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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
Katie Melua
Jem
A Remedy Raised
Glass Hammer
All This Time
Tr3nity
Quecia
Helen Slater
Imp (Monica Janssen)
Emma Rugg
Season's End
Fiona Renshaw

Links
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Instrumental Digest
 
Call Off The Search CD Cover
Image © Dramatico Ltd 2003
click on image to visit UK website


More Katie Melua
Interview and Photos
Interview and Concert Review

Katie Melua USA Image © Universal Records 2004
click on image to visit US website
 

(21 May 2004) Britain's Katie Melua's Call Off The Search (Dramatico (UK) / Universal (USA) DRAM CD0002, 2003) reached number one in the UK album charts early this year. The 19-year old singer songwriter signed a five album recording deal and management contract with the Dramatico label after being discovered by Mike Batt at the Brit School in London. The songs on the artist's debut album have a jazzy, bluesy feel and the critical acclaim for the project compared her style to Norah Jones. We found her voice and delivery when coupled with Batt's arrangements significantly more enjoyable.

In her own words, "I was born in Georgia in the former USSR in 1984, living in Moscow for a while when I was three or four. Not surprisingly, I don't remember a lot of Moscow back in the communist time, although one thing I do remember is that the place we were staying in did the most amazing pancakes I've ever tasted. Leaving Moscow and the pancakes I spent most of my childhood in Georgia in the seaside town of Batumi. There's really nothing better than swimming in the Black Sea."

She continues, "When I was nine, my dad got a job as a heart surgeon in Belfast, so we moved there. When I told this to one of my teachers later in England, he described the move as 'from the frying pan into the fire.' I never really viewed it as that because I had a great childhood both in Georgia and Northern Ireland. I found the people in Northern Ireland extremely warm and made great friends at St. Catherine's primary school and Dominican College, Fortwilliam."

"I went to Catholic schools in Northern Ireland while my younger brother went to a Protestant school. I didn't always want to be a singer or a songwriter. My ambition when I was thirteen was to be a politician or a historian. I honestly thought I'd be able to bring peace to the world -- if I ruled it! We lived in Belfast for five years after which we moved to South East London. There I went to Nonsuch High School for Girls. When I was fifteen, I entered a TV talent competition called "Stars Up Their Nose" singing Mariah Cary's "Without You." I won the competition--the prize was a bedroom makeover and an arm chair for my dad--and also gained valuable experience by performing live on ITV three times."

She remarks, "Moving so much didn't really bother me because you get so used to it. I'lve been to seven different schools, the final one being the Brit School for Performing Arts where I did a BTEC and Music A-level. I started writing songs two years ago and have a small studio set up at home. My influences are Queen, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Eva Cassidy, Irish folk music and Indian music. I strongly believe that great artists are those who are original and talented in their music and performance.

Melua looks as great as she sounds: slender and shapely, with dark curls and big brown eyes. She has a vast range, from a soaring silky lightness to a slow, sexy laziness. And both her style and strength will develop further as she matures in the business. The 12-track album contains two of her own songs with the remaining material being covers and five of Mike Batt's own tunes. The sound is best described as blues and jazz in the vein of Norah Jones, but it Katie's style is just so much more accessible.

Katie concludes, "Music should be performed live. It is offensive to the audience if you mime. I always get a warm feeling when I see someone holding either a guitar case or a violin case on the street. It's like I know I'd get on well with that person and I always smile or say 'hi.'" Read our own interview with Katie for additional detail.

The first single from the album "The Closest Thing To Crazy" has a memorable sound with a melody akin to a West End or Broadway musical. It is however Mike Batt's own creation for this album. Other standouts include include the sensually performed ballad "My Aphrodesiac Is You," the dramatic performance of the title track "Call Off The Search," and Katie's stunning delivery of her own "Belfast."

The range of Katie's voice, especially in the upper registers, makes the sound of the album very appealing. It will draw listeners to her that are not typical jazz enthusiasts. And this has been demonstrated with the wide critical acclaim for the recording as well as huge commercial success the album has enjoyed in the UK. A bonus found on the enhanced CD is the stunning and informative video footage "Katie Melua - Starting Out, 2003."

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and purchase the album from amazon.com here. Katie Melua is ready to take the USA by storm with Call Off The Search as just one casual listen to the album will clearly demonstrate..

 
Finally Woken CD Cover
Image © Orchid Entertainment Ltd 2004

Jem
Image © Orchid Entertainment Ltd 2004
 

(09 May 2004) Welsh singer Jem (Jemma Griffiths) has it all--an attention-grabbing smooth-as -silk voice, a formidable songwriting skill, and probably the best album you'll hear this year. Finally Woken is Jem's debut--and the music industry is already buzzing about this one. While Jem may draw favorable comparisons to Dido, her punchy and infectious pop sound is much closer to the music of Frou Frou and Poe. Mixing all sorts of diverse sounds (including trip-hop, folk, electronica, 70's psychedelic rock, reggae and classical), Jem has boiled all of her influences down to a delicious blend of pop-coolness.

Growing up in Wales, Jem began singing and writing songs at the age of thirteen. With her passion for music ever driving her on, Jem decided to finish school and ultimatlely attended Sussex University. While in college, Jem stayed connected to the music scene by working as a club and festival promoter and a DJ agent.

Jem studied law at school, but then decided to return to Wales in November of 1999 to hone her craft. After completing a collection of four demos, Jem moved to London and began writing sessions with electronic producer Guy Sigsworth (Bjork, Frou Frou). The song "Nothing Fails"-- which appears as track 6 on Madonna's American Life album--was one of the fruits of Jem's writing labors. Jem then visited Brooklyn and hooked up with hip-hop producer Ge-ology (Mos Def, Talib Kweli) and in autumn 2002 she met her now co-producer Yoad Nevo.

Nic Harcourt, the Music Director of influential Los Angeles radio station KCRW 89.9 FM, heard Jem's song "Finally Woken" and began to play the song on the station's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" program. Listeners went nuts over it and Jem became one of the most requested artists at the time.

A&R guy Bruce Flohr heard Jem, loved her sound, and asked her to sign to Dave Matthews' ATO record label. So, after years of hard work, Jem has finally arrived, and we couldn't be more excited! Finally Woken is such a wonderfully perfect album that to point out all of its strong points would require a review the length of a Tolstoy novel. "They" is the funk-tacular, more-addicting-than-crack opening track that sounds like the end result of a Bach, Outkast, and Sarah McLachlan jam session. "Come on Closer" is a slightly randy little number that starts with a 60's "I Dream of Genie"-like sample and suddenly erupts into an explosin of rump-shaking beats and biting guitars. The easy-breezy "Finally Woken" is so laid-back and carefree that you'd think Jem had grown up in Venice, California rather than Wales. Jack Johnson, watch your back!

Jem isn't all fun and games though. In the chilling "24," Jem sings from the perspective of someone who is going to be executed in 24 hours. Without being overly-political, Jem captures the eerie and tense emotions that might run through the convicted's mind. The orchestration in "24" is lush and majestic while the smashing guitar rifts groan in perfect contrast.

"Missing You," deserves special mention because Jem has accomplished the difficult task of making a trip-hop/psychedelic piece of music sound sexy, smart, and poignant. This song is a standout and will be on our personal playlist for a long time. Just when things are about to get a bit moody, Jem pops back with the most unlikely and fresh song we've heard in a while, "Wish I." Think "Grease" meets Sheryl Crowe . The island-beat joy of this song is enough to put a huge smile on your face as your order that ticket for the Hawaiian vacation you've been waiting so long to take.

Another favorite is the haunted love song, "Falling for You." Again, Jem balances beautiful instrumentation, crystal-clear harmonies and crafty songwriting. "Stay Now" is a quirky and sweet tune featuring therimin, sitar guitar, strings, and subtle beats. We don't know how she makes all of these disparate elements work together, but she does!

Without a doubt, Finally Woken is one of those "breath of fresh air" albums that enlivens the music world with its originality, accessibility, and verve. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. We champion Jem whole-heartedly and recommend her album without reservation.--Justin Elswick

 
A Remedy Raised CD Cover
Image © Music For Missions 2002

Susie Bogdanowicz Susie Bogdanowicz (lead vocals)
on "Without You," "Know You Now"
Image © Sound Resources 2004
 

(16 May 2004) A Remedy Raised (MFM (USA), 2002) was originally released in November 2002 as the first Music for Missions project. Although a significant portion of the material was written by Music for Missions founder Eric Parker, three different vocalists and many musicians played on the album. The album also features the songwriting of independent artist Nathan Carico as well as the classic hymn "Before the Throne of God Above." Two-thirds of the proceeds from A Remedy Raised support the missions organization Gospel for Asia. GFA currently supports over 13,000 native missionaries in the Indian subcontinent.

The album was produced by Glass Hammer's Fred Schendel, Steve Babb and led by MFM's Eric Parker. Parker is also featured on Glass Hammer's Lex Live (review under construction) and was a member of the band's NEARFest lineup, which will result in a CD release during the summer of 2004. While the team are heavily involved in the progressive music scene, A Remedy Raised is better characterised as an alternative or indie release. Eleven of the album's thirteen tracks feature Eric's and Jeff Blake's smooth and melodic lead vocals while the remaining two feature the stunning vocal work of Susie Bogdanowicz, also of Glass Hammer, who sings lead on two of the tracks and can be heard in backing harmonies on various others across the album.

In addition to Parker (guitars, vocals), Schendel (drums, various guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) Babb (bass) and Bogdanowicz (vocals), the album includes contributions from Jeff Blake (lead, backing vocals), Nathan Carico (acoustic guitar), Susan Hawkins (viola, violin), Tim Starnes (harmonics, acoustic lap steel), and Matt Twitty (guitar). Solo excursions during instrumental bridges are brief but well played.

Susie's first track is entitled "Without You." An upbeat and highly accessible track with strong pop orientation, Susie's vocals soar above the rich instrumentation. While some will search the Glass Hammer recordings for her solos, this track truly showcases Susie's voice--both in lead and harmony vocal sections. The chorus has an excellent hook as well. Her second track--and the album standout--is entitled "Know You Now." With only minimal vocal enhancement during production, the track showcases Susie's stunning voice in the swirling lead vocal part as well as supporting harmonies. The catchy chorus will stick with listeners a long time.

The tracks on A Remedy Raised are well-played and produced and are arranged for accessibility and radio play. Instrumentals compliment vocal passages throughout and provide the ambience necessary to deliver the lyrical messages. One can hear the progressive influences in the music; an excellent album in all regards, we were impressed with Eric Parker's singing and songwriting and naturally most enjoyed Susie Bogdanowicz's lead vocals on the tracks she was selected to sing.

 
Lex Live DVD Cover
Image © Sound Resources 2004

More Glass Hammer
Chronometree
The Middle Earth Album
Lex Rex
Shadowlands*
* with interview

Related Artists
Michelle Young
Tracy Cloud
Various Artists
A Remedy Raised
All This Time

 

(29 May 2004) The long-awaited first DVD by Chattanooga, Tennessee's progressive rock band Glass Hammer is entitled Lex Live (Sound Resources (USA) SR 7112, 2004). The album showcases Glass Hammer’s legendary eight-piece NEARfest 2003 lineup: Steve Babb, Fred Schendel, Walter Moore, Matt Mendians, Eric Parker and female vocalists Susie Bogdanowicz, Flo Paris and Bethany Warren. Glass Hammer's highly acclaimed Lex Rex album (review) is performed in near-entirety, along with music from Chronometree (review) and Perelandra. As a bonus, the DVD also includes further footage from NEARfest 2003, interviews and a music video of "Tales Of The Great Wars."

The main feature of the DVD is a live performance filmed at Chatanooga's Rhythm & Brews (website). From the website, enthusiasts will discover a high-energy concert, and an edgier incarnation of the band than the band's studio albums reveal. Progressive-metal drummer Matt Mendians sees to that, as does front-man and guitarist Walter Moore. The keyboard sounds are as big as ever though, and prog-icon Fred Schendel delivers his greatest performance ever. Needless to say, the Hammond organ is dominant in the mix! Steve Babb's bass, pedal and keyboard parts are superb. Eric Parker contributes acoustic and electric guitar to the live performance. Sarah Snyder makes a brief appearance as well.

The DVD features various backing and solo contributions from Glass Hammer's three stunning female vocalists: Susie Bogdanowicz, Flo Paris and Bethany Warren. Fans will enjoy having the ability to see the band members and supporting artists performing in a live environment. Photography is good and typical of music video with frequent cuts and angle changes. The performance, recording quality and production are all notably good. The recording--which runs a full 122 minutes--features stereo audio rather than Dolby 5.1.

The main feature includes performances of "Chronometree," "Tales Of The Great Wars," "One King," "Further Up, Further In," "Cup of Trembling," "Chronos Deliver," "When We Were Young" and "Heaven." A progressive masterpiece in almost every respect of the recording, the video could have been improved with subtitles or band members making verbal introductions of the song names for the uninitiated.

Vocal production is typical of Glass Hammer recordings which means at times it is hard to make out the lyrics when all of the vocalists are singing at the same time. Some of the camera angles, like the one of the drummer, get a little boring about a half hour into the gig. No booklet or liner notes other than the outer cover were included in our review copy. A booklet with further information and still photos extracted from the DVD would have been a nice addition.

The bonus material is as exciting for enthusiasts as the band's concert footage from the Rhythm & Brews performance. It opens with a "behind the scenes" peek into the souncheck and discussions with each of the artists about their contribution. A "Private Concert" recorded acoustically in one of the band member's hotel room at the Marriott adjacent to the NEARfest 2003 venue (Trenton War Memorial) includes a couple of nice renditions filmed and recorded on fans' video cameras as well as an extract from the festival floor including footage of the choir. Professionally recorded NEARfest 2003 audio was combined with fan filming for that segment of the video. The band's music video concludes this section of the DVD.

Lex Live is an essential DVD for Glass Hammer enthusiasts, especially those that can't get to Chatanooga for the relatively rare live performance of the band. Glass Hammer have primarily been a studio project and live performances have not been frequent. The DVD brings the eight players together for a two hour collection of great performances that fans can watch at their leisure.

Be sure to check out our feature on Glass Hammer's latest studio album Shadowlands. It includes an in-depth interview with Fred Schendel, Steve Babb and Susie Bogdanowicz. Also check out our coverage of side projects with Eric Parker, A Remedy Raised (review) and All This Time (review). Lex Live is an excellent step forward for the band, both in capturing their live sound and on-stage persona, especially in the run up to their Live at NEARfest album, due out mid-summer 2004.

 
All This Time CD Cover
Image © Music For Missions 2004

Flo Paris, Bethany Warren, Susie Bogdanowicz Flo | Bethany | Susie
Image © Sound Resources 2004
Flo Paris
"Practice Room" (lead vocals)
Bethany Warren
"Restore Us" (backing vocals)
Susie Bogdanowicz
"In You Is Life" (backing vocals)
"Under The Sun" (lead vocals)

 

(29 May 2004) The completely stunning follow-up album to A Remedy Raised (review) is an eleven-track anthology entitled All This Time (Music For Missions (USA) 2004). The eleven tracks are contributed by various artists in the Chattanooga, TN area and executive producer Eric Parker drew on producers Fred Schendel and Steve Babb and Glass Hammer participants. Like Parker's former album, the lyrical content expresses secular and gospel themes.

The album contains four tracks featuring female vocalists, and includes backing harmonies on several of the male led numbers by voices familiar to our readers. In addition to "Under the Sun" led and backed by Susie Bogdanowicz and the first solo track by Flo Paris, "Practice Room," Parker introduces Joy Jansen and Summer Hullender, singing lead on "Come Ye Sinners" and "In an Instant" respectively. Susie Bodanowicz and sister Bethany Warren contribute backing harmonies as noted below. All tracks are produced and played with incredible precision and uncompromising quality.

Jeff Blake opens the album singing the gnetly rocking track "In You Is Life," backed primarily by Eric Parker's acoustic guitar. Like Parker's earlier work, vocals across the album are mixed way up to ensure the lyrical content is suitably exposed. Susie Bogdanowicz contributes backing harmonies, and her vocal is mixed up near the front of the arrangement. Fred Schendel and others contribute to the rich instrumental content.

"Restore Us" is a folky track sung by Kirk Ward who also contributes acoustic guitar to the number. Contributions from Fred Schendel and Steve Babb complete the instrumental arrangement. While Bethany Warren's tender harmonies have been included, a vocal excursion bringing her voice to the fore would have been a nice addition to the tune.

Glass Hammer's Fred Schendel and Steve Babb, who appear across the album in various instrumental combinations, contribute the ballad "Heroes and Dragons" from their previous album Lex Rex (review). Glass Hammer's instrumentals perfectly back the sung parts.

We were intrigued that the two songs featuring Susie Bogdanowicz and Flo Paris on lead vocals were the longest tracks on the album. The up-beat standout "Under the Sun" includes contributions from Eric Parker (acoustic, 12-string guitars, bvs), Fred Schendel (keyboards, drums, piano, bvs), Steve Babb (bass, pedals, bvs) and Susan Hawkins (viola). Susie's voice is mixed way up above the progressive instrumental arrangements which never compromise the lyrical content. Production quality is stunning, exposing the extent of Susie's vocal range while allowing the backing vocals to contribute to the sound. Susan Hawkins' viola adds texture to the arrangement and is notable during a solo in one of the instrumental bridges.

Joy Jansen sings and plays acoustic guitar in the folky ballad "Come Ye Sinners." With words by Joseph Hart, it is sung to the tune "Beach Spring" from Sacred Heart. Susan Hawkins contributes a bluesy viola part to the arrangement. Eric Parker's "Hold Me Again" is an evocative progressively styled ballad backed by his acoustic guitar and supported by Fred Schendel and Steve Babb. The Glass Hammer-flavored keyboards blend with the guitar parts to produce an orchestral texture while not being overwhelming. Eric Parker has an excellent voice which shines through in this powerful track.

Chris Slaten's "In The Dark" is an upbeat and lightly arranged number. His (raspier than than the rest of the artists) vocals and acoustic guitar are joined by contributions from Nathan Shirai (percussion, bass, bvs), Fred Schendel (mandolin) and Susan Hawkins (viola). Summer Hullender sings lead and backing vocal parts and plays acoustic guitar in the evocative ballad "In an Instant." The power, range and texture of her voice are perfect to deliver the lyrical message of the material.

"Down The Road" is a country-influenced number sung by Mike Milton (acoustic guitar) supported by Summer Hullender (backing vocals), Tim Starns (mandolin, fiddle, dobro), Fred Schendel (drums) and Steve Babb (bass). We naturally appreciated Summer's harmonies which have been mixed right up alongside Mike's leads. The fiddle solo is also notable. Nick Walburn's ballad version of "Psalm 23" is accompanied by his acoustic guitar and Fred Schendel (piano, snyths, bvs).

The concluding track, "Practice Room," is a long and tenderly sung ballad performed by Flo Paris; it is the first track featuring her lead vocals to be released. With words and music written by Flo, the track, which blends pop, progressive and country stylings, is the standout of the album. Fred Schendel (keyboards, piano, acoustic guitar, drums), Steve Babb (bass) and Susan Hawkins (viola) provide instrumentals. The song illustrates Flo's power, range and ability to deliver material evocatively. We can't wait to hear more from her.

While we liked A Remedy Raised, we loved All This Time, especially the tracks featuring Flo Paris and Susie Bogdanowicz. Eric Parker has worked closely with Glass Hammer members and other artists to produce an album of diverse music drawn together with the gospel theme and progressive textures. Not to be missed!

 
Precious Seconds CD Cover
Image © GFT Cyclops 2004
click on image to visit artist's website
 
 

(16 May 2004) Precious Seconds (Cyclops (UK) CYCL 138, 2004) is the follow-up to Tr3nity's debut album The Cold Light Of Darkness. The band has been promoted by the Classic Rock Society and is certain to earn awards in Best Of The Year voting by the membership.

The 67 minute album is a progressive masterwork in every respect, and includes only five epic tracks ranging in time from 10:00 to 20:12! Precious Seconds, like the band's debut album, is a concept story album that seeks to demonstrate that we are only on this planet for a limited time, and encourages listeners to make the best of it while you have the opportunity.

The album features the stunning lead and backing (male) vocal work of Chris Campbell and tracks written by Paul Gath (keyboards) and Rob Davenport (bass, guitars). Campbell joins writing credits on "Livin' a Lie." The Tr3nity lineup is completed by Graham Lane (bass, fretless bass) and Rolf Smith (drums). Progressive arrangements include warm guitar excursions and orchestral keyboard textures. Campbell's evocative vocals exude confidence built from years of theatrical training.

"Livin' a Lie" features rich guitar and lush keyboard arrangements during the lengthy instrumental passages and an instrumental melange during the powerful vocal sections. Gath is to be congratulated for highlighting the individual parts--even drums--and not muddying one bit of the instrumental production.

"From Afar" (lyrics in the booklet however correspond to "Run Before You Walk") begins with a lovely piano part and Chris Campbell's vocal delivery is reminscent of a West End musical. Instrumentatals build--without washing out the vocals--with dueling guitar excursions and vast keyboard solos that remind the listener that this is a true progressive rock album. This combination of stunning theatrical vocal delivery and progressive rock sets Tr3nity apart from other acts in the genre.

The ballad "Run Before You Walk" (lyrics in the booklet however correspond to "From Afar") further develops the album including a lovely, accessible and memorable feel-good melody. Instrumentals are notably simpler with guitar and keyboard perfectly complimented by the band's rhythm section. The sweeping and extended instrumental bridge provides a melodic but progressive contrast between the lyrical passages.

The track "More Than I Deserve" begins immediately where the previous ballad leaves off. Vocals are sung in ballad style atop of a lovely piano melody with probably the most memorable hook--if a progressive recording is allowed to have one--of the album. As with other Tr3nity tracks, however, the progressive instrumentals build orchestrally with contrasting guitar excursions in contrast the song develops. The opening melody returns with a powerful guitar solo and then the final vocal passage as the track comes to a quiet yet dramatic close.

The album concludes with the over 20-minute epic "The Last Great Climb." Aside from the extended instrumental passage in the latter half of the piece featuring a dramatic keyboard solo, the track is dominated by Chris Campbell's soaring vocal excursions, and opens with the first of two choruses within the lyrical content. Powerful instrumentals underscore the vocal work throughout the number while extensive backing harmonies (especially in the concluding minutes of the track) and lush symphonic textures add colour to the sung parts. A masterpiece.

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Tr3nity's Precious Seconds is a tremendous follow-up to their debut album and a progressive masterwork.

 
Quecia II CD Cover
Image © Deep End Records Ltd 2004

Kirsty McCarrick Image © Deep End Records Ltd 2004

More Quecia
This Is Where We Are
Rotherham October 2002
Rotherham January 2004
 

(16 May 2004) Quecia II (Deep End Records (UK) 501-196-6, 2004) is the title of the latest 10-track offering from Wigan's evolving classic rock band. While many bands would have folded after the upsets of the last couple of years, Quecia are clearly made of sterner stuff, and at last have followed up their promising first album with an excellent second effort that represents a significant step forward for the band. The charming acoustic tones of This Is Where We Are feature have now been largely replaced by a gritty rock sound derived largely from the Classic Rock bands of the 70s and 80s. That said, there are still plenty of gentler moments to satiate fans of the first album, and the excellent song writing has been continued in spectacular fashion.

Though the band would be the first to admit that they have not played live as much as they would have liked, many aspects of their live show have found their way onto the album. Kirsty McCarrick is really developing as a lead vocalist of huge power and presence--with soaring interludes especially in "New Dress," "Too Late To Say Goodbye" and "Line In The Sand"--which she combines with a winning vulnerability and charm.

Her sister Hayley continues her development as a wonderful harmony vocalist and their vocals combine with a unique chemistry. Paul Ayre's lead guitar work in particular, is at times blistering and Chris Picton, as well as providing some solid bass and some surprisingly subtle and confident keyboards, should be congratulated for his engineering. New member Steve Atkinson provides some excellent, unflashy drumming.

Short, snappy opener "Hideaway" teases with a great acoustic guitar riff, giving way to electric quickly enough, and the McCarrick sisters trademark harmony vocals. A lovely vocal midsection is reminiscent of Heart. "You Know the Time" slows things down, with some great piano and organ from Chris, and Paul mixing acoustic and electric guitar to good effect. On the verse, the song sounds like Karnataka, before becoming more soulful in the chorus, and throwing in a lovely key change for the middle eight.

As promised by Paul Ayre in our recent interview, "The Rhythm” is somewhat different, weaving an atmospheric song--again reminiscent of Karnataka--over some eerie sustained guitar and synths, and some great singing from Kirsty as the song builds to a more aggressive climax. "Bird in a Cage" rocks things up again, a joyous piece of 3-minute slice of power pop with a great solo from Paul. "New Dress" is a rock ballad, giving Kirsty and Paul on lead guitar--a chance to really let rip--spine tingling stuff and a great song.

"The Difference" is almost funky, with piano and acoustic guitar prominent. Kirsty is again allowed to shine towards the end of another excellent song. "Too Late To Say Goodbye" again showcases Chris’ excellent keyboards in the verse with some soulful vocals from both girls, before crunching into gear in the chorus, with Kirsty letting go and Paul delivering a great solo--terrible shame the song fades out in the middle of it.

"Rescue Me" is a great 70s style, brooding, bluesy rock song with Paul's guitar again excellent and a winning chorus that Eric Clapton would be proud to have written. It is one of those songs that sound like you've always known it, and it's an album highlight. "Taking to the Trees" is an excellent acoustic song with an ecological theme while album closer "Line in the Sand" opens haltingly, but soon builds intensity into a showcase for Kirsty's voice and Paul's great lead guitar. Here he provides two great solos, the second of which is his best work on the album by far.

Though occasionally the album displays a few rough edges sonically, particularly on the rhythm guitar and drum sounds, the songwriting is consistently excellent. While the band would benefit from outside-the-group production, there is not a weak track on the album and Quecia should take great credit for keeping it to a modest 47 minutes. Here, at last, is a fully rounded vision of where Quecia really are in 2004. Let's hope a lot more people share that vision in the future. Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham and Russ Elliot in New York

 
One Of These Days CD Cover
Image © Landsleit Records 2003

Helen Slater 2003 Image © Landsleit Records 2003

More Helen Slater
Interview and Photos

 

(01 June 2004) The debut album from Helen Slater is a ten track collection entitled One Of These Days (Lansleit Records (USA) HS8640, 2003). Though she has always loved music, Helen began her career as an actress with major parts in over 25 major motion pictures spanning the last two decades including Supergirl, The Secret of My Success, Lassie and Ruthless People. Educated at New York's High School for the Performing Arts, the actress is also professionally trained in singing, songwriting and musical theater. She is founder of several stage groups, appeared in numerous roles, and has written music and lyrics for the urban opera The Ugly Duckling. The final track of her album is from the musical. Our interview provides further insight into Helen's background and includes photos spanning her career.

One Of These Days is a lightly arranged album, with vocals primarily accompanied by Slater's own piano playing, with woodwinds and soft percussion that contribute to the overall feel of the collection. While the material defies categorization, the album is described best as a blend of early Laura Nyro and theatre music. Helen's heartfelt and often melancholy solo vocal rightfully dominates each piece, often reflecting ordinary life and applying her own unique twist to the evocative delivery the lyrical message.

The album opens with a delicate piano part that compliment's Helen's vocals in "Greenland," a lovely ballad, setting the tone of the album with strings and woodwinds that continue into "Shoes," a short, upbeat and bluesy number. Woodwinds continue to support Helen's tender vocal delivery in the "Typical," a bluesy, theatrically-styled number. The memorable tune to "Love Comes In" and warm delivery make it one of the album's standouts. The first half of the album concludes with the evocative "Love Comes In," a piano-backed ballad that would fit well in a theatrical production.

The title track of the album is a folky tune, with a bit of a country influence; acoustic guitar, piano and light percussion support the singer's heartfelt vocal delivery. "Robin's Egg" is most reminscent of a smokey jazz club with a slow and deliberate acoustic arrangement accompanying the bluesy vocal that builds as the song crescendos. We especially liked the way the woodwind and vocal lines interact through the number.

"Get Up" is a refreshing, carefree and well-performed tune. Woodwinds appropriately support Helen's lead, with instrumental production that never overpowers it. The album begins to come to a conclusion with the gently delivered ballad-come lullaby and theatrical-style "Remember Last Sunday." The album concludes with the ballad "Home," a finaly theatrically styled number from Helen's urban opera The Ugly Duckling. Singing across the album is sweet and evocative; the full power of Helen's voice developed in her musical theatre training is not evident in the selected recordings.

Some of the songs have a lot more potential than we hear in the finished product, most likely due to the way the album was recorded. For example, the vocal phrasing on "Touch And Go" could be improved. "Love Comes In" is nice ballad, but it could be done in a totally different way. In fact, with a little bit of thought, it could be done as a prog track--it wouldn't take much, just a little vision and a leap of faith! Just listen to that little piano riff intro, and just for a moment your ears prick up, then the vocals come in and it all goes bland again.

So many of the songs seem to be dictated by the simple jazz chords. There's no musical edge to a single one of these pieces. "One Of These Days" would really suit James Taylor circa Mud Slide Slim (1971). Listening again, there is potential here but if Helen's serious, she needs to work with a producer who can think 2004 rather than 1974. And she needs to sing like she means it rather than singing so far within herself, as appears on the album, it's not true. Only on the words "Green land" in the opening song does she open up at all. The album would have been better if the other nine tracks were up to that standard.

Helen Slater's debut album One Of These Days clearly illustrates the artist's breath with light theatrical delivery perfectly accompanying her own piano playing and songwriting. As a departure from her motion picture and stage theatre roles, the project is a stepping stone for the continuation of her performing career. While additional production and more varied material to illustrate her vocal power would help accessibility, Helen's vocal work is superb and she likely has as bright a future in music has she had in motion pictures and theatre.

 
Ashes in the Hourglass CD Cover
Image © Imp 2003

Monica Janssen Monica Janssen | Image © Imp 2003
 

(04 May 2004) Ashes in the Hourglass is a six track 2003 self-produced album by the Dutch metal band IMP featuring lead vocals by Monica Janssen. The lineup is completed by Fred Koot (guitars), Wim van der Bij (guitars), Gerard Rad (bass) and Matthijs Krijnen (drums). The album is typical of metal edged projects--aggressive and rhythmic guitar riffs dominate and the lack of keyboard removes any possibility of symphonic treatment familiar to listeners of bands such as Epica, After Forever, Nightwish and Within Temptation.

The power within Monica's voice is evident not only in the sung parts but in her own contribution to the grunting often found in this genre and incorporated by Imp on this album. An occasional melody can be found in the choruses on several of the tracks but one should not have high expectations in that regard on this album. This is a metal project--it is clear from the opening introduction and through the ripping tracks "Successors" and "Demise Of Man" that follow.

Monica's powerful vocals continue to dominate the material and soar through "The last Descendant" and vary between her crystalline vocal textures and harsher grunts. Monica handles all of the vocal work on this album including all of the grunts. Says colleague Wim, "Her growls are deeper and lower than many male collegues." The musical trend continues into the dramatic concluding track "Onslaught." We especially enjoyed the broad range of expression evident in Monica's vocal delivery.

A six part double foldout booklet accompanies the CD. There a full libretto and large scale photos of the band members is presented for the purchaser's enjoyment. The album features aggressive metal arrangements with vocals adding the lighter element to the sound. However, percussive riffs dominate the sound and the harder edge is certain to please metal enthusiasts worldwide. Orchestral keyboards would greatly broaden the band's sound and perhaps will be considered for their future projects. Additional photographs of the band, audio samples and mpeg video samples are available online. Visit the band's website for further details.

 
Isolated Impression CD Cover
Image © InDreams Records 2003

Emma Rugg Image © Mark Pierce 2003
 

(16 May 2004) Emma Rugg busked for six months to raise the cash to record Isolated Impression (InDreams Records (UK) 209802 1, 2003). It was time and money well spent as she's produced a lyrical and fluid debut album which promises much for the future. It's not an album that's going to knock you out on first play, but one that'll grow in your affections as you become more familiar with it--and it's that kind of relationship that usually lasts the longest!

The album opens with the beautifully unassuming "As You Go." There's a distinct Cranberries edge to "Grand Designs," both in the lead vocal and the harmonies, a strong song with a hook you'll go away humming. This is followed by "Picture Perfect" which opens with some haunting guitar and vocals. Again it's very beautiful with lovely use of harmonies. At over 6 minutes, it's simply too long and the impact of the mesmerising opening is dissipated by the time the song ends.

"Read Your Mind" has an unusual chord structure and some interesting interweaving guitar lines. This, together with its unpredictable melody line makes it an understated highlight of the album. Together with "Grand Designs," "Prelude To The End" is the other upbeat track on the CD. It's stacked with memorable melodies and is the most immediate song on the album by some distance. "To Love You" is another solidly acoustic song with a strong vocal performance.

"Today" is simply gorgeous. The unusual chording and subtle approach to the guitar accompaniment is perfect, enhancing the feel of the piece and giving the song itself a chance to shine through, perhaps also showing that the guitar work on some of the other tracks is unnecessarily complex. This is the best track on the album. There's some interesting interweaving vocal lines and pleasant harmony in "Floor 8." The penultimate track "If Walls Had Ears" is a bit of a harmony fest. The closing song, "In Your Universe" has an unusual structure - with a lovely middle eight - and don't eject the CD when the song finishes as seven or so minutes of silence passes to reveal a piano coda to the album.

This is a tremendously enjoyable album and I recommend it unreservedly. But that's not to say it's perfect. In many ways perhaps the reason this album is so scary is that it's so good despite there being room for improvement. Some of the songs lack a musical focus; starting, happening very beautifully and then vanishing like soap bubbles without leaving anything behind. Almost all the introductions are similar - play the first few seconds of each - only Grand Designs, and 'Today' are distinctive.

The CD is personal and intimate in feel--no bad thing in itself--but over the whole album the unremitting first person tends to become a little oppressive and it does limit perspective. For example: "Grand Designs" begins "I've been watching you from afar...." "Prelude To The End" opens with "I've been watching, I've been wondering for a while," The opening line of "If Walls Had Ears" begins "I've been waiting...." Lyrically, the album might have benefited from a wider sphere of reference.

Nevertheless, there is also clarity and truth. In "Grand Designs;" "I'm not part of your grand design, I won't change what I want for what you like." And a sense of humour which I'd love to see more of "I've been waiting for the clock to stop so I can buy another battery." (from "If Walls Had Ears.")

Some of these observations probably sound way harsher than we actually feel. This is a beautiful CD, and Emma's got a wonderfully distinctive voice that would hold you in thrall if she was reciting a telephone directory. Get this album and be entranced. Then wait with bated breath for the sequel. Jamie Field in Kington and Russ Elliot in New York

 
The Failing Light CD Cover
Image © Season's End 2003

Season's End Image © Season's End 2003
 

(06 June 2004) Season's End are a Gothic Metal band from the Hampshire area of southeast England. Fronted primarily by Becki Clark's vocals, the lineup is completed by David Stanton (guitar, bass, voice), Dave Smith (keyboards) and Paul White (drums). Tom Nicholls provides live bass, and Daryl Kellie provides a second live guitar. The band's sound is similar to Edenbridge (reviews) although Becki's vocal work is less theatrical than Sabine's.

Though entirely self-financed, their debut CD The Failing Light (2003) is an excellent package, produced to amazingly high standards, especially in terms of artwork, and the contents are no less impressive. Though clearly produced with a goth / metal audience in mind, there is enough here to interest progressive metal fans, with each of the six tracks on the album well over five minutes long. Lyrically, the band are impressive, weaving dark tales of lost and obsessive love.

It is also gratifying to hear such natural vocals on a metal album. Becki sings in a warm, almost classical soprano, while David, who shares lead vocal duties, has an unforced, natural sounding voice. Their voices combine beautifully throughout the album, often to spine-tingling effect. We were also intrigued by the use of instrumentation. Keyboards are very prominent throughout, and the guitars are never overdone; the metallic, machine-gun moments are used sparingly and thus provide genuine drama. Significantly, though there is plenty of melodic lead guitar throughout the album, there are few traditional "solos."

"Touch" opens with haunting strings, before launching into its metallic verse, with Becki accompanying her lead vocal with some soaring backing work. The mid section of the song is delightfully subtle, with some Steve Hackett style guitar, and whispered vocal, before a hugely dramatic ending. "Ghost in Your Emotion" is a standout track, an intense lead vocal from David giving way to Becki's second vocal, and a crunching guitar riff, before the voices combine superbly on the second verse, and again on the wonderful chorus. The song finishes on a slow, sinister note. "One Sadness" begins with a terrific cascading piano riff, which gives way to guitar, before launching into something of a progressive metal tour de force, with both voices again combining superbly.

An orchestral keyboard interlude introduces the wonderful ballad "Innocence," with its lovely piano riff, and angelic, multi-tracked female voices. "Nothing After All" moves things up tempo again, Becki's brooding lead vocal on the verse against some throbbing bass combining with some aggressive singing from David on the chorus, followed by a vicious twin guitar and twin bass drum section. Album closer "Celestia" starts with a brooding, almost medieval sounding section, before opening out into another progressive metal workout, with David almost grunting at one point.

Though there are a few sonic imperfections--the drums could sound a little better, and the vocals are mixed a little low--this is a fine debut by a band of some ability, who have produced an album of intensity and beauty with strong melodies and plenty of instrumental skill. We are looking forward to seeing them perform live, and the album is certainly worth a great deal more than modest funds required to buy it.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England and Russ Elliot in New York

 
Love In A Bubble CD Cover
Image © Square Peg Music 2004

Fiona Renshaw
Image © Square Peg Music 2004
 

(21 March 2004) British singer/songwriter Fiona Renshaw has won considerable notoriety for the androgyny of her voice. Many have likened it to jazz diva Nina Simone, though to our ears it suggests Alison Moyet and especially veteran Jazz singer Cleo Laine, and this has perhaps overshadowed the quality of her music. He debut album Love in a Bubble (Square Peg Music LMCD010, 2004) is a fine first effort in a smooth jazz / pop / soul vein, and should provide a platform for an interesting career.

The album presents a very consistent, late night vibe, easy on the ear --perhaps a little too easy, in retrospect--with a production that shimmers and lulls, but rarely surprises. Opener "Rough Trade" is a fine example of her craft, a mid paced song with a great, uplifting chorus, giving Fiona an opportunity to use her mobile voice without ever cutting lose. "Through the Day" continues this approach, while "Is the anything you need" shifts the emphasis to acoustic instruments and a bluesy lead vocal. "Go Down Easy" varies the pace a little--using bass as a lead instrument in an interesting arrangement with cello also prominent, while "Higher Above" is a delightful vehicle for some excellent acoustic guitar. "Long Shadows" introduces an atmospheric Fender Rhodes into the mix in another blues-soul number.

"Kiss Me," sounds like a slightly toned-down Anastacia, while "Love in a Bubble" is incredibly catchy, even if it does rather over repeat its chorus. Gentle strings introduce "Far off Lands," a lovely ballad and an album highlight, while "Home Again" increases the pace a little, engagingly. "Watch and Wait" uses programmed drums and a gentle melodica riff on its chorus to good effect, while "Waste Away" features a strong vocal performance and some cutting lyrics. A cover of Gil Scott Heron's "Home is where the hatred is" closes the album with emotion and a live sounding, almost rocky, arrangement. Fiona finally cuts lose, here, to prove she can really sing with passion.

Overall, this is an excellent album--the songs are generally good, if a little dependent on a repeated single-line hook to make them memorable. Fiona clearly has a fine--and feminine--voice, though it is perhaps a little underused, and the laid back mood is consistent, if slightly frustrating, given the power of the final track. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Hopefully, nonetheless, we have a new star in the making.--Stephen Lambe

 
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