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c h a r l i e
music reviews and artist reflections
celtic-influenced contemporary music
Review, Interview and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2000
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Last updated: 23 October 2000
Earlier this year Musical Discoveries correspondent K Donald Baer reviewed the Spirits Of the World (Earthtone (USA) 963-277-922-2, 2000) compilation (review). Our review was initially motivated by inclusion of Miriam Stockley's track "Brave New World." Yet the vocal work in Celtic Spirit's track "Lyra" (Tá Muid), written by Iain Dunnet, immediately caught the attention of a broader following.
Baer's search for the vocal talent behind that song concluded at Dunnet Wright Music's (DWM) website and our joint discovery of Charlie. We review her music, tell her story and include an exclusive Musical Discoveries interview her here.
Charlie was signed by DWM in 1997 initially for the recording of "Tá Muid." She was not an experienced performer, but her voice held a captivating quality which suited the song exceptionally well, and as further recordings were made, her individual vocal style and thought-provoking lyrics combined with the production and songwriting talents of Foxbat, Iain Dunnet and Nigel Glockler to produce a collection of truly evocative and memorable songs.
Iain Dunnet told us, "When I wrote "Tá Muid" several years ago, the vocal inspiration was Miriam Stockley. I suppose if I had to make a choice, she would be my favourite female vocalist." Our readers should note, as Iain has, the interesting and spooky twist linking Miriam Stockley's work to the discovery of his and Charlie's music. Celtic Spirit's "Tá Muid" has been included on thirteen compilation albums dating back to 1998. The track "Le Coeur" was also recorded initially during this timeframe.
We asked Charlie about her background. She told us, "Well, my mother is French and my father is English. I have always lived in England and yet managed to keep a hold on the French side by going to France regularly to see family and friends and to eat lots of good French food." She continued, "I have lived most of my life in the south of England around the Brighton area—it's the best! And I've been to University in Canterbury, and have worked and lived in some weird and wonderful places in London."
Charlie told us about her other recordings. She said, "There are a few songs kicking around! We had to select stuff for the album that 'went together' so there are some tracks that are waiting to go on the next album—or maybe they will just sit in the archives forever—who knows."
We asked Charlie about her musical influences and she told us, "I'm not sure I have been 'influenced' as such by any particular artist. I would not necessarily want to sound like the artists I admire most." She continued, "I think that the beauty is in finding your own sound and not trying too hard. I love all the old stuff though. Amongst others, JJ Cale and Santana and all that chilled groovy stuff that never loses its identity and appeal." Charlie elaborated, "I find it nicer to try and replicate a 'feeling' in music so you listen to a song and find yourself lost in either the sentiment or something dreamy and personal or a drumbeat. Or something you can't quite put your finger on."
Quand Je Rêve. The initial radio promo for Charlie's album is comprised of four tracks. Entitled "Quand Je Rêve" (Rosie Records (France) / Dunnet Wright Music (UK) DWM001, 1999), the CD was pressed in limited quantities exclusively to promote Charlie's music. It is a fabulous introduction to a side of the artist away from "Tá Muid."
The title track opens the promo and is followed by "You're The One" and "Vision"; the English version of the title track is last. An English lyric version of "Quand Je Rêve"—"When I Dream"—is included as an exclusive non-LP bonus track. The English version is especially enjoyable after hearing the French lyrics over an extensive period first. The promo is packaged in a lovely high gloss sleeve.
Although Charlie hasn't done that much live work she told us about her live performances, "I to Lisbon courtesy of Polygram with a band of talented people I'd never actually met before. We we did a lot of playing there and appearing on the Portuguese lottery show and various bits and pieces. Then of course there is Brighton, the live music city." She continued, "Every musician should play in Brighton; it should be like a rite of passage!"
Charlie told us about what she likes to listen to, "Pretty much everything and anything, as long as its musical and has a charm, then I more than likely like it." Outside music Charlie works in computers and design.
We asked Charlie about her songwriting partners and she told us, "I work mostly with Iain Dunnet, talented musician, technically amazing—not wanting to inflate his ego—I'll stop there. And he makes a kicking cup of coffee." She continued to explain the songwriting and production process, "We use Iain's studio just outside Brighton where we get together, put the kettle on, throw a few tunes and ideas around or think about what direction we want to go in. It's quite a natural process really where it seems the less you think, the more it all flows." She continued, "Sometimes we will have musicians in the studio who add their touches to a song, often listening to someone playing an instrument that they love, inspires us further and the best part is that they don't even know it!"
Vision. Musical Discoveries obtained Charlie's full length album prior to the completion of the formal pressing due to be completed in late October 2000. The album is entitled Vision (Dunnet Wright Music (UK) DWM002, 1999) and is comprised of fourteen tracks spanning a relatively broad range of sounds, each with varying degrees of Celtic influence. The album is accompanied by a high quality booklet full of lovely photographs, lyrics and further information.
Songwriting credits span various collaborations and individual efforts of Charlie, Ian Dunnet, Foxbat, and Samuel Smith. The dynamic and symphonic instrumental arrangements have been created largely with keyboard samples yet acoustic instruments were used as well. Charlie's lyrics are featured extensively and she provides all vocal work with the exception of the final track where she is joined in a lovely duet by Samuel Smith. The recording and technical production quality of the album is incredible with earth shattering bass passages in several of the tracks, most notably in the drum parts during "Changes" and keyboards in "Queen of Annwn."
Vision defies classification in many respects largely due to the variety of material included. The gentler, keyboard-based tracks might be classed as new age while hearfelt ballads would be equally comfortable on a rock or alternative albums. Rousing drum ridden tracks and those with fiddle parts have a uniquely Celtic feel to them. The album opens with an mid-tempo almost pop track entitled "Spinning." Keyboard and other sound effects produce a new age feel in the sound and introduce Charlie's sweet lead vocal backed by extensive layers of harmony vocals.
"Changes" is a dynamic Celtic-oriented pop track with powerful drum programming dominating the instrumental mix. Lush keyboard-produced string sounds and layers of harmony vocals underscore the lead vocal tracks which have been layered to produce the density required for the drums. The 'fiddle' during the instrumental bridge is especially notable. Acoustic style harp and whistle combine with lovely vocal layers in "Le Coeur" to produce an inspiring Enya-style track, sung in French. That this was performed largely with keyboards and synths is a testament to the performers.
The artists rock in the highly accessible track "Changeling." Iain Dunnet's piano solo during the instrumental bridge is especially notable, especially when Charlie's vocalise brings it to up to percussion laden crescendo. We were most reminded of UK progressive band Fula in the gentle progressive ballad "Clock" accompanied exclusively by gentle keyboard work. The instrumental bridge performed on keyboard produces great string—violin and cello—sounds. Charlie's crystalline lead vocal is supported by harmony layers in the chorus.
Acoustic guitar and guitars join rich keyboards in "Prodigal Boy," an easy listening Maggie Reilly- or Miriam Stockley-style tune with a nice hook. We especially enjoyed Danny Fox's guitar work during the bridge and Charlie's soaring lead vocal. "Little Bird," also written by Samuel Smith, shares a similar easy listening texture.
The violin samples produce a Celtic flavour in the otherwise pop-dance tune "Quand Je Rêve." Charlies lead vocals pierce through the instrumentals in the verses and her layers in the choruses add texture and balance the 'violins.' Multiple instrumental excursions within the song work quite well while percussion especially is crisp and powerful. The album's one non-lyrical track is "Queen of Annwyn." New age in its construction with sweeping melancholy keyboards and layers of vocalise, the listener is immediately reminded of Enya's music.
The Celtic influences of the rousing "Ta Muid" are derived not only from the mixture of lyrical content but also the keyboard produced sounds of traditional instrumentation. The contemporary sound of the track comes from the lushness of vocal and instrumental arrangements and the highly effective drum programming. All vocals are layered extensively.
Harp and cello join keyboards in the gentle ballad "You're The One" sung in a combination of English and French. Charlie's vocals shine through, as in "Clock," and further vocalise adds to the instrumentals underscoring the lead. The title track "Vision" alternates between passages of ballad-like vocal layers with soundtrack-like vocalise accompanied thick instrumental bridges. Sung in French, the track is epic in proportion and shows the virtuosity of the singing and songwriting team.
"Second Day," is an upbeat pop-oriented track, and the only one to include a tenor sax (performed by Charlotte Glasson). Further instrumentals, crisp percussion and vocal layers interact with lead vocals and sax excursions to great effect. We were most impressed with the symphonic and progessive rock instrumental texture of "Stargaze" which closes Charlie's debut album. A duet between Charlie and Samuel Smith, we were most reminded of the Moody Blues in the song's construction and dynamic delivery. Iain Dunnet's piano solos during the instrumental bridges and Charlie's lead vocal part are most notable.
While Charlie hasn't thought about having her "own" website, we asked Charlie about the impact of the web on her music. She told us, "I find the whole net concept quite fascinating and am lucky to be a part of it like this. I'd like to think that people all over the planet will get to hear my stuff when record stores are not necessarily accessible or the music is just too expensive." She continued, "Certainly in this respect, it influences the promotion of music. Not always for the best, but at least it gives people a chance to be seen in another way."
Clearly Charlie's debut album Vision is going to attract significant international attention in the coming months. Those that enjoy recordings Miriam Stockley, Maggie Reilly and Enya amongst other Celtic artists, will all find this debut album full of wonderful selections spanning a broad range of musical styles. The album is available from the Dunnet Wright Music website. Click on any of the images in this article to transport your broswer there. Certain to appeal to a broad audience as it did to us, we believe Vision is worth a trans-Atlantic journey; a must listen in all respects!
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