Megan's voice is a fluid and evocative instrument that leads you through the maze of her offbeat and individual world. And perhaps most excitingly of all, it promises a whole lot more.--Jamie Field

 
Spiders From Venus Indie Women Artists and Female Fronted Bands Cover David Bowie
Image © Skipping Discs 2003

More Skipping Discs Compilations:
Love Her Madly (2002)
 

(21 February 2004) Spiders From Venus (Indie Women Artists and Female-Fronted Bands Cover David Bowie), as the subtitle implies, features indie women artists and female-fronted bands on a 19-track CD highlighting the songs from David Bowie's illustrious career. This compilation allows the listener to experience the female interpretation of Bowie's blend of the masculine and feminine.

The CD begins appropriately with "Space Oddity" from Bowie's first international success. Vocals are performed by Bernadette McCallion (Cry Wolf review) from Black Pitch Dream (Never Going Home review), who also performed on the label's previous compilation Love Her Madly (review), and the ghostly sounds from Bowie's original version are apparent.

"The Man Who Sold The World," sung by the breathy Brianna Mosteller of Bug Funny Music Foundation continues to elicit the trademark Bowie sound. Justine K. of Joe K's Kid sings "Changes" and tends to take artistic license in this interpretation. Andrea Perry gives a delightful rendition of "Kooks" which comes across in a playful manner.

The compilation includes many other covers, notably "Hang On To Yourself" interpreted by Shesus, "Rebel, Rebel" performed by Canadian twin sisters Tegan and Sara, "All The Young Dudes" sung by The Switchblade Kittens, "Golden Years" by Essra Mohawk and "Modern Love" by Astrid Young. The band, Lunasect, is featured in "The Heart's Filthy Lesson". The CD finishes with The Jenn Beast Band singing "Afraid."

This compilation offers the listener an introduction to many new bands and artists, some of whom are totally new to our ears. For true fans of David Bowie, this CD will please some and irritate others, although most of the songs remain true to Bowie's intended musical spirit.

Read further reviews and listen to soundbites at the label's website and order the album from amazon.com here. Bowie's music has inspired innumerable artists and there is promise for some of these female vocalists who hopefully will stand out in future undertakings.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Standing At The Edge CD Cover
Image © Sony Classical 2004 
 

(21 February 2004) Every great once in a while an artist appears on the music scene whose sound is entirely original, yet instantly recognizable. Enter Casey Stratton, a young new singer/songwriter whose major label debut, Standing at the Edge, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Producer Patrick Leonard (Madonna, Elton John and Jewel) obviously had wonderful syngery with Casey while working on this album. While Casey is a trained pianist (and the piano is the principal instrument on this album), each track features layers of keyboards, guitars, bass, drums and orchestra giving the album an expansive and soaring quality.

Casey originally hails from Michigan, where his father played in a popular Michigan band. Casey took violin, cello, piano and guitar lessons at an early age. Piano became Casey's instrument of choice. After graduating from Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy, Casey pursued a record deal. After years of hard work that brought both successes and failures, he was finally put in touch with Patrick Leonard, who quickly recognized Casey's special talent.

Standing at the Edge, is absolutely brilliant from start to finish. Each song on the album is nuanced and captivating. There are simply no throw-away tracks. The opening track, "For Reasons Unexplained," is a powerful and heart-rending piece. Beginning with a haunting and broken piano rift reminiscent of October Project's "Bury My Lovely," the melody instantly engages the soul. The intensity and profound intimacy of Casey's vocals and lyrics pull so strong on the heartstrings that it is hard to get through the song without shedding tears. When Casey reaches the chorus singing "sorrow comes again for reasons unexplained, I come to you but I am not the same," one becomes acutely aware that Casey is allowing a glimpse into the deepest parts of his own soul.

Several of the songs reflect a folk influence. An example is "The House of Jupiter," which is an upbeat, guitar-led song that never quite looses its touch of bittersweet melancholy. The ethereal, pulsing "Contagious" is darkly romantic, tragic, and sensual. Again, the chorus section of the song shows Casey at his most gifted as a songwriter. With a hook that is undeniably mesmerizing, "contagious" is a fitting adjective to describe this song.

"Blood" is another track that instantly pierces the ears and heart. Combining synthetic flavors, an aggressive percussion line, ripping Bosendorfer piano, and subtly violent lyrical imagery, "Blood" is outright addicting. During the chorus, Casey utilizes interjected and lush harmonies,to punctuate the lyrics. This is one of the most memorable songs this reviewer has heard in years. Trust us--you'll be singing along by the second listen.

In contrast to "Blood" is the quietly devastating "The Dead Sea." With hints of Sarah McLachlan's "Wait," "The Dead Sea" is a song about the increasing distance in and ultimate death of a beloved relationship. In all of its lovelinees, "The Dead Sea" is almost too poignant to hear--as if one is eavesdropping in on a most private and sad scene. "Bloom" is a jaw-dropping orchestral track that is cinematique in scope. What is most impressive is that Casey orchestrated the strings in their entirety.

What makes Casey's music so impactful besides his engaging melodies and lyrics is his voice. A melange of quiet strength, mystery, and a deep, barely concealed vulnerability, listening to Casey sing is like hearing a stranger tell a wonderful tale that you suddenly realize you've had a role in. It is almost unfair to see so much talent emitting from one person.

Casey Stratton has struck a perfect balance between classical edginess and pop "hookiness." Certainly Casey will appeal to fans of Tori Amos (with whom he is often compared). But it is no small compliment to say that Casey's debut is as equally artistic as Tori Amos' work while being even more listenable. It looks as if great things are in store for this formidable artist. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. The world will have to stand aside and make room for Casey Stratton.--Justin Elswick

 
You Are What You Love CD Cover
Image © Actorboy Records 2003 
 

(31 January 2004) Melanie Doane's new album, You Are What You Love, has an explosive pop/rock sound that captures the listener. This talented Canadian singer brings tremendous energy to her music and lyrics, and you can't seem to stop humming along to the catchy tunes. Her background of growing up in an environment filled with musical instruments is reflected in her appealing CD. She learned to play and mastered the piano, bass, mandolin, guitar and violin while growing up in Nova Scotia.

She first came on the music scene in 1993 with Harvest Train, and then Shakespearean Fish in 1996. Melanie continued with her successful musical recordings with Adam's Rib in 1999. She continues to thrill her fans with her latest album.

Melanie's music ranges from her pop/rock upbeat tunes in "As I Am" and "Wilma or a Betty Man" to the soft, dulcet tones of "Way Past Blue." Her vocals soar with emotional depth, strong lyrics, and flowing instrumentals. The gentle melodies continue with the striking "First Love." The guitar accompaniment elicits the tenderness felt in this song.

The great tracks continue with upbeat "You Are What You Love." This song is a fun-filled exploration of the joyful things in life that Melanie expresses so well with her clear tones and expressiveness. "You Do The Math" continues with the catchy melodies, bouncy beats and toe tapping tunes. "Mayor of Melonville" brings out the fabulous violin instrumentals and a strong Celtic flavor that is joyful to the ears. Melanie's dynamic, melodic ballad, "Here I Am," defines her power of the music.

Expressive lyrics and stunning vocals make this album addictive. Melanie Doane hooks you with her refreshing vocals and dynamite melodies. here. Melanie's diversity is expressed throughout the CD and you want to listen to it again and again.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
EastMountainSouth CD Cover
Image © DreamWorks Records 2003 
 

(31 January 2004) Eastmountainsouth is a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. Kat Maslich and Peter Adams comprise this contemporary duo with flowing melodies and beautiful lyrics. Both Kat and Peter perform the sensitive vocals and create touching musical interpretations through their instrumental expertise. From start to finish, their album's touching songs elicit warmth, compassion and understanding.

"Hard Times" sets the mood with its inviting lyrics and instrumental accompaniment. This distinctive sound is aided by electric guitar, fiddle, mandola, bass and keys, in addition to Peter's acoustic guitar and harmonium. "Ghost" portrays a gentle atmosphere and haunting melodic interlude.

There is a delicateness to Kat's soothing vocals and acoustic theme accompanied by Peter's mellow harmonies along with moog and piano. Shane Fontayne lends to the mood with his electric guitar, Quinn on drums, Jennifer Condos on bass, and Michael Froom on keys. Froom, co-produced Eastmountainsouth along with Peter Adams, and describes the duo as "Appalachian from both sides of the fence," and "Peter is a trained composer who, at times, brings an Aaron Copland-type harmonic influence into the mix. And Kat has deep personal and musical roots in rural Virginia, which flavors everything she writes and sings."

Their gentleness continues throughout with a more upbeat melody on "You Dance" and again back to the dulcet tones in "So Are You To Me" with stunning fiddle instrumentals by Gabe Witcher. The lyrics in "Show Me The River" tell a sensitive story that captures the heartwarming and sometimes bittersweet, lonesome heartbreak in the song.

The ballads continue with "Rain Come Down" and the beautiful blended harmonies mixed with Kat's lofty vocals continue to impress the listener. "Still Running" and "All The Stars" showcase the duo's sensitivity and clarity in the dynamic and soaring vocals. The remainder of the songs, ending with the bonus track, "On Your Way," highlight this duo's ability to create a sweet and clear lyrical sound.

Their music is very original, combining exquisite vocals and lyrics with peaceful and serene musical compositions. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Gentle tones and heartwarming melodies bring Eastmountainsouth to the forefront, and the album is most definitely an easy listen.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Leona Naess Self-Titled CD Cover
Image © Geffen Records 2003

Leona Naess
Image © Geffen Records 2003
 

(15 November 2003) Leona Naess was born in New York, the daughter of millionaire shipping magnate Arne Naess, and was raised in London. At 18 she left the Purcell Music School and returned to New York. Now she divides her time between New York and London (which she calls "home"). Oh, and her step-mother is Diana Ross.

Her first album Comatised (released 14th August 2000) was an intriguing CD from the sparse, monochrome cover of Leona staring out almost challengingly through to the interesting, varied and unpredictable music. Her voice was very expressive, reflecting the beauty, anger or sorrow in the songs - and she proved she could rock too. It was certainly one the debut albums of 2000 with some electrifying moments and an energy and raw edge to it that lifted it above the morass of major label formulaic female singer/songwriters for whom production takes priority over song writing and real emotion.

Expectations were high for what might follow - which was I Tried To Rock But You Only Roll (released 9th October 2001). On the cover photo she has her eyes closed. This was a much more crafted, radio-friendly effort, but it lacked both the emotional and musical power of Comatised. So here, with the self-titled Leona Naess, we are in 'difficult third album' territory.

The opening track of the self-titled album (Universal (USA) B0000344-02, 2003) "Calling" has a catchy little intro followed by uninspiring verse with some odd phrasing but a nice cello line which opens into a beautiful chorus with a suitably appropriate string arrangement - unfortunately the staccato strings in the middle eight simple donít fit the mood of the piece at all and sound very clumsy. "Donít Use My Broken Heart" also begins encouragingly with the line "Donít use my broken heart to pick up other girls" - reflecting some difficult recent personal times, but again melodically the verse doesnít cut it and itís the chorus - this time very simple - that rescues the song.

The tempo's raised for "He's Gone" but the drumming is incredibly unsubtle and the rhythm repetitive; it quickly becomes irritating, At over four minutes, the song is too long to sustain the musical ideas it contains. "Star Signs" opens gently with just voice and guitar and certainly has its moments - especially the middle 8 which has a distinct Carole King feel to it. But in other parts it reduces to two chords and two notes and you wonder just what she's trying to do. "Ballerina" is just Leona's voice and piano, which would be fine if the song was strong enough - but it's not - it's repetitive and melodically unmemorable.

In "Dues To Pay" it is again the chorus that rescues the piece from total anonymity, but it's always desperately worrying when lyrics descend into a series of 'Baby, baby, baby' and on this track she out-babies even Robert Plant! "Yes It's Called Desire" is in 3 time and has a distinct country tinge, but the tune is far too closely tied to the chord pattern, simply following it up and down for the most part.

"How Sweet" again opens promisingly with Leona and guitar and a melody that's unpredictable for perhaps the first time, but lyrically it's not too sound: "Gonna build it right back, to a castle not a shack, with the sun across my back," and in places the lyrics are wedged into the tune. "Home" is only the second upbeat song on the album - and as with "He's Gone" the drumming does it no favours, though the song does have a good feel to it.

"Christmas" is by far the best song on the album - guitar, cello and voice and some sympathetic piano and vocal harmony - this is also the track where the ubiquitous string quartet is used to best effect. From the writing point of view, this is probably the only song on this album that comes close to the standard Leona set on Comatised. The closing track "One Kind Of Love" isn't given a chance because it's got a horribly cheesy string arrangement and the melody of the repeated sung phrase at the end of the song is Bob Dylan's "Mighty Quinn" virtually note for note Thereís one moment in this song, just before the final assault, when it cuts back to just Leonaís voice and guitar and you think 'Yes! If only ...'

Playing Leona Naess back to back with Comatised is a sobering experience. Thereís no energy at all in this album. Leona's voice lacks spark and emotion and the vocal variety she demonstrated on Comatised is reduced here to a universal wistfulness. Some of the song writing, whilst undoubtedly heartfelt, is barely up to high school standard. The insipid, soporific, arrangements ensure that whatever cutting edges there might has been have been rounded off and polished till they glimmer beautifully.

The cover of the Leona Naess album is in full colour and shows Leona holding a rose - the soft-focus photograph is cut off at her nose so there are no eyes at all this time - the photo could be of anyone. Just as the cover of Comatised reflected what was inside, sadly, so does this. Itís a bland, soft, smooth, corporate album. It will probably sell by the shed-load to the same people who bought the Norah Jones CD and this will no doubt be used by the record company to justify the fact that almost every trace of Leona Naess has been absorbed into this year's corporate notion of what an ideal female singer should sound like. I donít know if this should make us angry, sad or simply resigned - but whatever, it is an awful waste of talent.

If you enjoyed Come Away With Me then it will certainly be worth you seeking out the Leona Naess album. But if you like fine songwriting, spark, originality and female vocals that really connect, go and get Comatised and just pretend this album never happened.--Jamie Field

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order Leona Naess' self-titled album at amazon.com here. The album is not rated as highly as her earlier releases by our editorial staff but should be explored further by die-hard fans.

 
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