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.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Star One
Mary Fahl, et. al.
All About Eve
Luc Marianni's Seltae Beat
More Digest Entries
Previous Digest Entries
Image © InsideOut Music America 2003
More Arjen Anthony Lucassen
Live On Earth
Flight Of The Migrator
The Dream Sequencer
Fate Of A Dreamer
(19 April 2003) Star One is the side project of Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon). The follow-up to their Space Metal album (review) is an double live CD with 18 individual tracks entitled Live On Earth (InsideOut (USA/Germany) IOMACD 2054, 2003). Also available as a special edition with an accompanying DVD (InsideOut (USA/Germany) IOMASECD 121, 2003) the album captures live performances during 2002 with an all-star lineup. The DVD is done in Dolby Digital 2.0 and is region free NTSC (PAL compatible).
The straightforward and hard-edge metal project was a reaction to the soft and atmospheric Ambeon (review) released a year earlier. Although Star One was initially intended to be a single-singer band, it quickly transformed into a multi-singer band featuring singers 'Sir' Russell Allen (Symphony X), Dan SwanŲ, Damian Wilson and Floor Jansen (After Forever review). The lineup for Live On Earth is slightly different.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen fronts Star One in Live On Earth primarily with his outstanding electric guitar work. His acoustic guitar on two of the lighter tracks is equally incredible. Male vocal work is shared between the harder edge of Russell Allen, and Robert Soeterboek (Wicked Sensation, Ayreon) and the more melodic textures of Damian Wilson.
Stunning female vocals, primarily backing or as duets with the men are provided by Floor Jansen with support from her sister Irene. Lucassen's work is known for lush symphonic arrangements--these are provided in the live setting by Joost van den Broek (Sun Caged) on keyboards, Peter Vink (Q-65, Finch) on bass and Ed Warby (Lana Lane, Gorefest, Lana Lane) on drums. Ewa Albering (ex-Quidam, latest review) contributes flute and recorder two a couple of the tracks. Her performance is completely awe inspiring but unfortunately too short.
Star One's brief tour drew thousands of fans from all over Europe and America and concluded before the majority of Lucassen's fans could see the performance. The DVD captures both the sound and atmosphere of the group on stage and provides an extremely effective medium to share it with a global audience. Sound, video and production quality are all superb. Multimedia effects used on stage were translated to the DVD extremely well and do not detract from the artists' live performance. These are outstanding performers and their stagecraft clearly demonstrates they are not just studio musicians!
Material on the album has been drawn from all prior Ayreon albums and the Star One collection and therefore it spans the entire range of Arjen Anthony Lucassen's work from the softest most melodic standout tracks "Valley Of The Queens" (featuring Floor Jansen and Ewa Albering) and "Isis And Osiris," both from Into The Electric Castle, to the harder edges of Star One's Space Metal tracks.
Guitar and keyboard solos pervade the complex progressive arrangements. Lead vocals alternate principally between the three male vocalists superbly contrasting Damian Wilson's polished theatrical style with the more domineering sounds of Sir Russell Allen and Robert Soeterboek.
The stagecraft within the DVD is especially well choreographed. Combintations of the band's vocalists come and go throughout the performance with positions taken center stage or on high above the instrumentalists.
Floor and Irene--normally situated up a level and to the right of the other musicians--join Arjen and the others right up front during the more melodic moments of elongated choruses. There are plenty of video closeups that illustrate each of the musicians' instrumental virtuosity. Arjen even sings the brief Beatlesque part in "Amazing Flight In Space" before his solo duel with over the shoulder keyboard by Joost van den Broek. More attention to the visually stunning Floor and Irene Jansen in the video footage, especially given their consistently rhythmic dance movements, could have been provided.
The main set ends with the tremendous vocal harmony of "Castle Hall." The multimedia show continues when the band return to perform the dramatic numbers "The Eye Of Ra" and "Star Child." The progressively textured track "The Two Gates" includes a break to introduce the artists and an accessible chorus to leave the audience humming a tune as they depart the venue.
DVD extras include an enticing photo gallery taken from thousands of images submitted, informative behind the scenes rehearsal and soundcheck footage and the three bonus tracks: "Space Truckin'," "Intergalactic Laxative," and "Dreamtime." Joost van den Broek's keyboard and Peter Vink's bass solos are also included on the DVD but omitted from the CD set. The packaging is a quad fold digipak with cardboard sleeve. The accompanying booklet includes plenty of photos that commemorarate the band's tour.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen's website has been significantly enhanced with full album information, photographs and other useful material. Read further information, listen to soundbites and order the DVD special edition at amazon.com here and the double CD here.
As with Arjen Anthony Lucassen's earlier Ayreon, Ambeon and Star One releases, the Live On Earth DVD is worth a trans-Atlantic journey and is a must see and as one would expect, the CDs are a must listen!
Image © Sony Classical 2003
More Mary Fahl
Lenses Of Contact
Gods & Generals [Soundtrack]
The Guys [Soundtrack]
The Other Side Of Time
(updated 15 June 2003) First-time director Jim Simpson deftly adapts journalist-turned-playwright Anne Nelson's tale of an NYFD captain who lost eight of his men in the 9/11 collapse of the WTC, now struggling to write their eulogies--and exorcize a range of difficult personal emotions--with the help of an editor.
The score was released in the run up to the long-awaited solo album from October Project vocalist Mary Fahl entitled The Other Side Of Time. A 14-track collection with a running time of over an hour, the album includes finished versions of songs on her earlier release Selections From Lenses Of Contact, songs included on the soundtrack from Gods and Generals and the soundtrack from The Guys.
In the short 'score' for The Guys, composer Mychael Danna (Ararat, The Hulk) is thus handed a largely interior emotional landscape to color with his music, and he responds with a quiet, yet subtly moving arrangement. Anchored by Mary Fahl's Celtic-tinged
"The Dawning of the Day" and bookended with an instrumental performance of the ballad by the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes & Drums, Danna's music infuses
melancholy orchestral pastoralism with brisk doses of minimalism to good effect.
The soundtrack is a haunting and elegant compilation, bookended by an extraordinary song by the very talented Mary Fahl. Ms. Fahl's lyrics to "The Dawning of the Day" speak directly to the heart, and her delivery, almost a whisper at times, are infused with an authenticity and depth of emotion that is heart-breaking. It is impossible to not cry while listening to this song, and yet one is left with a feeling of hope, comfort and faith.
The composer is also unafraid to let spare, melancholy piano phrases fade gently into the air, a haunting echo of the overwhelming personal loss and power of memory the film's characters wrestle with.--amazon.com
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the
album from amazon.com
An album whose exploration is worth a journey, this score is a very nice listen!
Image © ChickPop Records 2003
(11 May 2003) Born in rural Martinsville, Virginia, Magdalen Hsu-Li began her
musical career in 1997 by founding her own record company ChickPop
Records thereby expressing to the public (releasing) her debut EP
"Muscle And Bone." Since this musically successful but unlikely
rural beginning, Hsu-Li has released two additional CDs,
Evolution (1999) and her latest musical expression
Fire. Singer songwriter, piano player, poet, painter/artist,
speaker/educator and businesswoman, Magdalen Hsu-Li is indeed a
musical renaissance of evolution. A musical frontier woman into
the wilderness of song!
Interview. Musical Discoveries: How does the past both musically and
personally relate to the present and future tense of your music?
I have done a great deal of work on myself to develop as a musician
and as a person in the past five years and certainly this has had an
effect on my music. I am always reviewing my live show in videotapes
and looking for ways to better it. Personally as my social life has
blossomed and I have gotten better at building community with others.
I think this has taught me (as a performer) how to better connect
with people on an emotional level through music. Relationships are
often are about balancing your own needs with the needs of others.
Having a successful live performance is also built on that concept.
The performance is for the audience--not just for yourself. Every
great performer knows this.
Are there any non-musical influences that have influenced your
Definitely--the five element philosophy of Chinese medicine has
had a huge impact on my work as well as the poems of Rainer Maria
Rilke and the way he looked that the world. Also painting has had
a huge impact in my musical process and how I go about creating
songs. I am still painting--just through music.
How would you describe your music?
Pop rock alt folk singer songwriter music with a tinge of country,
jazz, and punk.
As a singer/songwriter what do you consider to be the greater
art: writing the song or singing the song?
I'm glad you asked this question! Hands down I love the process of
songwriting more than performing. Performing is great but often I
feel a great deal of pressure when touring even though 90% of my
performances go very well and there are great turnouts. When
songwriting, I feel free and powerful. I could stay up writing
songs all night long. I love the actual act of creating and the
craft of songwriting. I love listening to and studying other
people's songs and trying to figure out how they did what they
did. Sometimes I analyze other people's songs and pick them apart
in a scientific way to understand them--just because it turns me
What one rule or rules in the business of music do you like
I love breaking the myth of the starving artist. That is such a
lie that people tell artist from the day they are born and it's so
sad that so many artists psych themselves out with this myth. There
is always a way to make a great living from music or any art form
if you are willing to use your creativity to the business aspect.
People think that creativity should only be in art and the business
should be in business. But the most successful business people use
their intuition and creativity to problem solve and figure out how
to make things work. It's important to work from both ends using
your creativity. I also would like to break through the glass
ceiling for Asian Americans in the American music industry. People
don't think it can be done right now but I know it can and it
should happen soon!
What inspired you to form ChickPop Records?
I formed ChickPop in 1997 when I first started touring and
making records. There was the inspiration of necessity I suppose
in why I created my own company.
What is the most difficult thing about running your own
I work full time when not touring at booking and being a boss
and manager. I don't mind the hard work but sometimes I would like
to spend 100% as opposed to 50% of my time in practicing and
creating and bettering my songwriting and live show. I would
also like to combine my music and painting. I currently don't
have any time for painting. I think if I did that I could
just take off and become a monster musician and artist. Music
and art would just pour out of me like a force of nature.
What is the most surprising thing about running your own record
That it can be done successfully and that there are thousands
of other indie artists doing it right now. That was not something
people did 20-30 years ago. People didn't just make their own
records and retain their power and profits. Major labels controlled
everything back then.
Album Review. A delivery system of harmonic gravitational convergence that revolves
around the voice-controlled lyrical curve; thereby producing the
coefficient properties of 'listener elicitation,' which
consequently is: the musical mean value theorem yield of both
songwriting (stimulation) and vocal (exponential) projective
power function of Magdalen Hsu-Li.
Poem salt with sinusoidal vocal icing, Fire is a
twelve-track emotional transfer of thought into songful soul.
Beginning with "Redefinition" Hsu-Li vocally stretches the
mundane definition of words into a lyrical redefinition of
melodic musical meaning.
And she sings what she writes Listen! A superwoman all bluster and
bluff/a wimp who can barely pick herself up/yellow with pride/white
at the gills/black with anger and burning skills/red with passion and
brown with age/because my mind is set/my heart is a stageí. And she
plays as she sings--the piano.
"Compassion" features the well-tempered ostinato work of Timothy
Young (guitar) that kindles into acoustic-conduction under the low
heated ardour--the boiling point--of contralto low-keyed vocal
passion with just enough musical temperature--the instrumentation--to
keep Hsu-Li vocally warm. Itís a personal song that is sung in
a heartfelt voice.
The track "As I am" is a folk song played (sung) under the
influence of blues ambiance--jazz. It has a nice (almost hidden)
edge of brass (Dave Carter) and a good taste of funky bass
(Arne Livingston). Itís a feel-good to listento song. The last track
is a zany almost fantasia chick-rock and pop song and is definitely
a good coda, to the opus of Hsu-Li!
With all songs written by Magdalen Hsu-Li, with the exception of "As
I Am," co-written with Dale Fanning, Fire is a well-played,
well-produced, arranged musical art of CD pleasure. For more information
on the artist, please visit her
website.--interview and review © Steven Digman 2003
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album
here. Mr. Digman tells us that this album is worth a trans-Atlantic journey. It is a must listen!
Image © Blix Street Records 2003
(11 May 2003) It was the 'music-sight' of Bill Straw (Blix Street Records)
that first brought the music of Mary Black from Ireland to America. And since
her musical beginning (over twenty-years now) Black has released over seventeen
solo albums (and is still singing); 30 single releases (and is still singing)
and her voice has been featured on over 31 compilation CDs. And yes, she is
And out of all of this singing, which song is her favorite? "Ellis
Island," she says. "One of my all time favorites has got to be 'Ellis
Island,', Noel Brazil (songwriter). That recording of it again goes
back a long time. We developed and changed it I suppose over the years
live on stage, and, in fact, were bringing out a live album (Mary Black
Live, CD and DVD), which is coming out quite soon. [Itís] a DVD of
a live concert and some documentary footage about me and my life in
Ireland--my family. So you know, just by comparison we did a live version
of 'Ellis Island' and thereís a huge difference between the original
recorded version and how we do it now."
"But itís a song I never tire of
singing. I really, really love it--it touches the hearts of so many
people. You donít have to be Irish to relate to it. If your background
was from Germany, Poland, Russia--wherever. For people who came to America,
particularly in the last century--meaning the 19th century--where they
knew nobody or they had to leave their homeland and lost all of that.
It has great passion and it really describes two people saying goodbye
for the last time with the knowledge that they will never see each other
Born into the inheritance (the gift) of a musical family, Black
discovered and developed throughout her childhood the 'pleasure and
depth' of her vocal anatomy. The beauty (as we can musically contest
to - listen to) of putting 'her' voice into song. She elucidates
further: "My parents were both very musical. My father came from a
small island off the North coast of Ireland, Rathlein. He was very
much from a musically traditional background and my mother, in contrast
came from the city of Dublin and sang the songs of the day. So
between them they just past on a great passion for music to us
"There are five of us in the family --five children--we all
play and sing together. In fact we all just finished another Black
Family Album, which we havenít done for some time and it was nice
to get together and sing together again. And so, yeah, we were
just blessed. It always seemed like a natural thing for us to sort
of do as growing up. You know, singing was just purely
natural--harmonies and stuff like that."
And how has this voice--Blackís vocal anatomy--changed through
the passing of time? "Well obviously when I listen back--and I donít
listen back very often--back to the early recordings, thereís an
innocence there, which comes with age. I suppose, you know, you
mature and you learn and I think my voice as well has matured,
obviously, and gotten deeper."
"Sometimes I feel that the unsung note is as important as the
sung note--the silence and the hidden breath. Iíve learned how
to use my voice better and how to make the best of it and how to
sort of create maybe more emotion and feeling within a song. And
you can only do that by doing it, if you know what I mean. Itís not
something someone could teach you and I couldnít teach it--because
I donít know exactly what I do. But I know when I listen now and
listen to what I did earlier there was an innocence in it and a
purity that I think probably is a little bit lost. But I do feel
that my expression is much better now."
When I asked Black to describe any non-musical influences that
might have influenced her music, she described Ireland. "I do
feel that a lot of music that I sing itís like the landscape of
Ireland. I know that might sound a little bit odd, but I really
do feel that the music reflects a lot of what is really Irish,
you know? Its landscape and the spirit of the people and, well,
I hope that that is what it reflects."
After listening to several of Blackís albums--two of my
favorites--Babes In The Wood and Looking Back, I
was musically struck by not only the depth and passion of Black's
voice but the depth and passion of songs--these are great
songwriters! So I asked Black if she would explain the
selection process sheís goes through when deciding which
songs will eventually become her own songs and Ďwhere and
howí she finds these great writers?
"Coming from a small country like Ireland--you would get to
meet other artist and musicians in little clubs around. I was
singing long before I recorded as well. So I got to know people
like Noel Brazil and Jimmy McCarthy, Nick Hendie, Donna Long,
all these great writers. Irish writers whose songs really
weren't being heard or even being recorded by anyone including
themselves -- they were just going around singing their songs.
So there was this wealth of incredible talent in songwriting,
particularly in Ireland. When I started to record I suppose
I set a standard. Now when I look for material I place a lot
of emphasis on lyrics and, obviously, if I haven't written
the song myself I need to really feel the emotion and sentiment
of whatís being said. The music is something I can develop a
little bit to suit myself, so that for me it isnít quite as
relevant as the lyrics."
"But I do take a lot of time and
effort in choosing material. There are good, good writers--and
there are so many great writers who arenít lucky, as I consider
myself, to have the opportunity to record and to have their own
band and travel and, you know--be heard. I suppose that
probability good artists like myself, who maybe aren't as
talented in the writing department, think sometimes it would
be great to be both, but if it takes two people to make a good
song--then so be it."
"The idea scenario is to be both but
sometimes that doesnít happen. I mean, I've written some
stuff, but I really donít feel that I want to compromise in
any way what Iím doing in order to have my name at the end of
the song. The songs Iím lucky enough to get my hands on are
lots of previously unrecorded material--great, great songs
from great writers. Itís a great way for me to explore my
own vocal range, etc. and develop as an artist with great
material. I mean it makes my job a lot easier."
And what one rule or rules in the business or theory of
music does Black like to break? "Let me think about that for a
second--so I did. Well you know. I donít fit comfortably into
a category for starters. You can't classify my music as
traditional or even folk. There are so many different
elements--I think that was a rule I broke. Itís not so
much a problem for people now--but when I started in
Ireland my music was a very mixed bag of styles of music
because I loved a lot of contemporary writers and I loved
traditional music as well. So I tried to marry everything
together and I think there were people who didnít like that.
They wanted to pigeon hole me. So that was one rule I kind of
broke--I stuck with it you know?"
In a closing retrospective on her musical career, Black
musically and thoughtfully reflects: "I just never thought that
I would still be singing this far along in my life. I am
fortunate to have somehow marriage, music, and family in my
life. I have three children." And we are fortunate that she
has! A complete discography on Mary Black can be found
--interview and review © Steven Digman 2003
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the
album from amazon.com
here. Mary Black's music is
worth significant exploration. Her album Looking
Back is worth a trans-Atlantic journey and Mr. Digman tells us
that it is a must listen!.
Image © Julia Jenkins 2002
(11 May 2003) The debut album from York's up and coming singer songwriter Julia Jenkins is a ten track collection entitled Shine. Julia sings lead and backing vocals and performs acoustic guitar. She is ably supported by band members Duncan Rayson (keyboard), Kev Gibbons (whistle, bodran, guitar, bass) and Chť (percussion). Guest artists include various combinations from almost the entire Mostly Autumn (album reviews) lineup: Heather Findlay (backing vocals, tambourine), Bryan Josh (electric and Spanish guitar), Jonathan Blackmore (brush snare), Angela Goldthorpe (flute), Liam Davison (E-bow, acoustic guitar) and Iain Jennings (keyboard, tambourine). Iona's (review) Troy Donockley (cittern) as well as Pat Corner-Walker (drums), Pete Doney (guitars) also guest in various tracks on the recording.
After a chance meeting with a street performer in Bath much earlier in her musical career, Julie decided to learn to play the guitar and sing. Six months after returning from travels with a previous partner, she not only learnt guitar but picked up sixteen cover songs in just six weeks brought a packed house to thunderous applause.
From there Julia began getting small acoustic gigs around York and landed a residency in a local cafe bar. Further travelsand life experiences--six weeks busking around Japan, three months in Australia and six months in London--led to original songwriting and the recording of her debut album. Since then she entered a York Acoustic Music competition and after many heats came third out of forty musicians.
Clearly rooted in singer songwriter material, the album drifts into other territories with skill, determination and great sound. Julia has a clear, crystalline and powerful voice with the intensity needed to evoke powerful emotions during her performance. The material provides a great glimpse into her singing, songwriting and arranging talent.
Acoustic ballads provide the dominant force within the album. Performed by Julia alone singing atop acoustic guitar, the album's title and penultimate track is a stunning example.
Pete Doney joins on classical guitar in the similarly styled "All I Have To Say." Troy Donockley's contribution is the cittern on the gentle acoustic number "You & Me" while Kev Gibbons whistle adds a great Celtic texture to an otherwise pure singer songwriter styled tune.
The more robustly arranged material like opening track "Final Story" performed by Julia's entire band gives a hint to Julia's talent for spinning attractive arrangements. Kev Gibbon's haunting whistle perfectly compliments the gentle rocking texture of the tune that will certainly draw listeners right into the album. "Lush Disguise" picks up on a similar theme and it's highly accessible hook and great melody makes this one of the album's standouts.
If acoustic ballads provide the album's backbone, the arms and legs that show the artist's virtuosity are provided by the lusher light rock tracks "Angel" and the stunning "Skin Deep," with great vocal harmonies by Heather Findlay. "Only You," is a great track with Julia's evocative vocals supported by the electric guitar by Bryan Josh, superb keyboard work by Duncan Rayson and a great whistle solo by Kev Gibbons. The most progressively styled instrumentation on the album is in the ballad "Come in from the cold." Complete with Iain Jennings' lush keyboard and Kev Gibbons' great whistle part, it is another one of the album's clear standouts.
Julia Jenkins'album Shine should clearly be explored further. You can order a copy from her website. Worth a trans-Atlantic journey, this great album, it is a must listen!
Image © All About Eve 2003
(04 May 2003) The debut DVD from All About Eve is entitled Cinemasonic - Filmed Live and Electric May 2002 (All About Eve (UK) AAEDVD1, 2003).
The DVD includes: "Let me go home," "The Dreamer," "Flowers in our hair," "In the Clouds,"
"Somebody Said," "Blue Sonic Boy," "Daisychains," "I Donít Know," "Phased," "Ctrl-Alt-Delete,"
"Sodium," "Wishing the Hours Away," "Make it Bleed" and "Outshine the Sun." Encores are
"Every Angel," "Life on Mars," Our Summer" and "Touched by Jesus."
DVD Review. Though the venue is un-credited on the DVD,
this 100-minute concert was filmed at Londonís Shepherdís Bush Empire
in May 2002. Sound throughout is excellent, though the cinematography is
quite limited Ė obviously shot with just two cameras from the balcony.
A year ago, the band was sporting a new-found indie trendiness, with
backup guitarist Rik Carterís ski hat and new guitarist Finn Toni Haimiís
basketball shirt typical, while Julianne Regan was dressed in angelic
The set begins impressively, in up-tempo fashion with two "classics"
in the first four songs "Flowers in our hair" and "In the Clouds." Long-time
bassist Andy Cousin chats briefly between songs, with occasional comments
from Julianne. "Somebody Said" slows things down Ė almost a traditional
ballad, this, while a song from Julianneís excellent "Mice" project, "Blue
Sonic Boy" is also welcome.
The dreamy "Daisychains" is followed
by the excellent, eastern-tinged "I donít know." Phased, from the controversial album
Ultraviolet is next, with its notorious wall of sound, followed by several decent
newer songs, with the rousing "Make it Bleed" and throbbing epic "Outshine the Sun"
bringing the set to a rousing conclusion.
The finest moments of the set are saved for the encores, however, with "Every
Angel," "Our Summer" and especially the wonderful "Touched by Jesus" all played
with skill and enthusiasm, and even a cover of Bowieís "Life on Mars" thrown in.
Fifteen minutes of slightly impersonal behind the scenes footage and a picture gallery
are also included. Overall, a slight lull in the second half of the main concert
notwithstanding, this is an excellent live set, and though the camerawork is limited,
this helps to give a good approximation of actually being there.
Concert Review. Live at The Limelight Club, Crewe Ė 20th April 2003, they
performed: "Aquamania," "Melting," "Flowers in Our Hair," "I Donít Know,"
"Daisychains," "Somebody Said," "Nobodyís Perfect," "Let me go home,"
"Blindfolded Visionary," "Phases," "Sodium," "Sugartown" and "Every
Angel." Encores were: "Touched By Jesus," "Our Summer" and "Outshine
Fast-forward to April 2003, with the band on tour again. The new album
remains unfinished, but the band is showcasing further new material from it
(slightly less impressive than in 2002). There are further changes Ė second
guitarist and keyboard player Rik Carter has now departed, leaving Toni Haimi
to handle things on his own, which he does admirably. Enter, also, new
drummer Robin Guy Ė quite a find, as he brings plenty of personality to
his role, playing with a sort of Keith Moon-style manic energy.
The band seem to have further embraced their gothic side dressed all
in black with fairy lights all over the stage, and are a little hung over - a late
Saturday night. However, this makes for a more relaxed occasion, with
plenty of onstage banter between Julianne and Andy, with Toni even
chipping in, and the crowd respond to this in enthusiastic fashion.
Julianne is in good voice, despite the late night previously.
The slightly shorter set still gives many pleasures, with the backbone
of the set remaining the older songs played a year previously, which still
largely embrace the songs from "Touched by Jesus" and "Ultraviolet."
"I donít know" with its eastern rhythms still impresses, as does the
A slight worry is that the newest songs played here
for the first time seem less interesting than those presented a year ago,
but overall the set remains the welcome work of a band very much back
as a live, electric outfit, after years touring as an acoustic band. I look
forward to the new album Ė when it arrives!--Stephen Lambe
Image © Exergy Music 2002
Asa Ecklund (lead vocals)
(also: acoustic guitar, flute, thermin)
Image © Exergy Music 2002
Pineforest Crunch are a four-piece pop group from Sweden,
comprising the lovely Asa Eklund (vocals and various other
instruments), Olle Soderstrom (guitars), Mats Lundgren
(basses and keyboards) and Matthias Ollson (percussion).
The band are by no means a full-time affair--each band
member has other projects, and some readers will certainly
be aware of Matthiasí work with legendary progressive band
Anglagard and also White Willow (review).
Their latest recording is entitled Panamarenko (Exergy Music (Sweden) 005, 2002).
Asa has a very appealing, wistful voice, usually placed high
in the mix. Though she sings in English, her Swedish accent is
charmingly strong and occasionally there is even a suggestion
of Bjork in her phrasing. The basic band set up of acoustic
(or jangly electric) guitar, bass and drums, are augmented by
lush keyboards--including monophonic synths and
mellotron--giving the songs both colour and character. Overall,
the album has a very American feel, confirmed by the
band on the brief, humorous sleeve notes. The songs themselves
are bright, though the production has some chill in it--an
interesting combination of Los Angeles and Stockholm. In fact,
the faint air of melancholy often to be found on music from the
Scandinavian Countries can be found here, even in the up-tempo
The album itself features eleven short tracks with a running
time of 40 minutes, but there is no feeling that the listener
has been short changed. "Situation Endless" sets the scene for
the rest of the album. A sweet Phil Spector-like arrangement
with plenty of acoustic guitar and string sounds, introduces
a lovely song with a soaring chorus and Asaís vocals high in
the mix. "Queen of the Nineties" features some very retro
synth sounds combining with Olleís acoustic guitar, another
killer chorus, and some lovely layered vocals towards the end
of the song.
"College Radio Listeners" has hit single written all
over it, an ironic, up-tempo indie-rock number. "Slowly" is a
little more grungy, but with another memorable chorus. The
acoustic guitar intro of "Wake Up" suggests Quecia
(review), but the 'treated' vocals soon
dispel this, giving the track a rather sinister, icy feel,
until a lovely piano solo lifts it. "Innocent" is another
delightful, joyful song (though it has a twist in the tale),
with effective guitar and mellotron urging it along.
"Romantic Strings" is something of a departure. Mellotron
and a combination of male and female vocals gives an impression
of a lush 40s ballad--played on a 40s gramophone (even down to
the crackles). There is definitely a feeling of Bjork about
this, and itís a shock to the system after the polished pop
of preceding tracks. "Car Crash" opens with some swirling
synth and guitar before a slightly chilling song with another
"Coronation" has a drum and bass influenced verse, leading into
an uplifting, synth led chorus, with Asaís voice soaring above the
instrumentation--certainly an album highlight. Upfront synth also
dominates "Leave it all behind," a quirky song with a hint of
reggae, once again making interesting use of male vocals. "Happy
Valentine" is a gentle closer, dominated by picked acoustic and
Though hardly a substantial piece of work, this is something of
a little gem: quirky, edgy pop music of the highest
Image © Yep! Records 2002
Image © Jenny Morris 2003
(22 April 2003) New Zealand-born singer Jenny Morris first came to
prominence in her home country in the early 1980s as a member of a
band called The Crocodiles. However, she first came to world
attention as backing singer on Australian rock band INXSí
Listen Like Thieves world tour in 1985 and 1986,
which took in Australasia, The USA and Europe. Though the
band did not have their first major hit single in the UK
until the following year, the groundwork had already been
done on that tour and with Jenny in tow they stayed in
Europe for months, giving fans like me many opportunities
to sample her clear, powerful backing contributions.
In 1987, with INXS now major international stars, Jenny
struck out on her own. Her first solo album, Body And
Soul with several tracks produced by INXSí Andrew Farriss,
performed well in Australia but made less of an impact abroad,
though the material was strong showcasing the clarity of Jennyís
voice on upbeat INXS style songs, in the main, though the gentler
Neil Finn-penned "You I Know" was something of a departure. Two
years later, Shiver, this time entirely produced by Farriss,
suggested a maturing artist with much more variation, including the
joyful reggae of "Self Deceiver," the gentle love-song to her
unborn child "Little Little" and the up-beat womanís anthem "She
Has to be Loved." Shiver was a huge hit in Australia, and
led to tours supporting Prince and Tears for Fears worldwide.
1991 saw the release of Honeychild, a much more dance-orientated
album, but again with excellent material, especially the funky "Break in
the Weather" with is wonderfully quirky, yet catchy chorus, and the
angelic "Iíve had you" co-written with Australian legend Paul Brady.
A compilation CD and video collection The Story So Far also
After a four year gap, 1995's Salvation Jane, though patchy,
was her most varied album up until then, with some of Jennyís strongest
vocal work. The languid "Rhythm and Flow," with its Aboriginal influences,
contrasted wonderfully with the rasping "What do I do now" and the pure
pop of "In too deep," later a hit for Belinda Carlisle, while the
title track recalled the chug-along hits of INXS once more. For the
next few years Jenny dropped out of the limelight, combining occasional
gigs with work for environmental causes and her life as a mother.
Fast forward to the latest album Hit & Myth
(Yep! Records (Australia), YEP005 9330 9700 00405,
2002). Despite the long layoff, it sounds like the work of
a relaxed and confident woman. The production of Nick Wales has given
the album a polished, contemporary feel, with Jennyís vocals placed
high in the mix, allowing the warmth of her voice to shine through.
This is especially evident on "Downtime," a relaxed, simple song
about relaxation! "Home" is a lush ballad with a glorious chorus, while
"Killer Man" is Jennyís version of a James Bond theme song, with itís
huge slide guitar and big chorus.
"I climb high" is a perky pop song written as a reaction to JFK Junior's
death, with an infectious game-machine like synth riff. "Into the Water"
is a deliciously rich and laid back song, while "The Blacksmith" introduces
very different instrumentation - Winsome Evansí harp giving this traditional
song a wistful feel, with Jenny passionately expressing the folk lyric.
The pair of songs "It Happened Again" and "Dressing Gown" are simple,
sweet, light-hearted pieces about being in love, while "Guiding Star" is
a beautiful, gentle Neil Finn song. "The Sculptor" is the most ambitious
piece on the album, musically, its throbbing strings playing eastern rhythms,
while Jenny sings melodic variations on "The Blacksmith". Played loud,
this is a mesmerising piece. "Wailing Wall" is a simple, acoustic album
Throughout this album, Jennyís vocal performances are warm, rich and
delightful, and the songs, though undemanding are performed with passion
and invention by a team of skilled backing musicians. The album is certainly
a progression from her previous work, and itís good to see this talented
artist recording again. We look forward to the next phase of her
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order Hit & Myth from amazon.com here. Many of Jenny's prior albums are also available there.
Image © Angel Air Records 2002
Image © Angel Air Records 2002
(19 April 2003) Jay Aston was a member of Bucks Fizz, the British pop group that won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981. She left the band in 1985. Aston's debut solo album is entitled Alive And Well (Angel Air Records (UK) SJPVD137, 2002). The album's fourteen tracks are primarily written by Aston and her husband David Colquhoun (website).
An eclectic collection of rock and pop tunes, it is certain to delight our visitors.
Jay atended Italia Conti school and now runs her own Theatre Arts School (website). Has a publishing contract with Chrysalis and has her own production company. She has worked with Marcella Detroit, Underworld, Melloman, Rupert Hines and Leftfield. Visit her fanclub's website for further biographical information on and photos of Jay and the other band members.
All lyrics and vocals on Alive And Well are by Jay Aston. Guitar work and production credits go to David Colquhoun almost throughout. The album was produced by Mark Smith. While much of the material has a pop flavour, there are folky, progressive and rock songs. Multi-layered harmony vocals are lushly produced and work perfectly with the instrumental arrangements. One has to question why it has been so long since we've heard from this stunning vocalist.
Alive And Well is not entirely a pop album! It's a great collection of tunes with a broad cross section of styles with some being highly accessible and others that require a good few listens to absorb to their fullest. The instrumental work is outstanding and is mixed perfectly with Jay's vast lead and harmony vocal range. The first minute of "Pigs Are on The Cake" is misleading--the twangy verses explode into a rocking chorus with rich instrumentals and evocative vocals.
The accessible "Stay With Me," "Jack 'N' Jill" and "Wednesday's Child" are well-produced pop-oriented tracks very suitable for radio play. Jay's stunning lead and multi-tracked harmony vocals are accompanied by lush programmed instrumentation and very crisp percussion.
In addition to the pop textures, Jay Aston can certainly rock. "Sorrow's Wedding" is the first track to illustrate the harder edge with raunchy guitar providing the foundation for Jay's powerful and emotional lead vocal. But this style is heavily contrasted by the Miriam Stockley-styled dance oriented number "Everlasting Love." A clear album standout is the popish "Yours Truly," with its Madonna-esque opening before the gentle rocking percussion and instrumental arrangements drive the rhythm home.
About "Love, Hate & Gasoline" Jay says, "So many issues are born from love or its opposite, hate, and having had my fair share of both, they both drive you. When someone gives me a good kicking, I run faster and I defiantly get stronger." The varying tempo, powerful instrumentals and raunchy guitar changes fit the edgy vocal line. The bluesy rock structure of "Object Of Desire" is roughened up by powerful guitar riffs and a variety of vocal effects further illustrating Jay's virtuousity while "Waiting For The Day" is a bluesy track that shows another side of her talent.
The classic rocker "Rosie Banks" has allusions to Janison Edge (review) in spots. The variety continues with "Lox," a fast-paced, heavily programmed dance-oriented instrumental full of effects and unusually whispy vocals. The album concludes with the sensously sung and bluesy track "13." We especially enjoyed Jay's soaring and evocative excursions against the programmed instrumentals and crisp percussion. A dance remix of "Everlasting Love" by PERQX is provided more or less as a bonus track. Jay's vocals shimmer above the thick bass and crisp percussion of the instrumental mix.
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here.
An incredible compilation by Jay Aston, this album deserves further exploration. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, Alive And Well is a must listen!
Image © Park Records 2003
(19 April 2003) Rose Kemp--daughter of Maddy Prior and Rick Kemp--is a singer songwriter whose acoustic-based pop combines the instant appeal of Dido, with hints of the dark blues of PJ Harvey, and a fresh, rootsy quality that recalls earlier generations of singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Suzanne Vega. Rose Kemp's debut album Glance (Park Records (UK) PRKCD63, 2003) is a well-produced and eclectic collection encompassing twelve original tunes.
Glance is an album of many shades, drawing on pop and indie with a contemporary edge as well as blues and jazz influences. Rich, and at times, husky vocals to the fore, Rose spins confessional tales of life, love and longing, ranging from the simplicity and emotional directness of opening track "Falls," through the lyrically dextrous and uplifting pop of "Smile" to the unhinged blues of "Conscience." But desipte the vocal range difference between Rose and her mother, there is a keen similarity deep within their singing styles. And the multi-tracked harmonies are absolutely lovely.
The first half of the album provides a great introduction to Rose's work, especially with the richly arranged opening track "Falling" and the tremendous rocker "Hush Me Down." In the second half, album standouts include the gentle yet hooking rocker "Smile" and the upbeat, almost country and western, tune "I Won't Run." Mick Clark's slide guitar work, Tony Poole's programming and other supporting instrumentals are superb.
Despite her relatively young age, Rose has already been developing her craft for over half her life. Having been singing since early childhood, she started writing poetry at age 9, and songs at age 11. Mature beyond her years, sheís already recorded and toured with her parents, and if this debut is anything to go by, weíll be hearing a lot more from her. Read further information, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com
Rose Kemp's Glance album should be explored further by Maddy Prior fans especially. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, it is a must listen!
Image © Gina Dootson 2002
More Gina Dootson
(13 April 2003) The first recording to emerge from Gina Dootson since her 2001 album 3AM Generation (review) is a three track EP entitled Edge On. Dootson will also be featured in the CRS Unplugged CD due out in late April 2003. The EP is produced by John Hart and John Sword.
Edge On was recorded with Gina's full band and engineered by Ken MacPherson. Supporting Gina's outstanding vocal work are Andy Lymn (drums), Richard Lymn (bass), John Hart (electric guitar), Mark Atkinson (backing vocals), Jan Atkinson (backing vocals) and Darren Spiby (backing vocals. Production quality is excellent with vocal and instrumental arrangements absolutely perfect.
The inspiration for the EP's title is its opening track "Razor Edge," a tender acoustic guitar-backed ballad. Gina's sweetly sung lead vocal is supported by lovely harmonies in the chorus. Her gentle and emotional vocal texture is stimulating from the first sung words--selective multi-tracking and a second guitar part adds depth and presence to the tune.
The EP's arrangement of "Dinner On Mars" (in contrast to the arrangement on 3AM Generation) is arranged with rich instrumentals and with lush backing harmonies. The catchy melody and stunning vocal work clearly show why Gina Dootson won the CRS award for best solo performer in 2002. Accompanied only by acoustic guiter, Gina's evocative vocals in "Ricochet" are sweetly sung and tremendously performed. Listeners will be left longing for more.
The EP can be obtained at Gina's gigs. Visit her website for tour details, an updated gallery, further information and the latest news. With music like this and the CRS best solo artist award under her belt, perhaps hew next full length album is around the corner.
Image © Musea Records 1996
(13 April 2003) The most recent album by Luc Marianni was recorded under
the moniker 'Seltae Beat' and is a progressive epic
entitled Up And Down (Musea (France) FGBG 4185.AR,
1996). Although released as far back as 1996, it is a
timeless work with as much appeal today as when originally
released. A keen Renaissance Mk I and Yardbirds fan,
Luc also writes of their work in today's music media.
Seltae Beat is fronted by the lovely Caroline Crozat as
their lead vocalist. In addition to writing credits that
he shares with Paul Putti, Marianni provides a significant
contribution as the outfit's keyboard player. The lineup
is completed by Pascal Mulot (bass), Erci Cougand (drums),
Gilles Fegeant (guitar), Patrick Rondat (guitar), and Denis
Vendermeersch (acoustic guitar). Up And Down remarkably
clocks in at precisely one hour--60 minutes exactly!
Up And Down is a classic progresive concept album
with a story that plays out on an oil rig in the future.
Gently arranged the lyrics alternate between several languages
with the majority of the sung parts presented in English.
Further information on the storyline has been covered in
earlier reviews in both printed and internet media. While
the individual songs are appealing, it is the collection
of progressive material and stunning vocals that makes the
album most appealing.
Influences are multi-faceted but rooted in artists'
prior influences. Caroline Crozat is a superb vocalist,
with power and emotional delivery reminiscent of Tracy
itchings but with a broader and more crystalline range
that some might equate to Annie Haslam at times. Layered
vocal harmonies add texture in chorus structures of
several of the songs. While the material is clearly
progressive with rocking bits and tempo changes that
one expects, jazz influences both in songwriting and
As the 1990s came to a conclusion progressive music
began to include more significant metal edges. Marianni
took advantage of this through contributions of Patric Rondat
who is also known for is for metal work. But on Up And
Down, this only emerges in spots; it never dominates.
The lush keyboard textures, more reminscent of classic
progressive bands are more pronounced with guitar work
shining in the solos and echoing melody traditionally.
A variety of musically derived sound effects contribute
to the delivery of the storyline.
Highlights of the album clearly are the writing and
keyboard contributions of Luc Marianni and the stunning
vocal work of Caroline Crozat. Her soaring evocative
French-accented voice is immediately appealing. The
material's recurring musical themes make the album work
as a whole--with repeated listens these become even
more pronounced and enjoyable. We especially enjoyed
the album's production and treatment of Caroline's
vocals which ride atop the instrumentals and are never
outweighed by them. The vocalise parts only further
illustrate her virtuousity.
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order
the album at amazon.com
here. While Caroline Crozat has remained active musically
(our feature on the singer is planned for publication
during 2003) since the
Up And Down album with a
variety of projects, our curiousity why further albums
by Luc Marianni's Seltae Beat did not emerge remains.
Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, this album is
a must listen!