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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
Bond
Nightwish
Lisbeth Scott
Christy Baron
The Corrs
Loni Pont
Wilson Phillips
Brid Ni Mhaoileoin
Libera
Deb Ferrara
Joanna McMeikan
Paul Schwartz

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Instrumental Digest
 
Bond Classified CD Cover
Image © Decca Music Group 2004 
 

(22 October 2004) Four women. Four beautiful women. Four beautiful and musically talented women. These four women comprise Bond, a classically inspired string quartet with a twist. They take classical music to a new level and explore African and electro beats, hip hop, Latin, and jazz. Vanessa Mae fans and contemporary classical crossover enthusiasts will appreciate the intensity and explosive musical variations that Bond employ in Classified (Decca Recordsc (USA) B0002332-02, 2004).

These amazing artists hail from Australia and Great Britain. Bond is Haylie Ecker (First Violin), Eos Chater (Second Violin), Gay-Yee Westerhoff (cello) and Tania Davis (Viola). Their training is purely classical, although this CD is not. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra joins in this classically influenced nouveau style to produce an awesome set of thirteen tracks. “A full symphony orchestra is a lot more of a unified sound than playing with a session orchestra which may have great musicians but they only get together on the day," says Tania.

The idea in the formation of Bond was the creation of Gay-Yee and Eos, who both used to do backing for pop artists. Gay-Yee performed with Primal Scream, Spice Girls, Talvin Singh, Bryan Adams and Barry Manilow, while Eos played with The Divine Comedy and Cocteau Twins. The group was a source of controversy in Great Britain, where purists swayed opinion to successfully ban Bond's music from the UK classical charts. Haylie says, "I think the UK is very traditional and people have a set image in their mind with the 'classical' music. Classical music is really exciting and passionate! Maybe the term 'classical' should be dropped so that people's minds aren't made up before they have heard it."

The entire album is filled with unbridled exuberance to produce a stunning mix of classical and disco dance music. The lush rhythms, filled with an hypnotic beat transport the listener to the club scene. Gay-Yee says, "Image plays a part in classical music, but the music is always the priority. Presentation is so important these days, and that's what we are just trying to do, present a positive image for classical/pop music."

Some of the tracks origins, of course, are from some famous classical music including Pachelbel's Canon, Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and the Nutcracker, Carmen's Habanera, Brahms' Hungarian Dance no. 5, and Barber's Adagio for Strings. The pulsating dance beats and passionate world rhythms are played with tremendous talent, flair and gusto to the great enjoyment of the listener. Eos says, "Classified is more classically influenced than the previous two albums, but still is quite pop. My favorite tracks are 'Explosive' and 'Dreamstar.'"

Classified is a top-notch, well produced album, showcasing the expansive talents of these four impresarios. The music is explosive and full of panache, capturing the essence of the classical and creating a contemporary flair. Classical music--Bond style--has certainly made its mark in the twenty-first century and more of their virtuoso interpretations are anxiously awaited!

 
Once CD Cover
Image © RoadRunner Records 2004

Nightwish
Image © Spinefarm Records 2004

More Nightwish
Studio Album Reviews / Interview
Live Album Reviews
In Concert Review

 

(18 October 2004) The Finnish operatic-heavy band Nightwish has become a worldwide success during the latest years, selling millions of albums and constantly having sold-out concerts around the world. Both album and concert ticket sales have proven that their unique blend of heavy metal and opera is indeed popular, and that the genre has some kind of longevity.

It is easy to find reasons for the recent boost of success, especially when listening to Nightwish's latest studio album Once (Spinefarm Records (FI) 981890-4; Nuclear Blast (DE) 27361 12912; RoadRunner (USA) RDRF 1011302). The familiar Nightwish elements have been enriched with an almost megalomaniac usage of money, hiring extra musicians such as a huge symphony orchestra (London Session Orchestra) as well as the large Metro Voices choir. The fusion of heavy rock and classical music elements has leapt a giant step further, and the results can be heard indeed.

In fact, the sound on Once is at least a lot fuller than before, thanks to all kinds of cleverly chosen and made musical elements such as cascading, almost filmic strings on "Ghost Love Score" and so on. All these elements do Tarja's voice significant justice--she is an opera singer anyway--and gives her chances to use her voice more versatilly than before. For example, the oriental flavour of "The Siren" require a great deal of skills, and Tarja surely has used them superbly!

One of the most interesting and outstanding pieces from this album--in addition to the single "Nemo" which has been shown on at least MTV Europe constantly--is "Creek Mary's Blood" where the main role is led through by a genuine Lakota tribe American Indian, John Two-Hawks. His narration in own tribal language and ethnic flute playing certainly appeal even those who usually do not like to listen heavy rock music. Also, the very beautiful ballad sung in Finnish, entitled "Kuolema Tekee Taiteilijan" (Death Makes An Artist) deserves a special mention here, although it is almost acoustic and not so heavy, it is surely one of the gems on the album. Regardless of the comments about the track being not suitable for a heavy rock album!

Currently Nightwish is on their world tour, and one of the reasons for sold-out concerts is the latest album Once. Although it is a bit difficult, if not impossible, to bring the full symphony orchestra and the choir onto the stage at the same time, there is always means to avoid the budget to burst too early without letting the audience down. As one of the best albums by the band thusfar, take the time to explore Nightwish's Once further.--Suvi Kaikkonen in Oulu Finland and Russ Elliot in New York

 
Passionate Voice CD Cover
Image © Zone Records 2004

More Lisbeth Scott:
State Of Grace
Dove
Earthbound
State Of Grace II

 

(18 October 2004) Passionate Voice (Zone Records (USA) ZR1307, 2004) is Lisbeth Scott's newest CD, and she has hit the mark with her spirited and stunning, uplifting vocals. This ten track album was exquisitely produced by Lisbeth and husband, Nathan Barr. This blend of contemporary and acoustic sounds takes the listener on an exceptional journey. Lisbeth's earlier solo projects and work on the State Of Grace series will be familiar to our frequent visitors.

The California-born singer originally began her career as a classically trained pianist, and fortunately for all of us, changed paths and began her vocal exploration. Her voice has been featured in hundreds of films including Shrek and Sinbad, and most recently The Passion of The Christ in addition to numerous television shows, including Touched By An Angel, ER and Boston Public to name a few. Her music has been likened to Enya, Sinead O'Connor and Dido, but she certainly has her own distinct and striking style.

"Grace" begins with a haunting melody and Lisbeth's angelic vocals elicit a peaceful and calming effect. The more contemporary "Give" and "No One But You" highlights the tender, soothing qualities of this talented artist. A more earthy tone is found in "To Love and Be Loved." The lyrics help to showcase her expressive and eloquent style.

Lisbeth said, "This is an interesting record for me because there are two distinct elements in it. One is sort of a lyrical joy and the other is contemplation. The whole CD is centered around spirit ... whatever that is for all of us ... and how we live in these two places at the same time." She continued saying that "a huge source of inspiration for me is spirit in my life. The interaction of spirit and the physical. My new CD explores this a lot and is a direct reflection of where I'm at right now in life."

Sensuous and soaring vocals are the focus in "Reveal." The title track, "Passionate Voice," is certainly self-described. The simple, beautiful melody emphasizes Lisbeth's ethereal, yet earthy tonal quality. The catchy "Surrender" has the listener foot-tapping to the beat. "Stones" changes pace with a tender and soulful narrative. The poignant "All of These Years" again highlights Lisbeth's heavenly music and stunning vocals.

A reprise of "Reveal" completes the dreamy and sensuous aura. One is left with the sensation of floating and being transported to a safe haven. The splendid instrumentals throughout this magnificent album were performed by Nathan Barr (cellos, guitars, bol bol, ocarina), Greg Ellis (percussion), Chris Bleth (duduk), Bernie Locker (guitars) and Dan Lutz (bass).

Lisbeth's clarity and emotive vocals touch the soul with her combination of lush melodies and beautiful lyrics. Her voice mesmerizes and creates a relaxing atmosphere. The title is quite apropos since Lisbeth Scott definitely is a Passionate Voice!

 
Christy Baron Retrospective CD Cover
Image © Chesky Records 2004

More Christy Baron
Steppin'
Take This Journey

Christy Baron
Photo by Dirk Vandenberk
Image © Chesky Records 2004
 

(02 October 2004) Close your eyes and imagine that you're sitting in a dark, smoke-filled cabaret with a glass of merlot in hand, and the music has come alive. The sultry mood is quickly established, and jazz sensation Christy Baron's exquisite vocals make you sway to the music. Her dynamic style is highlighted throughout the fifteen amazing tracks in Restrospective (Chesky Records (USA) SACD269, 2004).

Christy continues to excel with her newest album which contains a magnificent repetoire of covers that we all know and love. She brings a new freshness into this compilation of well-known melodies, gleaned from her previous three albums.

"She's Not There" (The Zombies) initiates the journey into jazz heaven. The beat of the bongos and flute solos brings about a transformation and ambience in this familiar song. The vibes in Cole Porter's "Night and Day" definitely showcase Christy's immense talents and she puts her personal stamp on each of these melodies. Christy brings a new interpretation to Lennon and McCartney's "Got to Get You Into My Life." She introduces an easy-going style that is well suited to the smooth vibrations and velvety vocals.

"I'm an interpreter of music," she says, "not a straight-ahead jazz singer. It means a lot to me that Chesky thinks I have an interesting enough take on these tunes that people will sit up and listen. That's why I do this, because I'm always trying to turn things upside-down or inside-out."

"That Old Devil Moon" swings and glides into the limelight, with Christy's own special touch. Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" has the feminine edge and Christy's angelic voice caresses the music. Everyone's favorite, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," takes on new meaning and soars to the next level with her jazzy and delicate crooning.

The 70s Carole King song, "Stand Behind Me," was interpreted with a new panache and assured elegance. "Happy Together" brings the listener back to another, but updated, era. Her soulful renditions in "Mercy Street" and "Ain't No Sunshine" continue to emphasize the extraordinary talent of this songstress.

The instrumentals are top notch, and the musicians certainly deserve credit for their amazing renditions. Unfortunately, their names are not found in the accompanying CD booklet.

Christy's clarity and crisp tonal quality is most certainly the icing on the cake. Her beautiful vocals take center stage and Chesky's continued first class production magnifies Christy's talents. This talented singer has brought out the best in jazz standards, and has definitely raised the bar.

 
Borrowed Heaven CD Cover
Image © Atlantic Recording Corp 2004 
 

(20 Octrober 2004) Pop/rock Irish legends, The Corrs, have gone back to more of their Celtic roots in their fourth album, Borrowed Heaven (Atlantic Recording Corporation (USA) 83670-2, 2004). This family quartet continues to push the envelope and have produced another superb CD. The songs have wonderful, captivating melodies, and of course, their signature engaging Celtic/pop blend keeps the momentum going. This album is more reminiscent of their earlier albums, especially Talk On Corners.

"Summer Sunshine" is a rocky, upbeat melody and it sets the mood with its lyrics, catchy chorus and toe-tapping beat. The pop-beat continues with "Angel" which boasts traditional violin riffs and tin whistle interludes. The song is the band's tribute to their mother and they certainly have paid her the ultimate compliment. "Hideaway" has an uplifting quality, with sensual and inspiring lyrics.

Andrea's powerful vocals are impressive in the haunting standout "Long Night." This ballad brings out the best in The Corrs, with explosive instrumentals that support the emotions expressed in this song. "Goodbye" is back to basics for the group, with their classic style showing through.

"Time Enough for Tears" is a passionate, jazzy ballad that showcases the band's versatility. Andrea's breathy vocals and Jim's melodic keyboards create an atmosphere of smooth and soothing vibes. "Humdrum" is far from routine beginning with their hip-hop LP scratchy opening. The song builds up into Celtic rhythms and traditional Irish instrumentals.

The mix of pop versus traditional Irish folk continues throughout this album. "Even If" is a catchy pop tune that intersperses the upbeat melody with the traditional tunes. The title track, "Borrowed Heaven," highlights Caroline's fabulous hypnotic percussion, with Sharon's magnificent violin solos in addition to the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo providing some brilliant vocals to add to the ambience.

"Confidence for Quiet" is full of energy and soaring vocals. "Baby Be Brave" has an intoxicating melody and sensitive lyrics about a life lived pretending to be someone else and being terrified about having their weaknesses found out. The album closes with the magnificent instrumental "Silver Strand." This song ties together all the qualities we all love about The Corrs, with their strong, traditional Irish roots blended with incredible modern musical composition. Sharon's violin proficiency lends to the distinct atmosphere created here.

The Corrs certainly have a characteristic and unique sound that is truly their own. The album is filled with catchy melodies blended with the traditional Irish tunes. There is an uplifting feeling throughout and this band continues to develop and impress. This album is a great addition to the collection.

 
Pieces CD Cover
Image © Planet She Music 2000 
 

(23 October 2004) Soulful pop singer/songwriter Loni Pont has put together a touching and passionate debut CD called Pieces (Planet She Music (USA) PSM1, 2000). The eight tracks are all written by Loni and she presents an emotional and expressive musical collection of ballads.

Loni began her singing career in high school and later started vocal lessons with the Masterwork Choral foundation in Morristown, NJ and continued on to Berklee College of Music where she studied vocal performance. She eventually moved to NYC in order to further her musical ambitions and has performed in numerous locations including The Bitter End, The Living room, The Cutting Room, the C Note, CB's Gallery and the Knitting Factory. Her perserverence paid off when after making a three song demo, one of her songs, "Forever," received a merit award from the Unisong International Song Contest.

This talented artist exhibits great sensitivity with her lyrics. Her singing approach is subdued, yet it impacts the listener with its soothing, romantic, and inspirational style. Adding to the mood is some finely tuned instrumental accompaniment: Robbie Kondor on piano/keyboards, Jon Gordon and Larry Saltzman on guitars, Steve Dwire and Mark Egan on bass, Steve Dwire on drum programming, Carol Landon on viola, Chris Palmero on Hammond organ and Mike Brayton on accordion and background vocals.

Loni's melodies and lyrics have a haunting and thoughtful feel to them. Although her vocals often quiver and exude a folky air, she does have a clear tonal quality. Along with the simple piano accompaniment, the beautifully written and executed ballads continue to set the mood. Some favorite tracks on the album include the lyrical "Lyla" and the melodic "Empty." The title track, "Pieces," is a gentle and compassionate song.

The songs are certainly heartfelt and have a soothing quality. Sometimes the lyrics are a bit melancholy, but but Loni pulls at your heartstrings and touches on your emotions. She is currently working on a second CD and we await another listen to her distinct style and sound.

 
Wilson Phillips California CD Cover
Image © Columbia Records 2004

Go Your Own Way
Image © Columbia Records 2004
 

(21 October 2004) Wilson Phillips is back after a ten year hiatus with concept album, California (Columbia (USA) CK 92103, 2004). The eleven track CD is wonderfully produced and filled with great and familiar covers, with songs about California, or songs recorded by famed California bands. The trio took these classic hits and put their own special touch on these pop songs with their amazing three part harmonies, reaquainting all of us with their superb talent.

The daughters of Beach Boy Brian Wilson (Carnie and Wendy) and the Mamas and the Papas' John and Michelle Phillips (Chynna) sound better than ever since their glory days in the early nineties. Their talent shines through with their distinct California sound.

Take a step back in time to this famous set of songs from the sixties and seventies, but with an updated feel, especially in the smooth production. However, the addition of the Mellotron certainly brings back remnants of the original classic sounds. Chynna's powerful singing in Linda Ronstadt's classic "You're No Good" has a strong pop sound, coming across as almost electronic at times. Neil Young's "Old Man" has a new spin on it, and Carnie's solid vocals are splendid.

The acoustic and electric guitar throughout adds to the terrific atmosphere created in this album. The title track, "California," sung by Wendy has a different feel from Joni Mitchell's original version. However, change is good, and it is refreshing to have a different slant on great music. "Already Gone" by The Eagles definitely rocks, and Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" is a wonderful remake, showcasing the Wilson Phillips flair.

"Turn, Turn, Turn" by Pete Seeger boasts the fabulous trio's harmonies backed by great instrumentals. New renditions made famous by their respective parents in "Monday, Monday" (The Mamas and the Papas) and the energy driven "Dance Dance Dance" (The Beach Boys) were right on the mark and made you want to get up and dance.

"Get Together" is a great track, with wonderful accompaniment by the string quartet comprised of Joel Derouin, Michele Richards, Evan Wilson and Larry Corbett. The beat is lively in the powerful "Doctor My Eyes" and enhanced by the orchestral strings.

"In My Room" features special guest vocalist Brian Wilson and the trio has marvelous harmonies throughout this classic. The best part is when Brian exclaims at the end of the song, "That sounds great! I love your sound!!" That remark is certainly the undeniable consensus. And, just when you think it's over, there is a hidden track with a reprise of "Already Gone" that has a more simplistic approach than the previous track with just guitar accompaniment, and highlights the beautiful tonal clarity of Wilson Phillips.

Like a great wine, Wilson Phillips have improved with age. They put a new edge on some great, classic tunes and their fans will certainly rejoice at their return. Another album of original tunes will anxiously be awaited, but in the meantime, what a great comeback for this talented trio!

 
Ar Mhuin Na Muice CD Cover
Image © Brid Ni Mahaoileoin and
Alan Burke 2004
 
 

(20 October 2004) Striking vocals characterize Irish Gaelic singer Brid Ni Mhaoileoin's debut album, Ar Mhuin na Muice (translated to On the Pig's Back) (Habari Records (Ireland) 001, 2004). It is an album of Sean-Nós (unaccompanied traditional singing in the Irish language) and contemporary Irish Gaelic song. Brid was born in Kenya and spent her early formative years immersed in music, colors and rhythms of the Masai. She grew up on the west coast of County Donegal, Ireland--also the home of Clannad, Enya and The Corrs--an area rich in music and culture.

She played music in the family group, Ceoltóirí Ghoill, together with her four siblings traveling around Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany and the United States. They were reknowned for their a capella numbers sung in Gaelic and Swahili. The group split up in 1985, and Brid went on to pursue her love of languages, where she is proficient in Gaelic, Swahili, English, French and German.

Fortunately, the CD booklet has translations of the lyrics, with prefaces by Brid about her musical choices. This album is rich with brilliant instrumentals: uilleann pipes and whistle player Joe McHugh, fiddle player Kevin O'Connor, accordion player Kate Dunne and bass player Wolf Zwiauer, guitar and vocals by Alan Burke, lovely backing harmonies by Brid's mother, Caitlin, and her brother, Padraig, and bodhrán by Brid.

There is a clarity and joyfulness throughout this album and Brid's vocals are a pure delight. A blend of traditional Irish melodies as well as a capella songs create a wonderful and varied musical tapestry. Lush tones welcome a mix of traditional and contemporary songs. Brid sings with limitless passion and her exquisite vocals are perfectly executed.

"Bideach na gCarad" highlights Brid's sparkling approach to this traditional Connemara song. "The Fuschia" and "Green Grows the Laurel" are sung in English, and the lilting melodic tones of her vocals are enchanting. A purity of sound is found in "Ailiú Éanaí" and "A Stór a Stór a ghrá" in which Brid sings unaccompanied with her own backing vocals as well as those by Alan Burke (producer and music arranger) and the latter with her brother, Padraig.

Guitar and whistle create a lovely ambiance in "Cá raibh tú ar feadh an Lae uaim?" Beautiful guitar riffs open "Brid Óg Ni Mhaille" and Brid's tender rendition of this Donegal tune make it magical. The next song, "Máire Bhruinneal," was performed by Clannad live in 1978 to great acclaim. Brid certainly has put her special stamp on this traditional song and sings a beautiful version.

"Caldé sin don tsé sin?" showcases this talented singer's clear tone and expertise on the bodhrán. Alan Burke performs the vocals on the final track, "an Trocallin Donn," which is a lively song, based upon a true story. Backing vocals on this track were performed by Brid.

The thirteen tracks on this debut album are a pure delight. Brid's superb vocals and the dynamic instrumentals make this album a standout. This is a collection of spirited songs, filled with boundless energy. Available online via Brid's website, Ar Mhuin na Muice is a stellar effort and you'll want to play it again and again!

 
Libera Free CD Cover
Image © EMI Classics 2004

More Libera
Luminosa Review
 

(18 October 2004) Choral music, especially featuring miraculous boy trebles, has been playing a very traditional role through many centuries in Europe, and it is great to see this tradition staying vital even until today.

One of the groups who has successfully been cultivating this tradition, is the British Libera choir, having their roots in the 1980s known then as St. Phillips Boys Choir and a bit later as "Angel Voices". Directed by Mr. Robert Prizeman, the choir has regularly appeared in BBC's Songs of Praise TV programs with e.g. Sal Solo, backed the albums of Aled "The Snowman" Jones (of "Walking In The Air" fame), and released their music on CD. Three of their earliest albums were released under "Angel Voices", and the latest three under the name "Libera."

Especially the two previous albums under the artist name Libera, entitled Libera and Luminosa respectively, have both been chart-toppers, entering at no.3 to the British Classic FM's official chart right after their releases. The new album "Free" did exactly the same thing just some time ago, so I think these are evidence strong enough to proof the success again.

Just like the previous Libera albums, also the new album Free (EMI Classics (USA) 7243 5 57823 2 8, 2004) is a real ear-charmer from the very beginning to the very end. Every single detail is polished and exquisite, and the voices are stunningly clean, always perfect-pitched and pure. Even during the most difficult and challenging pieces such as "Lament" and "A New Heaven". The awesome harmony of the voices, great instrumentation and the versatile usage of soloists from the choir are all factors making the music very memorable, not forgetting of course the clever move to use both higher and lower voices in the lovable piece "Be Still My Soul" by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Although many people often associate boy choirs with "serious" classical or sacred church music, Libera has succeeded to avoid that stigma very well and in fact, developed the choral tradition further in a very wonderful way. In addition to the already mentioned Sibelius classic, there are also some other choir standards such as "I Vow To Thee My Country" on the latest album, but Mr. Prizeman and Libera have been able to find heaps of new dimensions from these classic pieces. And, one cannot but admire the courage of both the choir and its conductor of having recorded some very challenging and more modern pieces throughout their Libera days so far! Of course the pieces featuring modern pop beats and sacred lyrics at the same time may be a bit too much for purists, but as Libera is far better than just an ordinary amateur church choir--not to demote amateur musicians in any way, in fact, Libera is not a church choir at all anymore--the usage of pop elements suit to Libera's style very well, making them unique and stand out on their own.

This approach, known also as crossover phenomenon, is hopefully one of the factors behind Libera's success, because I believe that fusing various styles together and experimenting like this brings more audience to the choral and classical music genres from the pop world, leading to both increased album sales as well as to growing interest of classical music/choral music in general, not forgetting the concerts. Libera has succeeded with their prior two albums and now may the success be continued also worldwidely with Free!--Suvi Kaikkonen in Oulu, Finland and Russ Elliot in New York

 
Anything But Ordinary CD Cover
Image © Deb Ferrara 2004 
 

(06 October 2004) Indie pop/rock singer, Deb Ferrara, recently released Anything But Ordinary (More Good Music Publishing (USA), 2004), a twelve track album with some great tunes. All the words, music and vocals are written and performed by Deb, except for "No More" and "Stupidly Beautiful." Her music appeals to the college crowd and blends pop with some alt rock melodies.

Deb received the 2003 and 2004 ASCAP Pop Songwriting Award. She also hosts and coordinates the successful monthly songwriter showcase, "NJ Songwriters in the Round," held at Maxwell's in Hoboken and sponsored by ASCAP and BMI. Under the NJ Songwriters in the Round umbrella, she organizes a yearly charity concert, Songs For The Cause, featuring eight top area artists, and benefiting The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. She is also involved in It's About Eve - music for the cure. Deb stated, "Independent artists and breast cancer awareness are two areas I am extremely passionate about."

Catchy melodies abound throughout this album. "Underneath Your Star" has a strong rock influence, and Deb's sweet vocals enhance the music. Her upbeat pop/rock influence continues in "Loving You," with background vocal support from Samantha Newark. Dan Marfisi on guitar, bass, keyboards and drums lends to the ambiance in "Stupidly Beautiful." Deb has gentle vocals and then explodes into powerful chorus. The pace slows down in "Everywhere," "Walk Away" and "It's Me" where her sensitive vocals are a standout.

Her songs tend to be styled in the hook-oriented pop/rock variety. "Hard to Say" also has a catchy melody and she is an insightful storyteller. "Cryin'" continues in the same vein, talking about relationships. Deb concludes with "No More" and leaves the listener wanting some more from this gifted singer/songwriter.

Deb certainly has an abundance of talent that is expressed beautifully throughout this CD. She easily hooks the listener with her poignant vocals, touching lyrics and explosive music. Deb Ferrara is Anything But Ordinary.

 
Breaking The Habit CD Cover
Image © Joanna McMeikan 2004

Joanna McMeikan
Image © Joanna McMeikan 2004
 

(26 September 2004) Breaking the Habit (JIM3462, 2004) is a refreshing debut album for British songstress Joanna McMeikan. Lush vocals and addictive melodies are rampant throughout this exciting set of eleven tracks. Compared favorably to Kate Bush and Tori Amos online, Joanna wrote all the lyrics and music with the exception of two tracks, "Again" and "Laughable Tragedy" which were collaborations with Matt Pavlaitis and Pekka Rintala respectively.

Joanna has a background in classical piano and studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University while singing in choirs and musicals, a cappella groups and bands during her years at University. She arrived on US shores in 1996 and settled in LA doing session work and day work in television. In 1999, she formed the band, DragonEye, and has been creating beautiful music ever since.

The ominous beat of the drums in "Again" lead to the soaring vocals that create an excitement and powerful musical journey. "January Snow" changes pace with a tender and hypnotic theme. She exudes an eloquence throughout her music that captivates the listener. Along with her extraordinary voice, Joanna is a top-notch singer/songwriter. Her lyrics throughout, as in "Merry Go Round" and "Clean," create an adventure and she shines as a talented storyteller.

"Past Conditional" is a standout track which has also garnered her a "Song of the Month" win in August 2004. This track is expressively multi-layered and quite innovative. The rhythmic beat is haunting and attention-grabbing. Jazzy "Galatea" highlights Joanna's diverse talents and of course, her sensational vocals. "Laughable Tragedy" also showcases this talented singer's gorgeous voice and musical vividness.

Having been influenced musically and lyrically by Kate Bush, Bjork, Joni Mitchell, Sting, Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, Annie Lennox, Fiona Apple and Tom Waits, one can see that Joanna has created her own unique and solid style of music. Her music is compelling, with beautiful arrangements and a dynamic style.

Joanna's renditions throughout this album are truly outstanding. There seem to be no limits to her talent, evoking a range of emotions which bring her abilities to the forefront in the world of female vocalists. The diverse rhythmic interpretations and outstanding, inspiring vocals create a uniqueness of sound. There is an ethereal quality to this stunning singer/songwriter, and she leaves you with a memorable sound.

 
Aria 3 CD Cover
Image © Koch Entertainment LLC and Astor Place Recordings LLC 2004

Rebecca Luker
Image © Rebecca Luker 2004

More Paul Schwartz
Revolution
Aria 2 - New Horizon
State Of Grace
Earthbound
State Of Grace II
 

(25 October 2004) Five years and a multitude of projects later, Aria 3-Metamorphosis (Koch Records (USA) KOC-CD-5785, 2004) is the latest in Paul Schwartz' collection of classical contemporary crossover albums. As with the two prior Schwartz albums in the Aria series, it features soprano vocals by Broadway's Tony-nominated vocalist Rebecca Luker.

The new project fuses contemporary instrumentation and classic operatic melodies. Hypnotic vocals, waves of orchestral sound and fascinating grooves combine to make a new sound: emotional, sensual and powerful. It was conceived to feel as live and as real as possible, and with that in mind, prominently features a large string orchestra, recorded in the extraordinary acoustic of Abby Road Studio #1 in London.

Paul Schwartz's albums are always luminous and beautiful. While the so-called Classical Crossover music is more popular than ever thanks to artists like Josh Groban and Sarah Brightman, Paul Schwartz's work ranks among the best in the genre.Fans of the two previous Aria albums will adore Aria 3: Metamorphosis (Koch Records (USA) KOC-CD-5785, 2004). In fact, Aria 3 is Paul Schwartz's finest offering in the series yet. As lead soloist on most of the pieces, Rebecca Luker turns in a spine-chilling performance. Not only is her voice flawlessly gorgeous, but she also manages to wring seemingly boundless emotion from the lyrical content.

Rebecca's voice combined with lush orchestration and subtle electronic percussion conspire together to open the doors of heaven. Paul's takes on Handel and Monteverdi pieces are perfectly executed. Handel is given a sensual makeover in the choral track "Furioso." With dramatic panache, Paul Schwartz's adaption adds ferocity and intensity to this well-known piece.

Another intriguing piece is "Ballo." With its humoresque sonic motion, plucking pizzicato and undulating synth textures, "Ballo" would be welcome in any Cirque de Soliel production. Track "9," entitled "Farewell" is majesty embodied. Breathlessly rushing arpeggiated synths, entrancing percussion, and soul-stirring strings rise in beauty to accompany Rebecca Luker's golden voice.

"Ascension" is also a highly memorable adaptation. Strangely poignant and spiritual at the same time, "Ascension" is a perfect example of the heights to which music can move us. The special trial of instrumental "Metamorphosis" tracks rival the vocal tracks in intensity and loveliness. Each of the three tracks named after a female from Greek myth who endured some sort of metamorphosis.

"Metamorphosis 1: Arachne" is a "spidery" piano-based work that is reminiscent of the best work by Michael Nyman. Both deeply melancholy and profoundly romantic, the song demonstrates Paul Schwartz's technical mastery. Totally unforgettable. "Metamorphosis 2: Danae" actually invokes the sense of mystery of Zeus' visit to the mother of legendary Perseus. "Metamorphosis 3: Cynae" is a radiantly dark wonder of sound that creates a sense of longing and loss.

The Aria series has remained very popular on the music charts, and it is no wonder. With Aria 3: Metamorphosis, Paul Schwartz has again succeded in bridging the gap between the modern and historical while adding a special touch of mystery and passion to the mix. It would be wonderful to see this series continue into the future indefinitely.--Justin Elswick in Provo, Utah

 
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