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Current concise reviews of the albums by adult alternative, contemporary, and crossover artists. Images of album artwork and links to both internet-based resources are always included. Click on the title to view the article.

Panic Room
Scarlet Penta
After Forever
Savannah and the Stringz
Azure Ray
Aria Tesolin
Jennie Walker

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Panic Room - Skin - CD Cover
click on artwork to visit band website
\r\ncover image © Liliana Sanches 2010
\r\nartwork © Cherry Red Records Ltd 2012

.: More Panic Room :.
interview and photos (2012)
Satellite (2009)
Visionary Position (2008)
interview and photos

Panic Room
click on image to visit band's FaceBook
Gavin John Griffiths, Jonathan Ewards,
Anne-Marie Helder
Yarim Halini, Paul Davies
photo © Tina Korhonen 2012


(10 July 2012) The first recording by Panic Room following their signing to a label is the band's eleven-track project Skin (Firefly Music/Cherry Red Records Ltd/Esoteric Antenna (UK) EANTCD 1006, 2012). It follows the band's successful debut album Visionary Position (2008) and follow-up Satellite (2010) published in single and two-CD versions. The four-track Altitude EP was released to tide fans over in 2011. Read more about the band in our forthcoming interview with Jonathan Edwards and Anne-Marie Helder.

Panic Room are a modern alt-rock band and while their former releases have included epic length tracks and also span a diverse range of musical themes, the tracks on Skin are tighter, more restrained and stylistically focused. The new album is presented as a beautiful trifold digipak with a lovely 16-page full-color removable booklet with lyrics and attractive artwork. One band photo is also included. The eleven well-produced tracks run an hour in total length.

The foundation of Panic Room--Anne-Marie Helder (vocals, guitars), Jonathan Edwards (keyboards, guitars), Paul Davies (guitars) and Gavin John Griffiths (drums)--spun off from Karnataka when the lineup disbanded in 2005. Yatim Halimi (bass) joins the line-up for Skin. The Larkin Quartet--comprised of Dave Larkin (violin), Henry Salmon (violin), Allan Grant (viola) and Leah Evans (cello)--provide the string section on the album; Tim Hamill provides baritone guitar on "Tightrope Walking." Avid enthusiasts will know that Anne-Marie and Gavin are also part of the current Mostly Autumn line-up.

"Song For Tomorrow" provides an excellent introduction to the sound of Skin. Although the string quartet appears immediately, Anne-Marie Helder's crystalline vocals soar atop crunching guitar as the song develops. The sharp contrast between a tenderly delivered verse and powerful chorus works extremely well. Each of the band members demonstrate their chops in the grand opening track. We especially appreciated the members' individual solos--guitar, keyboard, drums and vocal--during the song's midsection.

One of the longest tracks lyrically is the vocal-driven "Chameleon." Anne-Marie is backed primarily by keyboard, although strings, guitar and rhythm section each notably contribute to the stunning arrangement. The seven-minute "Tightrope Walking" opens with percussion harkening eastern themes. The most lyrically rich of the album's tracks, the song's gradual stylistic transition from ballad to full-on rocker clearly make it the most progressive of the album. The string quartet and guitar passages work play off each other extremely well.

The unique ballad "Velvet & Stars," sensually delivered by Anne-Marie singing atop a Fender Telecaster played clean with just a little tremolo by Jonathan Edwards, is the first number performed by the band's core writing team. The contrasts between string quartet passages, funky keyboard and guitar parts in "Screens" provides a unique backdrop for Anne-Marie's powerful vocals.

A memorable melody joined by the tight acoustic and electric guitar and string quartet arrangements in the rock number "Chances" clearly make it one of the album's standouts. Listen for the multitracked vocal harmonies in the track. "Promises" is another album standout. A rock number with rich string arrangements and electric guitar, Anne-Marie delivers an outstanding vocal performance as well. Similarly arranged, vocalise adds depth to the longer "Freefalling." The contrast between verse and chorus and uniquely styled breaks make the track work especially well.

The album's evocative title track is backed with a lush combination of string quartet and delicate keyboard. Crisp percussion and guitar adds depth to the arrangement supporting Anne-Marie's soaring vocal work. A brief guitar solo closes the number. "Hiding The World" is the album's most powerful and metallic number and is likely to be an in-concert favorite. While crunching electric guitar drives the arrangement, the strings add a tremendous texture to the sound, especially in the verses. Following a brief pause and in sharp contrast, Anne-Marie's a capella vocalise solo reprise of "Screens" becomes an interlude to "Nocturnal."

The album concludes with the album's longest track entitled "Nocturnal." An otherwise standard verse-chorus structure is extended with additional vocalise and instrumental passages that encapsulate the textures of album's prior ten songs. Listen for Jonathan Edwards' especially well-played keyboard solo during the first instrumental and Paul Davies guitar solo suring the second.

Panic Room's move to the Esoteric Antenna label of Cherry Reds Records has given the band broader distribution and access to additional promotional opportunities. Indeed Skin is generally available in many territories. Panic Room's new album is a cohesive body of well-produced music that continues to feature the stunning vocal work of Anne-Marie Helder. Superb!

Scarlet Penta - Gaps - Album Cover
click on image to visit official website
\r\nimage © Scarlet Penta 2012

.: More Scarlet Penta :.
interview and photos (2012)

Scarlet Penta
click on image to visit Scarlet's FaceBook
image © Scarlet Penta 2012


(01 July 2012) Scarlet Penta is the singer and the moniker of the band she has formed with Joost Maglev. The team met when they were with the Dutch band Galanor in 2010 and early 2011. Scarlet was the fourth singer to work with Galanor and about six months into her run with the band, Galanor broke up leaving the artist without the creative outlet she so longed. Joost contacted her about working together, the four track Specialty limited edition EP was recorded and released. The foundation for an album now in place, the project moved forward. Read more about the artist and see our exclusive photos by Joseph Voncken in this interview.

Scarlet Penta's debut full length album is entitled Gaps (Joost P Doesburg / Jessica Overdijk (Netherlands), 2012). Independently released on 01 August 2012, it began shipping immediately. In addition to the stunning vocal work of Scarlet Penta, the lineup includes: Joost Maglev (backing vocals andall instruments except as noted following); Sebas Honing (guitars); Nick Reitsha (drums: tracks 2, 6, 8); Twe Van Der Pol (drums: tracks 5, 7); George Van Olfen (piano and keyboards: tracks 7, 10). The project was arranged and mixed by Joost with songs written with Scarlet. The team are assembling a lineup for a range of live performances to promote the album.

The Gaps album features Scarlet's powerful and wide-ranging crystalline voice that has been honed with years of practice and training. The overall sound is favorably compared to other Dutch rock bands -- After Forever, Epica, Nemesea, Stream of Passion and Within Temptation -- for example. Consequently there are some metal edges, but in general there are far fewer on Gaps than with these bands and that adds to the accessibility of Scarlet Penta's music.

Gaps is comprised of ten tracks with a total running time of about 53 minutes. It opens with the powerful track "Face In The Crowd." Listen to the sheer energy behind the drums and crunching guitar and prepare to be amazed how Scarlet's opening vocal soars above without any additional layering. The contribution of Joost Maglev's arrangements and growth since Galanor is immediate.

Scarlet is joined by Joost's backing vocals in the warm and highly memorable chorus of "Rival," an upbeat and catchy rock song. The album's first standout is "That One Special Person." Warm keyboard washes contribute to the orchestral backdrop recur and are contrasted with percussive metal edged arrangements contribute to memorable choruses.

Scarlet Penta's "Phantom" ballad is a more lightly arranged electro-acoustic number. Listen for the evocative delivery of Scarlet's tender vocal part, the range and power that she exhibits in its delivery. In contrast, the "When I Return" ballad is more richly arranged, and features the singer's upper range and demonstrates her tremendous vocal talent.

"Pacifica" is a powerful rock number whose wonder is the sharp distinction between well delivered verses backed with crunching guitar and awe inspiring full on choruses. Listen for the outstanding mix of the vocal work in this track. The contrast between gorgeously delivered verse and powerful chorus and build up through the running time of "Summers ~ Episode II" clearly makes it album's second standout track. The traditional rock number also includes Joost's backing vocals in the chorus and an oustanding mid-song guitar solo.

The epic length "Save Me" contains a passage with the gentlest and most stunning ballad on the record. Backed with light keyboard washes and a increasing electric guitar and bass, the verses of the track feature Scarlet with her most sensual lyrical delivery of the album. Style and tempo changes accentuated by instrumental breaks contribute to the powerful constrasts within the number. Perhaps written with their forthcoming live performances with the individual instrumental excursions that have been included within it, the 10-minute epic will certainly work well on stage.

Gaps concludes with another progressive oriented piece and the album's third standout. "Dead End" opens with brief piano-based ballad segment -- listen to the singer's soaring and crystalline vocals -- rapidly digresses into a full-on metal-edged rocker -- listen for the power of Scarlet's voice, then rock with the memorable melody. A reprise of the entire number concludes this stunning track.

We are clearly going to hear a lot more music from Scarlet Penta. She has a strong following in social media that continues to build with interest in this new project. Visit Scarlet's website to to order the CD. Bravo!

Ambeon - Fate of a Dreamer: Expanded Edition - CD Cover
image © Transmission 2012

More Ambeon:
review, interview, photos (2001)

(07 July 2012) Released in late 2011, Fate of a Dreamer - Expanded Edition (Transmission (Netherlands) TMD-070, 2011) is a remastered edition of the stunning Ambeon 2001 album with an extensive range of well-produced bonus material. It includes two CDs: Chapter 1: The Album and Chapter 2: The Unplugged Recordings. Ambeon is the moniker created by Arjen Lucassen for his project with the young Dutch singer Astrid van der Veen. The original issue was produced when she was only 14 years old. Sadly Astrid left the music business after Ambeon and several other projects, but Arjen reports that the young woman has found a new creative outlet in painting.

Transmission maintain their history of superb physical product in this expanded edition. The package includes a tri-fold digipak including the two CDs with a separate 20-page full-color booklet containing of photos, lyrics and other artwork. The booklet also includes a forward written by Arjen Lucassen. Miniature versions of the covers and release poster are thoughtfully positioned in the booklet layout. The two CD compilation includes three rare Ambeon tracks not included in the original issue on the first disc and an entirely new disc of previously unreleased material. Centertainment's Hans van Vurruen is the executive producer of this project.

The Fate of a Dreamer 2001 recordings have been remastered in the 24-bit domain from the original masters at FineTune (website) by Peter van 't Riet using the Sonic Strudio System. Listeners familiar with the original 2001 release will be drawn to the additional richness of this remaster and the clarity of Astrid's vocal work that we hear on the new pressing. Enthusiasts will appreciate the single version of "Cold Metal" and remix of "High" included as a bonus tracks. But even moreso, the non-album bonus track "Merry-Go-Round" from the ensemble's Cold Metal EP (Transmission (Netherlands) TMS-032 CDM, 2001) will delight listeners.

In 2001 Arjen Lucassen was asked to do a show with his Ambeon project in Italy. In addition to Astrid, Arjen invited Ewa Albering (flute) and Dewi Kerstens (cello) to join him. The four artists rehearsed their material and recorded a combination of Ambeon and Ayeron tracks in his studio. The show was eventually cancelled but the recordings survived in Arjen's vault. Arjen provides further remarks on the project within the Expanded Edition's booklet.

The Unplugged Recordings CD is completely stunning. Astrid's vocals are sweet and on point for both the Ambeon and Ayeron tracks, accompanied on a couple of tracks by Arjen, most notably in "Garden of Emotions." Arjen provides all the guitar work, which is primarily acoustic. Ewa Albering, who was formerly with the Polish progressive band Quidam, adds flute to a large number of the tracks, playing not only to the acoustic tone of the project, but also adding a slight Celtic edge to some of them. The solo passages reveal her extensive talent. The cello works well in all of the tracks substituting not only for bass but also uniquely contributing to the melodies. Astrid's vocal performance is remarkable.

The Unplugged Recordings CD includes the Ayreon tracks "Actual Fantasy," "Valley of the Queens," "Charm of the Seer," "Castle Hall," "Temple of the Cat," "Isis and Osiris," "Garden of Emotions," "House on Mars" and "Into the Black Hole." Unplugged performances of Ambeon material include "Ashes," "Estranged," "High," "Lost Message" and "Cold Metal." "Cold Metal" is actually blended with "Into the Black Hole" on the last track of the CD.

The Fate of a Dreamer album has been out of print for quite some time. This expanded edition, including a remastered version of the original project with bonus tracks and a stunning second CD of new Ambeon recordings from Arjen Lucassen's vault is delightful in every respect. This new release by Transmission will delight both those that have heard Ambeon's original release and newcomers to this branch of Arjen Lucassen's musical history.

After Forever - Decipher: The Album - The Sessions - CD Cover
image © Transmission 2012

More After Forever:
album reviews feature (2000-2004)
Prison of Desire (2000)
Follow in the Cry (2000)
Decipher (2001)
Emphasis (2002)
Monolith Of Doubt (2002)
Exordium (2003)
My Choice (2004)
Invisible Circles (2004)
Digital Deceit (2004)
Remagine (2005)
After Forever (2007)

(07 July 2012) The Dutch symphonic metal band After Forever had a fantastic run with a string of very successful albums released between 2000 and 2008 initially on Transmission and in later stages on Nuclear Blast. After Forever are known for their unique blend of heavy metal and operatic vocals and as one of the first of such bands that emerged from northern Europe at the end of the 1990s. Fronted by stunning soprano vocalist Floor Jansen, the band commanded a loyal following and packed venues during their time together.

The band's second full length album Decipher, originally released in 2001 has been remastered and released as a two CD set. Decipher: The Album - The Sessions (Transmission (Netherlands) TMD-069, 2012) is now available. It follows 2008's release of Prison Of Desire: The Album - The Sessions in the same similar format. Centertainment's Hans van Vurruen is the executive producer of both of these projects.

After Forever disbanded in 2009 but was survived by several notable successes. The Dutch band Epica founded by guitarist Mark Jansen and vocalist Simone Simons, who have enjoyed significant critical and commercial acclaim. Vocalist Floor Jansen--who began singing with After Forever at the age of only sixteen in 1997--has continued to have successful musical engagements, including work with Arjen Lucassen on two Ayreon full length albums and all of the Star One releases. Floor now focuses full time on her band ReVamp whose heavier-sounding 2010 self-titled album had also enjoyed both critical success. Floor contributed to the 2011 MaYaN album Quarterpast alongside Mark Jansen, Simone Simons and Amanda Somerville, and vocals to one track on the Devin Townsend Project's 2011 album Deconstruction.

The new Transmission product is delivered as a tri-fold digipak with two CDs and a 20-page full-color pull-out booklet with lyrics, lovely photos and fabulous artwork. Sander Gommons provides an extensive forward to introduce the project. Miniature renditions of the EPs' cover artwork have also been thoughtfully reproduced.

The first disc of the new edition of Decipher is Chapter 1: The Album. In addition to being remastered in the 24-bit domain by Peter Van 't Riet using the Sonic Solutions System at FineTune (website), the disc includes five stunning bonus tracks from Afer Forever's 2002 EPs Monolith of Doubt and Emphasis. The non-album tracks include "For The Time Being," the band's cover of "Who Wants To Live Forever," and an "Imperfect Tenses" duet with Damian Wilson. The shorter single version of "Monolith of Doubt" and stunning orchestral version of "Imperfect Tenses" are also included. Remastering has added depth to the arrangements and brought Floor's soprano even more forward in the mix.

Chapter 2: The Sessions is comprised of twelve session--or alternate versions--recordings of songs included in Chapter 1 running in an entirely different sequence plus three demo versions of the songs. An entirely different version of "Who Wants To Live Forever" with Floor singing alongside (only) Arjen Lucassen's arrangements will certainly be noticed by everyone. Staunch After Forever enthusiasts and the most careful listeners may be able to hear the subtle differences in arrangements in the rest of the session recordings.

The three demo recordings on the Chapter 2 CD provide listeners insight to the genesis of Decipher's final versions ten years after the album's first release. The arrangements are generally less shallow than the finished product but Floor's vocals are both powerful and operatic fully illustrating the young singer's chops. "Monolith of Doubt" is likely the earliest of the lot and less finished than "Emphasis" and "For The Time Being." These are precious recordings that are certain to be cherished by longtime enthusiasts.

While various issues of Decipher are still generally available, this expanded edition, including a remastered version of the original project with bonus tracks and a stunning second CD of session and demo recordings from the artists' vault is delightful in every respect. This new release by Transmission will delight both those that have heard After Forever's original release and newcomers to this stunning band.

Savannah and the Strings - CD Cover
click on image for Savannah's website
\r\nimage © Savannah and the Strings 2012

.:: More Musical Discoveries Reviews ::.
Savannah: Potential Black (2011)
Savannah: Red Dead Week (2010)
Solo + Xamavar: Demo Recordings (2008)

click on image for Savannah's FaceBook
photo: Itamar Tsabary
image © Savannah and the Strings 2012

(08 July 2012) Savannah is a musical artist, graphic designer and painter from Australia who has made a life in Israel. Her musical recording career began with her work with the progressive rock band Xamavar. Her solo work began with demo recordings that evolved into the Red Dead Week EP in 2010 and Potential Black full length album in 2011. Follow the links left to our reviews of thesed recordings. Links to the artist's official website and FaceBook pages are also provided.

Savannah's latest project is entitled Savannah and the Stringz, memorializing the trio she performs with regularly in the Tel Aviv and surrounding areas. Savannah (vocals, piano) fronts the trio. Tomer Einat (violin, vocals) and Noam Elron (double bass, glockenspiel, tambourine) complete the lineup. Songs are written by Savannah, except for the three well-played and superbly-arranged covers. Thoughtful string-based arrangements are by various combination of the musical trio.

This album was made possible with the generous funds of the Israeli Ministry of Culture, the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and ACUM's New Artist Grant. It was produced by Noam Elron with Savannah and Tomer Einat; recorded superbly by Bill Tsur and Yonatan Kossov at Bardo Studios; and was expertly mixed and mastered by by Yoram Vazan at Firehouse Studios.

The Savannah and the Stringz album is comprised of three categories of music. These include, Savannah's original songs reworked for the trio; all-new material that has not been recorded previously; and three covers of well-known songs previously recorded by famous artists. Savannah has contributed to several Tori Amos tribute events previously with no recordings emerging. We were delighted to finally hear the delightful string-based cover of "Winter" / "All These Years" medley performed by the trio and recorded for this album.

The album also includes the trio's cover of "Superstition" popularized by Stevie Wonder. While this track has been covered by many other artists, Savannah's version has an especially bluesy feel that clearly demonstrates the singer's vocals and piano playing, and Stringz instrumental chops. It is fantastic. Those familiar with Savannah's alternative style might find her cover of a Britney Spears track somewhat surprising. However, "Toxic" is rather sparsely arranged in comparison to the pop original; but it's Savannah's evocative West End-style performance and the Stringz equally dramatic instrumental that makes this version work so well.

Listeners will clearly hear a tribute to the locomotive and cars in the new Stringz arrangement of "Train Song," a stunning number that first emerged on the Potential Black album. "Raincloth," which also appears on that album is given the Stringz treatment on this album. Savannah's gorgeous vocals and piano melody are complemented by revised and more powerful string parts.

"Moonlight," which dates back to Savannah's earliest demo recordings, has been significantly reworked on this album and both vocal parts and vast string arrangements extended to span a running length of over seven minutes. The new version is dramatically performed and must be even more wonderful to see performed live than the outstanding recording on this album. Also previously from Potential Black, "Warp and Weft" is warmed up with additional string parts and otherwise true to the original. Savannah's growth as a vocalist shines on this track. Listen to her power, previously heard only with Xamavar.

The first all-new track on Savannah and the Stringz is the cabaret-style opener "Recipe For Catastrophe." A vision of Savannah dramatically performing this number on stage with strings and piano in an orchestra pit below clearly emerges as the stunning song develops. "Better Off Alone" is the most different track on the album. It is a bluesy number designed for a live venue that blends slight allusions to of Katie Melua, the cabaret style and the Stringz sometimes dischordant sounds. The album concludes with a very short, almost indescribable and delightfully playful track entitled "Revolutionary Biscuits of Italy." Fortunately, interested listeners can hear it at YouTube here!

We have had a review copy of the Savannah and the Stringz album since April. While the artists have not firmly decided on how and when to release the project, Savannah told us, "[It] represents a huge musical exploration for me into many genres I always loved." A great disc, we encourage the group to move forward to release so that it can be appreciated by a much broader audience.

Accolade - Festivalia - CD Cover
click image to visit Accolade website
\r\nimage © Accolade 2012

Stefanie Reneé | Aaron Goldstein border=
click image to visit band's FaceBook
Stefanie Reneé | Aaron Goldstein
image © Accolade 2012

(29 July 2012) The San Francisco-based Accolade has released its first full-length album Festivalia (Label (US) number, 2012). The album weaves enchanting melodies and carnival themes. Accolade is a progressive rock project of classical singer Stefanie Reneé (vocals, tambourine, zills) and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Goldstein (reed organ, guitars, percussion, keyboards). The live line-up also includes Cade Burkhammer (drums). Sean Henry is featured as a guest keyboardist on the track "Lost Fair."

The one hour thirteen-track recording features Stefanie’s ethereal coloratura soprano vocals and Aaron’s epic and intricate command of the antique reed organ, acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, drums and percussion. Included are twelve original compositions, as well as a stunning cover of "Black Flame" originally written and recorded by 70s progressive rock legend Renaissance on their album Turn of the Cards. The original track was sung by Annie Haslam.

The core band members have written a challenging and intricate music project of carnival themes. In addition to the new music which varies from a capella, through folk and to full-on progressive rock, the band's song "Circus" is their take on "The Man of the Flying Trapeze." Accolade have done well to balance the contributions between the two primary members with interestingly equal vocal and instrumental contributions.

While listeners will certainly appreciate the sparse arrangements of the folkier numbers, the band shines most in the more thickly arranged pieces. "Lost Fair" is one of the album standouts, the "Black Flame" cover is certainly the other. These tracks combine acoustic and electric instruments and fill more of the audio spectrum. From our perspective, Festivalia is more an album for home--especially with headphones--than in the car. We were unable to fully appreciate it even with a premium mobile sound system and the most intense concentration.

Many of the album's arrangements feature Aaron's reed organ playing which gives Accolade its unique sound. The opening track "Carnival" and following "Traveler" immediately introduces the sound. It also dominates "Carouselle" quite effectively where the sound is joined by electric guitar.

The production quality varies on the album, with some of the vocal passages muddied by the instrumentals, it improves by the album's conclusion. In the more sparsely "Caravan" Stefanie's vocals clearly deliver the lyrical passages. Layers of harmonies in the a capella "Renaissance Faire" illustrate the singer's chops.

Stephanie sings the "Untitled" track atop lone acoustic guitar. It is the track that best illustrates where production quality could be enhanced to better deliver the vocal work. "The Witching Hour" is a gorgeous track driven by a piano melody and gentle keyboard washes. The vocals are, sadly, set a bit too far back in the mix. Stefanie's vocalise adds great texture to the sound. The album's rocking closer "Sideshow" serves to combine all these of the album and hopefully provides a teaser for the band's next project.

Stream the Festivalia album at Accolade'sBandCamp page. The thirteen tracks of this album deserve the repeated listeningit will take to fully appreciate them. Alongside varied arrangements, Stefanie's crystalline vocals soar on the album delivering the lyrical passages. A good first album.

SHEL - SHEL - CD Cover
click image to visit SHEL website
\r\nimage © Moraine Records /
Mad King Records 2012

click image to visit SHEL FaceBook
Eva | Liza | Sarah | Hannah
image © Mad King Records 2012

SHEL Boston July, 28 2012
click image to visit SHEL FaceBook
Hannah | Eva | Sarah | Liza
Acoustic Set - Boston - July 28, 2012
photo © Musical Discoveries 2012

(30 July 2012) Released on August 7, 2012, SHEL's self-titled album (Moraine Records / Mad King Records (USA) MR2012-4, 2012) includes thirteen well produced tracks that reflect the band's acoustic, folk, progressive and indie sounds. SHEL is Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza, four classically trained musicians who happen to be the Holbrook sisters. The daughters of musical artists, SHEL has emerged from the artist colony of Fort Collins, Colorado. They are sophisticated and youthful, emotional and lighthearted, classic and eccentric. Performing as an ensemble for the past six years, SHEL's engaging live show is marked with a prodigy's creativity and a veteran's instinct for entertaining. Also see our Live in Boston review below.

Album Review. The new album is comprised of tracks that span SHEL's history and new tracks as well. "Paint My Life" is a lovely, ethereal song that engages the listener with meaningful poeticism. The classical undertones in the music, combined with touching lyrics and beautiful vocals are a wonderful introduction to their distinctive sound. Eva performs lead vocals, backed by Sarah and Hannah, and each one has clarity and lucidity of tone. The decisive pluckings and strumming of Eva's sweet mandolin brings a dreaminess to "Like Minded Fool." There is a shining simplicity and purity of sound that lulls the listener, along with the melodic vocals. "Freckles" picks up the pace with its folksy and toe-tapping lively melody. There is a playfulness that gives this song a wholesome and grounded feel.

The poetic "The Man Who Was The Circus" showcases Hannah's sophisticated piano virtuosity with Sarah's beguiling violin. This song reflects a circus clown's demise - "And all the clowns gather round, Wiping off their smiles as the tears drip down, The man who was the circus is gone, Still the show must go on." The song has a restrained lead-in which turns to bacchanal since the show must go on. Celtic tones pervade "Lost At Sea." This richly melodic ballad has a haunting sound that was only missing the flute and uilleann pipes. But, SHEL took the traditional Irish folk sound and made it their own with invigorating, delightful tunes that would make Clannad proud.

From the whimsical "Wise Old Owl" to the complex "Vinyl Memories," SHEL continues to deliver. The latter has a wonderful sophistication and purposeful sound. "The Battle of Evermore" Led Zeppelin cover brings the mandolin to the forefront and the quartet performs superbly with their interpretation of this folk rock duet. "Stained" is a combination of folk/pop with the richness of the violin, in this vibrant melody. There is a bluegrass feel to this song of love gone awry saying "Walk on, don't look back, your love left my heart stained."

"On My Way" is an upbeat tune that seems reflective of the band's determination and drive to success. The lush mandolin-driven "Tuscany" is an incredible classically inspired piece paired with silken violin bowing. The maturity and sophistication of this piece exhibits the extraordinary talent of these young musicians. The sound is captivating and transports the listener to another realm. The vibrant "When The Dragon Came Down" has an explosive style and their final track is the playful "Latest and Greatest Blueberry Rubberband." A combination of quirkiness and operatic riffs makes this song a standout.

SHEL delivers to the nth degree. They are exceptionally talented musicians that exude savvy, confidence and maturity, yet they have a youthful innocence. Their sound is richly melodic - blending voices and instruments expertly. Be sure to stream the tracks at their website and check out music videos and live performances on YouTube. It's great music.--Audrey and Russ Elliot in Boston, MA

Live in Boston. We ventured out on Saturday evening to Copperfield's Bar and Down Under Pub in Boston, to see SHEL perform an acoustic set. These four young women are beautiful, dynamic, and very talented. They are all accomplished classically trained musicians, both instrumentally and vocally. Having chatted with them before the show, each sister showed their enthusiasm and spirited personalities, but came across as being very genuine, respectful and portrayed their individual personalities. They all exhibit great comraderie and definitely know how to entertain.

Hailing from Colorado, this talented quartet exudes musical virtuousity and a level of excitement that is thoroughly engaging. Their sound is captivating, unexpected and well refined. Their classical training comes through loud and clear, and the audience feels an immediate and gratified connection to their unique sound.

SHEL came onstage wearing some funky hats, flashed some smiles and then released their incredible sound. Eva plays a mean mandolin, both acoustic and electric, and that instrumentation adds a whole new level to their music, in addition to her beautiful vocals. Hannah's keyboard skills are spectacular, with classical riffs and languid composition, that leave you wanting more and more. She also contributes to the lush vocal harmonies, along with Sarah, a very gifted violinist. Her command of the violin on stage was "music to our ears" and her proficiency was hugely appreciated. Last but not least, Liza provides the percussion to the group, and she absolutely rocked the house with her rhythmic talents.

The band performed for 45 minutes, and no one wanted it to end. Their unique sound, combined with energy and musical proficiency, was an absolute delight. The only negative for the evening was the venue itself. These young women need an environment that would be more conducive to the beauty of their sound, certainly with better acoustics. Yet, even with the hindrance of the venue, SHEL put their stamp on the evening with their magnetism, creativity and masterful musicality. We can't wait for them to return to Boston!--Audrey and Russ Elliot in Boston, MA

Azure Ray - As Above So Below - CD Cover
click image to visit Azure Ray website
\r\nimage © Saddle Creek 2012

Azure Ray: Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink
Azure Ray: Maria Taylor | Orenda Fink
click image to visit Azure Ray FaceBook
image © Saddle Creek 2012

(19 August 2012) Azure Ray is an American dream pop duo comprised of Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor originally from Birmingham, Alabama. The have recorded since 2001, with four albums and five EPs to date. The duo disbanded in 2004 to pursue solo careers but reformed in 2008 for a live performance and the album Drawing Down The Moon in 2010. Azure Ray remain together and have moved their sound forward in the six track EP entitled As Above So Below (Saddle Creek (USA) 032, 2012). The EP runs for a bit over 21 minutes.

During their sabbatical from Azure Ray, the artists have released a batch of solo projects. Orenda Fink released Invisible Ones (review) to broad acclaim in 2005 and followed up with the 2009 project Ask The Night. Maria Taylor has released five albums to date beginning the 2005 self-titled 11:11 album (review). She followed up almost annually with new solo projects: Lynn Teeter Flower (2007), Savannah Drive (2008), LadyLuck (2009), and Overlook (2011).

Long-term enthusiasts will hear a clear evolution of the band's sound in the new release. While the music is still full of heart wrenching and sensual vocal work, the arrangements are more electronic, with some tracks evoking allusions to Balligomingo, Delerium and Conjure One. And it works well from the percussion laden and dreamy first song "Scattered Like Leaves." The recording progresses almost seamlessly into "Red Baloon," a gorgeous track whose soothing vocal harmonies are backed with lush electronic arrangements and crisp percussion.

Orenda Fink described the release as "Azure Ray in an alternate universe." The product description notes that Fink's bandmate Maria Taylor was eight months pregnant during he recording process and this inspired "themes of alternative universes, Mother Nature, beginnings, endings, and re-birth [to] surface in the songs."

A variety of electronic effects add to the texture of "Unannounced," whose torch ballad lyric works alright with the arrangement. The drum and bass backdrop to the downtempo "To This Life" provides a further illlustration of the duo's venture into electronica. Lush and warm vocal harmonies clearly delivery the Azure Ray sound. "The Heart Has Its Reasons" is a more traditionally arranged love song. The ballad is sung atop a gentle piano melody with very light percussion while warm keyboard washes and atmospheric effects add texture to accentuate short passages. The harmnies are tops.

As Above So Below concludes with the lush standout track "We Could Wake." Most richly arranged of the collection, the song is destined to draw even more enthusiasts to Azure Ray. We're glad that Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor are working together as Azure Ray and this rather short release makes us even more eager for their next installment.

Aria Tesolin EP - CD Cover
image © Aria Tesolin 2012  

(26 August 2012) A rapidly emerging female vocalist from Canada named Aria Tesolin knows how to light up a room with her signature soprano voice. The very attractive young woman writes and performs music with an alluring mix of original love songs in a pop-classical meets adult contemporary style, Aria conjures the romance, glamour and beauty of yesterday's timeless crooner songs, reinterpreted for a modern time.

Aside from an album recorded at age 12 in 2006, a three track self-titled, independently released EP today comprises her most recently recorded output. Aria is currently completing her signature album of original songs, many of these self-written and composed by the artist and has plans to release the project before the end of 2012. She has also carved a notable presence on the spoken word scene. Also a published literary poet, Aria crafts a uniquely storied lyrical universe with a distinctively original sound.

The arrangements for two of the songs on the EP, "Dolce" and "The Key," were done by Douglas Romanow, a renowned producer / performer from Toronto. The third track, "Now That I Know" was arranged by Charles DiRaimondo, an opera singer, pianist and orchestra instructor. When performing live, Aria is backed by a lineup comprised of: Gino Del Sole (guitar); Jeremy Ledbetter (piano, keyboard); Max Senitt (drums); Ben Miller (bass); and Reg Schwager (jazz guitar).

Aria's EP opens with "Dolce," a delicate love ballad that serves as an outstanding introduction to the range of the singer's talent. Arrangements perfectly support Aria's crystalline vocals.

"Now That I Know" is a love tune that would be perfectly at home in a Broadway or West End musical. It is wonderfully performed and serves to illustrate a second dimension of Aria's stunning vocal talent.

The pop-operatic song "The Key" completes the EP. Most upbeat of the three recordings on the artist's current release, the sound is clearly classical crossover, and Aria's voice soars above the crisp arrangements.

Visitors can stream the three tracks from Aria's EP at her website. We're sure that this young woman has a bright musical future and look forward to her full length album in a few months time.

Cornerstone - Somewhere In America - CD Cover
click image to visit official website
\r\nimage © Cornerstone 2011

Patricia Hillinger click image to visit Cornerstone FaceBook
Patricia Hillinger (lead vocals)
photo: Reinhard Mueller
image © Cornerstone 2011


(25 August 2012) The most recent release by the Austrian rock band Cornerstone is entitled Somewhere In America (Atom Records (USA) ATOM1711, 2011). Comprised of just ten tracks with a running time of a very tight 37 minutes, the recording has drawn significant attention across Europe and the rest of the world since release about one year ago. While there are other bands sharing the name, the Austrian band reviewed here owns the service mark for the name.

Cornerstone is presently fronted by vocalist Patricia Hillinger, who from the band's history appears to be their third singer. The current lineup is completed by Michael Wachelhofer (bass, keyboards, vocals); Steve Wachelhofer (guitars, vocals); and Mike Pawlowitsch (drums, percussion). A truly international project recorded in Vienna, Austria, the album was mastered in Pennsauken, NJ USA. From the CD's booklet, all songs were written by the Wachelhofer brothers except "Like A Stranger" where credit is shared with Patricia. Cornerstone's prior releases Head Over Heels (2008) and Fade Away (2010) were recorded a different drummer and lead vocalists.

Listeners will appreciate the growth in Cornerstone's sound since Patricia has joined the band. Her powerful vocals soar above crunching guitar-based arrangements. Backing harmonies add great texture to the memorable choruses in many of the band's tunes. While their debut album might be favorably compared to the latter work of Cosmic Stepping Stones, the Somewhere in America project is more densely produced and the vocal work literally shimmers atop the arrangements. Enthusiasts of Quecia and Sleeping Giant will be delighted to hear Cornerstone.

The band open their new album with the guitar-laden rocker "Stay." Here Patricia agressively delivers the arrangements with tremendous power never requiring the slightest multitracking to be at the top of the mix. Listen to the virtuousity of the individual players in this amazing opener. "Rise and Shine" continues in a similar vein, rhythmic guitars and keyboard washes providing the backdrop for lead guitar and wonderfully powerful vocal delivery.

Cornerstone produce a variety of sounds on Somewhere in America, and relax a bit in the easy sound of "Breathing For You," where the well-honed vocal talents of their lead singer shine through. Although not a rock song per se, the West End-styled ballad "Right or Wrong" is clearly one of the album standouts. Patricia's crystalline vocals soar over gentle guitar-based arrangements.

The standout rock song on the album is "Like A Stranger." Crunching guitar and crisp percussion are joined by keyboard washes underneath Patricia's soaring vocal delivery. Likely a crowd pleaser in the band's live performances, the chorus demands singing along. "Follow You, Follow Me" presents a sound akin to "Breathing For You" and almost serves as its bookend on the album.

In contrast, "Being Unaware" is a breezy and accessible indie-style song that illustrates yet another dimension of this outstanding band. "Oblivious is performed in a similar style characterised by brighter guitar work with an equally catchy melody.

Building on the sounds the band introduced on the album before it, "High and Low" is a very powerful stadium-style rocker certain to be most sought by enthusiasts in live performances. Listen for the backing harmonies and the outstanding guitar solo. The album concludes with "Strut" a crisply arranged ballad blending electric guitar and keyboard arrangements that back a final outstanding vocal performance by Patricia Hillinger.

The Cornerstone Somewhere in America album is available internationally at a variety of both online and brickand mortar retailers. Signed to Atom Records, the album is available as a US domestic release. Even with its short running time, this is an excellent album.

Jennie Walker - Night Flight To London - CD Cover
click image to visit official website
\r\nimage © Jennie Walker 2011

(02 September) Jennie Walker is the daughter of an Army Colonel and a mother who studied and performed opera. She was motivated by her mother's passion for songwriting, singing, and performing; a passion which would become the driving force for Jennie's musical journey. They would write songs together while Jennie was a teen, setting the stage for this moment in the release of her album, Night Flight to London (Jennie Walker (USA), 2011).

With songwriting and recording dating back to at least 1998, the now veteran performer builds a mosaic of life's questions based on her experiences, evoking images of romance and passion. She has performed for international notables, including Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, in Mozambique, and the Rockefeller family. Jennie currently resides in New York City.

Co-writing with Tommy Faragher, Grammy Nominee and 12-time platinum selling producer with a internationally known body of work (GLEE, Taylor Dayne, Elvis Costello, Robbie Nevil, Keli Price, Brenda K Starr, OíJays, Hall and Oats, Eternal, Bardot and now the Oprah Winfrey Network reality show, Real Life The Musical), Night Flight To London includes twelve wonderfully executed songs, which reveal her luxuriantly smooth voice and resonate in songs which are intrigues of power, foreboding and fatalistic journeys through love, relationships, and the highs and lows of life.

Jennie's album was released in conjunction with her recent win in the 2011 British Airways Face of Opportunity Contest, which recognizes small business looking to expand internationally. The album received six months of in-flight audio play on all British Airways long haul flights from august 2011 to January 2012.

When not in the studio, Jennie is active in the music industry and in non-profit and charity fundraising endeavors, in addition to her workload as an actor and voice-over artist. She is a member of the Artists Against Hunger and Poverty Program of WhyHunger (Bruce Springsteen and Michael McDonald are members), and has made a personal pledge to ensure her music performances and music business activities have a charitable component, which allows her to give back to the community.

Following the graceful opening song "Simon" the album's title track is most accessible and, like the rest of the material on this recording, show cases her well-honed and powerful voice. The upbeat, crossover-style arrangements perfectly back the stunning vocal work. "Your Father Your Mother" and "The Subway Glass" are both funkier-style tracks with electric guitar contrasting orchestral washes. They continues to demonstrate the artist's viruosity.

In contrast, "Black Hat" is a rhythmic singer songwriter song clearly driven by the vocalist and supported by very crisp string work. The powerful, stadium rocker, "Hero in My Eyes" is the album's second standout. We especially liked the build from the introduction to the song's full splendor. Listen for the robust, but never overpowering, electric guitar.

The torch ballad "It's Our Time" is gently arranged atop acoustic guitar and warm string washes. Listen to Jennie's voice soar in the vocal delivery. "I Crossed My Own Line" is yet another album standout. The accessible pop style track features Jennie's stunning vocal work atop piano and crisp percussion. Backing harmonies add a great texture.

"The Optimist" is a fantastic track with perfectly complimentary verse and chorus. Jennie's dramatic vocal delivery is especially noteworthy. The perfect bookend is "Rise Above The Pain," a pop-style track with lush layers of strings supporting rich vocal harmonies. "Did You Notice Me?" is more gently delivered atop piano and warm strings. The album concludes with the sensually delivered pop-ballad "I Want To Show The World." The robust string-based arrangements provide a great backdrop for Jennie's powerful and soaring vocal. Listen for the robust crescendo that closes the song.

Jennie Walker is certain to draw the attention of female vocals enthusiasts with Night Flight To London. The album's twelveglorious tracks span a range of different sounds and demonstrate her singing, songwriting and vocal delivery. We are certain to hear a lot more from her in the future.

Pomme - LP 2012 - CD Cover
click on image to visit Pomme BandCamp
\r\nstream or buy the album there
\r\nfront cover artwork: Matt Spire
\r\nimage © Yael Akron 2012

.: more Yael Akron and Pomme :.
with Manga: Vacuum (2007)
with Align: Demo EP (2009)
and exclusive interview
with Pomme: Pomme EP (2011)

Yael Akron
click on image for Pomme FaceBook
Pomme: Yael Akron (lead vocals)
previously with Manga and Align
image © Pomme 2012

(26 August 2012) In 2007 Musical Discoveries began a now long-standing relationship with Israeli singer-songwriter Yael Akron in 2007. One year ago wereviewed her Pomme EP, her first recorded output since relocating to Canada. Earlier with Manga, she completed the self-produced album Vacuum (review). In the run up to a venue change to the USA or Canada, her band's lineup changed. Align's Demo EP (review) was released before the Yael's move to North America.

Yael and two band members of Align comfortably settled into the Vancouver music scene. One year on after some personal changes, Yael began working exclusively on developing her solo career. Says Yael, "Pomme is the fruit of passion, curiosity and exploration. Between Toronto, Vancouver and Tel Aviv, I worked with producer Shai C Sivan, and film composer Adrian Ellis to craft and release this self-titled EP." Her new recording Pomme LP 2012 builds on the EP with four additional tracks and work with additional artists.

Pomme's melodic alternative ballads take an interesting twist, supported by Sivan's urban-cold, somewhat-industrial production. Yael writes the music and lyrics, plays guitar on one track, and provides all the vocal work. On the LP she is joined by an array of other musicians. From the liner notes, guitars are played by Ryan Drolet, Adrian Ellis and Mark Mor Sivan; bass is played by Adrian Ellis, Russ Mackenzie and Shai C. Sivan; drums are played by Dimi Karabov, Sharon Petrover and Shai C. Sivan; programming is by Yael, Adrian Ellis, Matt Girvan and Shai C Sivan.

Several of the five gorgeous Pomme songs from the EP have been brought into the LP, apparently without change. See our review for details as we will focus on the new tracks here. Avid listeners will clearly hear the marked evolution of Yael's work from Manga to Align to Pomme. Arrangements are denser and feature more guitar work and a little harder sound. As with her last three releases, Yael has pressed a limited number of CDs. The nine-track, 31-minute long Pomme LP 2012 (Yael Akron (Canada) self-released, 2012) album includes stunning jewel box artwork and a gorgeously silkscreened CD; the artwork is by Matt Spire.

The first difference from the EP is the new version of"Give You No Choice." Built on an earlier electronic version that appeared on the EP and is included as the LP's concluding track, the new Yael Akron arrangement produced by Alex (Condor) Aligizakis is denser with more guitar, bass and production than the earlier version. Yael's powerful vocal works well with the new sound. A light multitracked vocal harmony adds texture to the lead vocal in the more densely arranged passages.

Yael actually arranged the new tracks for the LP and they were produced by Alex (Condor) Aligizakis. The upbeat rocker "Stay Alive" is clearly one of the LP's standout tracks. The rhythm section and lead guitar are balanced by keyboard programming producing a richness of sound that exceeds all of Yael Akron's previous work. Vocal harmonies and guitar work tightly together to createan overall texture approaching Lacuna Coil's. The rock ballad "Traces" is gentler but not without the rich instrumentation of Pomme's maturing sound in the chorus.

Listen for Yael's heartfelt lyrical delivery in the standout "New Frontiers" performed atop light keyboard washes and piano in the track's opening. Enthusiasts will adore the build of keyboard, guitar, and percussion layers as this track develops into its full spendour. The mix in staduim rocker "Small Captives" is outstanding. While the powerful arrangements could outweigh many singers, Yael Akron has the power and clarity to soar well above crunching Pomme's electric guitars and powerful rhythm section. This track is certain to be a live audience favorite.

Yael Akron's work with Pomme goes from strength to strength. She has a great live following in Vancouver and has found BandCamp to be a successful method to distribute her recordings. Click on the album cover to stream the album and purchase it for your own collection. A talented young woman who continues to evolve and build her sound, she certainly has a bright musical future.

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