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Departure CD Cover
Image © Columbia Records 2003  

(27 September 2003)Recorded with four producers on three continents over two years by one woman, Departure represents the artistic coming-of-age of Carla Werner, a musician who began her career signing country music in competitions in her pre-teens and is now realizing her dreams and articulating her vision.

She was born and raised in New Zealand, where her father worked as a dairy farmer. "I was exposed to the 'harsh realities' of life at a very early age,"she says, remembering things down on the farm. "You learn respect for what you have, the great chain of events. It's a very wholesome way of growing up and it's really enriching for a kid to be exposed to that sort of stuff. We were really imaginative as kids, we weren't allowed to watch that much television."

Growing up, Carla was exposed to a lot of music. Her father "had a really good record collection: Bob Marley, Neil Young, The Eagles, Abba, bits and pieces of everything" while his father, Carla's grandfather, played in a band called the Country Boys and, nearing his 80's, "still writes and demos". Her mother's side of the family featured many singers, though "none of them pursued it professionally." Her upbringing would often be filled with impromptu musical parties, with guitar music and singing.

"As far back as I remember," she recalls, "I was always singing around the house. I would go and grab something - shampoo bottles, the beads in the doorway - and mimic a microphone as I'd sing along to records." A hidden track on Departure is an audio snapshot of a 5-year-old Carla singing a song of her own creation in the shower.

While still in her early teens, she relocated to Australia in order to live with her mother and siblings. The move proved to be a "huge culture shock" for Carla, who'd begun to establish a "small, but credible reputation in New Zealand." Disillusioned by the pressure of competitive performing, she quit. "I'd given up music at 16," she confesses. "I'd done it for so long and I couldn't handle the competition aspect. Music had to be on my own terms. I wanted to come back in a different form, not singing in competitions."

At the age of 19, Carla decided to move permanently to Sydney in order to "get back into my music. It was the first time I'd lived in the city, squished up with such diversity and culture and music was teeming out of clubs and pubs. It was a great source of inspiration."

The eleven songs featured on Carla's debut album Departure are smartly-crafted melodies which are imbued with a real sense of gravity attributable to exceptional lyrics. Comparatively, Carla's music shares some commonalities with the Cowboy Junkies, Chris Isaak, Heather Nova (feature),Canadian folkie Mae Moore, and Patsy Cline. Like the foregoing artists, Carla's music has a rich and mellow quality that fits almost any mood or season.

The majority of the tracks feature a wide range of acoustic and electric guitars, string accompaniment and percussion. Even while maintaining a seemingly straightforward folk/rock musical face, closer listening to Departure reveals exceptional production and performance values. This may be due to her team of producers which include Carmen Rizzo (Delerium, Paul Oakenfold),John Holbrook (Natalie Merchant, Jewel) and Lucius Borich. The highlight, of course, is Carla's bluesy and intimate vocals that lend a distinctive and lush timbre to the entire album.

One of the highest compliments that can be given to Carla Werner is that each track on Departure carries the listener through a range of subtle shades of emotion. There is nothing "in your face" about any song on this album. Instead, the individual tones of each song provide an almost imperceptible shift in mood and ambience.

For example, the warm and free-spirited "Heaven is a Word" is the perfect sound for a summer vacation trip. In similar vein, "Love you Out" is a melodically sweet and quirky piece featuring acoustic guitar and undulating strings. Although deceptively simple, the song actually incorporates smart chord changes and poetic lyrics resulting in a highly statisfying song.

The breezy "Enough" perfectly touches that point between jazz and folk with laid-back brushed percussion and chill vibraphone effects. On Departure Carla moves into k.d. lang territory by crafting a cool folk/rock/retro number. It is a great pleasure to hear the full power of Carla's voice as it washes over the acoustic and electric instrumentation.

The opening late-hour strains of "Crimson and Gold" call to mind some of Gordon Lightfoot's classic melodies. However, this "afterglow" mood is shaken up quite masterfully as the song breaks into an almost alternative power rift in the middle of the song. A great and original track.

The closing track, "Iodine Red" is a knock-down brooding powerhouse. It is rare in popular music to hear a song that, when it begins, almost demands that you pull your car over and listen in awe. "Iodine Red" is just that sort of song. Layered with acoustic, electric, and "Spaghetti Western" guitars, strings and deep Moog bass "Iodine Red" is a wonderfully intense listening experience. The lush romaticism and tragedy invoked by Carla's voice makes this song truly unforgettable. It is not an overstatement to predict that this song may become a genuine folk classic.

Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here.Carla Werner shows surprising maturity as a songwriter and lyricist. Columbia Records can only be proud of this emerging artist who merits serious attention from the music world. Departure is one of those albums that you will never want to be without no matter where you are, what you are doing, or who you are with.--Justin Elswick

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