Image © 1994 Chesky Records
With a singing/songwriting career now spanning three audiophile quality solo albums as well as a recently released DVD, Chesky Records recording artist Rebecca Pidgeon has demonstrated an uncanny ability to span a wide range of vocal and song styles. Born in the USA but raised in Scotland, she is equally accomplished as a motion picture, theatre and television actress. Singing professionally since her teens, Rebecca Pidgeon's ability to radiate emotion shines through in the two albums reviewed here. The Raven (Chesky Records JD115) is a lovely and vocally intense album that explores the dimensions of Rebecca Pidgeon's voice against a light acoustic environment. A studio recording, this light and airy music is perfectly suited for Chesky's 128x oversampling high resolution technology production techniques to preserve the quality of the underlying talent. Rebecca's voice carries the album with minimal yet very effective string instrumentation. The music has a light and airy feel building its power from the heartfelt delivery of the songs. The album's thirteen tracks span lighter singing styles that illustrate both Rebecca's vocal range and textures she uses to evoke different emotions. The music is exceptionally calming in its folky, bluesy or folk-rocky (not new age) approach, almost perfectly suited to a coffee shop or cafe atmosphere, or for Sunday morning radio.
The light and airy songs ("Kalerka," "You Got Me" and "Heart and Mind") have effective, yet light instrumentation and are lyrically and vocally very strong. "The Witch" is the one Celtic-oriented track. Sung entirely solo, mid-range vocals carry the tune. The title track is sung almost a capella with very light—mostly string—instrumentals. "Seven Hours" is sung in a similar highly dramatic style with highly effective vocalise and light percussion used to further establish the mood of the song.
In contrast to the other tracks with more guitar, backing vocals and an overall lusher tone and a chorus with a hook, "You Need Me There" is a very nice and slightly more accessible tune. The bluesy numbers on the album include "Grandmother" and "Her Man Leaves Town" which has some very interesting electronic keyboards added to the piano and string accompanyment. The highly enjoyable folk rock tune "Wendy's Style Shop" has a robust yet light chorus and, like "Remember Me" and "The Height of Land" features some of the most diverse vocal excursions of the album.
The certain highlight of the album is "Spanish Harlem" which Rebecca Pidgeon became became renowned for covering. Sung basicall a capella with only minimal processing and beginning with just light bass and even lighter piano backing track, it is by far the stongest song on the album. The instrumental bridge only serves to join the vocal segments of the track. It is certainly most illustrative of Rebecca Pidgeon's vocal talent.
As her first solo album,The Raven clearly illustrates the broad range of talent that the stunning Rebecca Pidgeon posesses and serves as a wonderful introduction to this artist's recorded work. The New York Girls' Club (Chesky Records JD141, 1996) is Rebecca's second solo album. Here she brought her unique singing and songrwriting to more music lovers. The recording also helped her understand how important a form of self-expression her singing and songwriting was.
The New York Girls' Club is comprised of twelve tracks that again illustrate the range of Rebecca Pidgeon's talent. While a flurry of guest musicians contribute piano, organ, saxophone, synthesizer, guitar, bass and drums, Pidgeon is credited with lead vocals, vocal arrangements as well as guitar. Songs range from light acoustic folky numbers to moderate rock tracks. The album is the most accessible of her three releases to date and is likely to please a broad range of audiences.
The album's more upbeat and rocky numbers are carried by Rebecca's vocals with acoustic guitar and keyboards underscoring the melodies. These tracks include "Address To The Beams," "Underground" (a favourite) and "Under The Table." Bright folk tunes that include "Jerusalem" (another favourite but not the classic sung by progressive artists ELP and Pär Lindh Project (review), as well as female vocalists Charlotte Church (review) and Miriam Stockley) and "The Penguin" are also carried by Rebbecca's sweet voice backed primarily by lovely light guitar and bass instrumentation.
The vocally intense heartfelt ballads from the album include "The Wedding Dress" and the lovely country and western-jazz crossover "The Word Around Town." Clearly the most symphonic song of the album is "Primitive Man." Percussion and additional instrumentation give it a unique depth.
Rebecca's jazzier style comes through in "24 Hours Of Love" and crosses over into rock and ballad styles in the title track "New York Girls' Club" with its modern lyrical setting with absolutely stunning, almost ringing, vocal work. The Sunday morning style returns in "Friday Night Crowd" with its very light acoustic guitar accompanyment. The album closes with a sensitive narration and then Rebecca's jazzy rendition of "Auld Lang Syne."
Four Marys (Chesky Records JD165) is a significant development from Rebecca Pidgeon's first album with a change in musical direction for the tracks included. Focused entirely on traditional Celtic music, the album includes fourteen tracks deeply rooted in Scottish tradition in their storytelling approach. Like some of Chesky's other albums, the recording was done St Peters Church and the ambiance has been perfectly captured with Chesky's 96-khz/24-bit technology and minimal miking techniques.
Although first and foremost a vocal album, some of Celtic music's finest musicians were recruited to provide backing instrumentals. Johnnie Cunningham plays fiddle and mandolin while Jerry O'Sullivan plays Uillean pipes. The vocals are as much Rebecca Pidgeon as they are on The Raven however the songs are sung in a mix of Gaelic and English and the instrumentals are by and large mixed further back in almost all of the tracks. The tracks are—by design—exclusively Celtic folk oriented with flute, strings and pipes establishing the overall ambiance of the album.
Beautifully packaged, the album contains a comprehensive booklet with short documentaries on each of the songs to accompany the lyrics. The centrefold of the booklet has a stunning photo taken during one of the recording sessions.
Chesky Records actually says it best,"Historical, philosophical, humorous and tragic, "Four Marys" explores classic tales of love, infidelity, war and revenge. In the process, Pidgeon's fresh interpretations of traditional Celtic folk songs like "Fhear a Bhata", "Black Jack Davey" and "Jock O Hazeldean" blend her unmistakable vocal style with a distinctive Celtic flavor."
Four Marys songs are indeed largely traditional in their style and the album is one that will appeal to Rebecca Pidgeon lovers and traditional (Irish, Scottish) folk fans alike. Certainly another testament to Rebecca Pidgeon's vocal arrangements, singing talent and songwriting collaboration, this album is worth exploring, especially by those that really enjoy traditional Celtic music.
You can listen to soundbites from these albums at the Chesky Records website and other online sources. The CDs are both available from the label via their website, your local dealer or at CDNow and other on-line shops. While visiting Chesky's website, check out their other artists; female vocalist fans may want to further explore the stunning album Ephemera by Carla Lother (review).
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