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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
Delerium
Katie Melua
Miriam Stockley
Renfey
Aileen Paron
Enigma
Vixen
Sarah Brightman
Norah Jones
Rachel Z
Mostly Autumn
Maria Miller

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Nuages Du Monde CD Cover
Image © Nettwerk Productions 2006

More Delerium:
Best Of Delerium (2004)
Chimera (2003)
Odyssey (2002)
Karma (1997)
Semantic Spaces (1994)

 

(19 January 2006) There aren't a lot of musicians who actually start a trend, but as Delerium, Rhys Fulber and Bill Leeb can take credit for the ethereal-girl genre of dream-pop electronica. From early releases like Karma, which included singer Sarah McLachlan, they've specialized in a mixture of lush, almost romantic electronica coupled with female singers that tend toward the ecstatic.

Their latest album, Nuages du Monde (Nettwerk Productions (Canada) 0 67000 30602 6, 2006), is no exception. Fulber and Leeb bring in a host of singers, from the operatic soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian to Punjabi Bollywood singer Kiran Ahluwalia. Also on board are old favorites the Mediæval Bæbes, whose "Blow Northern Wind" is sampled and adapted with new vocals on "Extoller."

Kristy Thrisk, who goes back to the earliest vocal works of Delerium on Semantic Spaces, returns, joined by Kirsty Hawkshaw--a singer who's already been a favorite foil for artists like BT, Orbital, and DJ Tiësto. Along with Jael's "Lost and Found," Hawkshaw's "Fleeting Instant" is among the most accessible singles from the disc.

Like their previous album Chimera, Nuages du Monde ("Clouds of the World") flirts dangerously with formulaic arrangements, but they've pulled back considerably, thickening the beats and trading synth strings for real on many tracks.

The tribal "Sister Sojourn Ghost," the Bæbes' second appearance on the disc, is one of the few tracks that play with the formula, as an uncharacteristically primal chant from the Bæbes treads a dark, percussive groove. A bit more of that would have lifted Nuages du Monde beyond what we've heard from Delerium previously. Regardless the record is extremely listenable and instantly memorable.

The latest album by Delerium is certain to draw significant attention from long term enthusiasts both of their material and the female vocalists individual dedicated followings. The artists' formula is clearly working and many will respect them for making incremental rather than radical changes.

 
Piece By Piece CD Cover
Image © Dramatico Records 2006

More Katie Melua:
Call Off The Search (2004)
A Night With Katie Melua (2004)

Katie Melua Image © Dramatico Records 2006

 

(30 January 2007) Katie Melua's sophomoric 2006 release of Piece by Piece: Special Bonus Edition (Dramatico (UK) DRAMDVDCD002, 2006) follows her successful 2003 chart topping debut album Call Off The Search. Her jazz infused style which also blends blues and pop presents a laid back style and beautiful, sultry tones. The twelve track CD includes three bonus tracks as well as a DVD disc that has an eighty minute film shot during Katie's 2006 European Tour containing concert footage and documentary style links. The DVD also has three promo films for "Nine Million Bicycles," "I Cried For You" and "Spider's Web."

The sensual and bluesy "Shy Boy" sets the mood and overall tone of the album. Katie has an evocative delivery of the lyrics and she creates an easy-going and relaxed aura. She croons "Nine Million Bicycles" which was this album's first single and first top five hit in the UK. Her song caused some controversy in Europe when the science writer Simon Singh articulated that the lyrics demonstrated "a deep ignorance of cosmology and no understanding of the scientific method." Barring that statement, Katie should be allowed some artistic license with her interpretation of the lyrics and Singh's comments were a bit harsh. The song has a hauntingly beautiful melody that is highlighted with Katie's stunning vocalise. Her rendition was inspired by a visit to China as well as the things she heard and had seen (such as nine million bicycles in Beijing) that fascinated her.

The title track "Piece by Piece" was written after she broke up with her boyfriend Luke Pritchard. This spellbinding piece has a more melancholy and mature flavor. Katie said, "I'm very pleased with the album and I feel that people who bought Call Off The Search will not be disappointed and that others will also discover something to like in it." Katie (who wrote the chorus) and Mike Batt (who wrote the verses) co-wrote "Halfway Up The Hindu Kush" as a joke using the suggestion implied in the title phrase which originated from a discussion about scarves on a train journey.

The sexy cover "Blues in the Night" continues to reveal Katie's seductive and alluring jazz-blues vocals. "Spider's Web" is a powerful, and almost progressive, rocker complete with vast tempo and style changes. Penned by Melua herself, it shows the singer's songwriting talent over the Batt- and cover-tunes performed on the debut album. More blues fare appears with "Blue Shoes" which fascinates the listener with her moody and succulent tones in the piano led ballad. Katie's rendition of Canned Heat's 1960's hit "On the Road Again" and "Thankyou Stars" are wonderful additions to her repertoire.

She continues to show her sensitivity with The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" with its romantic overtones. The lovely and tender "I Cried For You" showcases her exquisite vocals and emotive qualities. Katie sings with passion and touching sentiment. She carries on in the same vein in the strikingly passionate "I Do Believe in Love." The pace and Katie's evocative delivery makes the track work extremely well.

The first of the bonus tracks, "It's Only Pain," was recorded in New York at the Manhattan Centre Studio 4 in July 2006 as a new track especially for this collection. "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" is a live performance recorded as part of a radio project with other artists as a Beatles tribute. The acoustic version heard here went to air from studio 2 at Abbey Road where the Beatles first recorded the original. The last of the bonus tracks, "Sometimes When I'm Dreaming" was recorded during the sessions for Piece By Piece but was not finished at that time. This stripped down version was specially mixed for this special bonus edition album. The DVD is a wonderful addition to this collection and shows a more intimate view of this marvelous chanteuse.

Although the formula for success on this CD remains the same with a handful of cover songs combined with some of Mike Batt's superb material, Katie has inserted more of herself with her own musical compositions. She shows significant growth as an artist, poignantly expressing herself with sentiment and beauty in her voice and music. Katie's languid tones capture the listener with her sensual delivery. She is an extremely versatile performer and she delivers the goods with emotional intensity. There is no doubt that her album, Piece by Piece: Special Bonus Edition, will delight her fans with her sublime vocal ambrosia.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Miriam Stockley Eternal CD Cover
Image © Tula Records 2007

More Miriam Stockley:
Adiemus The Eternal Knot
Alkaemy The Merlin Mystery
Adiemus Live
Second Nature

 

(12 February 2007) In recent years, many "crossover" artists have made albums containing songs that are actually based on classical compositions, either by adding lyrics or rewriting them and making some arrangements to the original compositions. Often this kind of an approach means taking conscious risks and unfortunately, sometimes the result does not sound as good nor as cohesive as one would have thought. However, when listening to Eternal (Tula Records (UK/USA), 2007), the brand new and long-awaited third solo album by Miriam Stockley, such fears can be completely forgotten! To celebrate the release of this new album, Miriam has launched an all new website.

On Eternal, Miriam is supported by a wonderful team of well-chosen music professionals who really know how to avoid the clichés that usually are present when old material is being renewed. This time the main starting point has been to include music that was composed in the period of what is generally known as the romantic period--Debussy, Beethoven and Chopin--or otherwise associated with romanticism. Of course there is a very wide cornucopia of pieces that could have made the final selection, but, when listening to the album, the pieces chosen indeed form a very cohesive and pleasant wholeness, never sounding dreary but fresh and new instead.

All the arrangements have been made with very good taste so that the core ideas of the original pieces have not been damaged in any way. Therefore, even those who are still hesitating to take the plunge into the fabulously rich world of classical music should have the courage to do so after they have listened to this kind of music. Of course there are, on the other hand, some purists out there who could sneer at this album, insisting that the changes made to the original music are too drastic or pop-ish. However, this is a brave and refreshing, new approach towards music which certainly gives new thoughts, not only for the team that has made the arrangements for the album but also for the listeners.

For example, who could have thought in the first place how well the African flavours could blend together with the original melodies of Bach's Bourrée re-entitled as "Nagana Ka Lona" on Eternal or Purcell's well-known "Rondeau" named "Hem Na Nkosi Bo" on the album? There is no bitter after-taste from these variations of the classical themes at all!

In addition to retaining the her African styling roots, Miriam has successfully taken also a step forward, including a new language to her repertoire--Italian. According to Miriam herself, it was her manager David Stopps who introduced Miriam to a great Italian lyricist, Mr. Alexander Macinante, and this collaboration really flourishes throughout the album. Alexander certainly is a real gem for the whole album project, and his lyrics really fit to each and every piece of music he has written lyrics for! The Italian language does not only suit well for the chosen pieces, it also suits Miriam extremely well.

A great example of this is the Italian rendition of one of the arias from Bizet's opera "Pearl Fishers", newly entitled as "Un Ricordo." On this particular track, Miriam joins forces with another Italian, tenor Alessandro Safina, whom she had met in 2000 while Alessandro was performing at the annual Nokia Night Of The Proms concert tour. The result of the collaboration between Mr. Safina and Miriam is, without doubt, breathtakingly stunning, as both Miriam's and Alessandro's voices blend together totally seamlessly like the finest silk.

Also, the great renditions of Palestrina's "Sicut Cervus", Elgar's Nimrod named "Quanta Vita", and the Irish traditional song "Star Of The County Down" deserve special mentions here, namely, it is great to notice once again how versatile Miriam's voice can be. Not forgetting, of course, the brilliant choir of Ian Lynn's church, "St Michael and All Angels", who assist Miriam very beautifully on some of these tracks. Some of Miriam's biggest fans might though wonder why "Nocturne," one of Miriam's previous pieces was re-recorded for this album, but, in fact, it only enhances the general mood on the album. Perhaps it fits even better on Eternal.

While more praise and more positive affirmations would lead to a write a review the length of a book, to summarize this all up, Eternal is a very stylish album featuring one of the finest female vocalists of our time joining forces with an extremely skillful team who really have all managed successfully to make music that really touches the listener from deep within--an incredible feat for any artist. The album is available through the "store" links at Miriam's website. Obviously one dream remains: hearing this aural silk live in concert, but in the meantime, the album itself proves to be a masterpiece!--Suvi Kaikkonen in Oulu, Finland

 
Rise CD Cover
Image © LPM Records 2006

Renfey Image © LPM Records 2006
 

(03 February 2007) Rise (LFM Records (USA) 0126, 2006) is the debut album for Indie Alt Rock singer Renfey. The twelve track CD combines gritty guitars, urban beats as well as lush orchestral arrangements. Renfey sings with passion and exhibits raw emotion in these exciting tracks. There is an ethereal feel to these songs and Renfey maintains soaring vocals that are lovely and crystalline.

This artist grew up in the foothills of the Sierras. There has always been a music presence while growing up and she avidly explored the arts with theater, books, philosophizing and the fine art of dreaming, listening to the jazz greats along with her parents collection of the classics and rock and roll. At the tender age of ten, Renfey begged her parents for voice lessons. "I have always sought the inspiration of music. I cannot remember a time I didn't sing. My lessons in piano, guitar and violin were a disaster. I knew I wanted music, but I was so absorbed in singing. It gave me enough to write songs and scream out melodies, but I have been on a search for the music in my head since I was five. I plundered my parents music collection, which was a strange mix of classical, rock and roll and folk. I would find that one song and just play it over and over again from the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel to Sarah McLaughlin and Billy Holiday." These musical influences helped to create her own stamp on the music scene through writing songs, playing guitar and searching out fellow musicians for late night jam sessions.

In Los Angeles, she began performing at the local coffee houses before forming a band and booking clubs such as The Mint and The Knitting Factory to a growing audience. Still working solo both writing and orchestrating the band, her need to expand her music led to the search for a producer. "There was so much music swirling in my head, but I needed a musical partner". She met up with producer Kor whose background as a classical composer and his passion for world music, instrumentation and wild wizardry of strings and beats seemed a manifestation of all the strange notions in Renfey's head. This union began a dynamic collaboration of songs and music, both discovering a freedom in each other and a shared artistic vision. Renfey said, "The second day I met Kor, I was inspired by a simple piano part he was playing, and injust one vocal take, this song just flowed out of me. It's called 'Catch My Fall.' I had to put it on the album; it is the beginning."

Before going into the studio to write and record the album, Renfey did an LA tour in such venues as The Mint, The Viper Room and The Key Club. Renfey has also been featured in the award winning Lifetime television series "Strong Medicine", Billy Bob Thornton's critically acclaimed film "The Badge", the end title song for Salma Hayek's directorial debut "The Maldonado Miracle" and CBS's "The Handler."

The opening track, "Come Down," clearly shows Renfey's appeal with the splendid vocals and synthesized beats. "Over occupation," is a driven alternative rock song that sends its message of unity inside a huge wall-of-sound chorus. This song, as well as "Right Here,"appears in the 20th Century Fox film Hangman's Curse along with being featured in a few other television and film projects. "That was really an amazing experience, and the fans of the film have been so incredible in supporting the music. It was a new challenge to write a song for a film, to feel the theme of the story and then translate that into the words and music and still be true to myself musically. It just seemed to fit. There is a darkness to the film that ultimately opens up into the lightness of redemption, of acceptance. I had to put "Over Occupation" on the album because I love the song and because it has been part of this whole experience," according to Renfey.

The title track highlights Renfey's exquisite range creating a moodiness and exhilaration of the senses. She easily gets the listener's attention through her emotive and striking vocals. Her clarity is evident in "Right Here." She has a soulful, harmonious sound. A more jazzy feel comes across in "Undeniable" and "Cravings." Her expressiveness offers an articulate revelation of feeling. "Desert" continues with an electronica infusion, and segues into "Old Man" with its soulful vulnerability. Renfey's breathy vocals underscore "Light Air I Breathe." There is a lushness to her passionate rendition. The sexy "Catch My Fall" oozes with luxurious tones. "Journey" is a song about revelations of self-discovery. The soothing, layered melody of "Wicked" continues to define this artist, with her dreamlike tapesty of sounds.

Renfey has not stopped writing songs with the release of "Rise", and she is planning and rehearsing for a West Coast tour. "What an amazing time in my life, all those nights of writing and exploring my mystical side, but the modern rock warrior in me is loving playing these songs live."

Resonant sounds emanate throughout this wonderful debut album. Renfey effortlessly reaches new heights with her passionate and emotive vocals. Some of the tracks have a mystical feel blended with flowing melodies. "Rise" is a dynamic album that intersperses a wonderful musical energy with intimate and emotional lyrics. Renfey has an amazing allure that is rich and powerful.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Anonyma CD Cover
Image © Aileen Paron/
Derring Do Music 2006
 
 

(03 February 2007) Seattle-based Indie rock singer/songwriter Aileen Paron appears on the music scene with her debut album, Anonyma (7 00261 240424, 2006). This eight track CD has a variety of musical selectionswhere she expresses herself with soulful lyrics and a distinctive sound. All the tracks were written by Aileen except for "Killer Bees" and "Am I Getting Through" which were co-authored with Ryan Smith.

Aileen's music has been influenced by a long list of various artists such as Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, The Beatles, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stevie Wonder, Aimee Mann, The Smiths, Charlotte Martin, Ani DiFranco, Shelby Lynne, Coldplay, Jeff Buckley, Garbage, Burt Bacharach, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Rufus Wainwright, Sheryl Crow, Liz Phair, Travis, Muse, Radiohead, and Aqualung.

"I've always known performing was my calling. I started writing songs when was a teenager, but the path I originally chose to follow was dancing and musical theatre. It was a comfortable space for me, and I was able to express myself through choreographing and performing in shows. Eventually, I began to realize it wasn't enough. I had a voice of my own, and I needed to make it heard. I had to make a change. I started focusing on writing again and the floodgates opened. I’ve never looked back." Aileen took vocal lessons for a number of years, but she is primarily self-taught in music theory and piano.

The songs' lyrics relate stories of broken relationships, lost innocence, political allegory and more. Aileen says, "If I'm forced to box it up, and define my sound, I like to call it brooding, dark piano-pop for the cynically romantic soul." The selection of songs on this album give a great introduction to her evocative lyrics and soulful sound.

Aileen performs all the vocals, piano and keyboards. She is supported by Vincent Gates (guitar, drum programming), Paul Kemmish (bass), Ryan Smith (organ), Dylan Rieck (cello) and Mark Guenther (drums). Her music is expressed with some discordant tones, but is quite mood setting. "I think of myself as a bit of a grown-up goth girl. That music was a defining part of my life for a long time, and it will always stay with me."

"My music is very lyric-driven, the story comes first for me, and then I work from there," according to Aileen. Amidst the melancholic background and poignant lyrics, the melodies are a blend of pop, rock and jazz influences. The songs contain some catchy pop hooks that capture the listener.

The songs are all accessible and reflect a growing, thoughtful approach to the music. Aileen offers carefully crafted melodies in an almost mournful style at times. She is expressive in her interpretations and creates a distinct landscape of sound. Anonyma offers a promising start to this artist's musical career.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Love Sensuality Devotion The Remix Collection CD Cover
Image © Virgin Records 2006 
 

(03 February 2007) Enigma's Love, Sensuality, Devotion: The Remix Collection (Virgin Recrods 7243 8 11183 2 0, 2001-2006) is a splendid greatest hits smattering that highlights their four previous albums from 1990, 1993, 1996 and 2000. The album brings nine songs to the forefront that gives the listener a wonderful sampling of Enigma's progression of songs through this ten year period. The genious behind this creative New Age music is Michael Cretu. The complete compilation of eighteen tracks can be found on the four disc Love, Sensuality, Devotion: The Greatest Hits.

The rhythms become intense with the synthesizer infused "Turn Around" (Northern Lights Club Mix). The ambient sounds in this song produce an hypnotic effect and a meditative feel. The listener can't help but be entranced by the sensual mood and your body automatically moves to the beat. "Age of Loneliness" (Enigmatic Club Mix) continues to entice and soothe. In "Push The Limits" (ATB Remix), the percussive and rhythmic, frenetic beat present a wonderful New Age dance sound. Enigma has a flamboyance that is unequaled.

"Gravity Of Love" (Judgement Day Club Mix) contains parts of Carl Orff's opera "Carmina Burana (O Fortuna)," which is perhaps one of Orff's most well known works. The intensity of the fast and slow electronic beats gives this song a flourishing rockiness and edginess to the music. The powerful beat has an intriguing blend of atmosphere and rhythm.

The dominant dance beat continues to explode in "Return to Innocence" (Midnight Mix). If you close your eyes, you can imagine being on the crowded dance floor of your favorite club, gyrating to the compelling pulsation. Engima's classic signature song "Sadness, Part 1" (Violent U.S. Remix) creates a fantastic and exciting thumping that takes your breath away. The throbbing is contagious. "Principles Of Lust" (Everlasting Lust Mix) continues in the same vein.

The enticing male vocals present an eeriness to "Mea Culpa Part 2" (Fading Shades Mix) which blends into the female heavy breathing, words of passion and inspiration among subtle, throbbing grooves. The pulsations in "TNT For The Brain" (Midnight Man Remix) maintains the eclectic and atmospheric sound.

Enigma does not lose their impact with these remixes. These reworkings bring Enigma to new heights of excellence. Michael Cretu's inventive and fresh approach to the musical compositions have a flamboyance that makes the Enigma sound a standout. The CD is powerful and well-engineered. The transcending energy of Love, Sensuality, Devotion: The Remix Collection is certainly a delicious experience for the senses.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Live & Learn CD Cover
Image © Demolition Records 2006

Vixen Image © Demolition Records 2006
 

(03 February 2007) Vixen has been described as the "Queens of Metal" and the "female Bon Jovi." They have had classic hits like "Edge of a Broken Heart" and "Love is a Killer" that have staked their claim in the rock charts. Live & Learn is Vixen's first new studio release in about ten years. This all-female heavy metal band came to recognition in the 1980s and with many line-up changes, has continued to be a fixture in the heavy metal rock scene. Enthusiasts of Antigone Rising (review) should check out Vixen.

Guitarist Jan Kuehnemund is the only remaining original member of Vixen. The other new members of Vixen are vocalist Jenna Sanz-Agero, bassist Lynn Louise Lowrey, and drummer Kat Kraft. Jan founded Vixen in Minnesota and landed up in LA in the mid 80's where the original group performed gigs and built up their reputation with a strong following. The group had two albums, Vixen and Rev It Up and signed a record deal with EMI. In 1991, Vixen broke up. The band later reformed in 2001 and suffered line-up changes during middle of the Voices of Metal Tour with Vince Neil of Motley Crue. Vixen sorted themselves out and eventually formed the solid current line-up. Vixen's latest studio album Live & Learn was released by Demolition Records in Europe in November 2006, and in the U.S. in January 2007.

The band's influences include Pat Benatar, Stevie Nicks, Grace Slick, Kate Bush, Chrissie Hynde, Tina Turner, Aerosmith, The Beatles, The Stones, and Led Zeppelin. Their sound takes the listener back in time to the 1980s. When Vixen was recording the new album, they went over to Europe to field their music and see the response. The group's music was well received and resulted in the band's first live album and DVD at their stage headlining show at the Sweden Rock Festival in 2005. The live album was released in the US by Sony/BMG in July, 2006 and will be released in Europe in 2007.

Jenna Sanz-Agero said, "After the Voices of Metal tour, we spent the next four years writing and rehearsing. We recorded a demo of six songs, five of which ended up on the new album. With a whole new lineup, new songs, new look, and a new sound, we spent those few years reconfiguring our entire 'team' so that when we were ready, the fans would be happy with what we brought to the table."

In 2005, Vixen began working on their recording at the Bull Dog Den Studio in Eagle Rock, California. The recording was completed in May, 2006, due to the band's tour schedule in between the sessions. Live & Learn was produced, engineered, and mixed by Dennis MacKay, who also engineered Rev It Up. The album was mixed at the Bulldog Den and mastered by Brian Gardner of Bernie Grundman Mastering.

The current album includes eleven new songs as well as a cover of David Bowie's "Suffragette City." The women don't miss a beat with bringing back the 80's sound with their title track and Jenna's Stevie Nicks assimilation in "Don't Want It Anymore." "On the surface, the lyrics might seem pretty dark, but there is a lot of irony and sarcasm involved in the way they're delivered, so most of it is about empowerment rather than settling into a victim role," said Jenna. "We've all experienced some heavy stuff--it's about what you do with it."

Although Live & Learn differs from Vixen's earlier hit albums, their evolution hasn't spoiled their marked impression on the heavy metal rock scene of today. They embrace their sound and come across with some stellar songs with wonderful harmonies. Vixen delivers a good album and they continue to be successful in this tough business.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
The Video Collection CD Cover
THE VIDEO COLLECTION
Image © Angel Records 2006


More Sarah Brightman:
In Concert (1997)
Harem World Tour (2004)
Love Changes Everything (2005)
Harem (2004)
La Luna (2000)
Encore (2002)
Classics (2001)

The Video Collection DVD Cover
THE SINGLES COLLECTION
Image © Angel Records 2006
 

(03 February 2007) The 2006 release of Sarah Brightman's Diva: The Singles Collection (Angel Records (USA) 0 946 3 73671 2 4, 2006) is a wonderful chronology of highlights in her career. Her varied talents are sampled in masterpieces from the West End, classical, crossover and pop music favorites. This fourteen track album is a marvelous introduction for newcomers to Sarah's gorgeous, soaring vocals. Avid fans will most likely have all of her individual albums, but this collection is still a good overview of her work. The release includes a CD and a DVD.

A DVD issued to accompany the CD entitled Diva The Video Collection (Angel Records (USA) 0946 3 10132 9, 2006) is comprised of 20 tracks in the main show and an encore track of "Music Of The Night" (Andrew Lloyd Weber's 50th birthday celebration).

The collection is an anthology that for the first time ever brings together on one DVD all of Sarah Brightman's spectacular music videos. Diva covers this musical sensation's illustrious 25-year career, from her start in the British dance group Hot Gossip, to her collaborations with composer Andrew Lloyd Weber on the sensational Phantom Of The Opera, to her innovative mixing of opera and pop music on "Time To Say Goodbye," her international smash hit duet with Andrea Bocelli.

Produced with tremendous quality, this collection also features the artist's intimate and revealling narrative about each video, making it a must have for any Brightman fan. When played in a home computer, the DVD can be used to access exclusive content at the artist's website.

The track list for Diva: The Singles Collection includes "Phantom of the Opera" with Steve Harley from Phantom of the Opera (1986), "Pie Jesu" with Paul-Miles Kingston from Andrew Lloyd Webber - Requiem (1995), "Time to Say Goodbye (Con Te Partiró)" with Andrea Bocelli, "Just Show Me How To Love You" with José Cura, "Tu Quieres Volver" and "Who Wants To Live Forever" from Time To Say Goodbye (1997), "Music of the Night" from Surrender (1998), "A Question of Honour" from Fly (1998), "Deliver Me" and "Nella Fantasia" from Eden (1999), "Scarborough Fair" and "A Whiter Shade of Pale" from La Luna (2000) and finally "It's A Beautiful Day" and "What You Never Know" from Harem (2003). While this list seems comprehensive, there are so many other songs that Sarah has made prominent in her career that another 'Collection' album will probably be on its way.

Her superstar quality shines through on each of these famed tracks. The album begins with the musical that launched her incredible West End career and essentially made her a household name. All of these celebrated tunes showcase her powerful operatic vocals and expansive range. Sarah is consistent with her dynamic performances. Especially enjoyable are the songs performed with Steve Harley, Paul-Miles Kingston, Andrea Bocelli and José Cura where the exciting and climatic duets are spine tingling.

According to Sarah's Official Website, this new collection is the most comprehensive release of her three-decade career. This anthology charts Sarah's musical accomplishments through fourteen stellar tracks, including "Phantom of the Opera" (1986) and her worldwide smash hit duet with Andrea Bocelli "Time to Say Goodbye". Diva: The Singles Collection also features two selections from her critically-acclaimed 2003 recording, Harem, which gave rise to a world tour that was attended by 700,000 fans worldwide. This collection resumes where Sarah's previous retrospective collection (2001's Classics, which sold over a million copies) left off. It is the ideal introduction to Sarah's justly celebrated performances.

Her musical artistry is simply described as iconic. Sarah lays claim to a career that has boldly conquered the different areas of dance, pop, rock, musical theatre, core classical and world music. There is something for everyone in this album, ranging from Sarah's musical theatre powerhouse vocals, her spine-tingling arias, or her chaste, sparkling pop voice. Sarah Brightman masters the full spectrum of her wide-ranging talents in this compendium.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Not Too Late CD Cover
Image © Blue Note Records 2007

More Norah Jones:
Come Away With Me (2002)
Feels Like Home (2004)


 

(06 February 2007) Celebrated artist Norah Jones continues her coffeehouse jazz and blues ballads in her latest release, Not Too Late (EMI/Blue Note Records (USA) 0946 3 74516 2 5, 2007). This thirteen track CD has the rich and mellow vocals that Norah is so well-known for as well as guest vocals from M. Ward and Richard Julian. This album shows the mature progression of this artist and she has written or collaborated on all the material presented. She especially displays her soulfulness throughout the blend of pop, soul, folk, country and jazz melodies with an intimate feel. The album was produced by Lee Alexander, her longtime songwriting partner and bass player.

Her luxurious tones result in a striking moodiness and edge to these songs. In addition to her distinctive sound, Norah has matured with this album with new insights into her lyrics. On Not Too Late she explores the world around her more intensively, from the darkly comic "My Dear Country" to the emotive inspirational final track that restores our confidence that it is "not too late" for love.

The musicians appearing on this CD certainly deserve special recognition. Some artists have appeared with her previously including guitarists Jesse Harris, Adam Levy, Robbie McIntosh, and Kevin Breit, drummer Andy Borger, and singer Daru Oda. Special guests also appear including jazz organist Larry Goldings and Kronos Quartet cellist Jeff Ziegler.

Her soul-searching tunes open with "Wish I Could" which talks about a boyfriend that has been lost to war. The simple guitar accompaniment to her melancholic tones has a simplicity that creates a tender ambience to the story. "Sinkin' Soon" has wonderful jazz undertones combined with Norah's sultry crooning. She has an unmistakable seductiveness and alluring jazz-blues vocals. J. Walter Hawkes trombone solo adds to the delight of the mood. Her laid back style in "The Sun Doesn't Like You" alludes to suggestions of mortality.

"Until The End" and "Not My Friend" have a dreamy quality that is alluring. Norah reels in the listener with her heartfelt songs. Her soulfulness returns with "Thinking About You" (the album's first single) and "Broken." Her lovely and tender renditions show off her sensitivity in the story she has to tell. The wistful piano intro to "My Dear Country" sets the tone for the darkly comic post-election horrors. "Wake Me Up" and "Little Room" have a more country feel while "Be My Somebody" has more upbeat and shifting tones.

The tender "Rosie's Lullaby" has some wonderful electric guitar riffs that set the mood for the touching vocals. The album closes with the title track, "Not Too Late," which is certainly a standout track. Her captivating style is showcased in this disarmingly seductive melody. She wears her heart on her sleeve with her poignant interpretive performance.

This third album exhibits the growth of this artist, and her mellowness and sexy vocals certainly improve with each production. Her style is distinctive and she has an everlasting quality of voice. Not Too Late is the culmination of great music, great lyrics, and great singing. Norah is in the prime of her musical career, and one can only expect that the future will continue to bring wonderful and captivating songs that reflect her irresistible vocals and stunning artistry.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Dept Of Good And Evil Feat. Rachel Z
Image © Savoy Jazz 2007

Rachel Z 2007 Image © Savoy Jazz 2007
 

(08 Febrary 2007) The fabulous jazz impresario Rachel Z hits the mark with her new album by the Department of Good and Evil being released mid-March. This twelve track CD features three original songs, two standards and seven goth and pop rock covers that are innovative and exciting. The modern jazz tunes on Department of Good and Evil featuring Rachel Z (Savoy Records (USA), 2007) blend pop and rock with an inventive approach. Rachel's piano virtuosity is certainly outstanding and passionate.

The Department's objective is to merge musical styles, gaining unity and breaking down barriers in the jazz genre. The band wanted to achieve excitement, edge and vibe to this new direction for modern jazz. "The Department of Good and Evil is about duality -- the music is fun, but it's serious. We're political, sarcastic and fully against the processed cheesefood some music is. Here at the Department, we earn our stripes one gig at a time. We fight for freedom of expression; we are fearless and spontaneous. We're into improv-kickin ass and we're taking names. We believe in people's inherent desire for quality. They should be inspired by the source, as we are. And so we share it, without compromise," according to Rachel.

The band members are Rachel Z on piano and vocals, Bobby Rae on drums, production and arrangements, Maeve Royce on acoustic bass, Tony Levin on electric bass and Chapman stick, and Eric Naslund on trumpet. Rachel says, "On the CD, I played an Italian handmade Fazioli grand piano; Bobby Rae produced it, Allen Farmello was the engineer. Look for the outtakes on an iTunes Ep in the fall. Bonus tracks will be available on the iTunes version of the CD including "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd. We'll be on tour in the spring and summer and should be in your neighorhood soon." The influences behind Rachel's music includes Deathcab for Cutie, Cure, Chili Peppers, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Kate Bush, Elvin Jones, Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro, Nirvana, Peter Gabriel and of course, opera.

Rachel Z has played with the likes of Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke and Mike Mainieri. She prepared the arrangements and played on Wayne Shorter's Grammy winning Highlife album as well as doing five world tours and two DVDs as a member of Peter Gabriel's band. Her time with each of these masters provided distinct musical depth to the Department of Good and Evil's musical agenda. She recorded eight solo albums for Sony and GRP and the Department project is her first CD with Savoy Records.

This Manhattan native began voice lessons at age two, commenced classical piano lessons at age seven and attended the opera by age nine. "My first dollhouse was a Metropolitan Opera House complete with the stage and dolls which were the performers," she recalls. "Then I heard Miles Smiles when I was 15, started rebelling against the classical by improvising, and played with a band that covered Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan songs."

In order to bridge the gap from her classical roots to jazz, she listened to Herbie Hancock's harmonies over Wayne Shorter's compositions. She created a quintet called Nardis and studied with Joanne Brackeen and Richie Beirach. Her talents were rewarded upon graduation from the New England Conservatory with a 'Distinction in Performance' award. While in Boston, she worked professionally with performers like Bob Moses, Miroslav Vitous and George Garzone. In 1988, Rachel returned to New York and toured with her schoolmate Najee who became a rhythm and jazz superstar saxman and they co-wrote the album Tokyo Blue. From 1988 through 1996, Rachel performed and recorded with the classic fusion band Steps Ahead. She continued her vast number of associations with jazz greats and developed a rapport with producer/vibraphonist Mike Mainieri. He ended up producing her debut album, Trust the Universe in 1993.

Having been greatly influenced by saxophonist Wayne Shorter, she collaborated on his hit album High Life and she created a "synthesized orchestral framework" in order to achieve his musical objectives. The tour for the CD had Rachel as musical director in addition to playing acoustic piano on the album. The CD won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. She later released A Room of One's Own in 1996 and in 1998 did Love is the Power. Rachel returned to acoustic music in 2000 with her tribute to Wayne Shorter with the album On the Milky Way Express. Her current CD draws upon heavy jazz versions of goth and rock songs. Rachel says the Department of Good and Evil's music is about "merging musical styles. We want to respect and expand the swing of Elvin, Miles, Gabriel, Joy Division, to name just a few. We want to desegregate music. Some purists don't want modern influences in jazz, but we are where music actually is.

The Department's current CD opens with "Soul Meets Body" from Deathcab for Cutie. Jazz officienados will delight in the marvelous interpretitive style exhibited throughout. The Church's hit, "Under the Milky Way," blends mellow percussion with Rachel's expert piano flourishes. The musical draw is hypnotic. Sting's poetic song, "King of Pain," from The Police's album Every Breath You Take is breathtaking. Erik Naslund's sexy trumpeting adds to the luscious rendering presented here with trumpet and piano playing off one another.

"Lakme" from the famed opera takes on new life with its heightened and passionate approach. It's amazing what imaginative reworking can do for a classic. I believe that Delibes would delight in jiving to the new grooves. Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge" takes on new life with the Department's added reharmonies and edginess to this song. "Moon and Sun" is the first of the three original tracks on this CD. Rachel lends her soothing vocals to this emotive piece. The velvet tones and electrifying piano make this song a standout.

"Maps" from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was one of their hit singles that received much airplay at the time of its release. The Department cranks it up several notches and places their own poignant individuality on this tune. Numerous covers have been done on the next track, "Love Will Tear Us Apart," by Joy Division. In fact, this song was one of the most covered, and copied, songs of the 1980s. The Department beautifully captured the atmospheric sounds as well as the dreamy aspects of this famed song. Wayne Shorter's "ESP" is dynamically reinterpreted by the Department and captures the rhythmic freedom so readily. The song is brilliantly executed and and springs forth with unbridled vibrance.

Another original release, "Walking On Water" exploits wonderful modern harmony ideas along with Rachel's sultry vocals. Breathtaking jazz piano highlights this piece. Bill Withers' bona fide classic, "Ain't No Sunshine," respects the sinuous, sexy grooves of this 70's ballad. There is an elegance to this rendition that communicates an updated, exciting reformation of the original. The final track is the original "Saint of New Orleans." Tender openings evolve into an enchanting, highly creative and captivating tour de force. This work is a magnificent closer to a top notch album that is a stunning success.

The Department of Good and Evil featuring Rachel Z is a terrific jazz album that pioneers new territory in modern jazz. The interpretive and creative style lends to a cleverness and fervent originality in the music. The music titallates the senses and one can only marvel at the intensity of the genius behind the experience.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
Heart Full Of Sky CD Cover
Image © Mostly Autumn Records 2006

More Mostly Autumn:
Storms Over Still Water
Passengers
The Next Chapter
Live at The York Opera House
2004 Spring Tour
Live at The Boardwalk 2002
Live at the Classic Rock Festival 2002
Heroes Never Die
Music Inspired by Lord Of The Rings
The Last Bright Light
The Story So Far*
Live at the Mean Fiddler 2001
Live With Karnataka 2001
1998-2002 Album Reviews
* includes indepth interview
 

(11 February 2007) The loss of a key member is always traumatic for a band, no matter how amicable, and so it was with the departure of Mostly Autumn keyboard player Iain Jennings at the beginning of 2006. Indeed, early live shows after his exit were tentative at best, with Chris Johnson coming in to supply back up keys while Angela Gordon gamely added more keyboards to her excellent flute work. At the time, Johnson looked like a temporary member, there to fill a gap at a time of need. However, bandleader Bryan Josh clearly had a master plan, and the group's excellent new album Heart Full of Sky (Mostly Autumn Records (UK) AUT0933, 2006), and the first on their all-new label, introduces Johnson as a new creative force in the invention of Mostly Autumn music. Not as a keyboard player, but as a writer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. In doing so Josh and Johnson appear to have invigorated the band.

Two versions of the album have been released, a limited edition double CD set with extra songs, and an eleven track standard edition with just one CD. The standard edition begins in classic Mostly Autumn fashion with the dramatic "Fading Colours, a Bryan Josh song with lead vocal by Heather Findlay. The keyboards here are interesting--played by Bryan using slightly different sounds and textures to Jennings, with a huge Mellotron sound especially satisfying. Heather's vocal--combining with Josh on the chorus--shows the continuing development of her voice to excellent effect.

Heather's charming "Half a World" is up next. This is a simple ballad with a big finish and a lovely chorus. Some very effective Hammond from guest David Moore bolsters its strong retro feel. "Pocket Watch," with lead vocal from Josh, is a slight departure for the band, a slice of psychedelic hard rock with a powerful chorus. However, it is one of those songs that might well polarise fans into "love it" or "hate it" factions. "Blue Light," however, is superb. Written by Chris Johnson, it is a gentle piece with vocal by Heather contrasting beautifully with guest Anne Marie Helder's high register backing vocal and some lovely flute and clarinet from Angela Gordon, before a big finish with a trademark Bryan Josh guitar solo.

The epic "Walk with a Storm" a vehicle for both Bryan and Heather's vocals may also split fans. The early part of the song is dramatic but plods somewhat, before leaping into life around the four and a half minute mark with a stunning Celtic rock workout featuring Peter Knight on violin and Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes. "Find the Sun" is the calm after the storm, a hauntingly beautiful song, with a faint surreal feel reminiscent of KD Lang at her best. Peter Knight's violin is astonishing throughout. "Ghost" is a sinister piece, with breathy, tension-filled vocal from Bryan on the verse, giving way to a climactic chorus sung by Heather.

"Broken" is another high point--a dramatic ballad with an edge, sung by Heather and with Bryan's piano particularly effective, while "Silver Glass" has already become a live favourite – a vehicle for the talents of Chris Johnson, who provides lead vocals, keyboards and guitar. It's quite superb, giving Mostly Autumn a contemporary edge while still providing the atmosphere and emotion fans expect. "Further From Home" is largely instrumental, giving Bryan the opportunity to stretch out on guitar, before reprising the chorus of "Fade Away", while the album closes on an interesting note with the epic "Dreaming", a dramatic opening verse from Heather continuing into a rather mannered second section sung by Bryan, while Heather and Bryan share the chorus, before the song relaxes into lovely finish.

The band has also released the album in what some fans consider a somewhat overpriced two-CD edition. The first CD omits "Further from Home" but was otherwise the same as the single-disc version, with very similar packaging. The second CD includes "Further" and seven other tracks. It opens with the excellent "Science and Machinery" from Chris Johnson, while "Open Road" is pleasant enough with a dual vocal from Bryan and Heather, but is probably slightly substandard. "Gaze" is far better, another fragile Chris Johnson song with lead vocal from Heather and a beautiful Mellotron and acoustic guitar arrangement. Heather's "Yellow Time" is glorious, and it's real shame it didn't make it onto the single disc version, it's mix of Joni Mitchell and Heart giving it a real 70s vibe, with some terrific flute from Angela.

Bryan's "Broken Soldier" is fine, but sounds suspiciously like it might have come from the last Dave Gilmour solo album, with its laid back vibe. Like "Open Road", "Bright Green" is pleasant but just could use a little further development. It does contain an unusual solo from Bryan, though. "Softer than Brown" another Bryan Josh song, also suggests Dave Gilmour, and has a characteristic Josh solo to close.

So, what to make of this album in context of what has come before? Chris Johnson is a real find, giving the band a contemporary edge without diluting the atmosphere and emotion we have come to expect. Heather Findlay, too, continues to develop as a singer and songwriter. Bryan Josh orchestrates the band will skill, and his playing remains as good as ever, with his keyboard playing a revelation. Yet his song writing seems a touch under par, here. Certainly, there's nothing of the emotional sweep and melodic invention of "Pass the Clock" or "Storms Over Still water", though that may be intentional. The album was sadly mastered very loud, which means that any dynamics in the louder moments--especially the closing section of "Walk with a Storm"--are almost totally lost. That said, this is a sterling effort during a difficult period for the band, and it is gratifying to see them come through it with such confidence.--Stephen Lambe in Tewkesbury, England and Russ Elliot in New York

 
Just A Little ... CD Cover
Image © Miller / Reeves 2006

More Maria Miller:
Second Hand Charm (2004)
Interview and Photos (2004)
Elegant Disguise (1999)
Crannog: The Deepest Pool (1997)

 

(25 February 2007) Scottish born singer/songwriter Maria Miller has recently released her second album, Just A Little... (Miller / Reeves (UK) MM20061, 2006) as a followup to her 2004 release of Second Hand Charm. Maria formerly performed with bands such as Crannog and Keeba which suited her style of Celtic/Folk based songs. Her current ten track CD was recorded and arranged by Andy Reynolds at the CeolNua Studios in Ireland. This album features her lovely, clear vocals and her music can be described as lyrical acoustic pop with some Celtic undertones.

She trained in piano, guitar and singing which inspired Maria to perform. She traveled around the North of Scotland and performed for a couple of years while accompanied by a fiddler. She joined Crannog in 1997 and remained with them until 2002 through their lineup changes as well as a name change to Keeba.

In 2003 Maria played Celtic Connections, at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, and toured London's acoustic venues, including The Kashmir Klub and The Halfmoon. This was followed by an appearance on the PRS/Songlink stage at the Go North music conference. Maria also supported The Proclaimers on their Scottish tour, appeared at the Stockton International Festival and played The Rainbow Room and The Acoustic Playhouse in Los Angeles.

In 2004, Maria returned to Celtic Connections and then travelled to the US to play acoustic venues in Memphis and Nashville. She then went to London to perform and promote her debut solo CD Second Hand Charm. Maria appeared at Music Works, in Glasgow, and Manchester's In The City Convention in 2005. And, in the summer of 2006, she recorded her current CD.

Just A Little... has a mixture of styles ranging from upbeat tunes to slower and more mellow songs to pop melodies. Maria’s song, "Mischief," has been included on a BBC TV soundtrack and won an award in the UNISONG international songwriting contest. The album begins with the pop-driven "I Don't Want Tommorow To Be Monday." This song highlights the crisp and lovely tones in Maria's vocals. The catchy tune leaves the listener with good vibes. "If You're Happy I'm Happy Too" has a slower, gentler melody. Maria's distinctive enunciation and tender approach elicits an emotive style. The song crescendos into a more forceful ending.

The title track, "Just A Little," has a very whimsical and playful melody. "Stupid Words" moves towards her more serious side and her poignant vocals tug at the heartstrings. Maria says, "I basically want to carve out a long lasting career doing what I love--singing! I don't long to be the most hip act, the best guitarist or sit at the top of the charts. I want to be known for producing music that is identifiable with me. I want to write and sing like me."

"Tuesday's Shoes" has an upbeat quality that is captivating. Rich electric guitar-based arrangements provide a rich foundation for Maria's powerful lead vocal. Her evocative singing is highlighted in "Sad Song." Maria's trademark vibrato adds a lovely texture to the number. This song also has a quirkiness to the melody that makes it a memorable toe-tapper. The Celtic based tune has wonderful fiddle solos by Sarah Bonner. Maria really reaches back to her Scottish roots with this captivating song and her stunning vocals are a standout.

"Someone To Hold" features the Red Shoes Theatre Gospel Choir. The choir is a great backdrop to Maria's amazing and soaring voice. Simple guitar strumming segues into "Arrogant," which also has powerful vocals and expressive fiddling. The last third of the song has an expressive and magnetic flow to the lyrics and music. The final song, "Forgive Me," creates an enchanting atmosphere along with the inviting harmonica accompaniment. Maria's strong vocals stand out in this emotive ballad.

Stunning vocals are the pièce de résistance in Just A Little.... The variety of songs in this CD range from heartfelt ballads to upbeat pop-oriented numbers. Maria's powerful voice attains climactic heights throughout the arrangements and envelops the listener with great intensity. The combination of alluring acoustic guitar, delightful fiddling and lush vocals have generated a delightful album. Purchase the CD it at Maria Miller's website. Just A Little... offers alot.--Audrey Elliot in New York

 
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