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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.

Sasha Lazard
October Project
Par Lindh Project
Filippa Giordano
The Corrs
Mediaeval Baebes
Watsonville Patio

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The Myth Of Red CD Cover
Image © OmTown Music 2002

Interview and Photos
  (02 August 2002) Joining forces with producer Frank Fitzpatrick and DJ Mark Raskin, the classically trained opera singer, Sasha Lazard has released her thematic debut album, The Myth of Red (OmTown Music (USA), 2002). As explained in album's liner notes, Sasha believes that the color red represents various traits of the female spirit, among other things.

The ear-catching opener "Stabat Mater IXXI" is derived from Baroque composer Pergolesi's work of the same name. Sasha provides both foreground and harmony vocals that intertwine passionately with snake-charmer percussion, cello, and subtle synthetic textures. The end-result is a captivatingly romantic soundscape.

Another treat is the funked-up version of Caccini's "Ave Maria" entitled "Ode to Innocence." This same melody was given a choral treatment by Paul Schwartz on the Aria 2 (review) album. Sasha's music video of the track (see interview for further comments) filmed in exotic surroundings is visually enticing and illustrates her sensually graceful and dance-oriented movements. A vocally augmented choir opens with a haunting refrain on Sasha's version. Guest vocalist E-Day adds interesting and effective ethnic-based chants to the song.

Tracks like the techno/salsa flavored "Forbidden Dance" and "Battle of Erishkigal" (featuring DJ Spooky) move into the trance and dance realm and provide lively breaks throughout the album. Other pieces like the Chopin-influenced "Romance" are actually more traditional in style but nonetheless performed by Sasha with panache and sensitivity.

David Shamban--who extracts the most luminous sounds from the cello--adds a lush texture to the divine and appropriately-titled electronica track "Angeli." Sasha's performance of the "Princess Mononoke Theme Song" is simply heart-rending. Although the track is only 1:33, the pristine power of Sasha's voice is on full display demonstrating her formidable talent as a singer. It is difficult not to be awed by the tonal clarity and vibrancy of Sasha's vocals which are backed on this track by gentle strings.

Fans of Emma Shaplin (feature), Sarah Brightman (La Luna review, Classics review), Aria, and Operatica will find much to appreciate in The Myth of Red. Sasha is an expert and gifted chanteuse, without doubt. Her selection and adaptation of established classical works is indicative of an artistic ability to marry past and present in creative ways. With such a promising debut, Sasha may very well be the next international classical-crossover superstar to reign in the charts.--Justin Elswick

Click on the link to read our indepth interview with Sasha Lazard. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, The Myth of Red is a must listen!

Three (EP) CD Cover
Image © October Project 2002

Julie Flanders, Marina Belica, Emil Adler
Image © Steven Lowy 2002

More October Project
Unplugged in Soho, NYC Oct 2002
with Karnataka

(07 August 2002) October Project is back. Re/Formed around the angelic voice of Marina Belica, and the songs of Julie Flanders and Emil Adler, the group returns itself to its three original members, who have been friends and collaborators since college.

Signed to Epic Records in 1993, the group has enjoyed international acclaim and has sold close to half a million copies of their two albums (October Project and Falling Farther In). The albums continue to sell and attract new listeners to this day. In March 2002 Falling Farther In made the top five (along with Creed, Jars of Clay and U-2) in a list of "Music With A Message" in Borders Bookstores' magazine. Now, six years after the group left Epic, songwriters Flanders and Adler and singer Belica have reunited, with plans for a long anticipated third album.

October Project established its roots in a New Jersey garage but its early seeds germinated on the campus of Yale University where Belica and Flanders were roommates for four years. The three were joined in 1990 by guitarist David Sabatino, percussionist Urbano Sanchez and singer Mary Fahl.

October Project headlined sold-out shows across the US and toured with such platinum-selling acts as The Crash Test Dummies and Sarah McLachlan. The band performed live on TV's Latenight with Conan O'Brien as well as on numerous nationally syndicated radio shows, and was featured in an Emmy Award-nominated PBS Special, Just Passing Through, with Shawn Colvin and Julia Fordham. October Project's music appears in the feature film Blown Away starring Tommy Lee Jones and Jeff Bridges, and has appeared on such TV shows as The Real World, Extra!, The Rosie ODonnell Show, Baywatch and One Life to Live.

Although the original group took a break for personal reasons in 1996, Flanders, Belica and Adler continued to make music together. In 2000, they gathered in the studio with Sabatino and percussionist Sanchez to "cover" October Project's second single, "Return to Me," for Belica's debut solo recording, decembergirl. The response to the track was phenomenal. It went to #1 on alternative station WBER in Rochester, New York and aired for several months on 99X, one of the most popular commercial radio stations in Atlanta. Prompting a mention in Billboard magazine, the track was also featured in the climactic scene of an indie movie--The Adulterer--featuring several Flanders and Adler songs that had its New York premiere in June of 2002.

Starting with an appearance at The Bottom Line in October of 2001, Belica, Flanders and Adler began to perform together again on a regular basis. They have since performed charitable concerts for Gilda's Club, The New York City School System, and the closing concert at St. Paul's Chapel in Manhattan for workers and volunteers at the World Trade Center recovery site. On July 3rd, they opened the Carolina Arts Festival at the 7,000-seat Regency Amphitheater. And on September 22nd they will give a concert celebrating the launch of the Manhattan chapter of the NOCC (National Ovarian Cancer Coalition).

After completing a 6-song EP planned for release this October, they will immediately begin work on a full-length release. They plan to include Sabatino and Sanchez in the recordings and in concerts this fall.

The first release to emerge from this reunion is a three-track sampler intended to give fans a taste of what they can expect from the new incarnation. Gathered together under one roof are the decembergirl recording of "Return To Me" (feature), "Always a Place" from the Kosova Relief Fund benefit album Refuge, and a brand new track entitled "If I Turn Away." All three tracks are produced by Adler. Affectionados will find the sampler especially enticing.

The last cut on the sampler, "If I Turn Away" is the first all-new recording by the trio and will be included on the EP due out this October. The rich and dynamic orchestral arrangement offers the listener an insight into the direction the band is going. Evocatively soaring vocals and lush instrumentals contribute to the superior quality of the track. Watch for our forthcoming feature article on October Project 3. In the meantime, click on either of the images above to visit the band's website; read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order their earlier albums at amazon.com here.

The Clannad Anthology CD Cover
Image © Rhino Entertainment Co. 2002 

(06 July 2002) The first Clannad compilation to include material from the band's entire release history is a 34-track, 2 CD collection entitled A Magical Gathering The Clannad Anthology (Rhino Entertainment Co (USA) R2 78255 DRC 12973, 2002). The compilation, produced by John O'Regan, includes a lushly produced 44-page booklet loaded with many first-time-in-print photos, thumbnails of original album covers, a band history and commentary on each of the tracks. While well known in many territories, the band's popularity rose further on the heels of their sibling Enya's recently found success.

Fronted by their lead vocalist Máire Brennan who also contributes harp to some of the pieces, the band also includes Ciarán Brennan (vocals, guitar, mandolin, bass, double bass, piano, keyboards), Pól Brennan (vocals, guitar, keyboards, flute, whistle, tin whistle, bongos)--who left the band in 1992--Noel Duggan (vocals, guitar, harmonium), Pádraig Duggan (vocals, guitar, manodla, mandolin, harmonica) and--to a limited extent--Eithne [Enya] Brennan (vocals).

Tracks on The Clannad Anthology follow the band's discography and opens with two tracks from Clannad remastered from the original vinyl since the master tapes were destroyed long before the advent of CDs. The vinyl album is very rare and considered by many collectors to be the "holy grail" of Clannad memorabilia. The CD remaster was released in 1997--24 years after the original album was pressed--and the production quality of the tracks on CD is notably different than the remaining tracks on The Anthology as well as balance of the albums in their (CD) discography.

The first disc of The Anthology is comprised primarily of tradional folk-oriented material. Two of the most notable tracks in this portion of the collection are the band's unique treatment of the traditional "Dúlamán" from the album of the same name and the stunning "An Túll" from Fuaim--the one Clannad album where Enya sings backing vocals. While the Clannad arrangements of the traditional is certainly notable, the band's style evolved significantly--into a more progressive Celtic direction, setting the standard of the genre--within their Magical Ring album. The last four tracks of the first disc were selected from this album. " Thíos Fá'n Chósta," "Theme From Harry's Game" and "Newgrange" clearly define the transition.

With the first disc grounded in traditional, the second charts Clannad's course in soundtrack-oriented and progressively-influenced music opening with three tracks from Legend: Music From Robin Of Sherwood, an album viewed by many as a significant step for the band. The lush arrangement of "Ancient Forest" from this collection makes it an album standout. Rich vocal and instrumental arrangements crossing the progressive boundary into new age at times characterise the tracks from Macalla that come next and include the stunning collaboration with U2's Bono and hit entitled "In A Lifetime."

By Sirius the band clearly had moved into a progressive Celtic direction. A blend of traditional instruments, woodwinds and upbeat electric-guitar laden arrangements in "Second Nature" coupled with lovely vocal harmonies clearly illustrates this transition and is further defined in "Something To Believe In" and "Sirius." The style further developed in Anam and Banba with a lush blend of multi-layered vocal harmonies with traditional and modern instrumentation.

After a three-year break following Banba, the band re-emerged with even more dynamic arrangements on Lore, which strived to make Clannad's music even more accessible; "Seanchas" is a stunning example. Their soundtrack style continued to evolve as well and is exemplefied by "Croí Cróga." The band's most recent and award-winning studio album Landmarks shows further use of modern instrumentation and emphasis of electric guitar, powerful bass and keyboard. Multi-layered vocals continue to characterise the sound in "An Gleann" and the upbeat Celtic rocker "A Mhurnín Ó" that conclude the compilation.

Rhino and the album's executive producer have truly captured Clannad's musical development in A Magical Gathering. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the compilation from amazon.com here. Certainly an album for the experienced Clannad enthusiast or a newcomer to their material, this album is worth a journey. One that will stay in your CD changer for months, this compilation is a must listen!

Live In Iceland CD Cover
Image © Cimsonic 2002

More Par Lindh Project
Veni Vidi Vici
Live In America

(06 July 2002) Par Lindh Project's Live In Iceland (Crimsonic (Sweden) CLCS 107, 2002) was recorded during the band's promotional tour for their last album Veni Vidi Vici (review) by Iceland Radio in November 2001. Clearly complimentary to the band's earlier in-concert double CD Live In America (review), this album presents live versions of selections from their latest studio project and several previously unrecorded tracks.

Fronted by Magdalena Hagberg (vocals, violin and keyboard) and Par Lindh (keyboards), the Live In Iceland lineup also includes William Kopecky (bass), Nisse Bielfeld (drums, vocals) and John Hemransen (guitar). The album is comprised of ten tracks and seems to be more vocally oriented than any of PLP's earlier recordings. Production quality is typical PLP--superb--especially for a live recording. As someone that has seen PLP on stage previously, the ambience of the band's live performance has been perfectly captured.

A brief intro ("Adagio") that welcomes the band onto the stage blends into the almost 15-minute epic "Gradus ad Parnassum" where guitar and piano feud temptuously before the Nisse's small spoken vocal part that precedes the main theme. Magdalena's soaring vocal takes over and alternates with Nisse's 'blown away' sequence. Vast progressive-styled keyboard, electric piano, guitar and drum solos that precede the final vocal and keyboard passages make for a stunning opening track.

The percussive introduction to "Veni Vidi Vici" folds nicely into Par Lindh's lush keyboard themes that follow. Listeners will be attracted to Magdalena's searching vocalise that precedes the first of several major tempo changes within the piece. "Tower Of Thoughts" is superbly performed by the band with Magdalena's lead vocal front-and-center, way up in the mix--with a dramatic multi-dimensional instrumental in the bridge, it is clearly an album standout.

Live In Iceland presents several instrumentals featuring Par's keyboards that make their album debut here. These include unique treatments of the well-known "Montagues & Capulets" (by Prokofiev) and equally familiar "Charleston Rag" (by Eubie Blake) that lead perfectly into the introduction to "The River of Tales," a gentle, brief and classically arranged ballad featuring Magdalena's evocatively soaring vocals accompanied only by Par's piano.

In a sharp contrast, the powerful and percussive rocker "Juxtapoint" follows with Magdalena's lead and Nisse's harmony vocals complimenting the heavy instrumental arrangements. The orchestral "Hymn"--another album standout and personal favourite--features Magdalena's crystalline lead vocal and Par's church organ-style keyboard accompaniment alternating with a dynamic progressive instrumental and second theme before blending into "The Premonition." The track features some of Magdalena's most powerful vocal work and continues to build instrumentally--returning to the second theme of "Hymn"--to the album's climax and conclusion.

A list of progressive rock distributors that stock Live In Iceland is online at the band's website. Read further reviews and order the album from amazon.com here. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, the album captures the atmosphere of the band's on-stage performance and is a must listen!

Skeem CD Cover
Image © Musea Production 2001 

(06 July 2002) The debut self-titled album (Musea (France) FGBG 4420.AR, 2001) from the French band Skeem is an eight-track collection of well-arranged and accessible neo-progressive rock tracks. Although lead vocals are by Serge Barbaro--who has been compared favourably to George Michael--we were drawn to the album by the band's two female backing singers, Cathy Lully Croux and Sabrina Bendjema, the lush Asia-like progressive rock arrangements and the album cover.

In addition to lead vocals, Serge plays all guitars, keyboards and provides backing vocals as well. The lineup is completed by Emma M (drums), Bertrand Hulin-Bertaud (bass), Barry Barbaro (keyboards) and Fabrice Rives (keyboards). The material is all sung in English; lyrics are by Mark Eaton who also designed the album's artwork.

We asked Mark about the young woman on the album cover. He told us, "The main focus was the reflection in the glasses, and I just cooked the girl up out of thin air because I needed a nose to put the glasses on. Also, I wanted her to look like she was watching something like Gone With The Wind as she has full trust in the people sponsoring World War III and loves to be irradiated whenever possible."

He continued, "Nuclear explosions being rather scarce and the effects on the skin and excess weight so permanent, she just couldn't miss this and certainly would have posed for a picture if I had been there, but the film would've melted and there's been no reliable studies yet as of just how overwelming the side effects of these events are on male participants."

But does she really exist? Mark told us, "The girl only exists in my dreams unfortunately! But I've seen some clones around the chemical plant that exploded last September--that's AZF in Toulouse. Did you hear about that? I live right next door!"

Lush symphonic style keyboard arrangements and sweeping guitar solos grace the album's tracks. Several of the tracks have alternating keyboard and guitar solos which work extremely well playing off each other. The album's tracks are each 7-9 minute mini-epics typified by tempo changes and grand musical themes.

Skeem's music has been favourably compared not only to Asia but also to Saga at times. The rhythm section--percussion and bass--are tight and crisp. The female backing vocals--which occasionally break through into the lead position--perfectly compliment the male lead and add just the right texture to the overall sound. Production quality across the album is superb and is certain to delight listeners.

Outstanding production quality, superb arrangements and evocative vocals characterise the band's debut album. Soundbites are available from the band's website. Read further reviews and order the album from amazon.com here. The Skeem album is worth a trans-Atlantic journey and is certainly a must listen!

Night Star CD Cover
Image © Melbourne Music 2002 

(04 July 2002) The second album from Britain's Melbourne team is an eleven-ambient-track collection entitled Night Star (release information in August 2002). Their former album Indian Ocean (Mystic Records (UK) MYSCD130, 2001) received significant acclaim.

Listeners will immediately be drawn to the material through Carrie Melbourne's sensual voice. She also provides Chapman Stick, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and piano parts to the recording. The lineup is completed with Doug Melbourne (keyboards, programming) and Jamie Fisher (acoustic and electric drums, persussion). Guest musicians on the new album include Steve Marsh (12-string guitar, mandola), Manir Donaghue (electric guitar) and Alan Strong (cello).

Carrie’s beautiful and ethereal vocals are key to the Melbourne sound and make the music instantly identifiable. But that’s not to detract from her talents as a player and writer. Carrie is the lead singer and focal point of the band and her stage performance has been described as mesmeric. Doug is an extraordinary keyboard player and arranger, and an expert in classic analogue keyboards and synthesisers. Doug’s last project before Melbourne was ReGenesis, a tribute to the Gabriel-era Genesis shows of the early seventies, reproducing some of the most complex keyboard parts ever written for a rock band. In Melbourne, his loops, ambient sounds and powerful piano playing set the band apart from their peers.

Jamie Fisher is a virtuoso musician described as ‘the next Simon Philips’–a musician with amazing technique tempered by taste and restraint. His previous work both live and in the studio encompasses a very wide range of styles and environments.

Readers familiar with the work of Balligomingo (review) and the work of the individual vocalists (review) as well as Lunascape (review) are certain to find Melbourne's latest recording an enjoyable experience albeit more ethereal and atmospheric. The Chapman Stick adds a magically rhythmic lushness to the overall sound that can't be reproduced otherwise.

Night Star opens with tenderly soaring vocalise and the Eastern flavours of "Shanti" before the first highly rhythmic single from the album entitled "Deep Deep Deep" begins. Carrie's vocal work and accent are highly evocative. Melodic bass and percussion combine with ambient keyboards to underscore the sensuous vocal layers in "Water in the Well," one of the album's clear standouts. The pace picks up with in the gently rocking, but equally ethereal, "Numbskull (Unraveled)". The bass chords sharply contrast Carrie's most sensitive vocals which transition well into the trance tune "End Of The Line."

The gentle rockers and equally accessible "Love Remains" and "For You" are further album standouts. Lush orchestral arrangements and Carrie's incredible guitar solo in the former perfectly compliment the bass and harmony vocal parts. We especially enjoyed the way the theme developed further into "Shoot The Messenger."

"Clandestine" is musically raunchier with almost spoken vocal parts supported by crisp percussion and electric guitar distortions. The gentle ballad "Christmas Is Gone Now" is evocatively sung with only piano accompaniment and is a tribute to Carrie's vocal virtuosity. The album closes with the ambient guitar-laced instrumental "Nexus 6."

Interested readers should browse further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the band's previous album Indian Ocean at amazon.com here. The new album is worth further exploration and is certainly a very nice listen!

Twilight CD Cover
Image © Pioneer Entertainment 2000

Image © Pioneer Entertainment 2000

The Race of a Thousand Camels CD Cover
Image © Polystar (Japan) 1999

Image © Pioneer Entertainment 2000

More Boa
Concert Review

(09 August 2002) The debut album from British band Boa is an 11-track project entitled The Race Of A Thousand Camels (Polystar (Japan) PSCR-5688, 1998). With three bonus tracks added, the album was released as Twilight (Pioneer (USA) PIO-CD-5153-2, 2001), following the success of their cult hit single "Duvet." The track is the opening theme to the Serial Experiments Lain anime series. Remixes of "Duvet" have done very well in several territories.

Disturbing, perplexing, sometimes infuriating, Ryutaro Nakamura's Serial Experiments Lain covers some of the same themes as The X-Files and the films of David Lynch. When introverted 13-year-old Lain receives an e-mail from a dead classmate, she gains access to "the Wired," a virtual world that promises unlimited power to those who can exploit it. Gradually the borders between the real and the virtual blur, and Lain's own identity begins to fade and fragment. Her parents tell her that she is not really their child, her online self grows in power and independence, and shadowy organizations pursue her in both worlds. Finally she begins to realize that she is either reality's only hope, or its worst enemy. Edgy alternative rock music like Boa's has was the perfect choice for the series' opening theme.

Fronted by stunning lead vocalist Jasmine Rodgers, Boa's lineup is completed by Steve Rodgers (vocals, guitar), Ben Henderson (guitar, sax, percussion), Paul Turrell (piano, keyboards, string arrangements, guitar, percussion), Alex Caird (bass) and Lee Sullivan (drums). The Rodgers are Bad Company's Paul Rodgers' siblings. Lee Sullivan is son of Renaissance drummer Terry Sullivan who introduced our editorial staff to Boa. And Alex Caird played bass for Renaissance on their Tuscany album. The lineup has changed since the album's release. Details are available at the band's website.

The Race Of A Thousand Camels opens with the melancholy verses of "Fool." Listeners will immediately be drawn to the powerful vocal energy of Jasmine Rodgers and the guitar-laden arrangements of this bluesy rocker. The soaring vocals that explore the singer's emotional range are immediately striking. The rhythmic haunting melody of "Twilight" continues to illustrate the vocalist's talent, contrasting evocative sweetness with sonic enthusiasm through tempo and style changes--it must be a wonderful track to see performed in concert.

The heartfelt, upbeat and accessible rocker "Duvet" blends rich instrumental arrangements and crisp percussion with a tender lead vocal line gently soaring across Jasmine's range in the chorus. Gentle guitar solos in the short instrumental bridge are matched with the softly sung vocalise layers. Rich and rocking electric guitar rhythms provide the musical foundation in "Rain" with layered vocals that add texture to the sound. Stunning string arrangements that perfectly compliment Jasmine's searching vocal make "Elephant," like "Duvet," a standout.

Raunchy guitar sounds are constrasted by further string arrangements in the rocking tunes "Scoring" and "Deeply" which continue to explore Jasmine's range of vocal styles varying from her gentlest to the most powerful and sonically evocative. "One Day," richly arranged with guitar-laden arrangements and lush keyboards and strings supporting, is the one track sung exclusively by Steve Rodgers--a very good male vocalist.

Jasmine's voice is well suited for the edgy and bluesy singer-songwriter ballad "Welcome." Strings perfectly blend with guitar, bass and crisp percussion once again providing the perfect foundation for the lead vocal--another album standout. Contrasting vocal styles in "For Jasmine" are supported by corresponding lush keyboard arrangements and differing agressive electric guitar styles. The album concludes with "Anna Maria," an upbeat Mexican dance-oriented number (think maracas) full of lush acoustic and electric guitar solos, piano and crisp percussion complimenting Jasmine's tenderly sung vocal.

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Our editors have been listening to Boa's music for almost four years now. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, these albums--as many of the band's new enthusiasts have shown--are clearly a must listen!

Shine CD Cover
Image © E-Magine Entertainment 2002 

(10 August 2002) Producer and writer Lord Vanger, the creative impetus behind 2000's O: Operatica, Vol. 1 has revisited the opera halls and dance halls with a new album entitled Shine. While O featured the vocals of celebrated siren soprano, Maureen O'Flynn, Shine teams Vanger with divas Ying Huang, Inva Mula, Persian vocalists Shakila and Jihae, and tenor vocalist John Osborn. The stellar Ms. O'Flynn also (gratefully) makes a reappearance on the title track, "Shine." This review features brief profiles of Lord Vanger and several of the contributing vocalists where biographical information was available.

Lord Vanger: Lord Vanger was born and raised in the UK. After spending time in France and Switzerland Vanger relocated to New York where he earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University. In 1997, Vanger formed a highly successful commercial music and design company called B5 Atomic. Vanger has since produced commercial music for Dodge, Hyundai and Tropicana. Vanger has also worked in the film industry as a music supervisor.

Maureen O'Flynn: Noted as an "Artist to Watch" by Musical America Ms. O'Flynn is the recipient of the Opera Index First Prize and a grant from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. The Dallas Opera also awared Maureen O’Flynn the Callas Award for Outstanding New Artist of the Year. Ms. O’Flynn has also performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, La Scala, La Fenice, Arena di Verona, Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, the Satander Festival, Covent Garden, New Israeli Opera and the Vienna Staatsoper.

Ying Huang: China's Ying Huang has performed with numerous leading opera companies throughout the world. As a soprana, she was chosen from over 200 candidates to portray the title role in Frédéric Mitterrand's 1995 film version of Puccini's Madame Butterfly. Deemed one of opera's most skilled young sopranos, Ying Huang has performed Sonnets to Orpheus, a six-movement song cycle for soprano and chamber ensemble based upon the 1923 poems of Maria Rilke and composed by Richard Danielpour.

Inva Mula: Albanian soprano Inva Mula-Tchako is probably best known to the world for her brief, but memorable performance of a section of Gaetano Donizetti's opera Lucia Di Lammermoor in the movie, The Fifth Element, where she provided the singing voice of the Diva Plavalaguna. Inva rocketed to fame after becoming a prizewinner in the George Enescu Competition in Bucharest in September 1991. Since that time, Inva Mula-Tchako has performed in the United States, Italy, France, Japan, Austria, Norway, Spain, South Korea and Turkey. Her repertory includes Violetta in La Traviata, Mimi in La Boheme, Gilda in Rigoletto, Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Leila in Les Pecheurs de Perles.

Shakila: Perisan singer Shakila was born in the city of Tehran and began performing at a very young age with her family. Shakila came to the attention of producers after performing on a national television show at the age of nine. Thereafter, Shakila honed her talents by performing in school contests and talent competitions. At the age of fifteen, immediately before Iran's revolution, Shakila became a student of Ostad Mahmood Karimi, familiarizing herself with Persian traditional repertoire and "Radif." Moving to the United States at the age of eighteen, Shakila studied classical music in pursuit of her dream to become a professional singer. Shakila has since released eight albums and finds herself greatly inspired by the poet Rumi.

Riding the rising wave of the new classical-crossover genre (which combines classical and original pieces with modern electronica), Operatica's Shine is a heavenly and hypnotic soundtrack that merges the beauty of opera with modern instrumentation and rythms. Lord Vanger has expertly selected a variety of vocalists for each track, lending color and individuality to the album. Pianist Alan Steinberger and guitarist Aaron Jaffe also contribute to the lovely melodies by providing organic textures to the music.

The adaptation of Grieg's "Solvejg's Song" from Peer Gynt is performed to perfection by Ying Huang and highlighted by snappy percussion and swaths of electronic pulses. Inva Mula's impassioned vocals perfectly accent the Middle-Eastern tinged "Mon Amour (A Rose Under the Desert Sky) inspired from music by Joaquin Rodrigo. Vanger deserves credit for infusing the music with a mysterious and nomadic quality.

The lush title-track "Shine" is given amazing treatment by the incredibly talented Maureen O'Flynn. Although the lyrics and melody are original (written by Lord Vanger), Ms. O'Flynn performs the number with utmost skill. Her voice (singing in English) soars, demonstrating that she can even imbue a pop song with grace and beauty.

Shakila's voicings on "Kokab" are mesmerizing, flowing perfectly into the Delerium-esque sounding music. "Standing on the Edge of the World" displays touches of Ofra Haza and Dead Can Dance with its sultry and exotic vocals. "Lost in Someone Else's Dream" is a delightful drum-and-bass piece featuring ethereal Persian vocals sung by Jihae.

Serpentine ambience surrounds "Khodoya" with its rising arpeggiated synths and slow-burning beats. "Je Crois Entendre Encore" from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers is a gentle transition into peaceful lands. Tenor John Osborn's sensitive and aching voice is soothing while retaining a sense of melancholy. Ying Huang returns on the Debussy-inspired "Passepied." Again, dreamy instrumentation creates an aura of serenity and bliss. Lord Vanger takes lead vocals on The unusual "Under the Desert Sky" which sounds like an unique melding of the Bee Gees, George Michael and Operatica. The final track is the "Extended Grooveshaman Remix" of "Kokab" which would fit perfectly into an after-hours club mix.

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. In sum, Lord Vanger has done a fine job of joining spectacular vocalists with fresh, contemporary music.--Justin Elswick

Il Rosso Amore CD Cover
Image © Sugar Music 2002

More Filippa Giordano
Filippa Giordano

(06 July 2002) The third album by soprano Filippa Giordano, Italy's premier female contemporary-classical crossover artist, is a lush 16-track collection entitled Il Rosso Amore (Warner Music (UK) 0927 45740 2 LC4281, 2002). It is released on the success of the singer's stunning debut self-titled recording (review) and follow-up album Passioni (review). As with her former recordings, the new album contains a variety of classical and contemporary tracks sung in English and Italian. The artist's music will appeal to Sarah Brightman (Classics review), Emma Shapplin (reviews) and Izzy (Ascolta review) enthusiasts.

Mixing contemporary compositions with reworked opera arias, Filippa Giordano's Il Rosso Amore continues the direction established by her eponymous debut disc. Giordano hails from Palermo, Italy and grew up amid a highly musical family--her brother is a conductor, her parents both classical singers.

As a young woman she was drawn to the spontaneity of the performances of pop idols as Madonna, George Michael and Whitney Houston. Her solution has been to develop a fusion of classical and commercial styles, mixing orchestral arrangements with pop production techniques--like Sasha Lazard (review)--on this new release offering four opera-based pieces and twelve new songs.

Pitched between Broadway and Hollywood, with a dash of the pop diva histrionics of Whitney Houston, this is pure melodrama. Mentor and celebrated Italian film composer, Ennio Morricone contributes two tracks from the film Aida degli Alberi (2001), "I'abla verrà" and the brief Disney style number" Il canto della terra." "Up to the Light" is a bombastic showstopper featuring stratospheric vocals and blockbuster production values, so that against these Puccini's "Un bel dì" and "Coro a bocca chiusa" from Madam Butterfly sound decidedly out of place, despite being garbed in luxurious 21st-century studio clothes.

Filippa Giordano's new album is certain to delight her existing fans and bring her many new ones. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, the album is a must listen!

Live In Dublin CD Cover
Image © Atlantic Records 2002

More Corrs
In Blue

(09 August 2002) It's fitting that video channel VH1 is partnered with the obscenely attractive Corrs for this live recording, captured in Dublin, near the band's hometown in Ireland. Given the stiff competition in the pop arena and the Corrs' rather limited touring, looks have doubtless played a part in their global ascent, although, judging by Live in Dublin, (Atlantic (USA) 8353302, 2002) they've earned some props along the way.

Both U2's Bono and Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood guest, the latter on the Corrs' cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" (though oddly not on their reading of "Ruby Tuesday"). Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" rounds out the tribute triumvirate, and fans can expect surprisingly clear-eyed versions of major and lesser hits like "Breathless" and "Runaway," plus a spirited, fiddle-fueled traditional in "Joy of Life/Trout in the Bath." Andrea Corr's sensual lead vocal is supported by perfectly arranged harmonies from sisters' Caroline and Sharon.

VH1 Presents The Corrs Live In Dublin was produced by Mitchell Froom (Paul McCartney, Crowded House) - includes new renditions of the Corrs' hits, including "Runaway," "Would You Be Happier?," "So Young," "Queen of Hollywood," and of course, their US breakthrough smash, "Breathless." Steeped in the traditional folk music of their homeland, but invested with a vibrant and electric modern pop flavor, the Dundalk, Ireland-based sibling quartet have earned acclaim around the globe for their eclectic, crowd-pleasing live performances.

The production quality of this live album is superb--no sacrifices have been made--and is a perfect tribute to the incredible quality of this band. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, this album is a must listen!

The Rose CD Cover
Image © Nettwerk Productions 2002

Mediaeval Baebes
Image © Nettwerk Productions 2002

More Mediaeval Baebes

(09 August 2002) The latest release by the Mediaeval Baebes is a seventeen-track collection entitled The Rose (Nettwerk Productions (USA) 0 7700 30256 2 1, 2002). It is the third album by the group but the first on Nettwerk. While the album itself is incredibly superb, no expense was spared on the booklet which contains stunning full-page photos of each of the nine vocalists that comprise the group today. The Baebes, led by musical director Katherine Blake, are also Teresa Casella, Audrey Evans, Marie Findley, Ruth Galloway, Claire Ravel, Cylindra Sapphire, Carmen Schneider and Rachel Van Asch.

From the press release, once apon a time, not so long ago, a group of girls--friends and acquaintances--bound by a common taste for drinking and pleasure-seeking, decided to focus their fun by gathering regularly to sing songs from a time long gone. They playfully called themselves the Mediaeval Baebes. If asked why they began to make music they tell us, "It was a social thing, we did it to entertain each other," but there is a bigger story ... Visit the group's website for the details.

All nine Mediaeval Baebes, as opposed to the original twelve, have become more focused and stronger than ever. Katherine Blake, founder of the Baebes and musical director, is still the principal composer. Dorothy Carter, instrumentalist and Ruth Galloway, another founding member, act as the chief adaptors of traditional Mediaeval music. But the rest of the Baebes are currently adding to the diversity of the sound by continuing to create, or creating for the first time, their own material.

The Baebes have allowed themselves to explore their individual identities within the composite whole and you can actually hear the confidence in the ability of the individual. Despite their accomplishments, the girls are amazingly humble. Perhaps their songs that warn against vanity and taking pride in one's achievements--for they are usely in the grave--have some pertinent meaning for them.

The Rose is an incredible album clearly rated above their earlier releases. The artists sing in Latin, Middle English, Mediaeval French, German and Italian. They also sing in Mediaeval Welsh and Russian. The singers span eight different nationalities between them--this is particularly useful for them having toured Britain, Europe, Canada and the USA with at least one member being able to speak fluenty in almost every country they have been to.

Arrangements are instrumentally sparse--although stronger than former albums--and the material is delicately sung with layer upon layer of vocal harmony supporting the lead part. The upbeat "I am Eve" opens the album and introduces the listener to the lovely vocals of the Baebes. Percussion underscores the rhythm in the tune. The lush soprano harmonies in "Glass Window" are perfectly complimented by flutes whilst "Stay Me Suddenly" is performed a capella.

The Renaissance-era style "The Snake" is a lovely vocal number rhythmically supported by traditional percussion. Adiemus fans will be enticed by "The Circle of the Lustful." "Lick The Maypole" is a mediaeval-style instrumental with percussion, acoustic guitar and flute perfectly characterising the period. The album develops reusing these styles in a series of primarily short tracks. A gap following the main song in the closing number is puzzling.

Further standouts from The Rose include the lush and harmonious "Razreesh" and the everso gentle "Blow Northern Wind" which is built upon the musical foundation as Delerium's "Aria"--also sung by the Mediaeval Baebes--and it is anyone's guess which came first.

The Rose is a staggering piece of work. A Mediaeval symbol of love, the rose is an enduring image that has been carried through to the present day. Within The Rose the Mediaeval Baebes have blossomed. Vocals are more sophisticated and the instrumentation is more assertive but the sound is still escapist fantasy. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, this album is a must listen!

Faster Please CD Cover
Image © Watsonville Pato 2002

More Watsonville Patio
Population 02

(09 August 2002) The latest release from Watsonville Patio is a five-track EP entitled Faster, Please!. Orignally formed and based in the Los Angeles area, the four members--Janice Grube (vocals), Greg Windell (guitar), William Venturelli (bass), Josh Vazquez (drums)--just recently relocated to the northwest city of Portland, OR, where they all share a house together. This latest recording was recorded at Jackpot Stuios by Larry Crance. The five songs hint at the band's sexy live punch, complete with bristling guitar blare and seducitve over garage-rock grooves. It puts the band somewhere between the sounds of early Pretenders and today's current indie-rock favourites.

The EP is rockier than the band's earlier releases and is characterised by powerful electric guitar excursions, various vocal effects and crisp percussion. The power and vocal energy of singer Janet Grube continues to be awe-inspiring. "Girlfriend" is a rocking tune with thick guitar-based arrangements and layers of Janet's voice that soar above them while percussion provides a rhythmic backdrop. "Undertow" continues to develop the band's rocking sound--guitar feedback peeking through--but the verse-chorus-bridge style and memorable melody lead to an increased accessibility of the band's otherwise alternative style.

Much gentler and softer, akin to the band's earlier sound is the ballad "Distance." Lush electric guitar and light percussion provides a lovely background for Janet's softly soaring vocal lead. The upbeat rocker "Tijuana Internet Chick" is reminscent of Stevie Nicks' (review) work with Fleetwood Mac as well as her solo work. Raunchy electric guitar provides a rich background for the lead and backing vocal work. "On A Shelf" continues the Stevie Nicks' style blending ballad-style vocals with richer guitar-based arrangements. It is a standout track.

This EP will point Watsonville Patio enthusiasts in the direction that the band is currently headed. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the band's previous recording Cover the Sun with One Finger at amazon.com here. Worthy of further exploration with the range of styles included, this EP is a very nice listen!

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