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album reviews and artist reflections
Where Is The Balance? (1994)
Alive In This Dream (2003)
reviews, interview and HTML © Russell W. Elliot 2003
all images © Strata Records / Lori Hawk 2003
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Last updated: 15 June 2003
Stunning singer songwriter Lori Hawk is well known to some but has been hiding from many. Originally from the great northwest and today hailing from San Francisco, this now well-established musical artist is about to delight a broader audience with the release of her new album Alive In This Dream. Her debut recording Where Is The Balance? is indeed as fresh today as it was when originally released in 1994.
Our review of Lori's debut album and our review of Alive In This Dream are accompanied by an exclusive interview below. Listen to soundbites at Lori's website. There you'll also find links to further reviews a photo gallery and further information about the artist.
Musical Discoveries: Where are you from and how did you begin your musical career?
Lori Hawk: I grew up in a town between Tacoma and Seattle, Washington called Federal Way. My first memories of music are mainly of Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel records--45's we'd play on our little white, suitcase-style record player in our basement--"Strawberry Fields" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." I was only five, so I couldn't have really understood the depth of either song, but I was captured by the mystery, and stretched to picture it all.
At 15, in a new wave-dominated music scene, I was drawn instead to Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, and Joni Mitchell. Then one day I heard Ann Wilson singing "Mistral Wind." If you haven't heard it, it's a slow grind sort of power ballad. With Ann at the helm, it was an emotional journey I'd never experienced before. I was completely pulled in. I did not decide to become a singer at that moment. But it was at that moment I became obsessed with finding music that would take me back to that place. Since then, I've been on kind of a quest--an endless search for music that shakes you to the core, that sings in a quiet, gentle way so that you never expect it when it leaps into your head and heart and takes hold.
So what happened next?
I started singing in choral groups in my sophomore year in high school. I remember a day when our director decided to illustrate how madrigals were originally sung in a great circle surrounding their audience. We had been plodding through a somber piece of music when he opened the door and walked 102 of us through the school into the high-ceilinged central hall, singing the entire way. The ancientness of the sound we created--15, 16 and 17-year olds--never really left me. I began to seek out eastern music and chant--that pristine interweaving of human voice.
In the early nineties, I moved to the San Francisco Bay area and formed a band called Strata. Three years later I recorded my debut album, Where is the Balance, which mainly received airplay in northeastern US college radio stations. When the opportunity presented itself, I decided to head east to investigate. I ended up in Washington, DC in what turned out to be a three-year mission, surviving the rat race and finding solace in writing and recording the songs that make up Alive in this Dream. (continued)
Alive In This Dream Review
The 2003 album by Lori Hawk shows a significant development from her 1994 debut Where Is The Balance?. Enthusiasts of Rachael Sage, Michelle Young and Kate Bush are certain to be delighted by a broad cross section of the album's material. The recording quality and production of the new album also surpass her debut. One has to get past the ethereal--almost drone--of the opening number "Listening For You" to discover what waits inside the rest of the album.
The remarkable depth and quality of Alive In This Dream begins to come alive in the a fast paced "Princess Mary." Indeed this number with obvious radio quality will be released in October as the second single from the album. We were enthralled with the piano melodies and Lori's soaring lead vocal. Her multi-tracked harmony vocals within the track also work extremely well.
The title track, "Alive In This Dream," is lushly arranged with wonderful keyboard washes that underscore the melody and support Lori's soaring and--at times--whispery voice. Sensually sung, it illustrates the progress of Lori's songwriting and vocal development. The dramatic sound of "For The Kings," whose significant contrasts between verse and dramatic and powerful chorus, make it the album's first standout.
The first single from the album distributed for radio airplay is "Free," a thoughtful alternative style slow rocker. Lori's seriously sung lead is backed by lovely harmonies, heavy rock guitar and crisp percussion. Some will think of Tori Amos when hearing the song, but Lori's vocal prowess shines through in the heartfelt chorus. The sensitively sung singer songwriter textures of the ballad "Oracle" work perfectly with the track's acoustic guitar backing.
The digereedoo gives "Hand To The Wall" a world texture with Lori's soaring vocalise opening the track. The vocal sustain within clearly demonstrates the power, range and depth of Lori's stunning voice. In sharp contrast, a light and upbeat keyboard melody supports the delightful "Swings," a lovely mid-tempo alternative style rocker. Lush keyboards perfectly compliment piano and Lori's soaring vocals.
Rich orchestral style keyboards, soft percussion, and deep bass begin a three-track standout sequence beginning with "As You Hold Me." Vocally very strong and richly arranged the track could have been a little bit longer; maybe there'll be a remix. "Today" follows in a similar style, with tender vocals atop keyboard washes and soft, yet rhythmic, guitar working with the vocal harmonies within the arrangements. The superb instrumentals provide interest behind the powerfully haunting vocal layers. The album concludes with "The Edge." Instrumentally as strong and varied as the vocals, it serves to illustrate the artist's virtuosity. These three tracks are incredibly stunning.
Lori Hawk's new album is an epic project of tremendous depth that is certain to expand her listener base. While several of the tracks are clearly styled in progressive rock, the relatively short track length may prevent the genre's typical listeners from being naturally drawn to the material. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. This tremendous new album from Lori Hawk that will delight Musical Discoveries visitors. Worth a trans-Atlantic journey, Alive In This Dream is clearly a must listen!
How did you develop your vocal style?
I've spent many hours recording my vocals and listening critically. I started out with a portable 4-track and now work with a digital audio workstation. I love singing to chant tracks or drone, unconfined by rigid structure. I did take a few months of classical vocal training in high school. Some of it was valuable, and the exercises were interesting, but most of it I never really bought into fully.
It's possible that I'm a pretty stubborn student too. I took a few weeks of speech-level training prior to recording "Over and Over" on Where is the Balance to explore what vocal teachers call 'the mix,' which is essentially finding the bridge between your breathy head-voice and powerful chest voice. Mainly, I sing what I hear in my head, what feels right in my body, and try not to let other things get in the way.
What artists have been your musical influences?
The top two influences would have to be Ann Wilson and Joni Mitchell. I think Ann Wilson is just amazing and she keeps getting better and better as time goes on. She is the essence of raw vocal athletic prowess, without ever compromising the passion in what she sings. Joni Mitchell's early recordings fueled my interest in folk music, lyric-focused music and poetry. It's been very surprising and flattering to hear comparisons to Tori Amos and Kate Bush. I think they're both great talents.
Have you listened much to Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Michelle Young or Rachael Sage and if so what do you think of their music?
I did hear a number Kate Bush comparisons surrounding the release of Where is the Balance, so I specifically sought out Kate Bush's music then to see what people were talking about. I still don't see the similarity. I'm guessing people are more accustomed to lower, huskier female vocals. Singers like Tori Amos and Kate Bush continue to get tossed into the same category, even though their music--to my ears anyway--is completely different. I'm not familiar with very much of Kate Bush's work, but I do like the song "The Man with a Child in his Eyes." Wonderful lyrics. I haven't yet heard Michelle Young or Rachel Sage, but I really like "Precious Things" and "Icicle" by Tori Amos. She is a superb performer.
Tell us a little more about Strata.
Strata was a new-age/rock band that I put together with my husband, Sam, who plays 12-string acoustic and six-string electric guitar, and has collaborated on and co-produced much of the material I've written and recorded.
Originally we envisioned a fusion between rock rhythms, 12-string guitar, layered keys, and spiritually-focused lyrics. We spent years trying to forge the sound we were looking for in a band context, but the pressures to move to a more commercial format kept getting in the way. After the decision to start a solo project, we worked with San Francisco-based keyboardists David Finn and Ed Goldfarb to create the orchestrated arrangements that make up much of the Where is the Balance sound.
David and I co-wrote a song called "Back Home" for that project and have continued to collaborate musically over the years, creating songs like "The Edge," "Princess Mary," and "Swings." Alison Moon, keyboardist, joined us for the "Alive in this Dream" project. Robin Sylvester played bass, Scott Smith played drums, Sam Hawk and Lyle Workman played guitar.
Who are some your favourite artists?
If I had to choose, I think Sheila Chandra is probably my favorite artist. She is quite possibly the best vocalist in the world today. There is a pure, unworldly spirit that is communicated in her singing. I am an obsessive collector/fan of Dead Can Dance and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan recordings, and I also really like Imogen Heap, Dar Williams, and Loreena McKennitt.
Where do you draw your inspiration for the music and the lyrics?
So many places. Stories around me that parallel similar struggles that I've experienced. The song "Alive" came from watching someone avoid a relationship that they really wanted to have, and coming to the realization that we all do some sort of dance with ourselves, getting in our own way of seeing the truth at times.
"For the Kings" was written right after a trip to Florence, mulling over the idea that even commissioned artists, painting the Virgin and Child for the Church and royal portraiture, always managed to slip a little piece of themselves into their work. "Listening for You" just came into my consciousness on Mission Peak in Fremont, following a hike to its summit.
How you would describe your music?
My music style is modern folk with rock, Celtic, and Eastern influences. My songwriting itself is rooted in folk and as a result, the lyrics dictate the rhythm and feel for most of the songs. Vocally, I am always reaching for a more pure, honest tone. I want to be able to convey the emotions behind what is being said so that a listener can feel the story while the words ripple around them.
Please explain the creative process and tell us about the studios you use in different stages.
I began songwriting with voice and guitar, but in the past three years have migrated toward piano as my writing instrument. I'm always in the middle of writing two or more songs at any given time. After the lyrics and melody are solidified, I like to track a rough arrangement in our home recording studio. Keys and guitar are recorded then as well.
We take this rough mix into the studio to use as a reference track for recording final drums and bass. Drums and bass are recorded at Future Rhythm in San Jose, California with Bruce Tambling engineering. We bring these session tapes back into our home studio to track vocals, guitars, hand percussion and any other instrumentation. Most of the songs from Alive in this Dream were mixed in our studio. "Princess Mary," "Free" and "The Edge" were mixed at Future Rhythm. All songs were mastered by Michael Romanowski at Paul Stubblebine Mastering in San Francisco.
Do you have a career or work outside music?
I am a marketing manager. I got into marketing as a result of starting a music management company in the mid-90's. We created promotional materials for new age, instrumental, and AAA artists who were seeking licensed distribution for their CDs. I love marketing and PR in the music business, especially radio. It's freeing to knock down that wall that artists put between themselves and the industry. I think web-based music marketing is rapidly changing that old landscape.
How about your live performances? How does the audience react to your on stage personna? Will you do some video work?
I love the energy of a live show. Past performances have been more rock-based, and I'm looking forward to the intimacy that a smaller venue provides. I don't have any immediate plans for video production, but possibly in 2004. (continued)
Where Is The Balance? Review
Lori Hawk's debut album is a ten track collection with a relatively short running time of about 36 minutes. Produced by Sam Hawk and Ed Goldfarb, the album was engineered by Bruce Tambling. Recording and production qualities are superb with Lori's voice mixed well above the instrumental arrangements.
Orchestral style keyboard washes provide a soft backdrop for Lori's soaring vocals while piano and guitar work provides an additional foundation for the material. The album opens with the contemplative tune "Wondering," a perfect track to introduce listeners to Lori's crystalline voice. The rocking tune "Over And Over" is one of the album's standouts--Lori's lead and backing vocal layers sound especially lush and work well to deliver the tremendous melody of the chorus.
Progressive rock enthusiasts will be delighted with Wakeman-esque style keyboard excursions. "Thunder" continues in a similarly rich orchestral style and it is certainly another one of the album's standouts with Lori's soaring vocals rising above the lush keyboard work.
Listeners will certainly enjoy the soaring vocalise layers in the the title track, a lush ballad. "Back Home" and "With You Tonight" continue in a similar style but with thicker arrangements featuring guitar and sweeping orchestrally flavoured keyboard washes. "
In "Won't Be Long" the pace picks up again. A world flavoured track instrumentally, Lori's vocal work is stunning soaring atop acoustic guitar, lush keyboard and crisp percussion. The upbeat rocker "Like I Don't Know" and "Feel The Rain" are a traditionally styled pop-oriented rock track that works perfectly to showcase Lori's solo and multi-layered harmony vocals. Both will delight Michelle Young fans. The album concludes with the contemplative "Last Time," tenderly sung and working as a perfect bookend to the opening number "Wondering."
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. This is an album of tremendous depth. Worth a trans-Atlantic journey, it is most clearly a must listen!
Your two albums are great--our readers are going to adore them. Where have you been hiding?
I guess in the studio. Alive in this Dream has consumed much of my attention over the past two years. After I finish a recording project, I need to step back for a moment, and take a deep breath before moving on.
What are your plans for 2003?
"Princess Mary" will be released to college radio in September 2003 and we're planning live performances in October, supporting this release.
How has the internet influenced your musical career and the promotion of your music?
I've met a lot of really interesting people during the review process of Alive in this Dream. I'm amazed at the number of online reviewers that are musicians, writing and recording their own projects, managing a web business, and still finding time to review the CDs of other artists. I'm still learning the ins and outs of managing a web site. Since I work in the field, I appreciate the importance of marketing to the success of any project, but in the end, the success of Alive in this Dream will really hinge upon how listeners feel about the music.
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