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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.

Tori Amos
Various Artists (ProgAID)
Lauren Gordon
Secret Garden
This Side Of North
Auralgasms' Bliss Of Life
Hungry Lucy
Emiliana Torrini

Digest Index
More Digest Entries
Previous Digest Entries
Instrumental Digest
The Beekeeper CD Cover
Image © Epic Records 2005

More Tori Amos:
Welcome to Sunny Florida (CD/DVD)
Review and Interview
  (05 March 2005) It's been over a decade now since Little Earthquakes was released through Atlantic Records. On February 22, 2005, eight more albums and a new record label later, Epic has released Tori Amos latest project entitled The Beekeeper. The album creates another mile marker on the path paved by her previous works, which have gotten steadily less edgy. And whomever is painting the title on this one might be tempted to label the project "adult contemporary."

Don't take that the wrong way. Amos' music hasn't changed, per se. Her unorthodox lyrics, unique way of pronouncing words, familiar style of stroking the keys, and distinctive, haunting harmonies are still present. But gone are the striking emotional ballads, bold fierceness and shocking dynamic changes and that were once so present in her songs. That doesn't make it any less good or artistic, though. Tori is just in a different place now as a mother and wife instead of a fiery woman who had recently suffered horribly tragic events in her young life.

All of her albums have a kind of theme or concept to them, and The Beekeeper is no different. Loosely autobiographical, it is comprised of six different "gardens" which represent each of the kinds of relationships that a woman can have. It is also told from the perspective of a Christian woman--which Tori is not--something that having a preacher for a father may have helped her accomplish. That might also be responsible for the rock Gospel-ish sound resonating in the second track, "Sweet the Sting." But then again, it might be the organ she's playing, too.

Other highlights include a track featuring Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice called "The Power of Orange Knickers," the first single "Sleeps with Butterflies" and "Goodbye Pisces," reminiscent of "China" with its oriental feel. However, the real beauty of this collection shines after the disc has been spun a good three or four times and the songs become familiar. Only with repeated listens do subtle touches of genius come out. But they are only the shades of magnificence to be expected from Tori Amos. Let this one grow on you.--Kristen Kissenger in Boston, MA

Subside EP Cover
Image © Halflight 2004

More Sarah Howells
Interview and Photos (2004)
Jylt: Surrender (2003)

(08 January 2005) Welsh singer songwriter Sarah Howells has resurfaced with the newly formed alternative band Halflight whose first four track EP "Subside" is certain to draw attention from Tori Amos, Kate Bush and Andrea Coor enthusiasts. We caught up with Sarah on the heels of this release in late 2004 for this exclusive interview. Read the story about the sad demise of Jylt and the formation of Halflight in Sarah's own words.

The Halflight lineup is completed by Richard Llewellyn (bass), Emma Bryden (cello) and Owen Hopkin (drums). Sarah provides the guitar work in addition to lead vocals. The EP opens with the upbeat "Where The Pins Drop" Sarah's vocals atop gentle rock arrangements. The evocative Jylt ballad "Treading Water" is presented next. Listeners will be intrigued by the power and range of Sarah's voice in the tremendous execution of this number.

The EP continues with the downtempo tune "Sixfour," supported by cello, acoustic guitar and light keyboard arrangements. Sarah's searching vocals are at their most emotive of the EP, clearly underscored by the melancholy cello part. Note that the package accompanying the CD includes striking photographs on the front cover, inner liner and there are three additional shots in a takeaway foldoout as well. The EP is dedicated to Nia; read the interview for details.

The striking vocal tune "Photos" concludes the EP. Sarah's voice is well atop only a gentle string arrangement carrying the stunningly evocative melody with layers to add texture in spots. A melancholy but bright tune. Sarah Howells has clearly returned to the scene in this great new ensemble. We can't wait for Halflight to produce their full length album!

ProgAID All Around The World CD Cover
Image © F2 Music Ltd 2005

More ProgAID:
ProgAID Recording Session
29 January 2005


(16 April 2005) fter the logistical heroics performed in getting the Progaid single "All Around The World" (F2 Music (UK), 200503S, 2005) recorded in such a short space of time, and the huge importance of the cause for which it has been produced, it almost seems churlish to submit the end product for review. With this in mind, it is therefore a great relief to report that the end product is something of a triumph.

As expected, the single contains five mixes of the song, plus an entertaining video that is part the "making of" and the remaining part a traditional music video, with footage shot principally on the two days recording at Briar Bank studios in Penarth, South Wales, at the end of January 2005. Of course, this means that not all the contributing artists are featured, but the edit cleverly combines lip-synched vocals and instrumental moments with lively and candid moments from the two days. It all looks great fun as indeed it was for those of us privileged enough to have been there.

The song itself is well chosen for the job. Originally a song by producer Rob Reed's old band Cyan, it is almost impossibly catchy, and perfectly structured to allow plenty of contributors to come and go without damaging the impact of the song. The slightly-revised lyrics work perfectly, positive and uplifting, yet vague enough to allow the song to stand on its own outside the context of the Tsunami disaster.

As for the individual mixes themselves, the "Single Mix" is an amazing achievement, cramming in contributions from almost everyone involved over its 5 minutes, while still maintaining the integrity of the song itself. For even the most attentive listener, piecing apart each contribution--especially the various tastefully edited-guitar solos--is an impossible task. Inevitably, this version is a little cluttered, and some artists are further down the mix than others. However, several contributions stand out: Neal Morse's trademark vocal on the opening two lines: Alan Reed's (of Pallas) passionate vocals: Troy Donockley's haunting low whistle: Christina Booth's (of Magenta) supporting vocal in verse two and Nick Barratt's (of Pendragon) delightful slide guitar cameo. Yet it is the overall effect that matters most, and the overriding impression is both awe-inspiring and emotional. Every musician involved deserves equal praise, and the listener will no doubt have plenty of fun deconstructing his or her contribution line by line.

The 12-minute "Definitive Mix" is well named. The first three minutes echo the single version, but then some spine-tingling 12-string guitar--surely courtesy of Anthony Phillips--introduces an extended section of solos, before a return to the chorus. Just as the song seems about to peter out, a keyboard throb and some angelic female vocals introduce a few more minutes of wonderful guitar and keyboard soloing before some gorgeous piano closes the track. The next two mixes are fairly subtle variations on the main version--there are no particular variations in tone--but the "Air" mix is relatively sparse with piano dominant--and an emphasis on lead vocals from the British Neo-prog contingent like Alan Reed, Peter Nicholls of IQ and Tracey Hitchings.

Transatlantic fans will certainly enjoy the "cue mix," as it pairs the vocals of Neal Morse with Roine Stolt of the Flower Kings. Musically, this has a greater acoustic feel, with drums entering much later, but building gently to an uplifting climax. The final mix is possibly the least interesting; it is a straight instrumental version. Liz Prendergast's (of Blue Horses) violin is certainly more prominent as a result, but has the benefit of doubling as a karaoke mix--for singing along to at home or the car. You will probably want to; the song is THAT catchy.

So, buy this single as soon as possible, please. The cause is the most important, and the survivors of the Tsunami need your help now. However, you are also buying a little slice of progressive rock history, not to mention a great song. An essential purchase.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England and Russ Elliot in New York

Winter Songs CD Cover
Image © Diaphonica 2004 

(29 December 2004) Kitka is a musical bouquet of eight women singing in a refreshingly beautiful meditative solstice within the recitation spirit of Eastern European magical sounds. The ensemble features the following floral arrangement of singers: Shira Cion; Leslie Bonnett; Catherine Rose Crowther; Deborah Dietrich; Juliana Graffagna; Janet Kutulas; Ann Moorhead, and Lily Storm.

In many Balkan folk songs, the word Kitka appears not only as a literal 'bouquet' of flowers but as a symbol of alternatively, feminine purity, fertility, love and/or beauty. For us as an ensemble, Kitka represents a gathering of women with very distinct voices, ethnic and musical backgrounds, and individual personalities, that, when put together musically, aim to create something that is as beautiful in its whole--or perhaps even more beautiful in its whole--as it is in its individual parts. "Kitka is also a word that is really fun to sing!" says Shira Cion, Executive Director/Vocalist.

"To me it's just the beauty of harmony made up of diverse individual sounds, idea, personalities. Unity through diversity somehow creating beauty," adds Catherine Rose Crowther/Vocalist. And it is just this gathering, of open-voice 'feminine purity' that symbolizes to the CD listening world the vocal and beautiful, figuration, of Kitka.

In a time signature of songs once forgotten, Kitka opens with "Tec, Peleite, Zęrnju, Zogtu," which is rhythmically sung in the ritual rich historical language of Latgalian, an archaic language from the Baltic region of Eastern Europe. It sings to the listener with a good blessing of dissonant voice intervals that eventually form into a full tapestry and ensemble of vocal distinction. The instrumental interlude of violist Leslie Bonnett also figures prominently in this musical lush figuration of ancient sound.

The second track "Byla Cesta" is an early 19th-century carol that is vocal ear nourishment, which is lyrically administerd by the genteelly applied tongues, of lead vocalist Lily Storm and the almost lead vocals, of Leslie Bonnett. "Oj, U Horodi," the twelfth track, is sung within a well-arranged temporal arrangement of time. It is vocally asymmetrical, and contains an excellent sounding interplay between the accordion (Dan Cantrell) and Peter Maund on snare drum. Melodically feminist, this is a beautiful song about a New Year’s celebration and gathering of many young women.

Kitka closes with their opening-voice coloration of "A v Jerusalime," a Christmas audio postcard that sings to us, the listener from Russia with love. Produced by Linda Tillrey along with co-producers Janet Kutulas and Juliana Graffagna, Wintersongs is a twenty-track Trans-Baltic linguistic journey into the embroidered power and passion, and oral ornamentation, of magical words, transformed, into magical sound.--Steven Digman in Maryland and Russ Elliot in New York

Feel It Coming CD Cover
Image © Lauren Gordon 2004 

(19 March 2005) "Feel It Coming" is the debut EP from the reigning 2004 Mrs. New York Lauren Gordon, whose musical career is only just beginning. Her brief life story thusfar is as interesting as her professionally produced debut four-track recording. Lauren met her husband through a popular online dating service--proving that beautiful women can meet responsible men on the internet--as she was completing her Political Science degree at Rutgers. He encouraged her to transform notes she made about sensible eating habits on college meal plans that resulted in her publishing a book on the subject entitled How to Stay Fit on the College Meal Plan.

Lauren's husband James, an opthamologist, performed lasik surgery to correct her vision just prior to their marriage. Not long after the 5'8" 120 lb brunette entered the Mrs. New York pageant and took first prize. She later entered the national Mrs. America competition and was awarded fourth place. Lauren is presently pursuing a graduate degree in special education and social studies. Further information on Lauren's extensive personal achievements and an array of stunning photos can be found at her website.

The "Feel It Coming" EP was produced, arranged and recorded by Billy Branigan at Boondog Recording Studios in NYC. Most likely originally conceived as a demo to shop her talent around, the recording is presently available through online resources. While some might compare Lauren's sound and the material to other pop artists like Jessica Simpson and Hillary Duff, the "still emerging" quality evident in this recording demonstrates that there's still hope for an adult alternative artist with a much wider appeal to emerge before our eyes.

Lauren writes her own material and in January 2005 the opening track from the EP "Famous" came in fourth in VH1's "Save The Music Song Of The Year" contest. The upbeat pop song is layered with gorgeous vocals. Lauren is credited for writing material for other performers. And the four page booklet and tray liner accompanying the CD include a lovely collection of professionally taken photos.

The radio friendly song style continues to develop with "Controversy," where melodic almost spoken verses alternate with sweetly layered choruses. "I Choose You" is a lovely self-backed ballad, clearly demonsrating Lauren's vocal talent, arranged above gentle instrumentation. The EP concludes with the richly arranged upbeat title track "I Feel It Coming." Verses feature Lauren's sweet lead and layers of her backing harmonies underscore the guitar laden choruses. The four tracks of this EP left us anxious to hear further material in a full length album. Lauren Gordon has a bright future, especially if others catch the wave of this debut release.

Quarterstorm Presentation 2004 CD Cover
Image © Quarterstorm 2004

Lada Soukupová
Lada Soukupová (lead vocals)
Image © Quarterstorm 2005

(19 March 2005) QuarterStorm is an emerging progressive band from the Czech Republic. Their four-track EP is entitled "Presentation 2004" and the material is available for listening in mp3 format at their website. Fronted by Lada Soukupová (vocals), the band's line-up is completed by Hana Vaňková (keyboards), Radim Chrobok (drums), Kuba Doležal (saxophone), Tomáš Nykl (guitar) and Viktor Čermák (bass). All musicians have extensive backgrounds with other well established bands in the Czech republic.

Says Radim, "Our singer Lada is classically trained and she works as a professional singer with rock bands, musicals operas and folk." He continues, "She is not a typical rock singer but that's what we like about her and we think it fits our music better than any furious screams." Indeed some of the other players' backgrounds are in metal projects. QuarterStorm is far from metal--they are a truly progressive band with textures and song structures similar to Quidam (Poland), You And I (Hungary), Turquoise (Poland) and yes, even the classic Annie Haslam-era Renaissance (UK).

While the band's website is entirely in their native tongue, the material indludes both Czech and English lyrics. The EP opens with lush keyboards and English vocals in the track "Titanová Myš." Layers of Lada's vocals work perfectly with the complex progressive-jazz crossover arrangements. A robust sax solo is joined by soft vocalise in the song's mid section before the guitar and keyboard solos.

"The Smile" is an uptempo progressive masterwork with vast tempo changes, soaring vocalise and Lada's tremendous vocal delivery. We especially enjoyed the production and the interplay between keyboard, guitar and saxophone during the track's instrumental excursions. "Chorál Zpívaný Jediným Hlasem" is sung by Lada in her native tongue but is equally enjoyable. Vast tempo excursions underscore the emotive delivery. The guitar work in the track is stunning, and some of the band's metal heritage even comes through, yet it is perfectly complemented by keyboard, sax and crisp percussion.

The EP concludes with "Černá," an upbeat progressive number with stylings similar to the previous track on the EP. Lada's lead vocal is mixed notably higher and without backing harmonies. Sung in Czech, the verses are punctuated by rapidfire sax solos and underscored by crisp percussion backed only slightly by guitar. The instrumental sections include especially notable keyboard and guitar solos. Lada's soaring reprise is wonderful.

The band's Czech website includes images of all members with the exception of vocalist Lada but it includes mp3s of the four tracks reviewed above. QuarterStorm clearly have tremendous potential and a sound that will be welcomed by eastern European progressive rock enthusiasts. We will keenly await the release of a full album from the group.

Earthsongs CD Cover
Image © Decca Classics 2005

Dreamcatcher Image © Decca Classics 2001
Dreamcatcher features tracks from
Songs From A Secret Garden, White Stones
and Dawn Of A New Century
order Dreamcatcher here

(21 March 2005) When Secret Garden released their previous album Once In A Red Moon (review) it quickly became a hit, especially when artists like Josh Groban, Becky and Aled Jones all made their own versions of one of the album's songs, entitled "You Raise Me Up" and gave the original version of the song a great deal of extra exposure. A success like that is no wonder when speaking about Secret Garden, and while listening to the group's brand new album Earthsongs (Decca Classics (USA) B0004177-02, 2005), it is not difficult at all to imagine that some day one or more of the album's pieces can become at least equally big, if not even bigger hits!

Practically and honestly, each and every track on the new album has hit potential, thanks to the seamless co-operation between the composer Rolf Lovland, the main lyricist Brendan Graham another "half" of the Secret Garden duo (violinist Fionnuala Sherry), and other great musicians on the album. Each and every person involved are putting their whole hearts and souls into the music, cultivating the musical ideas once sowed, and bringing everyone's abilities and new ideas into their own rights. What is most outstanding in this is just the awesome teamwork ability between everyone, and especially the skill of how this enables the musical "crop" or "harvest" to become rich, fresh and ripen, providing great nourishment for the listener's heart and soul.

As everyone knows, all living creatures need versatile nourishment in order to keep themselves in balance and to stay alive, and if the food is not versatile enough, it will cause problems. This is also true with music and any kind of arts in my opinion, namely if we listen to the music which is not versatile not having quality at all, it is most likely to sound dull and not touch our hearts at all. During the years, Secret Garden has been one of the groups which has managed to avoid the dullness all the time, and on this new album they continue to provide us many different moods. Although many pieces may sound simple superficially on first listening, it is easy to pick up numerous different aspects from Secret Garden's music. All one needs is to be open enough, and that way the music really speaks for itself.

These different aspects can be like sunshine and rain; similarly to flowers and other living creatures, we need sunshine to make our day whereas on another day we yearn for rain in order to wash our worries and sorrows away, giving us a fresh start again. Secret Garden's new album "Earthsongs" really comes to its own in this, for example the great cheer-up pieces "The Reel" as well as the jig "Daughters of Erin" are both quaranteed to make the listener smile and forget the worries, and, on the other hand, if one is seeking for comfort or solace, then for example the great instrumentals "Searching For The Past" as well as "Silence Speaks," "Sarabande," and "Canzona." Note that these three pieces are not included on the North American edition of the CD.

Apart from the successful cultivating new musical ideas, another proof of versatility of the album is the amount of new musicians. This time, Rolf and Fionnuala are joined by Irish Film Orchestra, and in addition to already familiar musicians such as vocalist Brian Kennedy, keyharp player Ĺsa Jinder and many more, new stunning talents such as violinist Mairéad Nesbitt, great vocalists Saoirse (making her recording debut on "Sleepsong"), Jan Werner Danielsen ("Half A World Away", the vocal version of the album's first track) and the brilliant boy soprano Sebastian O'Shea Farren (on "Raise Your Voices") as well as trumpeter Ole Edvard Antonsen (on "Grace") and the Chinese erhu player Bian Liunian (on "Lotus") all deserve a special mention here.

Despite so many musicians, the album is really cohesive one, totally capable to provide to its listeners a multi-dimensional musical experience, not just in terms of music but also in terms of touching the soul. The only things that may be disturbing a bit are the slightly distant, echoing mixing of the vocals on the ending, stunning hymn "Raise Your Voices" as well as the controversial information on the soloist on "Always There" (on one edition the song is sung by Brian Kennedy whereas the North American edition has Russell Watson doing the vocals instead), but those things are indeed minor and not necessarily affecting to the final result. In the meantime of waiting for hearing these stunning pieces live in concert, Earthsongs is warmly and highly recommendable for both hardcore Secret Garden fans as well as for those hearing the music of this world-renowned group for the very first time!--Suvi Kaikkonen in Oulu, Finland and Russ Elliot in New York

This Side Of North CD Cover
Image © Siren Music Productions 2004

More This Side Of North:
Exclusive Interview

This Side Of North Willow, Mariana, Christina
Image © Siren Music Productions 2005

(27 March 2005) This Side of North's self titled debut album is a dreamy masterpiece with fifteen tracks and one haunting guitar piece that is a lovely hidden track at the end. This is a Los Angeles- and New York-based band comprised of three extraordinarily talented women who met as music grad students at Cal Arts. They are Mariana Bernoski, Christina Agamanolis and Willow Williamson. They have worked together in the last four years on film sound tracks. And this is how we actually became aware of these brilliant musicians.

It was while watching the indie film Dahmer on the Sundance channel. Part of the powerful draw to the narrative was the intensely intimate sound that underscored the movie. I then realized that I had to learn more about these women who at the time were named Siren. Now with their debut as This Side of North, they bring an ultra surreal and moody soundscape infused with vintage keys, lush guitar textures, funky filtered loops, electronic synth samples, live drum grooves and gritty bass guitar.

On this album they teamed up with producer/engineer DJ Orion Keyser and associate producer Lee Mars of Nine Inch Nails. They also recorded with Drummer Chris Vrenna of Nine Inch Nails. There are many great contributed performances from various other musicians on this album as well. Harris Eisenstadt on vibes, Tony Green and Warren Kaye on Bass. Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon and Jessica Catron on cello. The recordings are amazingly pristine, and have a lucidity and warmth that washes over you in honeyed waves of comfort and clarity.

This album creates a narcotic landscape of seductively beautiful melody and rhythm. The unpredictability of the melodies trajectory and the chord changes truly rescue you from other typically self- indulgent music. This is deeply intelligent and well thought out music with a higher consciousness. And while the themes seem to weave the entire albums sensibility together in a cohesive and spacious tapestry of solitary emotions, each song stands on its own without sounding like one played out thought. This band is so completely original, and the songwriting including lyrics and productions are deliciously painful journeys of the universal human disconnectedness. Their music is perfect at creating this kind of emotional atmosphere.

Every performance is executed with skill and every musician's contribution is so masterfully well placed, Every loop and sound wash is an empathetic vibration that strikes deep in the nerves. The vocals are breathtaking, sweetly sad, Velveteen and pure as hell. It is hard to single out particular tracks on this album because it is such a journey that you take, and each song a necessary road, but if I had to stop and linger on a few I would say that "Blue Song," "Ground Level" and the gorgeous untitled hidden track are among my favorite tracks.

Also, "Frequency" is absolutely beautiful and the lyrics are unanswerable in that haunting metaphysical way, like a great story of two mysterious lovers. "Driving," "Five Four," "Puppet" and "Love Affair with the Sun" are some more of my personal favorites. I think that This Side of North will appeal to anyone that just loves great songwriting, sweet and sensual vocals, masterful imagery through sound and musicianship that is beyond the ordinary. There is a film out there somewhere that longs to be tethered to this album's soundtrack as its mask. This Side of North is one of the best new bands to emerge on the scene and I hope they continue to paint more dreams for us to revel in. Order the album through the band's website.--Jo Gabriel in Madison, Wisconsin with Russ Elliot in New York

Bliss Of Life CD Cover
Image © Auralgasms 2005

Individual Artists' Websites
Blue States
Hector Zazou
Hungry Lucy
The Autumns
In Flight Safety
Her Space Holiday
Asobi Sesku
Monster Movie
Au Revoir Borealis
Jody Quine


(28 March 2005) The folks over at www.auralgasms.com have given us another wonderful compilation album featuring the songs of both new and established artists. Bliss of Life (Auralgasms (USA) 2005) is the follow-up volume to Auralgasms first collection, The Beat of Discontent (review). This time around, the line-up of featured artists is even stronger and the music is indeed, "blissful."

The immensely talented Belgian group, Lunascape are also given a prime slot for their track "Praise Me," culled from their sophmore album, Mindstalking (review). Lunascape's lead vocalist, Kyoko Baertsoen is a formidable singer who manages to sound both assertive and fragile at the same time against the driving percussion and guitars. American fans should also take note that Lunascape will shortly be releasing an album state-side that will feature some of the best tracks from their first two albums.

Famed world-music/experimental composer Hector Zazou tapped ex-Mandalay frontwoman Nicola Hitchcock for the song "Surrender"--and what an absolutely gorgeous song it is. Taken from Zazou's L'Absence album, "Surrender" is a ghostly stripped-down number featuring electronic whirrs and haunted textures. Against this tapestry, Nicola's voice resonantes with inexpressible longing and sorrow. Fans of Mandalay (feature) will be happy to hear that Nicola is back in full-form and will be releasing her collaboration album entitled Passive Agressive shortly.

Bliss of Life also features superb tracks from female-fronted acts previously reviewed at Musical Discoveries. For example, the epic "To Kill A King" by Hungry Lucy (review), the excellent new track "Hollywood" by Jody Quine (viia feature), and Harland's "Little White Lies" (reviews) are especially noteworthy. However the album's standout track is Sleepthief's "Eurydice" featuring vocals by Jody Quine. Watch this space for our feature article on the band.

While the album highlights female vocalists, it also includes stunning material from other bands fronted by male singers. The Autumns; "Cattelya" is phenomenal. Fans of epic/shoegazer/acoustic pop will flip for this band. "Lucky Boy" by In Flight Safety and "Something To Do With My Hands" by Her Space Holiday are well produced electronic-style tunes with lush guitar and keyboard stylings. The acoustic "Skies You Climb" by Highspire, and Monster Movie's "Beautiful Artic Star" are also enjoyable. The album concludes with Eskobar's vocally lush "You Got Me"; listen for the soaring soprano backing vocals.

Bliss of Life will also introduce our readers to new female artists that should be explored further. Such is the case with Asobi Sesku whose tender electronically textured ballad "Walk On The Moon" and the lush downbeat tune featuring Stephenie Halpert's vocals entitled "Blissfield" by Au Revoir Borealis which both drew significant attention from our editorial staff.

In Bliss of Life Auralgasms have compiled a range of songs that introduce an equal assortment of emerging artists to a larger audience. While we would have liked to hear from more female vocalists, the mid-priced 17-track album will certainly whet the appetite of the site's regular visitors and serves to introduce this music to a wider audience.

South Of Winter CD Cover
Image © Terry Sullivan 2004

click on album cover to visit artist's site
order the album there!

(updated 11 May 2005) South of Winter (TJSCD01, 2004) is the debut album by Terry Sullivan under the moniker Renaissant. Although Terry's musical career to date spans a number of memorable projects, most will recall Terry's work as drummer and percussionist extraordinare with the British progressive rock band Renaissance spanning eight albums beginning with Prologue (1972) and concluding with Azure d'Or (1979). Terry and the band's keyboard player John Tout left Renaissance in 1979. The band's lyricist Betty Thatcher Newsinger left the band after one further album.

While Terry was active in the Renaissance creative process, his songwriting was actually not credited for a contribution until A Song For All Seasons (1978) and it wasn't until Azure d'Or that his co-writing with Thatcher was recognized in "Opening Out." The long-awaited reunion of several Renaissance band members--Michael Dunford, Annie Haslam and Terry Sullivan--in 2001 produced Tuscany and their brief Japan tour left the double live album In The Land Of The Rising Sun in its wake. A vast array of compilations and live albums have emerged in the years following the band's "mainstream" period. Further information on Renaissance is available at Northern Lights.

The Renaissant South Of Winter album is comprised of nine soft progressive rock-styled tracks, naturally having strong allusions to Renaissance. Recorded primarily in Terry's studio in southern England, the material is sung primarily by Terry's wife, Christine Sullivan although two of the tracks are sung by Terry himself. Terry provided drums and percussion as well as some keyboard and guitar. John Tout is featured on piano and keyboards on several tracks. The album, which took a good number of years to write, record and produce, also includes contributions from members of Boa (review) including Lee Sullivan (keyboard), Jasmine Rodgers (backing vocals), Steve Rodgers (guitars) and Alex Caird (bass). Kristian Sullivan contributes guitars to many of the tracks. Betty Thatcher Newsinger wrote lyrics for four of the songs thereby contributing to the creative process. All music and the balance of the lyrics were written by Terry himself. While all the songs were engineered, produced and mixed by Terry and Lee, "Carry me Home" was co-produced with Mike Battisson and the album was mastered by Rob Aubrey at Orbit Studios. Further bass is contributed by Derrick Sullivan. Martin Orford makes a guest appearance on strings and flute in "Dove."

South of Winter opens with the dramatic mid-tempo symphonic Thatcher Newsinger ballad "Carry Me Home." Orchestral keyboards and lush backing harmonies provide the familiar Renaissance texture beneath Christine's vocals and John Tout provides melodic piano excursions during the instrumental breaks. Crisp yet rich percussion and acoustic guitar textures are contrasted by the blend warm keyboard washes in the tenderly delivered track "Alone." Tout's piano breaks and underlying melody in "Burning Bridges" blended orchestral keyboard washes evoke further memories of classic Renaissance. Christine's vocals work perfectly with the arrangements.

Terry makes his first vocal appearance singing the evocative "Cold Flames," which he co-wrote with Betty Thatcher Newsinger. Percussion, keyboard and guitar are gently mixed with Asian textures. The richly arranged "Dove," with flute and strings by Martin Orford (IQ) features Christine's tenderly delivered lead vocals and Terry's choral backing harmonies. Christine sings evocatively in the upbeat acoustic number "Morning." Lee's piano and supporting keyboard washes add additional warmth to the number. Terry sings lead vocal atop Kristian's acoustic guitar in the self-penned and upbeat rock track "Careless." Rich keyboard washes and crisp percussion contribute to the stunning arrangements that build within the number.

"The Sun Also Sets" is a richly arranged keyboard- and piano-driven masterpiece featuring the work of Lee Sullivan on piano with John Tout adding backing keys. Christine's voice is mixed especially warm. A truly progressive number, the vast tempo changes within the track and depth of arrangements featured in the upbeat and powerful chorus contribute to this track being one of the album's significant standouts. The album concludes with the title track, itself full of contrasts. As with many of the songs on this debut album, is is a slow paced number with arrangements of the verses contrasting the choruses. Choral harmonies provided by Dean Hurst, Terry and Christine add significant texture to the overall sound.

While Renaissance concluded their work for the third time with Tuscany, South Of Winter clearly shows the spirit lives on in Terry Sullivan's work. Joined by Christine and the other artists in the creative process and encouraged by longtime fans to complete this album, the well-produced material in South Of Winter embodies the lyrical content as well as musical themes, textures and rhythms that drew listeners to Renaissance in their mainstream period.

To Kill A King CD Cover
Image © Hungry Lucy 2004

More Hungry Lucy
Apparitions Review and Interview
Glo Review


(24 January 2005) Hungry Lucy, one of America's best "goth-tronica" bands, have released their third and strongest album to date entitled To Kill a King (HLCD003, 2004). Fans of Hungry Lucy's earlier albums Apparitions (review/interview) and Glo (review) will be highly pleased with this third outing. Hungry Lucy, who are War-N Harrison (instrumentation) and Christa Belle (vocals), have lost none of the dark charming moodiness that have made their first two albums such huge indie successes.

This time around, the arrangements and music are even better. The tone of the songs on the album drift from the ethereal to the folksy to the ambient/elctronic/trip hop realm. To Kill a King shows a marked development in the songwriting of the group and explores new territory. "Rainfall" is, melodically speaking, one of the best songs on the album. With catchy acoustic guitar rifts and a gurgling electronic backdrop, Christa Belle's innocent and clear voice, sounding very much like Candice Night of Blackmore's Night (feature) rides prettily over the dreamy soundscape.

The brooding "Softly" is a wonderful blend of 4AD gothica with light touches of American-western slide guitar--ingenious stuff. In "The Chase," Hungry Lucy have crafted something that would sit comfortably in the Suzanne Vega milieu, but with a special pinch of otherworldliness that one might hear on a Love Spirals Downwards album. A suprise on the album is the largely instrumental number "A Lifetime Remains." A melancholy and introspective piano line is occassionally interrupted by strange and rich bellowing sounds as though a large bird were flapping its wings overhead. This song is both musically interesting and displays Hungry Lucy's more innovative side.

The lush ambience of "Shine" is a swinging/trip-hoppy tender piece that incorporates ethnic percussion and Indian flavors. "My Beloved" is almost hymn-like with epic and sweeping organ swaths. Although the music is uplifting and hopeful, the song never sounds contrived or overwrought.

Never ones to slack in the remix department, To Kill a King includes four bonus mixes. And fortunately these mixes rock! The F9 Mix of "The Chase" is pure 80's retro-clash fun. Pusling beat and rolling bass-line convert this song into a New Order-esque synth joy. The F9 Mix of "Shine" is equally successful, but more modern sounding in its invocation of Delerium-styled arpeggiation. The Null Device Mix of "You Are" is a dark piece of stabbing synthetic lines and punching beat that retains a gothic bent. Finally, the Trigger10D Mix of "To Kill a King" hovers on the border of deep-house. Anyone that thinks Hungry Lucy are all sweeping sorrow should check these remixes out.

Hungry Lucy improve with each album. To Kill a King is a very finely-done album and notable contribution to the genre of female-fronted bands.--Justin Elswick in Provo, Utah and Russ Elliot in New York

Fisherman's Woman CD Cover
Image © Rough Trade Records 2005

Emiliana Torrini
Image © Kevin Westenberg 2005

Emiliana Torrini
Image © Kevin Westenberg 2005

(16 April 2005) Delightful singer / songwriter Emiliana Torrini is part Italian, part Icelandic and lives in Brighton, England. Brought up in Iceland, parallels with her better known compatriot Bjork are inevitable, and indeed there are certainly vocal similarities, sharing, as she does, Bjork's girlish fragility. However, Bjork's fashionable eccentricity is here replaced by something much warmer and more sensual, making Emiliana's latest album Fisherman’s Woman (Rough Trade Records (UK) RTRADCD185, 2005) something of a minimalist triumph.

This short-ish (40 minutes) twelve trackset, on first listen, washes over the listener in a delightful haze of quirky vocals and acoustic instruments. With repeated plays, however, the individual songs--all similar in tone with only subtle variations of light and shade to identify them--begin to reveal their individual treasures, though listeners should be aware that this is not an album for dipping into--it demands playing through in one sitting. Throughout, the core accompaniment is acoustic guitar, coloured by other subtle instrumental variations--a moment of piano or mallet percussion here, and electric guitar or understated drum there. It all works beautifully, with collaborator and producer Dan Carey chiefly responsible for these excellent arrangements.

The charmingly positive "Nothing Brings Me Down" opens proceedings with its distinctive "Dumm dumms,"and pastoral, wordless mid section, followed by the single "Sunny Road," the catchiest piece on the album, with its sing-along chorus. “Snow” is a typically brief, folky piece, before album highlight “Lifesaver”, with it’s insistent guitar and ambient sounds of a boat creaking, and a bluesy vocal from Emiliana. A shimmering electric guitar introduces “Honeymoon Child”. Imagine Bjork singing Nick Drake to get a feel for this lovely song, while “Today has been OK” continues the electric accompaniment, with some delightful piano and percussion.

“Next Time Around”, by the great Sandy Denny, is given a relatively up-tempo full-band treatment, with its piano and gentle drums, a tone which continues on the superb "Heartstopper." A floral acoustic guitar introduces "At least it was," a lovely song about remembering a lost love, including a rare harmony vocal and more of those engaging “dumm, dumms”. This lyrical theme continues in the infinitely sad "Fisherman's Woman," with its dramatic piano and jazzy vocal. "Thinking out loud" has an Eastern European folk feel, while "Serenade" has a multi-tracked vocal, which adds a distinctive, faintly sinister feel to this final track.

Charming, melodic, understated and faintly sad, this is a stunning piece of work by an artist that thoroughly deserves the increasing audience she seems to be attracting.

Live at The Fleece, Bristol, 28 March 2005. Emiliana's tour of small UK venues in early Spring 2005 has been a considerable success, and on the basis of her delightful one hour performance at the Fleece in Bristol, it is not difficult to see why.

Essentially presenting the "Fisherman's Woman" album, plus a few extra songs, her band of two guitarists and a percussionist (who doubled on keyboards) effortlessly recreated the intimacy of the album, with the help of a stage full of lit candles. Emiliana herself proved to be a charming, modest and surprisingly funny live performer, though she has a jerky, Joe Cocker-style stance that takes a little getting used to.

Of this quiet, yet spellbinding, performance, "Lifesaver" and "Sunnyroad," in particular, stood out, but the whole concert was so charming it is not difficult to imagine her following increasing very quickly. She is an artist to watch carefully, and to catch live before she hits the big time.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England

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