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Accolade - Festivalia - CD Cover
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image © Accolade 2012

Stefanie Reneé | Aaron Goldstein border=
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Stefanie Reneé | Aaron Goldstein
image © Accolade 2012

(29 July 2012) The San Francisco-based Accolade has released its first full-length album Festivalia (Label (US) number, 2012). The album weaves enchanting melodies and carnival themes. Accolade is a progressive rock project of classical singer Stefanie Reneé (vocals, tambourine, zills) and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Goldstein (reed organ, guitars, percussion, keyboards). The live line-up also includes Cade Burkhammer (drums). Sean Henry is featured as a guest keyboardist on the track "Lost Fair."

The one hour thirteen-track recording features Stefanie’s ethereal coloratura soprano vocals and Aaron’s epic and intricate command of the antique reed organ, acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, drums and percussion. Included are twelve original compositions, as well as a stunning cover of "Black Flame" originally written and recorded by 70s progressive rock legend Renaissance on their album Turn of the Cards. The original track was sung by Annie Haslam.

The core band members have written a challenging and intricate music project of carnival themes. In addition to the new music which varies from a capella, through folk and to full-on progressive rock, the band's song "Circus" is their take on "The Man of the Flying Trapeze." Accolade have done well to balance the contributions between the two primary members with interestingly equal vocal and instrumental contributions.

While listeners will certainly appreciate the sparse arrangements of the folkier numbers, the band shines most in the more thickly arranged pieces. "Lost Fair" is one of the album standouts, the "Black Flame" cover is certainly the other. These tracks combine acoustic and electric instruments and fill more of the audio spectrum. From our perspective, Festivalia is more an album for home--especially with headphones--than in the car. We were unable to fully appreciate it even with a premium mobile sound system and the most intense concentration.

Many of the album's arrangements feature Aaron's reed organ playing which gives Accolade its unique sound. The opening track "Carnival" and following "Traveler" immediately introduces the sound. It also dominates "Carouselle" quite effectively where the sound is joined by electric guitar.

The production quality varies on the album, with some of the vocal passages muddied by the instrumentals, it improves by the album's conclusion. In the more sparsely "Caravan" Stefanie's vocals clearly deliver the lyrical passages. Layers of harmonies in the a capella "Renaissance Faire" illustrate the singer's chops.

Stephanie sings the "Untitled" track atop lone acoustic guitar. It is the track that best illustrates where production quality could be enhanced to better deliver the vocal work. "The Witching Hour" is a gorgeous track driven by a piano melody and gentle keyboard washes. The vocals are, sadly, set a bit too far back in the mix. Stefanie's vocalise adds great texture to the sound. The album's rocking closer "Sideshow" serves to combine all these of the album and hopefully provides a teaser for the band's next project.

Stream the Festivalia album at Accolade's BandCamp page. The thirteen tracks of this album deserve the repeated listening it will take to fully appreciate them. Alongside varied arrangements, Stefanie's crystalline vocals soar on the album delivering the lyrical passages. A good first album.

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