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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
Magenta
Charlotte Martin
Katra
Sarah Hallman
Stephanie Dosen
Pure Reason Revolution
Regina Spektor
KT Tunstall
Nicole Atkins
Jesse Sykes
Octavia Sperati
Blackmore's Night

Links
Digest Index
More Digest Entries
Previous Digest Entries
Instrumental Digest
 
The Singles CD Cover
Image © Tigermoth Productions 2007

More Trippa:
The Trippa EP (1999)
Sorry (2007)

More Magenta:
Revolutions Review/Interview (2002)
Ynysddu Hotel (2002-2003)
HLC, Rotherham (2003)
Seven | "Broken" (2004)
Interview | Concert Reviews (2004)
"I'm Alive"(2004)
Another Time, Another Place (2004)
Interview | Concert Reviews (2005)
The Gathering DVD (2005)
Home | New York Suite (2006)
Speechless (2007)
slide shows: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

 

(02 September 2007) The British progressive band and Musical Discoveries featured artist Magenta were selected to play at NEARfest 2007. Just prior to the festival, the band produced an album with some of their most sought after material. The Singles (Tigermoth Productions (UK) TMR002, 2007) is the first release on the band's own label.

Says Rob Reed about the album, "The first reason for doing the album was to get definitive versions of the songs recorded. We'd been playing some of the songs live for three years and we now had Dan [Fry] on bass, and he'd brought his own character to the songs as they'd developed. Also, the original versions had been recorded quite quickly and we wanted to get high quality versions of the songs down, as we'd done with "Speechless." It was great to take a bit more time with them and record them properly. Also a lot of prog fans don’t like buying singles, they’d much rather have the album format, and at 79 minutes we certainly have an album's worth of material. We can delete the singles now."

Reed continues, "When we recorded them the first time around, it was all quite rushed. We'd write a song and record it straight away, and people would learn their parts as we were recording. Now we've done these versions and I’m really pleased with the way they've come out. We've always done shorter tunes, so it's been great to do an album of shorter songs. We were doing the "Speechless" track for the single, and that inspired us to go back and look at the other songs, particularly as we had some new gear--new microphones, for instance, and new drums, so we had a great sound."

"We finished the "Speechless" songs (see review), then we recorded the rest of the album over about three weeks. It was a bit of a rush, as is usual in the Magenta camp and I gave myself a ridiculous deadline of one of the gigs to get it all finished. We'd rehearse the live set then I'd grab people to do various bits while we were having a tea break. Some of the songs do contain parts of the original recordings, though. I kept a few of the best bits, but the drums, bass, vocals and keyboards are all pretty much completely re-done."

About the album as a whole, Reed added, "We've bent over backwards to make sure the album stands up on its own. A lot of work has gone into giving people value for money, and making sure the new versions were as good as possible without being total rehashes of the previous version. Looking back at it now, I think it actually sounds like a band album in its own right, so I’m very happy with it."

The Singles is comprised of Magenta and Trippa classics, including: "Speechless" (originally a Trippa track popularized by Magenta), "Anger," "Broken," "Lemminkainen's Lament" (originally released only as a bonus track outside the UK), "I'm Alive," "Cold," "King of the Skies," "Call Me," "Night and Day," "Essence of Love" and "Sunshine Saviour." The CD also includes original Magenta bonus tracks: "Opus 3," "Pride" (full version), and "Sloth" (Orchestral Mix). The album runs 79 minutes and, despite being made up of "singles" works as a cohesive whole.

The Singles is a tremendous collection for Magenta enthusiasts whether newcomers to the band or longtime fans. The fourteen tracks capture the sound of the current lineup and have been recorded with the oustanding production quality expected from the band with Christina's vocals right up front where our readers like them. Watch for the Trippa album Sorry this autumn!

 
Something Like a DVD Cover
Image © Dinosaur Fight Records 2007

More Charlotte Martin:
Interview (Stromata) (2006)
Interview (On Your Shore) (2004)
Interview (Darkest Hour) (2005)
Interview (Buffalo, Hartford) (2005)
Interview (Something Like A DVD) (2006)
Test-Drive Songs (2002)
In Parentheses (2003)
On Your Shore (2004)
Veins (2005)
Spring Tour Reviews (2006)

Charlotte Martin Image © Echo Field Records 2007
Photo © Peter Dawson 2007
 

(02 September 2007) Released almost one year ago as a DVD alone and sold strictly at her live performances, Something Like A DVD (new catalog info: Dinosaur Fight Records (USA), DFR006, 2006) quickly sold out. Charlotte Martin and Ken Andrews re-released the DVD (review) with a bonus CD in 2007 to significant acclaim. The DVD closes the chapter on the 2005 tour season as the artist's EPs on the heels of On Your Shore and before Stromata drew to a close. We review the eight track bonus CD below.

As this article goes to press, news of Charlotte Martin's first covers album entitled Reproductions is drawing significant attention. Management informs us that the album features renditions of some favorite Interpol, Joni Mitchell, and New Order songs, to name a few!

The CD opens with a spiritual track entitled "Genesis," with lyrics drawn from biblical text and is arranged with multiple harmony layers a capella demonstrating a lovely combination of Charlotte's classical and theatrical tendencies. One of the multitude of "Four Walls" arrangements called the 'funeral version' featured at Charlotte's MySpace earlier in the release cycle follows. The title draws from the slow tempo that combines organ with percussion. The singer's bright voice is in stark contrast to the instrumental arrangements.

"Grave Clothes" is an all new piano- and keyboard-wash-based track. Listeners will recognize portions of the melody and the style from Charlotte's live repertoire and back catalog. Another new song, "Used Parts" is a play on words for listeners in that the instrumental arrangement, melody and sung parts are also obviously drawn from Charlotte's prior releases. "So Schizo" is vocally instense sung atop percussive piano and illustrative of Charlotte's live performances and therefore perfect to accompany the DVD in this set.

The bonus CD includes a percussive track entitled "Lost and Found" sung with keyboard washes adding texture to the arrangement. Listeners will delight with the vocal mix with tight harmony layers working well with thickening instrumental arrangements as the song develops. A powerful number, it must be wonderful to see Charlotte perform in a live venue. The album progresses to the tender and sweetly delivered piano ballad and standout track "Overcome." Charlotte sings the stunning track without harmony layers atop piano melody and keyboard washes. The CD concludes with another standout entitled "Revival." Rich percussion and light keyboard arrangements perfectly balance solo and harmony layers of Charlotte's tenderly delivered vocals.

Charlotte Martin continues to delight audiences coast to coast with live performances. The DVD is a wonderful tribute to her pre-Stromata performances. This release includes a lovely bonus CD that will delight long time enthusiasts and newcomers equally. We anxiously await her next release entitled Reproductions!--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Katra CD Cover
Image © Edel Records Finland 2007

Katra
Katra - The Band
Image © Edel Records Finland 2007

Katra
Katra - The Lead Singer
Image © Edel Records Finland 2007

 

(09 September 2007) The debut album from Finland's rock group Katra shares the name of the band and their stunning lead vocalist. The 2007 release is on Edel Finland, Cat No 402975878921. Katra's music is a rock blend combining elements of Nightwish, Within Temptation and Aryeon. Katra's vocals are operatic sharing Sharon Den Adel and Simone Simon's sweetness and Tarja Turunen's range. Guitar parts can be compared favorably to Scandinavian metal bands but share elements of Arjen Lucassen's work. Choir parts are extensive and add great texture to the lead vocals and instrumental parts.

Katra came to worldwide recognition in the run up to the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest process. A neutral jury was put together to decide if the track "Tietäjä" featured on this debut album and composed by Risto Asikainen is a copy of Within Temptation’s "Jillian." Fortunately they came to the conclusion it is not. There are however certainly similar riffs!

The controversy called the "Katragate" exploded end after the second Finnish semi-final where Katra qualified for the Euroviisut final with "Tietäjä." The song was a clear favourite by the televoters gaining 75% of the votes against the other song that the lead singer had in the running, "Vaaratar." Both songs are written by Risto Asikainen and Ilkka Vainio. The jury that consisted of four music professionals, composers and conductors compared the songs on paper and decided they are not the same song.

"I have listened to Within Temptation before" says Katra, "but I was more worried "Tietäjä" might be compared to Nightwish’s "Wishmaster" if anything. This "Jillian" [comparison] is something totally unexpected to me. But good music awakes this kind of passion and feelings."

Katra has been one of the most interesting singers in this year’s Euroviisut even before this small controversy. Her rock-metal-opera leaves no-one cold, you love it or you hate it. Many who were in the Tohlhoppi studios to see her live commented that she lost half her charm when seen on the small TV screen.

Katra also denies being a well designed product. "This is me. I have designed my wardrobe myself. I have had this long hair for a long time, it’s all mine. No extensions, only the color comes from a bottle," she says. She has been studying music for the past fifteen years and at the moment studies composing and piano in Tampere. She also reads and travels a lot. "I have just been to Egypt, seen the pyramids. I also feel very much at home in Greece. I think the ancient cultures are very close to my present persona," she concludes.

Katra used to sing and play keyboards in Lovex, and she currently lives with a Lovex member with whom she has a child. We can only guess what the main topic of discussion has been in that household lately.

The Katra debut album is comprised of eleven tracks sung in Finnish and will certainly appeal to fans of Nightwish, Within Temptation, Epica and After Forever to name a few. Sung in the band's native language, it will most likely draw attention from early Nightwish fans. It is lavishly packaged in the new super jewel box format with a full color--but dark--booklet with plenty of artist photos and full lyrics.

The singer is powerful, wide-ranging and expressive. Her operatic style has a sweetness shared with Within Temptation's Sharon Den Adel and Epica's Simone Simons. The band avoid all grunting and therefore are aptly categorized better as a rock band than heavy metal. With attention drawn to their music by Eurovision Song Contest, the band are clearly at the beginning of their run and we should expect significant output from them as the rise in this style of Scandanavian and Northern European rock builds across the industry.

 
Sarah Hallman CD Cover
Image © Busted Flat Records 2006

Sarah Hallman
Image © Nick Burka 2007

 

(09 September 2007) Ottawa-based indie artist Sarah Hallman has released her self-titled sophomoric album that has evocative, passionate and down-to-earth melodies. This singer/songwriter's music has been likened to artists such as Andrew Bird, Cat Power and Dave Matthews Band and her vocals are reminiscent of Aimee Mann and Kathleen Edwards. Sarah has an introspective approach to this collection of twelve songs that reaches new depths. Her current album is a followup to her 2001 release of The Hollowings which was a grouping of some of her early songs.

Sarah Hallman was recorded with Dave Draves in Ottawa's Little Bullhorn Studios, and features Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara (drums) and Wooden Stars’ Mike Feurstack (lapsteel), Clark’s John Tielli (backvoice), Adam Fogo (bass) and Brian Simms (lead guitar), along with well-known singer-song writer Shannon Lyon (Busted Flat). The CD beautifully combines guitar and piano to lay the foundation for the heartfelt and poignant ballad infused melodies. The songs are catchy and bittersweet. Sarah said, "The idea was to create a documentation of that creative time of my life that I could share with friends. I used to be really reticent about sharing my songs with other people, but time is slowly changing that as I'm taking my time to get adjusted to change."

"In making the new record I've been getting to know the sounds I like, taking my time to carry through on ideas, no matter how they may turn out. And the more involved I got with making it, the more I knew I would regret not putting it out." Her music evokes an emotional vulnerability that has a simplicity and clarity. Sarah's vocals have an introverted quality although she does show lovely surges in her lyrics and melodies.

Her opening track, "Snowballin'," is catchy and upbeat. Sarah's vocals exude a musical confidence with her bittersweet lyrics. She is a refined storyteller and her songs are heartfelt. The mellow tones in "Take A Flight" highlight a range of human emotions with a simple style. Her emotive approach continues with the sensitive "Shovel." There is an effortless and straightforward manner to her songs combined with her languid vocals.

"Longshot" has a folky and melancholic feel to the melody. In the song, she talks about a "slow ride" that's worth waiting for. The lyrics are delivered in an easygoing, almost laid-back manner that clearly illustrates her moody style. The sorrowful "Show" relects on themes of self-discovery and creates a beautiful tapestry of soulful tones. "The Loving" continues in the same vein and discusses love themes. There is a darkness to some of these songs, enhanced by the sweet and simple tones.

The beat picks up with "Forget You." She carefully details a story about her love and conflicting emotions. "I Will Not Sing" has a strong melody and dynamic lyrics that combined with Sarah's touching vocals create an aura of artistic soul. The intimacy continues with the heartfelt "When It All Comes Down." These melodic monologues hone in on what each one of us has felt at one point or another in life. Sarah said, "The unifying source of both those things, fighting and dancing, is that they come from passion. I think it's about relationship mood swings, about trying to force change from arguments and antagonizing to laughing and dancing, about the ways you get through hard feelings with a loved one."

"Shed" displays her vulnerabilities with its emotional and touching tune. There is a wide range of emotions that are expressed throughout her songs, and "The Sadness" illustrates the poignancy well. Her final track, "Entangle," lays bare the raw emotions as she documents her tale.

Sarah Hallman is a revealing collection of songs that evoke a range of feelings. She is an expert storyteller with a languid vocal style that comes across in a very direct manner. Her efforts are rewarded with refreshing melodies and moving musical conversations. She draws the listener with her compelling melancholic stories that have a simplistic beauty.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
A Lily For the Spectre CD Cover
click on image to visit artist's website
many more images in gallery there
Image © Bella Union 2007
 
 

(12th September) A fresh addition to exciting independent record label Bella Union's eclectic roster, America's Stephanie Dosen looks set to cause a stir and turn more than just a few heads with her recently released album A Lilly For The Spectre (Bella Union (UK) BELLACD137P, 2007). Clocking in at just under forty five minutes in length, the female singer-songwriter presents eleven songs of delightful adventure and enchantment, with an album that holds a magical vibrancy and inspiring energy inside each carefully crafted song.

Stephanie grew up in the picturesque surroundings of a farm and her background helps form the inspiration for her music, most notably within the lyrical content which is filled with strong imagery of mystical escapes and the night-time wildlife, of the peace and tranquillity found inside places blossoming with nature. Originally composing songs for boys at her school as a young girl she now writes for 'ghosts gone astray' who are supposedly much nicer than the boys she once wrote for. I never thought I'd feel jealous of a ghost, yet to have a song written for you by the lovely Stephanie is something certainly to cherish and it's easy to see her calming any spirits away from their hauntings as they rest and take in her transfixing sounds. The music itself showcases the quite beautiful voice Stephanie possess, as she sways over plucked acoustics and sweeping string work. Simplicity is the gift of this album. Short, serene compositions that uplift and are bursting with rich imagery.

Opening the album is perhaps its strongest moment, first single "This Joy" A piece which opens with gently picked acoustic guitar work before Stephanie's voice glides into the song, perfectly complimenting the delicacy of the instrumentation and instantly capturing the listener through her words which are sung with moving emotion. Lyrically, the title alone should be indication this songs theme is one of a highly uplifting, positive nature. Refreshingly so, and the carefully placed strings only enhance the song, as they rise with the chorus, lending it a majestic and powerful edge. "Only Getting Better" holds a wonderfully serene pace to it. The shuffling drums guide the song to a swaying ease, as Stephanie speaks of the confidence of hard times coming to an end, struggle replaced by the comfort of friendship and promise of new horizons: "Friends are all here now, and everyone is here with open arms, hands and shaking hearts. The world is gonna turn."

"Like A Dream" presents a soothing acoustic introduction, as we are treated to perhaps Stephanie's most impressive vocal performance, her voice hanging on for what feels like an eternity as it drifts this way and that, creating the impression of being inside the dream she conjures through her lyrical delivery. Simplistic in structure, yet ever so effective in its ability to completely wrap you in a world of sound, as the female vocals soften and the acoustic pluckings eventually fade away, closing the song perfectly. "Lakes Of Canada" is built around gentle piano notes and crooning male backing vocals that mimic the soothing Stephanie brilliantly, a perfectly placed song, and welcome change to the guitar finger picking and sweet melodies which seem to be the core focus and strength of this album.

Yet, it can also be its weakness. Purely in terms of the similar structure of the songs that can at times have you craving Stephanie to branch out, to experiment and play it less 'safe'. Here is an artist that holds the imagination and the confidence to stretch out to wherever she wishes her music to reach, and it's no coincidence that some of the finest moments on the album lie in the innovative vocal passages or the not-so-familiar song structures expected within the plethora of female singer songwriters. Still, this is only her second full length album and the real excitement will be built as to how her music progresses as writing begins for any future material.

It is this slight lack of diversity which is the only real weakness to an album that presents an exceptional talent to the world of singer-songwriters. An ethereal collection of songs ideal for those hazy summer evenings when the sun has set, the night-life has fallen all around and mood is one of tranquil peace. A perfect addition to the Bella Union label, and one young lady I expect we'll be hearing plenty of in the future, if this debut is anything to go by. --Jim Hall in Derby, England

 
The Dark Third CD Cover
Image © InsideOut Music 2007 
 

(25 September 2007) Pure Reason Revolution are a youthful British progressive rock group hoping to showcase a slightly different approach towards what we know as conventional progressive rock music. Forming in 2003 under the name The Sunset Sound, several other name changes took place throughout the band's early days until, after a meeting of musically compatible minds took place at the University of Westminster, the final line-up was complete and Pure Reason Revolution was born. Signing to Sony BMG in 2004, the band's debut album The Dark Third was eventually released in 2006. The most recent release is a two-disc (9+5) set (InsideOut Music (Germany) SPV 79332 DCD, 2007). The band drew significant acclaim for their 2007 NEARFest performance in Bethlehem, PA USA.

Progressive rock is a genre which holds complex song structures, technically adept instrumentation, sprawling concept albums littered with recurring themes and lengthy epics, as a few of its renowned and expected conventions. Whilst it being difficult for an album such as The Dark Third to escape being labeled as a progressive rock album, it is one that offers a highly refreshing listening experience to the listener. It is an album that blends together elements such as dreamy multi-part male and female vocal harmonies, swaying guitar work and warm keyboards to create an adventurous melting pot of musical ideas.

Instrumental album opener "Aeropause" instantly creates a spacey, haunting atmosphere via warm, drifting keyboards and lush Pink Floyd-esque guitar lines, that are backed by delicately paced drum work and dissonant bass, accompanying the song's hazy, smooth flow perfectly. It's a song thriving on gradual build ups, and one that excels by the impressively mixed sound. An early indication towards the importance of each instrument merging with the other, one of the band's strongest points, and the key in creating a truly immersive atmosphere which is maintained throughout the album's 55-minute duration.

The song ends with a scattering of piano notes, leading directly into "Goshen's Remains" opening with gorgeous female vocal work, warped keyboards and shuffling drums. The song holds a surging chorus where the guitar work hits that little bit harder as harmonized vocals gracefully float above the soaring riffs with ease. The production again holds a wonderfully warm feel to it, allowing the song to remain within the dream-like ambiance formed from its opening notes, and this song is an ideal showcase of the exceptional vocal abilities of Chloe Alper and Jon Courtney, whose harmonies fit inside the smooth tapestry of sound perfectly. The lyrical content holds a highly poetical and dream-like edge to it throughout the album, as the duo's soft and serene voices conjure imagery of grandeur and majesty via lines such as: "The mornings dew rolls over the planet" and "Horzions weaving, gleaming seas" in this song alone.

"The Bright Ambassadors Of Morning" is the album's centerpiece. A sprawling near 12-minute epic that merges the most innovative elements of Pure Reason Revolution's sound into one hugely impressive composition. Opening with layers of keyboards which cascade in and out of scattering drum work and haunting vocal waves, it every so slowly moves into a more solid and structured guitar line backed by echoing drums before exploding into the sublime dual vocal work that fits amongst the dreamy atmosphere wonderfully. The chorus holds a vocal melody that really sticks and breaks apart the gradually building passages at just the right times. A stand-out track without doubt, though the length of the song could be viewed by some as its downfall. Passages take time to build, to reach their real impact and so despite it being every so easy to be lulled into a blissful state whilst listening, it's also easy to lose focus and crave the song to move along with a touch more pace.

The latter half of the album presents the moving "In The Realms Of The Divine". Tinkles of keyboard and drifting guitar work capture your senses within moments, before perhaps the album's most memorable vocal performance is presented as the the pace picks up for a rousing and euphoric chorus. Subtle violin work enters for the second verse and only enhances an already musically rich song.

"He Tried To Show Them Magic" is perhaps the album's darkest effort. Eerie keyboards, powerful vocal strains, the song crashes into life after a handful of minutes in a flurry of chaotic guitar riffs and drumming, throughout a rare heavier moment from the band. A period where they let all their instrumentation loose in a no-holds-barred wall of hard-hitting sound. "Ambassadors Return" closes the album with a simply structured number, one which is carried by the two vocalists and allows previous musical themes to return in an ideal exit to the journey this album provides.

A debut album to remember, The Dark Third is a truly refreshing and constantly engaging effort from a band obviously not afraid to embrace the creativity they seem to be filled with. Innovative in their approach to song-writing, Pure Reason Revolution have blended together elements of old-school progressive rock and beach boys-esque vocal harmonies, yet have done so in such a way that their music is gifted with an exciting 21st century edge, and continually holds a fresh vibrancy to it. The warm, crystal-clear production of the album fits with its drifting and dream-like atmosphere and the album is one perfect for sunset evenings when your mind is ready to become enwrapped in the blissful world the album instills. Song structures hugely drawn-out at parts being its occasional weakness as well as strength, this is an album reliant on the patient listener in discovering the many layers resting within, yet if you're prepared for the challenge, you will very much be rewarded.--Jim Hall in Derby, England and Russ Elliot in New York +

 
Begin To Hope CD Cover
Image © Sire Records 2006

Regina Spektor
Image © Messiah College 2006
 

(09 October 2007) Russian-born, American singer-songwriter and pianist Regina Spektor once stated she has composed around 700 of her own songs, yet rarely writes any of them down. She also explains that she never aspired to write songs herself, but instead that they seem to simply 'flow' to her. An artist whose music is largely inspired by a thriving imagination, she tells tales of fictional characters through inventive lyrical content and excitingly fresh vocal delivery, and has always held a certain desire to let each of her songs present their own musical style, rather than honing her sound as a 'whole' to fit into the confines of any rigid genre or restrictive musical box.

Self released albums 11:11 (2001) and Songs (2002) were made available exclusively to the U.S market, thus limiting exposure beyond her cult American fan base, before her reputation began to steadily increase following the release of her third album Soviet Kitsch through label Sire Records in 2004. Latest effort Begin To Hope hit the shelves in June 2006 and showcases an artist with hopes of presenting herself to a wider audience than ever before and a young lady setting out to prove she can more than hold her own within the competitive world of singer-songwriters.

Begin To Hope (Sire Records (USA) 91505-4694, 2006) finds Regina at her vibrant, intimate and inventive best throughout twelve diverse tracks implementing innovative vocal trickery, as she delivers lyrics focusing upon imaginative tales of discovery, the warmth of dreamy romance and offers a constantly engaging personal insight inside the mind of a wholly fascinating artist. The album is highly accessible in nature, each song averaging 4 minutes in length and the instrumentation is largely focused upon Regina's delicately balanced piano and soothing string work which rides alongside her diverse vocal capabilities.

Opening track "Fidelity" instantly creates an infectiously flowing groove through plucked string work and steady electronic pulses before Regina glides seamlessly inside the song's tapestry. Her vocals rich with emotion in their delivery, she is constantly able to hold the listener's attention as her voice dips and soars to the peak [and beyond] of its capabilities. Distorted guitar crashes into the gentle piano intro of second track "Better."

A raw, driving song simplistic in its structure that is gifted a melodic and moving edge by Regina's soothing vocals slowing at just the right moments, helping to ease the song to a serene conclusion. The early indications suggest this album is of a somewhat less experimental nature and instead a more streamlined, focused piece of work than previous efforts.

Then you are hit with the album's two stand-out moments. "Samson" is a heart wrenching ballad featuring a breathtaking vocal performance by Regina. One pained with regret, floating amongst the softest of piano that carries this song in gentle build ups and sudden, haunting pauses. Moving strings enter at the ideal moments, helping to enhance the mournful mood this song so powerfully creates. "On The Radio" follows up with a vibrant, hand clapping intro before switching to a verse that catches the breath with swaying piano and lyrics that find Regina at her most enchanting as she tells tales of D.J's falling asleep and a simplistically poignant take on the cycle of life.

Clearly then, Regina has not lost any of her eccentric touches and ambitious song-writing drive, though the second half of the album struggles to live up to its inspired openings and you question as to when the experimenting can become more of a focus than the talent of raw, honest emotion. The scattered piano and slow pace of "Fields Below" somewhat stumbles along without really going anywhere and therefore remains fairly forgettable for one example and there just feels something lacking, despite all the booming drums and stirring strings, to later track "Apres Moi". Perhaps it's that little too over-the-top, maybe that touch 'too much', but a song such as this for all its interesting instrumentation cannot compare to the beautiful, simplistic rawness conveyed within previous song "Samson".

Album closer, "Summer In The City" ends the album on a strong note, ripe with imagery of a lost girl alone in a city sprawling with life and a need to belong, its a song as tear-inducing as it is uplifting as we find Regina pouring her heart out over her piano, delivering lyrics coated with lines of humor in amongst the personal heartbreak of loneliness.

With this release Regina has blended her exceptional vocal abilities and touching piano work that fans of old have come to know and love, with more experimental with instrumentation such as warm keyboard work and electronic drum samples, to form an album of real quality. Questions may be asked as to whether the more focused, perhaps even 'commercial' feel certain songs hold refuse to let Regina's quirky, edgy approach to song-writing truly shine through and there is a somewhat dip towards the middle of the album, with the mid-paced numbers failing to capture your imagination as powerfully as the album's superb opening efforts, but her lyrics are sharper than ever, brimming with imagery and completing the immersive listening experience that Regina offers to her audience.

A creatively unstoppable force, Regina has slightly calmed her forays into the quirky and bizarre found in earlier albums, perhaps a sign of her maturing as an individual as well as a song-writer. After all, Regina Spektor has always been an artist gifted with an ability to envelop you in her own personal world and this charming honesty is just one quality seemingly set to see her rapidly rising popularity only increase.--Jim Hall in Derby, England and Russ Elliot in New York

 
Drastic Fantastic CD Covere
Image © Relentless Records 2007
distributed by Virgin Records/EMI
 
 

(13 October 2007) The making or Drastic Fantastic (Relentless (USA) 9463-956182, 2007) in the same studio Arctic Monkeys recorded Favourite Worst Nightmare had a knock-on effect on her guitar. Certainly the stylish Scot's strings sound as they've undergone more of a thrashing this time round. KT has taken all the dinner party-pleasing mellow elements that made Eye To The Telescope such a success and chucked them into the mix with a fat dollop of funk and a layer of grit. The CD comes with a well illustrated black and white "comic book" style booklet.

Drastic Fantastic finds the 32-year-old from St Andrews again contradicting the stereotype of the navel-gazing singer-songwriter strumming her acoustic guitar. Spirited KT once described her music as "stompy, sensitive girl-blues", and the portrayal is now even more fitting. For all its pop tunes, Drastic Fantastic is surprisingly raw-boned. You can hear it on first single "Hold On," with its near R&B beat, and the toe-tapping "Funnyman" with its indie stylings and moody mandolin.

"Little Favours" meanwhile, is a spunky ode to teen lust, while "Saving My Face" tackles the thorny topic of going under the knife. Vocally, KT sounds even more confident as she travels through the vocal spectrum from sparky to smoky and sultry. The album's highlight is "Someday Soon," a dreamily layered ballad she wrote about her painful brief split from bandmate Luke Bullen.

While KT Tunstall's Eye To The Telescope is a good CD,she has really moved into the upper ranks of singer/songwriters on Drastic Fantastic. It is less of a bluesy album than the former and is more straightforward pop. The bluesy appeal of her vocals still shows up, though. KT might not have the most powerful or unique voice, but she does have a good tone.

"If Only" and "White Bird" have a spare feel. Others, like "I Don't Want You Now," are full-on pop rockers. "Little Favours" has an edgy arrangement, but a terrific sing-along chorus, while "I Don't Want You Know" is a jaunty marvel of a song. KT avoids the mid-tempo murk. "Saving My Face" and "Funnyman" are less insistent than the before mentioned "I Don't Want You Now," but their crisp production and fine playing will still hook you.

"Hold On" is the closest to "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," but has a Latin feel that makes it more than a copy. While no ballad is quite as good as the slow burning "Under the Weather" they are still quite pretty. Surely the radio will give songs other than "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" a chance to be heard.

 
Neptune City CD Cover
Image © Columbia Records 2007

More Nicole Atkins:
Interview and Photos (2007)

 

(20 October 2007) After a viral buildup of anticipation from a featured role in a recently aired American Express commercial, Nicole Atkins' debut full length CD Neptune City is being broadly released at the end of October. The album includes ten rock numbers drawing on up to date variations of sounds of the 60s and and 70s.

Nicole is touring this autumn supporting the Danish band The Raveonettes -- also from the Sony BMG family -- to promote the album. Sadly her performance in Buffalo, NY was put off to a later date after a vocal blow out the night before in NYC. The singer learnt several life lessons in the early days of this tour.

We caught up with Nicole after successful live performances in the major midwest cities of Chicago and Detroit this past week to talk about the Amex advert, her music and her future dreams. Read the results of our interview here.

Nicole's musical recording history begins with a self-produced 2005 demo EP entitled Party's Over. Although the nine track EP itself is not generally available, enthusiastic supporters openly exchange mp3s of the recording. Listeners will certainly hear the roots of Nicole's sound in the tracks and note that several of the titles carried through the projects that followed.

Columbia Records signed Nicole in 2006 and a six track EP entitled Bleeding Diamonds was properly released. Enthusiasts can still find this EP from popular second hand sellers. Re-recordings of four of the tracks from the Party's Over demo appear on the Bleeding Diamonds EP and a couple of further improved versions have made it all the way to the debut album.

Neptune City is especially well producted with rich instrumental arrangements supporting the power and range of Nicole's well recorded voice. Listeners will hear rich upbeat rock tunes with multiple layers of harmony vocals and should not expect any sort of ordinary pop album in Neptune City. Both Nicole and her producers were going for more of a Bruce Springsteen sound and they have achieved the texture of Jersey Shore rock.

In addition to the title track, the album standouts include lushious harmonies "Maybe Tonight," "Love Surreal" and the dramatic ballad "Brooklyn's On Fire." Many will be intrigued by the combination of emotional delivery and soaring vocal melodies in the recording. "Kill The Headlights" is another outstanding illustration of the young woman's vocal chops. Neptune City is a solid rock debut from an artist that many listeners will be very keen to hear more from in the future. Try to catch her live.

 
Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul CD Cover
Image © Barsuk Records 2007 
 

(09 December 2007) Seattle-born singer/songwriter Jesse Sykes presents her alt-country/folk CD Like, Love & Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul (Barsuk Records (USA) BARK62, 2007) with her raspy and husky voiced straight-up style. This is her third album and the songs contain a mournful undertone intermixed with exceptional harmonica and riveting acoustic guitar interludes. This album addresses themes of love, illusion, forgiveness, and the universality of the human experience.

The album was produced, recorded and mixed by Tucker Martine (Decemberists, The Long Winters) and Martin Feveyear (Mark Lanegan, Kings of Leon), with additional recording and production by Randall Dunn (Kinski, SunnO). Jesse's band, The Sweet Hereafter, is comprised of Jesse on vocals and acoustic guitar; Phil Wandscher on guitars, harmonica, lapsteel, keyboards and vocals; Anne Marie Ruljancich on viola and vocals; Bill Herzog on electric and upright bass and vocals; and Eric Eagle on drums and percussion. The group has been touring since 2002, playing across the USA and overseas.

The CD begins with the eerie yet tender "Eisenhower Moon." Jesse's voice is an acquired taste and on first impression, the sound took some getting used to. But, upon repeat listens, the album tends to grow on you. There is an emotive style to her music and Jesse wears her heart on her sleeve with her hushed and deliberate vocals. The album has a soulful edge mixed in with its melancholic lyrics. The standout track is "Spectral Beings," showing a tenderness and depth with the support of beautiful orchestral backing. The title track, "LLL," has a wistful yet nostalgic rhythm with wonderful guitar solos.

Guitarist Phil Wandscher certainly deserves a special mention for his exceptional guitar solos and folksy harmonica. There is an allure to Jesse's sound which can at times be mesmerizing with its bluesy riffs and lush instrumentation. She maintains a sincerity in her music combined with mature storylines. There is a finesse to Like, Love & Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul with its deepy introspective lyrics and melancholic tones.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Grace Submerged CD Cover
Image © Candlelight Records 2007

Octavia Sperati 2007
Image © Candlelight Records 2007

More Octavia Sperati:
Winter Enclosure (2005)

 

(27 December 2007) Octavia Sperati made their worldwide debut in 2005 with the slow and atmospheric sound of Winter Enclosure (review). It wasn't long before this previously all-female band from Bergen, Norway were turning heads throughout the metal, progressive, and rock worlds with their unique sound. Two years after the release of their debut, the band returns with Grace Submerged (Candlelight Records (UK), 2007), an album sure to be remembered as an interesting step in their evolution.

The first thing one notices about Grace Submerged is that it flows more smoothly from song to song and also moves at a much faster pace overall. Octavia Sperati also creates a productionally dirtier sound here than originally expected. Given the band's previous work the natural evolution would have been the typical "more piano and beautiful vocal melodies" approach that bands like Nightwish and Within Temptation embraced as their respective bands got more and more attention. While Octavia offer some of that here, there are just as many downright heavy moments. Much of the new album is comprised of hard hitting guitar riffs that sound raw and fuzz laden, undeniably leaning heavily towards influences such as Type O Negative and Candlemass.

"Don’t Believe a Word" is the first piano-laden ballad that registers. Easily reminiscent of Tori Amos, the song provides firm evidence of the band's diverse talents as well as their fearless nature, tackling whatever styles they wish rather than following simplistic trends. "..and then the world froze" follows superbly, registering as one of the tighter sounding songs on the album and moving at a nearly radio-friendly pace. Vocalist Silje sounds absolutely beautiful on these two pieces in particular.

The band continues to experiment towards the end of the album with two fairly epic pieces in "Dead End Poem" and "Submerged." The former is another piano-laden ballad that is accentuated beautifully by one of the most sweeping guitar pieces of recent memory. It nearly reaches an operatic stage by the time it ends, feeling similar to Virgin Black's guitarist, Samantha Escarbe, work on the Sombre Romantic album. The latter stands as an outro for the album but its atmosphere draws you in so wholly that you nearly forget that there are no vocals.

While Grace Submerged will undoubtedly appeal to fans of seventies hard rock and its many children, it is the quieter moments that make this album something special. Although the approach to the band's softer side is a bit formulaic, ultimately it is the fact that Octavia Sperati is comprised of some very good musicians that are able to tap their emotions wholeheartedly that keep it from sounding like its contemporaries. The band manages to maintain their uniqueness even when performing songs similar to many other artists. Grace Submerged does an excellent job of showcasing two very different sides of this talented band.--Mark Fisher in Fairmont, West Virginia

 
Winter Carols CD Cover
Image © Steamhammer/SPV
Minstrel Hall Music 2006


More Blackmore's Night:
reviews and interview (1997-2004)
Castles and Dreams (2005)
The Village Lanterne (2006)
Paris Moon (2007)

Candice Night
Candice Night (lead vocals)
Image © Steamhammer/SPV
Minstrel Hall Music 2007
 

(03 February 2008) What do you get when you combine a legendary rock guitarist, an angel-voiced singer, a few more amazingly-gifted musicians; throw in a hurdy-gurdy, a pennywhistle and a Fender guitar; and then let them weave their musical magic into an unequalled holiday CD? Why, it's Winter Carols (SPV/Steamhammer (USA/Germany), 2006) by Blackmore's Night, by Jove!

This hardy band of medieval minstrels, led by Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Rainbow fame, along with his lovely and talented partner, Candice Night, have once again applied their Medieval- and Renaissance-inspired rock talents to some well-known, as well as some lesser-known holiday classics, and have crafted a wonderful, extremely listenable holiday CD, that would only leave the most incorrigible Scrooge among us unmoved.

Winter Carols has twelve tracks, with many favorites of Yuletides past, including "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", "Good King Wenceslas", "Emmanuel", and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". These are not pale, watered-down elevator music renditions of songs we've all heard many times... these are heady, mirthful, musically- and lyrically-beautiful tunes that have received the inimitable Blackmore's Night hallmark. "We Three Kings" and "Ding Dong Merrily on High" round out the classics that have benefitted from Blackmore's Night's magical embellishments. These may spirit you away to a far-away time and place!

Included are two songs perhaps more well-known to aficionados of British and Celtic music , "Lord of the Dance/ Simple Gifts" and "I Saw Three Ships". These magically-rendered pieces, along with "Ma-O-Tzur", a simple yet wondrous Hanukkah tune, lend an indescribable world music feel to this beautiful holiday CD. Also included is a pensive and melodic BN original guitar instrumental entitled "Winter (Basse Dance)", which gave me wonderful visions of merry-makers dancing before a Yule log burning in the fireplace of a resplendently-decked royal hall of by-gone days. A previously-released BN track, "Wish You Were Here", graces the CD too; its melancholy yet beautiful sentiments go right to the hearts of those among us who will not have a loved one by our side this year, for whatever reason. Another Blackmore's Night re-release, "Christmas Eve", is an upbeat and bright song, guaranteed to raise your spirits.

If you are already a fan of Blackmore's Night, shame on you if you don't have this CD by now! If you are not yet a fan, you will be before you finish listening to this CD. Ritchie, Candice, and their friends in Blackmore's Night are musicians who lovingly put every ounce of talent and skill at their disposal into their songs, somehow effortlessly, unselfishly, and untiringly. It is the magic of Blackmore's Night. They have poured that magic yet again into Winter Carols, and in the spirit of the holidays, we highly recommend this phenomenal album to you.--John J. Toutant in Southern New Jersey

 
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