powerful melodic progressive rock
Image © 1999-2000 Medea Music | click on image to visit artists' website
album review and artist reflections
Review and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2000
Images © Medea Music 1999-2000
used with permission
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Original review: 03 September 2000
Last Updated: 02 January 2002
Medea is an emerging progressive rock band from the Philadelphia
area and represents the third link in a circular chain of artists
reviewed at Musical Discoveries during the last year. Those who
enjoy Second Story (review) and Cara Jones
(review) are certain to find the powerful
melodic rock of Medea enjoyable. Dynamic live performances are likely
best compared to Karnataka (review).
Medea is fronted by the stong and soaring vocals of lead singer Irene
Lambrou who, working with Patrick Robinson, produced many of the songs
on the band's debut album Dreams & Revelations
Medea Music (USA)
XO61498, 1999). Our review of the album incorporates the results of an
interview with the band's stunning lead vocalist.
Medea's debut album is comprised of eleven progressive-oriented tracks. While the tracks are dominated by Irene's vocal work, they are supported instrumentally by Patrick Robinson's keyboards, and dynamic guitar work by Michael Ghantt. The band's rhythm section includes bass player Glenn Marrazzo and drummer Bobby McKeown. While their music is not easily classified into a specific indie genre, we would best categorise it as progressive due to the varied style and nature of the individual tracks. Band photos used within this article were taken by Glenn's wife Chris, Frank Conley and Tom Menegatos.
The band's stated influences are diverse, ranging "from Steely Dan to Stevie Nicks to Led Zeppelin to Sting to Loreena McKennitt and back again. Their sound includes Greek and Middle Eastern rhythms, and a mature synthesis of rock, jazz, blues and ambient music." Vocal work is naturally superb throughout the recording and several of the album's tracks deliver a lovely live ambiance.
Dreams & Revelations opens with the rocking track "Surface Of The Sun" which is the one that originally introduced Medea and Irene's vocal work to us. Accessible in song construction with a lovely rocking chorus, soaring vocals are supported by lovely harmonies. This introduction to Bobby McKeown's percussion is especially crisp. Vocal effects on the slow ballad "Lay Down With The Enemy" that produce a live ambiance are complimented by rich orchestral keyboards and lovely additional harmonies. Irene's lead vocal during the bridge is especially evocative against the excursions of Michael Ghantt's guitar solo. Complimentary vocal and instrumental dynamics combine with further live vocal ambiance to great effect in the slow rocker "Down To The River."
We asked Irene about her background. She told us, "I grew up in a working class family, that later moved to the suburbs and became middle class by the sweat of my immigrant parents' brows. My mom and dad had high school educations and worked their asses off to give their three kids the best they could." She continued, "I was the first of three; I have a younger sister and brother. They are both musically gifted, but don't need to express it. We are all very close."
Irene told us about her family's reaction to her work. "They worry for me, because my life is a bit strange. But I always wanted to be on stage. It's as simple as that. I saw the law as a legitimate, realistic way to be on stage, but it turned out to be the real fraud. I never felt as comfortable in court as I do on stage. What I do on stage is real, it's me, in a way nothing else is. A lot of people can't understand that, they think it's peculiar. I guess it is, but I can't help it. I've sacrificed a great deal to make this dream a reality, and I'm not just talking about money-although a lot of that has been spent, too. I feel compelled to keep on the road, though, and try to make it all worthwhile. It's a great adventure."
We asked Irene about her musical influences and she told us, "My earliest exposure to music was traditional and popular Greek music, which was played at home when I was a kid-this was one way my immigrant parents kept the connection. The music was often in a minor key, and always very dramatic. I loved singing it, and still do."
Although her voice is substantially smoother and much more crystalline, Irene is heavily influenced by Stevie Nicks and this came out as she continued, "As a teen I was obsessed with Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, particularly the Buckingham Nicks record. More minor keys and drama—the Stevie Nicks influence remains in performance; my movements on stage are definitely something I picked up by watching videos of Stevie." There were other influences spanning progressive and popular music as well. "I also loved listening to Linda Ronstadt, Barbra Streisand, and the Eagles. In addition, I enjoyed Genesis, Yes, Led Zeppelin and the Moody Blues."
Irene told us about how the influences were brought into Medea's music. "A lot of the stuff on Dreams & Revelations was a collaboration with Patrick Robinson—mostly, he would have a music idea and I had lyrics or poetry, and would try to combine them. Occasionally, we worked in more members of the band, in a "jam" situation and I would make up a melody and throw out ad lib words that I could build on later. I'd take the jam tape home and listen in my car until the ideas came. I sing the idea into a handheld tape recorder, and learn it well enough to present it to Pat. Sometimes I have chord progression ideas that are workable, sometimes not. Lyrics I basically scribble down all the time. I try to keep them in one or two books that are always accessible."
When we reflect on Medea's sound, Irene's comments on who she is listening to nowadays are not terribly surprising. "I listen to Tori Amos all the time. And October/November Project. Happy Rhodes. Aimee Mann, definitely. And of course Sarah McLachlan. Moby. And Sting continues to be one of my most favorites—he is simply brilliant."
The progressive rocker "Purgatory" blends thick guitar and bass parts, lively keyboards and crystalline soaring vocals with traces of Middle Eastern rhythms. Vocal harmonies in this track, "Oracle" and the slow rocker entitled "Thaw" are most reminscent of Second Story's sound. The drum solo during the bridge within "Purgatory" illustrates McKeown's talent. "The Tower" although significantly different in sound, is very similar to "Purgatory" in style. Irene's soaring vocal work in the chorus is especially evocative.
The ballad "Inside" is dominated instrumentally by lead guitar and complimented by Irene's finest lead vocal part on the album. Her range and power are perfectly demonstrated and complimented by a sensual keyboard melody. The different movements with "Oracle" add interest and show the range and depth of the artists' songwriting skill. With stunning vocal harmonies, rich instrumentation and rocking sensibility, it is a tremendous track.
We asked Irene about how she developed her vocal style. She told us, "I'm basically self-trained. I think I had like six actual "lessons" and they really focused on breathing. I've been singing jazz standards and 40s swing stuff at weddings and private parties for over 10 years."
This is evident in Medea's debut album. She continued, "I love singing that stuff and it is much more challenging than most current pop music. That has been great on the job training that no teacher could provide, I think. The improv that goes on in jazz—I try to use that style a bit and change the melodies to my own songs from one performance to another, play with a harmony instead of the lead part, breathe differently and ride scales; it's very creative and satisfying when it works. I'm lucky because I have a good ear, and usually even when I go way out there, I can bring it back to the melody—the band know to expect it and just do their thing. That's really the training, for me, playing out a lot and developing the presence."
We asked Irene about the recording of Medea's debut album. She told us, "This is the first record of original music I've made. We recorded in Patrick Robinson's studio in Bucks County PA, Robinsong Studios. He did all the recording. I and drummer Bobby McKeown were there for some of the mixing, and I even got to work some of the faders, but that was really Patrick's show. It was a real learning experience for me. Patrick handled the mastering at a colleague's studio."
Irene's jazz standards background comes through in the lovely track "Cathedral Dreams" in which Patrick Robinson's keys blend with layers of Irene's tender vocal harmonies. Also illustrative of Irene's evocative vocal skills is the track "Walking on Coals" another jazz standard-oriented ballad accompanied by a lounge style piano and further light instrumentation including a sax part played by guest Ed White and further woodwind inspired keyboards.
The ballad "Kiss Goodbye" that closes the album is written and performed in a similar style; Irene's soaring lead vocal is crystalline pure and sensual. Joe Novia's trumpet part adds an especially jazzy touch to the song. Irene told us, "it was added posthumously, through the magic of Patrick's genius in the studio. Our beloved Joey was tragically killed in a car accident in 1997 but the trumpet track had been previously recorded for another project and Patrick had retained a tape of it. He was able to work it into "Kiss Goodbye" by slightly changing the pitch digitally. Amazing, isn't it? I still can't listen to the track without crying." The inclusion of the trumpet part is indeed a wonderful memorial to a talented musician and close friend.
Irene has an undergraduate degree in urban studies and a law degree. She told us about her career outside of music, "I practiced law in a firm for three years and left for a (significantly less remunerative) law job that was more amenable to my other life. Since then I've worked for a judge on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. She's progressive and hip, and enjoys hearing about my gigs. My job involves reading appellate briefs and doing research, and then drafting opinions for the judge on various issues in the law. I'm basically a writer. The job leaves weekends open so I can manage and book Medea."
It is obvious that Irene is really into live performances. We asked her what she feels about them. "It is the heart of why I do this. I love it, I love the audiences and the energy they generate. I think I've gotten really good at it; as good as it is, I don't think this CD captures the magic of our live performances. I try to be as dramatic and interesting as I found Stevie Nicks to be, but in my own way, with these new songs. I hope I accomplish it." Medea must be an incredible live act.
We asked Irene what she thought about the web and its influence on Medea's progress. She told us, "Well, it's changed everything hasn't it? It makes it possible for people all over the world to hear our music, even though we don't have the power of a label (or even a manager or publicist) behind us. Websites for bands are fascinating, and I love checking out bands that way. I've bought tons of music I never would have found the conventional spoonfeeding way of radio and record stores. We've gotten email from and sold cds to people all over the country, and in Europe. It's amazing. I do believe that as I learn more about driving traffic to our sites, we'll continue to broaden our fan base."
Streaming versions of the album's tracks (in mp3 format) gig information and further photos are available at the band's website. The band also maintain an active presence at mp3.com (click here) where free downloads are available and a Digital Audio Music (DAM) sampler CD can be purchased. You can find further reviews and order Medea's album from amazon.com here. Medea's debut album is an exceptional collection of original progressive rock-oriented tunes that blend dynamic instrumentals with tremendous vocal work. Their live performances must be dynamic and wonderful. Highly recommended to our readers, especially fans of Second Story, Cara Jones and related artists, Medea's Dreams & Revelations—worth a cross-country journey—is a must listen!
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