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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
Sarah Brightman
Mary Fahl
Dor Lata
Capercaillie
Artefact
Grace Griffith
Michelle Branch
Heidi Vincent
Cantamus
Aoife
Rick Wakeman
Jadis

Links
Digest Index
More Digest Entries
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Instrumental Digest
 
Harem CD Cover
Image © Angel Records 2003

More Sarah Brightman
La Luna
Encore
Classics
 

(06 June 2003) Sarah Brightman has returned with an all new recording entitled Harem (Angel Records (USA) 37180-2, 2003). Originally slated for release in March 2003, it was held back--given its theme--to give world tensions a chance to ease. The artist's stunning soprano voice has sold more than 15 million records worldwide. A musical fantasy inspired by the Middle East of legend, Harem is perhaps Brightman's most unique and personal album to date, showcasing her songwriting talents, her passionate creative instincts and her incomparable voice. The artist's website has been revamped to support the new album.

"With Harem I wanted to do something with a Middle Eastern percussive feel," says Brightman. "I am fascinated by the desert, by the space, the peace and the spirituality, all those fantastic Technicolor images from The Arabian Nights and Lawrence of Arabia, among others. It was a feeling at first but as I immersed myself in Turkish and Middle Eastern music, especially some of the new dance things that are being produced now, I became intrigued by the whole idea. I like a big cinematic feel with music and these sounds and inspirations gave me a framework with a lot of space to create with."

The album is available in CD format and, in some territories as limited edition with bonus DVD. The project features orchestral musicians from as far apart as Prague and Cairo and a host of instrumentalists from all over the world. Brightman is joined by an extraordinary galaxy of collaborating ranging from classical violin superstar Nigel Kennedy to singer Kadim Al Sahir, one of the Middle East's most important and innovative new stars. The album is produced by Frank Peterson and orchestrated by Jaz Coleman, who has broad experience working with Middle Eastern orchestras and musicians.

The title track, "Harem," dramatises the scope and imagination of the album. The song establishes a profound musical connection between Middle eastern sounds and the ancient inspirations of Portuguese fado. The luminious "The War Is Over," a song that embraces an end to the conflicts in love, eloquintly brings Sarah Brightman's voice together with that of Iraqi singer Kadim Al Sahir and the exquisite violin playing of Nigel Kennedy. Kennedy also joins Brightman on "Free," a deeply felt new song inspired by a French lyric, echoing the liberating passion that is the heart of the album.

Sarah Brightman's imagination drives a new sound for some classic hits, bathed in the Middle Eastern atmosphere that has inspired her. "Stranger in Paradise" circles back to Alexander Borodin's voluptuous Polovetzian Dances for its rich orchestral textures, cradling Brightman's shimmering voice, while "What A Wonderful World" is an audacious reinvention of a well-traveled pop anthem--edgier this time and almost melancholy. Brightman also reaches into the world of grand opera again, taking the melody of Puccini's "Un bel di" to spark the dance-inspired "It's A Beautiful Day."

Harem also includes an array of stunning new songs that echo the album's inspiration--"Beautiful," "Arabian Nights," "What You Never Know," "Mysterious Days," "Until The End Of Time," "THe Journey Home" (written by Indian film composer A. R. Rahman) and a fresh take on a song Brightman recorded earlier, "You Take My Breath Away." Like the artist's former albums, there are all-new tracks, covers, unique interpretation of classics and new versions of formerly recorded songs.

Sarah Brightman's talents are celebrated the world over; she regularly plays to packed houses in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Her work has been captured on DVDs, such as the two that support Eden and La Luna. These remain generally available. Over the last few years, she has performed more concerts in the U.S. than any other British artist and will continue to tour the U.S. in the fall of 2003 with a new stage show built around the Harem album.

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Sarah Brightman continues to be one of the leading sopranos making music today. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey like her previous material, this album is undoubtedly a must listen!

 
The Other Side Of Time CD Cover
Image © Sony Music Entertainment 2003

More Mary Fahl
Lenses Of Contact
Gods & Generals [Soundtrack]
The Guys [Soundtrack]
The Other Side Of Time
Artist's Website
 

(updated 15 June 2003). The long-awaited solo album from October Project vocalist Mary Fahl is entitled The Other Side Of Time (Sony Music Entertainment (USA) SK 89892, 2003). 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 (review), songs included on the soundtrack from Gods and Generals (review), and the soundtrack from The Guys (review).

Let's all just take a moment and thank whatever deity we might worship for singer/songwriter Mary Fahl. There, now go down to your nearest record store and pick up a copy of Mary's new album The Other Side of Time. A million different adjectives come to mind when trying to describe the new full-length release from the ex-October Project lead vocalist: evocative, lush, powerful, thought-provoking, heart-stopping, inspiring, majestic. Superlatives just don't seem to properly do this album proper justice. Suffice it to say that Mary Fahl has created a masterpiece with The Other Side of Time.

October Project fans also have reason to rejoice. Although The Other Side of Time is more orchestral and "folksy" in flavor, the breathtaking melodies of Mary's songs call to mind the best of October Project. While it is hard to forgive Sony for letting October Project go in the first place, we can almost let Sony off the hook for signing Mary Fahl as a solo artist.

So what is it that makes this album so special? First, the production and mixing (Jeffrey Lesser) are impeccable. Mary's voice is so strangely moving and nuanced that it deserves the best sort of studio recording--and fortunately Ms. Fahl's voice sounds like perfection on this album. Second, the vast array of instrumentation featured on the album (including guitars, keyboards, drums, and orchestra) are beautifully recorded and mixed. Third, Mary and her co-writers are expertly skilled at writing incredible music and eloquent lyrics. Combine all of these factors together, and what emerges is one of the best albums to be released this year.

With dramatic and sweeping songs like "In the Great Unknown," "Going Home" from the motion picture Gods and Generals and "The Other Side of Time," Mary expertly pulls the heartstrings, drawing forth a variety of emotions ranging from the poignant to the exultant. In fact, it is hard not to completely loose one's sense of the present when listening to "The Other Side of Time." In addition to these filmesque tracks, Ms. Fahl wisely adds dashes of the exotic with the middle-eastern tinged "Ben Aindi Habibi," whose lyrics are based upon Moorish erotic poetry, and the Donizetti favorite "Una Furtiva Lagrima." Mary even displays her Americana/British Isles folk influences in the jaunty "Annie, Roll Down Your Window," which is about Mary's relationship with her sister.

Like an ever-present beacon, Mary's sublime and unique voice carries the listener on myriad journeys. Enough good cannot be said about The Other Side of Time or Mary's singular and blessed voice. This is an album that deserves to go down in history as a classic. We can confidently predict that "The Other Side of Time" will be listened to by those who appreciate superb music now and far into the future. Get this album and cherish it!--Justin Elswick

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. An album whose exploration is worth a trans-Atlantic journey, Mary Fahl's long-awaited debut is clearly a must-listen!

 
Different Life CD Cover
Image © Dor Lata 2003

More Dor Lata
Interview
Love Her Madly

 

(22 June 2003) Dor Lata is not a typical New Yorker nor is she a typical New York musician. On the heels of her stunning track "The Spy" featured in the Skipping Discs Love Her Madly collection (review) Dor has released her debut album. A collection of ten alternative singer songwriter tracks, the material on Different Life (Dor Lata (USA) DL0902, 2003) spans pop and rock.

Dor Lata brings an acclaimed East-European style to catchy, melody and lyrically meaningful pop and rock songs. Though Dor was classically educated (interview) and studied formal opera training while growing up in Poland, she maintained a strong connection throughout her teenage years to the soul, R*B and rock in the U.S. and U.K. After completing her schooling, Dor performed on the road touring for three years throughout Europe and Canada. She settled in New York City in 1990 and recently became a US citizen. She continues to maintain an important connection to her musical and cultural heritage in Poland and the Polish community in NYC.

Different Life is clearly a solo album. Dor contributes all lead vocals and we are assuming guitar parts as well. The other musicians' contributions are not clear from the album's artwork. Nevertheless the material is professionally recorded and very well produced. The album opens with an upbeat bluesy-edged rock track "Hypnotize Me" with a strong hook. We thought of Michelle Young's work several times when listening to it. The title track, "I'm Different Now," is an accessible light rocker, again with a strong hook. Dor's powerful soaring lead vocal is supported by lush harmony layers. The verse/chorus structure perfectly suits the evocative track "Love Would Never Leave Me" continues to illustrate Dor's vocal virtuousity.

"The Only One" is the album's first ballad. Accompanied by acoustic and electric guitar and light percussion it highlights the range of Dor's sensual voice. "Stay" is a tender and the gentlest ballad sung primarily over acoustic guitar with everso light keyboard and percussion joining as the song develops. "In Your Shadow" is a dramatic number with effects and Dor's powerfully emotional delivery contributing to the sensitivity of the lyrical content.

We especially enjoyed "I'll Be Alright," a powerfully arranged guitar-laced rock track. Dor's lead is perfectly supported by instrumentals and light harmony layers. The Polish version "Mam Tego Dosc" is equally superb! The guitar work in both is most notable. Crisp percussion underscores Dor's crystalline vocal texture in "Prophecy." Again the guitar work is superb. The gentle rocker "Innocent Days" features the rhythm section with crisp percussion and powerful bass driving the tune. Lush pop-style harmony vocals contribute to a great sound.

In addition to soundbites, videos and further photographs are available at the artist's website. Dor Lata's debut album should be explored further. The album can be obtained through the artist's website and other online retailers. Worthy of a trans-Atlantic journey, we think it is a must listen!

 
Choice Language CD Cover
Image © Vertical Records 2003
Sanctuary Records Group 2003


Capercaillie
Image © Vertical Records 2003

More Capercaillie Reviews:
Dusk Until Dawn
Glenfinnan
Nadurra
Capercaillie Collection [DVD]
Live In Concert
Guildhall, Southampton, 1997
Fernham Hall, Fareham, 2001

 

(11 May 2003) Choice Language (Vertical Records (UK) VRTCD006, 2003) is the title of the new twelve track album by Celtic supergroup Capercaillie. The title conveys the band's long standing links with the Gaelic tradition and also the modern interpretation of ancient songs and tunes that has become the band's trademark. The first album of all new material since Nadurra, it will quickly become the must have addition to existing fans' collections and open others ears to the Capercaillie sound.

The band has moved their unique brand of fusion and crossover to another level. Samples, loops and strong grooves are used exstensively alongside the familiar mix of instrumentation -- fiddle, uillean pips -- and of course the stunning voice of Karen Matheson. There is a maturity and confidence about Choice Language. Observe the new feel of the music created around a stronger-than-ever rhythm section: Che Beresford (drums), Ewen Vernel (bass) and David "Chimp" Robertson (percussion). Stalwarts of the lineup remain Donald Shaw (accordion, keyboard), Charlie McKerron (fiddle), Manus Lunny (bouzouki) and Michael McGoldrick (flute and pipe).

The album was recorded over the last nine months beginning in Porto Ullise, Sardinia and then continuoing on to Donegal, Aviemore and at Secret Music Studios in Glasgow. The album is viewed by the band as their most ambitious in their twenty-year musical career. Listened to by our editorial staff for the last month, we can clearly say that it is a masterpiece and a certain step forward for the band.

We especially like the way that Capercaillie have woven traditional material with modern interpretation. A unique balance of upbeat instrumentals complement gentle vocally intense ballads and tunes that are midway between the two. The lyrics are similarly balanced with English and Gaelic both present in the project alternating effectively in a way that will clearly please the band's audience.

Karen Matheson is in extremely fine form on lead vocals and listeners will explore her entire vocal range enjoying this album. Instrumentals are well arranged, never overpowering the vocals and effectively isolated to ensure that the intracies of the various players contributions can be heard. Production quality can not be topped. Make no mistake about it, this album follows in the vein of those that precede it but it does take a giant step forward.

Capercaillie's music has long been the standing definition of progressive Celtic. Groove influences emerge in the Gaelic textured tune that opens the album, "Mile Marbhaisg," a traditional tune arranged by Capercaillie. "The old crone (Port na Caillich)" is a rapid Celtic crossover tune full of lush harmonies, great whistle excursions and feet-tapping instrumentals. "At dawn of day" continues to develop the sound but with even more striking vocal work, while "The boy who" continues the migration with an English lyric.

The album includes several lovely Karen Matheson-centered ballads such as "Little do they know," "Nuair a chi thu caileag bhoidreach," and the gentle closing acoustic ballad "I Will Set My Ship In Order" that features a great vocal part supported by rhythmic acoustic-style guitar, whistle and equivalantly stunning uillean pipe part.

Like their former albums several of the tracks are ultimately accessible, have unmistakable hooks and stand out. The mid-tempo ballad "Who Will Raise Their Voice?" is clearly one of them. And while Capercaillie's vocal numbers are most appealing to many, their instrumentals can not be overlooked. The robust penultimate track from which the title had originally been derived "Sort of slides" is a tremendous statement to the instrumentalists' virtuousity as is "Mooney's Reel" two tracks that will capture the Celtic imagination of any listener. The accordion-flavoured "The Sound of Sleat" is also tremendous.

Three years since their last studio album, Choice Language was clearly worth the wait. The music of Capercaillie--spanning a vast range of albums--is clearly worth exploration. Interested visitors should start with one of the collections after listening to the new album. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com (UK) here. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, Choice Language is a must listen!

 
One Of A Kind CD Cover
Image © M. J. Schram 2003



















Precious Things CD Cover
Image © Alienstyle Music 2001
 

(28 June 2003) One of a Kind. This six-track release is a welcome taste of new Artefact music. Featuring vocalist Shamangi, "One of a Kind" is a more mature and varied album than Precious Things. It is refreshing to see Maxim Schram and company develop the band's sound without abandonning the elements that make Artefact such a great act. In addition to Shamangi, and producer and composer Maxim Schram, the band also includes double bass player Thijs Willemsen and drummer Paul van Gerven.

By and large, as with the outfit's debut, the music remains within the electronic realm. Nevertheless by drawing upon a wider palette of instrumentation--drums, bass, and more diverse synth samples--Artefact have actually created a more contemporary and nuanced sound. Even the melodies are more positive in tone.

"Little One" is a soulful song utilizing drum-and-bass percussion and creamy synths. "The Life" is a highly enjoyable remake of the Wendy and Lisa--former band members of Prince--song that moves and rocks steadily. "One of a Kind" is probably the track that stays closest to the sound of Artefact's earlier album Precious Things.

The addition of turntable scratches, piano fingerings and vocal sample loops still makes it slightly more cutting-edge. "It says it all" is a Morcheeba-esque funky-flavored number that nicely stands out from the other tracks. "I Just Wonder" is a terrific song blending strings, electronic chimes and downtempo percussion. Finally the closing track, "When Francis Speaks (Planet Bliss 'More Karma" Remix)," is a refreshing, brighter and more ambient remix of "When Francis Speaks" from the debut album. Again, Artefact have shown themselves to be on the cutting edge of the electronic/pop scene.--Justin Elswick

Precious Things. No longer actively published or promoted, Artefact's debut album Precious Things (Alienstyle (Netherlands) artdisc-x01, 2001) should be pursued by Musical Discoveries vistors. Hailing from the Netherlands, electronica outfit Artefact is a band that rightly deserves serious notice.

The album Precious Things is the product of a collaboration between producer Maxim and then-vocalist Yvette Roovers (not part of Artefact any longer). Combining hypnotic percussion and lush string and synth layers, Precious Things is a delicious sonic feast. Although angelic in tone, the album maintains a haunting and melancholy ambience thanks in large part to the Yvette's pristine and crystalline voice and Maxim's clever programming and arrangements.

Most of the songs rely upon minor chords and pulsing beats, creating a winning combination that will appeal to fans of Balligomingo and other female-vox electronica. "When Francis Speaks," the opening song on the album, features a captivating melody, stunning instrumentation and meaningful lyrics. In similar vein, tracks like "A Solitary Life" and "An Angel Sings" pulse and throb with elegant intensity.

The industrial-influenced "Take My Time" is a bit more aggressive and would sit comfortably next to groups like Collide (review) or Rhea's Obssession. The dazzling "Purification" moves very close to the darkwave spectrum--ghostly and seductive.

There's no denying that Precious Things is a finely realized and produced album. Artefact manage to perfectly balance the iciness and minimalism of whirring electronica with the heat of passionate lyrics and vocals. An excellent listen from start to finish!

Artefact became the best new Dutch act by winning "De Grote Prijs van Nederland", the most important music contest of The Netherlands. Thankfully, Artefact appear to be gaining the attention they so justifiably deserve.--Justin Elswick

 
Sands Of Time CD Cover
Image © Blix Street Records 2003

More Grace Griffith
Grace
Minstrel Song
Interview
 

(17 June 2003) The latest release from Grace Griffith is entitled Sands Of Time (Blix Street Records (USA), 2003). 'Hear' is (sings) the melodic gravity of vocal impressionism. The quintessence of 'grace-force' (the 'G' factor), of audio CD higher realm frequency distribution -- Grace Griffith!

Produced by the hearing adroitness (the sound dexterity) of Chris Biondo, Marcy Marxer, and Lenny Williams, Sands Of Time features eleven-plus voice trail tracks that will linger in the listener's mind long after the songs have been sung.

Beginning with the first artistic movement, "Carry You" (written by Leslie Phillips), Griffith expresses herself with the vocal intensity and chromatic color of employed Music Polarization Audio Response Patterns, which in grace-force terminology means: she becomes, a vocal magnet.

Listen to "Make My Garden Grow" (music written by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics Richard Wilbur) or "Moment Of Forever" (writers: Kris Kristofferson and Danny Timms) -- both of these songs represent Griffith’s unique singing attraction. ‘Hear’ she magnetizes the listener with the vocal gravity (choice) of good songs and the 'G' factor--a Great voice!

The musicians awe and awe are outstanding. Of note: Lenny Williams for best dramatic piano; Chris Biondo for producer plays bass; Fred Lieder-cello; Tommy Cecil for stand-up and stand-out bass performance and Marcy Marxer-congas, shaker, guitar, vocal harmonies, whistle, wind chimes, bouzouki, accordion, and yes one more, the mandolin!

A hierarchical CD of beauty awareness, Sands Of Time is the song-work of many hands (the musicians) moving the soul-work (which is Griffith) through the artwork of writers, into the songs of time!--Steven Digman

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Clearly worth a journey, the album is a very nice listen!

 
The Spirit Room CD Cover
Image © Maverick Recording Co. 2003 
 

(07 June 2003) Is the music industry constantly pushing false images and manufactured anthems at teenage girls? Some have been hesitant to approach Michelle Branch and indeed it has been almost two years since her debut album was released. "She is clearly Maverick Records answer to Britney Spears," one teenager writes. Branch's debut album, The Spirit Room (Maverick Records (USA) 9 47985-3, 2001) is an enhanced eleven track collection of pop-oriented tunes. The material will certainly appeal Vanessa Carlton (review) and Avril Lavigne (review) enthusiasts.

Michelle writes with as much honesty and awkwardness as any teenage girl feels every day. The songs are quite relateable, and she doesn't seem to be some supergirl who peers could never aspire to be or meet or know. She's just a regular girl, singing regular songs about regular feelings. Since release, Branch has had profound success. A new album is scheduled for release mid-2003.

It's no surprise that "Everywhere" was the first single from the album. Pop radio has loved it for it's incredibly catchy hooks, and alternative radio has picked it up because it's a pretty girl with a guitar. A great song, Michelle's unique voice packs a ton of emotion. "You Get Me" is an the awkward teen girl song. These lyrics are amazing ('so i'm a little left of center/i'm a little out of tune/some say i'm paranormal/so i just bend their spoon/who wants to be ordinary/in a crazy, mixed-up world/i don't care what they're sayin'/as long as i'm your girl'), as though she's accepted her uniqueness and is embracing it, rather than hiding from it. Interestingly at home in The Gilmore Girls another track beat this one to the punch.

"All You Wanted" is a well-crafted song for teenage outcast girls to relate to. The poignant lyrics relate to a girl trying to save a boy from the popular crowd, who are so empty and shallow inside, because she knows he is more than that. In "You Set Me Free," despite lyrical mishaps, Michelle's vocal ability and lush--Corrs-like--vocal harmonies save this song.

In "Something to Sleep To" there is a change of pace from songs that rhyme love with above. Michelle's voice is haunting and melodic at the same time, and her confusion makes this more of a story than a song. The beats in "Here With Me" are more hip-hop than rock, which gives it an interesting feel. Lush layers of well-produced vocal harmonies return in the rocking chorus.

"Sweet Misery" is a reworked version of a track from Michelle's independant release, Broken Bracelet. The original version was a bit better, though less polished, and this heavily produced track falls a bit flat because it removed the guitar, angst feel from the original.

"If Only She Knew" resonates with everything falling into place, with the guitars, vocals and lyrics all working together. It will immediately convert fans of other pop chicks to Michelle's tunes. The thoughtful lyrics of "I'd Rather Be In Love" demonstrate a maturity beyond Michelle's eighteen year age. "Goodbye To You" is another girly, coming-of-age song. About breaking up with a first love, Michelle manages to capture all the contrasting feelings that go along with that situation in this heartbreaker.

The album concludes with the mellow "Drop In The Ocean," perfect to close the album. Michelle Branch has clearly made a mark since this album's release. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Michelle Branch continues to be one of the leading singers in pop music today. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, this debut album is undoubtedly a must listen!

 
Heidi Vincent - This Time - CD Cover
Image © Heidi Vincent 2003

More Heidi Vincent:
Happy Now 2006


Image © Heidi Vincent 2003

 

(updated 28 January 2004) Coming from a musical family and growing up on a healthy diet of The Beatles, Cranberries, Elvis, Annie Lennox and U2 certainly inspired the musical aspirations of Heidi Vincent. After a decade of cultivating her vocal style, Heidi began writing poetry at the age of seventeen and developed her songwriting skills with a guitar in 1999. Over the years, her composition style evolved into a series of intimate portraits of her life and experiences as an artist and human being. Her work was brought to Musical Discoveries attention by Vic Levak (Balligomingo).

2001 saw the release of Heidi Vincent’s self-titled EP, which was produced by Vic Levak (Delerium, Balligomingo). Heidi supported the EP with a series of stellar performances throughout the year. Heidi was further featured on Eric Moran's 2001 film, Where High Meets Low. The film includes nine intimate acoustic songs by Heidi, which have additionally received airplay by the BBC and several west coast radio stations.

The wait will be over soon, as Heidi Vincent releases her full-length CD This Time. With this collection of new songs, Heidi promises to engage the listener with a dynamic blend of textured melodies and rich infectious guitar licks over groove-laden beats. Heidi has a remarkable vocal versatility that is powerful and demands attention yet can be candid, uncomplicated and sometimes naive. Lyrically she depicts life experiences and takes the audience on a personal musical journey.

From the poignant vulnerability expressed in "Star," to the request for absolution in "Human," Heidi captures the listener immediately. Heidi's remarkable vocal versatility and lyrics draw the listener into the realm of life's struggles and emotions. The final selection from the demo is "Girl," a tender rock-oriented and evocatively sung ballad. Lovers of the latter day 10,000 Maniacs' material will adore these recordings.

Heidi Vincent is a musical talent deeply committed to maintaining the integrity of her art. As you listen to her music, you will hear the potential this aspiring artist offers. A truly talented Canadian singer-songwriter is set to emerge. Listen, believe, support and embrace the passionate music of Heidi Vincent. Return to Musical Discoveries for our review of the full length album as soon as it is released in the spring of 2004.

 
Aurora CD Cover
Image © Warner Music UK Ltd 2001
click on image to visit Sarah Class website
 
 

Canatamus is the 45 member female choir based in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire whose music is sure to appeal to fans of Adiemus and Sarah Brightman. With the release of the sublime Aurora, (Warner Music Ltd (UK) 8573-87312-2, 2001) Cantamus looked poised to take over the world of classical crossover. The director of Cantamus, Pamela Cook, studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London.

Aurora's nine tracks were composed by the gifted Sarah Class who deserves the highest praise for her melodious and lush compostitions. Ms. Class gained a BA (Hons) music degree from the Bishop Otter College in Sussex and since graduating Sarah has worked in Europe and North America on a number of film and TV projects.

Aurora is a vivid and striking collection of songs featuring the choir backed by the London Mozart Players. Opening with the hypnotic and epic "Aurora," the album transports listeners through a series of romantic and cinematique musical vignettes. "Summer Song," the second piece, is one of the most lovely songs this reviewer has had the pleasure of hearing in some time. Sounding like a poignant Simon and Garfunkel folk ballad arranged for orchestra, piano, solist, and choir, "Summer Song" recounts the emotions of life through the changing of the seasons.

The three tracks comprising the "Spanish Suite" (El Viaje, Astralucia, and Algun otro sitio) are picturesque and bold, combining spanish guitar, dense strings, and Gregorian flavored vocals. The three Closing tracks, Symphonie Lumiere, Beautiful Peace, and In My Dreams provide a serene and dreamy ending to the album.

Aurora is an exceptional neo-classical project that should appeal to a wide range of listeners. With its soundtrack-like splendour and vibrant vocal work, Aurora deserves a wide audience. Based upon this stunning release, We are eager to further work from Cantamus in the future.

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.co.uk here.  

Aiofe CD Cover
Image © Celtic Collections 2003 
 

(11 May 2003) Irish chanteuse Aoife Ni Fhearraigh (Aoife Ferry) has returned with the follow-up to her 1996 self-titled album. Her new album, entitled The Turning of the Tide is a gentle and beautifully conceived collection of fifteen songs ranging from the traditional to the contemporary.

Hailing from the same town as Enya and Máire Brennan/Clannad (Gweedore--County Donegal, Ireland), Aoife actually took singing lessons from Enya and Máire's mother, "Baba" Brennan. Gweedore is a "gaeltacht" area in Ireland where the Irish language and Irish culture still maintain a strong presence. Aoife began singing at a young age in the local church choir, St. Mary’s Derrybeg (where she is still a member). Encouraged be her parents to follow her musical interests, Aoife absorbed much of the traditional music of the area, gaining a great appreciation for it.

Aoife released her first album in 1991 Loinneog Cheoil (available on cassette only). The Irish label Gael Linn took notice and made it possible for Aoife to release her follow-up album Aoife in 1996. Produced by Máire Brennan and Denis Woods, Aoife was a lush and textured album of traditional Irish melodies.

Since the release of the album Aoife, she has toured and performed in Holland, Germany, Brittany, England and Ireland. Aoife has also recorded with many other artists (in Irish and English) such as Larry Hogan/Stuart Wilde, Liam Lawton, Manus Lunny, Tim Wheater, James Galway, and Phil Coulter. Upon hearing Aoife's crystalline and compelling voice, it becomes clear why she has been a such sought-after vocalist.

The Turning of the Tide is largely an album of covers including the traditional folk standard "Danny Boy" (featuring Phil Coulter on piano), The Birds "Turn Turn Turn," and a new version of Loreena McKennitt's "Bonny Portmore." Aoife is backed by fine instrumentalists including Ivan Gilliland (Guitar), Brendan Monaghan (Pipes and Whistles), John Fitzpatrick (Viola) and Neil Martin (Cello) throughout.

The end result is a fine album that will appeal to fans of Enya and Clannad as well as those who prefer a more folk/traditional style. We can only see good things in the future for Aoife.--Justin Elswick

 
Out There CD Cover
Image © Music Fusion 2003

Concert Review

 

(11 May 2003) This is very much a return to form for Rick Wakeman, harkening back as it does to some of his classic 70s albums like Journey, Six Wives and especially No Earthly Connection. Indeed this album is a continuation of sorts of the themes explored in the latter.

The sleeve notes reveal a couple of other hitherto unknown facts. Namely that Rick has connections with members of NASA, and certain albums have been taken aboard some of the space shuttle missions and played by the astronauts: 2000 AD and Journey to be precise. I was also surprised to learn that this album has been in the works since 1997. Finally, because of Rick's friendship with some of the astronauts, he was as horrified as anyone else at the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and dedicates this album to their memory.

The epic opening track Out There starts with some spacey, mysterious synth chords, before kicking into gear with some crashing, descending organ notes, leading us into the main theme. What follows is a wonderful anthemic keyboard motif from Rick, ably backed up by some powerful guitar chords from Ant Glynne, giving this one a slightly metal feel to it. The song is propelled along by the stunning vocals of Damien Wilson, an extremely versatile singer who has played with bands as diverse as Landmarq, Threshold, Ayreon, numerous guest appearances and even a stint as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. And anyone who knows the show will know just what a difficult role that is.

My only problem with this track is that it does have a tendency to stop just as it starts to get interesting, and then kick off again with a reprise of the main theme. However, the finale is quite stunning, with some wonderful, stately, mellotron chords from Rick, and Damien singing his lungs out, backed by the English Chamber Choir. It all comes to a satisfying conclusion with some soaring guitar lines from Ant Glynne.

"The Mission" has a lovely funky, almost danceable quality to it. There are times on this one that Damien sounds uncannily like Jon Anderson. Rick almost appears to take a back seat on this one, giving Ant Glynne a chance to shine with another stunning solo. However, this is soon rectified when he provides us with some great Hammond organ towards the end.

Spacey, echoey electronic drums take us into To Be With You. A gentle, laid back piece with a very appealing chorus, with Damien's vocals again accompanied by the haunting qualities of the English Chamber Choir. This serves to give the track a wonderful nostalgic quality, reminiscent as it is of some of the material on the King Arthur or Journey albums.

"Universe Of Sound" is a real fast paced rocker, with some complex dual guitar and bass lines from Ant Glynne and Lee Pomeroy. This is a lyrically complex song, and Damien Wilson does a marvellous job here, hitting every note and cue perfectly.This one careers along at breakneck speed towards a lightning-fast keyboard/guitar duel between Rick and Ant Glynne. Great stuff, and probably my favourite track on the album.

"Music Of love" is another rocker, though a little more mid paced this time. Another vocally dense track, Damien really has his work cut out on this one, but is more than up to the task. Rick provides a superb, spacey moog solo here, once again trading notes with Ant Glynne. Some flamboyant pipe organ heralds the beginning of the second epic track off the album, "Cathedral Of The Sky."

This song alternates between vocal passages sung by the English Chamber Choir and Damien's more conventional lead vocals. This is probably a track that would not sound out of place on either of the Journey albums, an epic in every sense of the word. Rick's pipe organ dominates throughout the entire track, save for some piano work near the end. No dizzying moog solos here, it's as though Rick has made a determined effort to use acoustic based instruments to get that authentic classical flavour for this one, and to this end he succeeds admirably.

Those of you who are fans of Rick's early and mid-seventies works will find much to enjoy here --John Morley. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, this incredible new album from Rick Wakeman harkens back to the classic progressive rock era. It is a must listen!

Live at the Ashcroft Theatre Croydon 30 April 2003

Review. It was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me tonight since the last time I saw one of Rick's solo concerts was in Liverpool in 1976, and Ashley Holt was vocalist on that occasion too. Tonight's venue is the smaller of the two theatres in the Fairfield Halls complex. It's a pretty decent sized venue though, with quite a large stage area. At least it probably was before Rick's massive keyboard rig dominated it. There was barely any room on the stage for the other guys to stand, and Tony Fernandez was tucked right into the far corner of the stage. It was fun watching Ashley Holt trying to gingerly negotiate his way around the keyboard rig for the opening number and was not the most dignified entrance.

On the subject of Ashley Holt, he apparently stepped in at short notice after Damien Wilson pulled out for reasons as yet unknown. This was a big disappointment for me. No offence to Ashley, but their vocal styles and ranges are completely opposite, and I was not sure how Ashley was going to handle singing tracks from the new album. It must have been a daunting task for him, and it was good of him to step in and help out. It's just that after spending a couple of weeks getting into the new album, I was looking forward to hearing Damien perform the new stuff, especially as I have never seen him live before.

After a taped intro, we were treated to a medley of some of the best bits from the first side of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. I do like the 'stripped down' format of just bass, drums, guitar and keyboards for these gigs, I think it forces the musicians to come up with inventive ways of reproducing tracks that initially were recorded with multiple musicians, orchestras and choirs. This was a decent reading of the track, not too different to the versions I have heard of some of the recent live albums. At this point I was quite impressed with Ashley, he seemed to be quite comfortable singing this one. Rick's fingers were a blur as usual, darting as he was from keyboard to keyboard in his sparkly jacket.

A little bit of Rick's trademark between song banter followed. Always entertaining, even if it is a bit end-of-the-pier at times. Then it was straight in to two tracks from No Earthly Connection "The Realisation" and "The Spaceman" were the tracks played, the former with a nice bit of guitar from Ant Glynne, and an aggressive vocal performance from Ashley.

The next piece was supposed to be "Catherine Parr." It started off fine, until some horrible noises started to come from one of Rick's keyboards. This brought the song to an abrupt halt, and Rick joked that there might be a short interval. And in fact, that was what we got. Up came the lights, and off we wandered to the bar. Once the technical problems were sorted, we were off and running again, and back into a rousing version of "Catherine Parr" (with a curious little diversion as Rick insisted on playing the last note of the previous song first). This is one of my, and I am sure a lot of other peoples, all time fave Rick Wakeman tracks, and it really benefits from the addition of Ant Glynne's powerful guitar. The first disappointment of the evening was up next, the title track from Out There. Nothing wrong with the instrumentation, but it was painfully obvious that Ashley's vocals were not at all suited to this song at all. He was forced to sing it in a much lower register than usual, and it did not sound good.

At this point I should mention the stage design. For a small theatre the stage show was pretty impressive, a very good light show, video projections, and a handy little camera placed near one of Rick's synths that gave us a close up view of his nimble fingers darting across the keys.

And then we had the second interval of the evening. Could not help feeling a little peeved at this point, because we had already had a 20 minute unscheduled interval about 15 minutes before, and I would have thought this one could have been at least shortened. However, once we were settled back into our seats, some funky drumming from Tony Fernandez took us into an energetic version of "White Rock."

And then the evenings second major disappointment: the dreaded drum solo. My first thought was you have got to be kidding, we have already lost 20 minutes out of the set because of the technical problems, so I would have thought someone backstage would have made the decision to drop this tonight. But it was not to be, and on it went for seven rather ordinary and uneventful minutes.

A medley of a couple of tracks from Arthur was up next. To my ears this did not seem to come across very well. It seemed to me that the energy level on stage was flagging, Rick missed a couple of cues towards the end, Ashley seemed to be struggling a little now, and I was just not particularly fond of the overall arrangement of the piece. Maybe I am being unfair, perhaps I was still smarting over being subjected to the drum solo.

Things improved very much with the next track, "Dance Of a Thousand Lights" from Return, played solo on the piano by Rick, with a taped orchestral accompaniment. After the last couple of below par efforts, this was a refreshing change. Another track from Out There followed next, "Cathedral Of The Sky." Some nice pipe organ work from Rick, with the addition of some sampled choral accompaniment provided by one of the backstage boys. Ashley seemed to make a better job of this one, but did flag somewhat towards the end. I did feel for him though, he did give it his all. It looked like he was going to burst a blood vessel at some points.

The closing track was a rocked up version of "Merlin The Magician." Very different from the original, but I quite liked it actually. Rick's flair for showmanship came to the fore here, as he left the stage with his portable keyboard, came into the audience, turfed a guy out of his seat a couple of rows behind us and sat in it--all the time still playing and never missing a beat. It got slightly embarrassing when he pulled a lady out of the audience on to the stage, though. She seemed somewhat confused as to why she was there, and what he wanted her to do. It took Ashley to step in and explain she needed to hold her hands out so Rick could rest his keyboard on them and play the last few notes of the song. But it was entertaining, and a very good version of the song.

For the encore, we got an epic version of "Starship Trooper." Surprisingly, I thought Ashley sounded quite good on this one, and Lee Pomeroy got a chance to shine here too with some incredibly fast, intricate bass work. Ant Glynne decided to go walkabout round the back of the theatre on this one while playing his guitar--or perhaps he was just looking for the toilet. A very satisfying end to the show.

Apart from a couple of gripes I have already mentioned, this was a very enjoyable gig. There is certainly no doubting Rick's musical prowess, and the rest of the band were more than up to the task of providing a solid foundation for Rick's legendary keyboard skills.--John Morley

 
Fanatic CD Cover
Image © InsideOut Music America 2003

Concert Review

 

(11 May 2003) Well, what can one say about a new Jadis album? I do like this band very much and find their brand of accessible, almost poppy prog rock very appealing, and very summery. It's just the sort of bright, breezy and uplifting music that makes me want to sit out in the garden on a hot day and relax. It's with that thought in mind that I have decided to write this review in my back garden on a wonderful summer Sunday afternoon, just to get me in the right mood.

On first listen, I often find Jadis albums slightly formulaic and occasionally samey. But you usually need to spend a little time with them for them to sink in and truly appreciate them. That was very much the case with this album. I initially thought here we go again. All the usual trademarks are there; the Chandler/Orford harmonies, the jangly guitars, the catchy melodies etc. But I have lived with this album for a whole week now, and I would say it is certainly as good as anything they have done up until now.

Opener "The Great Outside" is a rousing, mid-paced rocker, with a raunchy, almost Zeppelin-like opening riff, giving way to some soaring guitar lines from Gary. A very good song, but the best is yet to come. "Into Temptation" kicks off with some bright, clean guitar chords before settling down into a bouncy little number. And is it me, or did the main riff seem slightly reminiscent of Zeppelin's "Black Dog"? Hmmm, there's another Zeppelin reference. Gary pulls off a couple of superb solos on this one, the second one very heavy on the wah-wah, building to a superb crescendo near the end that I know is just going to sound terrific live.

"Each And Everyday" begins with some retro-style drum machine sounds, but Gary's voice is really on top form here. We get some of the trademark 'na-na-na' vocals again, but who's complaining? A gentle, laid back song that just gets better each time I hear it. Some intricate drum rhythms signal the opening to "I Never Noticed." A very listenable song, but it has yet to grow on me. It bounces along quite merrily and Gary's guitar work (slightly Dave Gilmour-ish here) is always top notch, ncluding some wonderful harmonics. I believe this track also contains the only keyboard solo on the album.

The title track, however, is the piece de resistance. It starts with some spacey, treated piano from Martin Orford, with some gentle sequencer rhythms chugging along in the background. Close your eyes and you would swear you were listening to Tangerine Dream. For a while it seems as though the song is going to happily continue in this vein, until some ethereal keyboards take centre stage, leading us into what is possibly one of the best, and most exquisite guitar solo's I have heard for years. The sheer emotion that Gary rips out of his guitar on this one almost had me in tears. I suspect Gary must be influenced somewhat by Andy Latimer of Camel, as it is highly reminiscent of Andy's style of guitar playing.

Some more of Gary's beloved guitar arpeggios take us into "Yourself Alone," another favourite track. This has a superbly catchy chorus that has been going round in my head for a couple of days now. I can certainly see myself singing along to this one at the next gig. "Take These Words" is another bright and breezy number that has some more wonderful guitar lines from Gary. I suppose you could describe this track as proto-typical Jadis, as it contains all of the familiar elements Those who like the band will love it, those who don't won't--it's that simple.

"What Kind Of Reason" is the longest track on the album, and one which took me a while to warm to, but I really like it now. It begins as a very laid back acoustic number, but Gary's voice really shines on this one, very powerful and emotional. As if this was not enough, he also throws in another blistering guitar solo.

It's at this point that I thought the album took a bit of a dip in quality. "Who Can We Be Sure Of" just did not work for me. The slightly dissonant nature of the chorus seemed at odds with the rest of the material on the album, and there seemed to be a few too many superfluous changes thrown in. Similarly with the closing track, "The Flame Is Burning Out." This one again seemed to be trying to be just a little too heavy for my tastes.

A fine album then, with perhaps just a couple of below par tracks. Like most of Jadis output, it will please fans of the band most certainly, though is unlikely to win many new converts. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. But if like me you are one of the converted, there is much here to enjoy.--John Morley

Jadis: Live at The Brook, Southampton, 07 May 2003

Review. You know, I am beginning to feel like the Alan Whicker of progressive music, travelling to all these far-flung exotic locations to spread the good word to wonderful people out there. And this journey took me to the outer reaches of Southampton--The Brook in Southampton to be exact, to see Jadis.

A taped intro heralds the arrival of Jadis on stage, it actually being a section of the title track from the new album Fanatic. I had hoped that they may actually play this track, but it was not to be. Shame, as in my opinion it contains some of the best guitar work Gary Chandler has ever done.

In fact, the opening track was "Yourself Alone," another piece from the new album. Heavier live than on record, it has one of those wonderful sing along choruses that the band seem able to produce quite effortlessly. A very good opener. "Where In The World" followed, an efficient reading of the song, but I have heard them play it better. Seems at this point as though the band still need to warm up and hit their stride.

A word about the sound at this point: The Brook being a reasonably small venue, it cannot be easy to get a decent mix. The effect that came across that night is that the drums seemed to dominate. I could not hear John Jowitt's bass as well as I would have liked, similarly with Martin Orford's keyboards. Gary's guitar was coming through loud and clear, though. Not a terrible mix, but not the greatest.

"Take These Words" was up next, another new track. I am glad I have spent time with the new album this past week, as this is where the band really started to come alive. Gary's guitar work on this one was nothing short of excellent, and drummer Steve Christey was kicking up hell of a storm at the back. Guess they have just hit their stride

Another great favourite and Jadis standard is "Daylight fades," with those familiar jangly opening chords. It's a wonderful, uplifting piece of music with yet another appealing chorus and again some great guitar work from Gary. "What Kind Of Reason" then slowed the pace down somewhat, starting out as a gentle acoustic number, but with some passionate singing from Gary, and a rousing guitar solo to bring the song to a satisfying conclusion.

A mention must go here to the more than capable vocal talents of Martin Orford--as well as being a superb keyboard player, his backup vocals more than adequately compliment Gary's singing. They manage to produce some exquisite harmonies between them. It was at this point that I realised that sitting in the balcony was a bit of a double edged sword. Yes, it was nice to sit down and get a good view of the band, but it appeared to me that a lot of the people upstairs were not actually fans of the band, rather people who had just wandered in to see what was going on.

One of my all time fave Jadis songs is "Wonderful World," from the album More Than Meets The Eye. Tonight's version was a powerful, emotional tour-de-force. Steve Christey really shone on this one, producing some superb drum fills, effortlessly tearing across his kit with lightning speed. Gary appeared to be making his guitar literally sing h here--absolutely mesmerising. This is Jadis at their best, firing on all six cylinders. Some intensely emotional vocals from Gary signal the opening of "In Isolation," a track that always reminds me of Genesis' "Squonk." An efficient, if occasionally messy, version of the song.

Talking of favourites, we also got my all time favourite Jadis track "Sleepwalk." I just love this one, and they didn't disappoint. This was perfection itself. I was jumping around in my chair and playing imaginary drums and guitar on this one, but dammit I was enjoying myself even if no one else around me was making an effort. For an encore, we got another of the bands classic epics, "The Beginning And The End." A guy sitting next to me remarked that this is as good as anything Yes, Genesis, Floyd etc have ever written. And who am I to argue? Gary's guitar was spot on here, effortlessly switching between gentle chords and searing, melodic solos whilst often singing at the same time. And the solo at the end of this one was one of the best of the evening.

Sadly, it was a rather short set, about 100 minutes worth, but 100 minutes of sheer quality. Rather than leaving me with a sense of disappointment, it just left me anxious to see them again--and soon.--John Morley

 
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