Reviews 08-17-2008  

Music Reviews 


hopeful.romantic

by Renee Stahl

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Even though this CD came out in 2007 it still receives frequent spins on my stereo system. This is Renee's 3rd release if you count the It's a Big World CD that was released with Jeremy Tobak in 2007 which was a collection of lullabies that parents might also connect with. Her first CD was entitled Melancholy Pop which came out back in 2002 but unfortunately I have not had the pleasure of that CD so this review will focus on her latest CD with little comparison to what has gone before.  

This new collection of songs will definitely resonate with listeners and for the most part will strike a positive chord in those who listen closely with their hearts. There is a melancholic edge to some of these songs with the first song Run being indicative of how Renee approaches the topics covered on this CD. The songs speaks to a relationship that saw one running away and reflects on what could have been accomplished within the relationship if the time spent running had been invested in building up the relationship. Song 2 continues this theme by addressing those who have had their self esteem battered through people who carelessly spoke words that made them think that they were not "good enough". The song is called You Didn't Know and seeks to inject a bit of optimism into those lives that have been torn by these unkind words by telling them that they are indeed loved and are "good enough" regardless of what they have been told.  

By the third song Renee shifts into a very positive frame of mind with a song called Music 101 which is about a relationship that is like a song that is stuck in your mind except the music in this case is the person becoming a song that follows them from the minute they rise in the morning until they go to bed that night. Not obsession but a warm feeling that follows you through the day when you are in a relationship that fulfills and satisfies your needs and your desires. This little light rocking tune is as infectious as the lyrics and you find yourself humming it or singing the lyrics in your head long after the song has ended. I find the 1st three songs on this CD to be a very strong trio of tunes that draws you into the rest of the CD and causes you to want more of what Renee is dishing up through the rest of the songs that complete out this collection.  

There are elements of electronica floating around in the background of this CD if you listen carefull which I assume is where the term I found on her CD Baby page comes into play as it referred to Renee's sound as "folktronic". Track 5 which is called Smallest Eyes has a healthy dose of this electronic style mixed in and Renee's voice floats in and around the instrumentation like a delicate cloud drifting across the blue sky on a relatively cloudless day. With the whispered vocals that start out the track that moves back and forth from whispered to full vocals this song settles into a smooth flow that rides atop the light techno beat that serves as the foundation that keeps this song moving forward. Track 6 called Adore (yachts in space mix) is even more blatant in terms the music's electronic heritage as the beat picks up a bit and the sequencing you hear will be hard to miss. Still Renee's voice soaring above it all marks this as her song regardless of the instrumentation that is used to communicate the message.  

Hopeful Romantic is a journey into a peaceful landscape where Renee guides you from one scene to the next via her insightful lyrics and the compelling music that inhabits this charming landscape. While I did not go through each song during this review I can assure you that there isn't a weak one in the bunch. I can't always say that about a CD that I have chosen to review but sometimes you get one that they are all "keepers" so to speak. The combination of lyrics and the production on Hopeful Romantic make this a fantastic CD that grabs you from the start and doesn't let go. This is an impressive collection of songs that shows it was lovingly constructed by the artist and at the end of the day will leave the listener feeling like they have taken a stroll with a friend and chatted about what is up in their lives. Highly recommended by CEV.

Reviewed by Michael Foster editor of CEV


The Summer Storm Journals

by Noe Venable

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While Noe Venable's music is difficult to put in any kind of category for easy cataloging in reviews such as this I will say that her music lives and breathes through her voice and her lyrics. Her delicate voice from the very beginning when it comes at you a capella on the first track called Woods Part of When hypnotizes the listener and immediately draws you into her world. The Summer Storm Journals was written over a 4 year period and recorded in 4 different cities so you begin to see that it is a mixture of different places and different times along with the emotional changes that Noe was going through during these transitions that makes Journals a linear examination of Noe's life over the past 4 years. Combine that with the fax that Noe is currently pursuing graduate studies in literature and you will understand the treat you are in for as you listen to this CD.  

The lyrics of The Summer Storm Journals reads more like poetry and seeing as how Noe is a literature major it is no wonder. It is a melding of her interests in music, literature and her willingness to open up her life via her poetry (lyrics) in these songs that makes Journals a spellbinding CD that won't let you stop listening until you reach the last song. This would probably not be a CD that you want to put on in the background as you will want to keep the lyrics that came with the CD handy so that you can ponder them a bit even after the music has faded away.  

Even though the lyrics will cause you to stop and think about them and the instrumentation (acoustic and electric guitar, piano, keyboards, violin, cello, marimba, trumpet, bass and drums) will create the atmosphere that is suitable for these lyrics to exist within that is ultimately not what keeps your attention glued to each song as it queues up. Noe's voice is the one common element that ties each of these songs together and moves the listener deeper into the magical environment that is being woven around them. Her soft soprano voice floats around each of these songs and delivers her words to listeners who have been carried away into her world to stay there until the CD stops after track 13 is finished.  

While my descriptions of the music have been rather vague it is because her music defies many of the adjectives that one might apply to much of the popular music that makes its way onto the remaining record store shelves or into the download services and that's a good thing. The very fact that the music is unique means that Noe has created something that is not like the hundreds of other releases that are out there. That also means that when you pick up The Summer Storm Journals you will be picking up something you won't find anywhere else and you will be entertained by an individual speaking her thoughts through lyrics that are as distinctive as Noe's music.  

If I had to choose a couple of songs that stuck in my mind they would be Woods Part of When, Prayer for Beauty, Sea of Possibility, Ice Dragons and Swim With Me. I'm sure you will find other songs that strike a chord within you but for me those were the songs that kept drawing me back to this CD. To journey with Noe in her music will leave you in a contemplative mood and inspire you to reflect upon what you have heard during the time you played Journals. All in all the Summer Storm Journals is a pleasing experience that has memorable lyrics, original and innovative music and a voice that will be with you long after you move on to other activities during your day. Highly recommended by CEV.

Reviewed by Michael Foster editor of CEV


Skylark

by Gigi MacKenzie

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Skylark was a CD that was meant to be for Gigi MacKenzie since after she had recorded the entire CD she received a call one night informing her that the studio that contained all her master tapes for Skylark and all her instruments to boot had burned down. All the work she had worked so hard on was gone just like that. I don't know about the rest of you but when I am working on something on the computer and for some reason I lose power unexepectedly and it wipes out all my work I feel pretty miserable knowing that I have to start all over again. The one thing that discourages me the most about that kind of situation is that I have moments of inspiration that may or may not be reproduced when I start over again. With that in mind I'm sure you understand how Gigi MacKenzie felt when she had to start over again on this project but start again she did and in 7 months time she had recreated the recordings that were lost. I don't know what the originals sounded like that were destroyed but I'm here to tell you that the version of Skylark that eventually was pressed and released and wound up in my hands to review is a great CD despite the long road it took to see the light of day.  

Sklark is impressive for a number of reasons including Gigi's choice of material to cover on this CD and her wonderfully sultry alto voice delivering classic jazz standards with a smooth voice that brings allows these songs to reach out to a new generation of listeners. The songs immediately bring to mind the jazz singers of old as Gigi is faithful to the original arrangements but her expressive voice allows her to make each and every tune her very own. Gigi's voice flows naturally with this collection of fifteen refreshing arrangements of her favorite standards and one original. "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Cry Me a River," "The Shadow of Your Smile," "Good Morning Heartache," "Embraceable You" highlights the stiring adaptations of this dynamic performer. Gigi wrote and arranged "Let's Make a Go of It" in the tradition of the jazz standards of times past.  

While Gigi's voice is a marvelous instrument when it comes to bringing her own interpretation to these classic pieces I must say that I was equally happy with the arrangements and the group of musicians that Gigi chose to back her up on this project. And of course that would include Gigi as she not only sings on many of these tracks she also handles lead guitar duties with a top notch performance. Mellow rock veteran Christopher Cross lends his voice on a track called "That's All" and reminds us once again great voices like his are always looking for worthy projects to emerge once again and let us know he is still there. The entire CD is dedicated to Gigi's mother, Gisele MacKenzie, who was a star of stage and screen during the 1950's appearing on Your Hit Parade, The Jack Benny Show and The Gisele MacKenzie show. Technology being what it is Gigi takes this tribute one step further and does a duet with her mother on this CD ala Natalie Cole and her father Nat's duet. Gisele made a recording of Stranger in Paradise in 1956 and with the power of technology Gigi uses this recording as the basis for her duet with her mother that appears on this CD.  

All in all even though Sklark is made up of a variety of standards made popular years ago she has made this collection a cohesive whole and indelibly stamped her identity all over them. In the end when it comes to doing covers of other songs it is important that you bring something new to light in the music or the arrangements because otherwise I would just listent to the originals. Sklark has some bouncy pieces but for the most part it is mellow, smooth jazz arrangements of some great material. Gigi's homage to songs that she probably grew up listening to is a very accessible CD featuring sparkling production, moving arrangements and features her voice that delivers elegantly on these songs. I look forward to future releases by Gigi MacKenzie but I do hope that she does not have to go through anymore trials by fire in an effort to get her music released. Recommended by CEV Music.

Reviewed by Michael Foster editor of CEV


Epiphany

by Jan Elaine

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“Epiphany” is the second release from pianist/composer Jan Elaine, following her 2005 debut, “Threads In the Tapestry.” The eleven original tracks are a celebration of life, nature, and the human spirit. Backed by acoustic and electronic instruments, the music is sometimes buoyant and effervescent and sometimes more calm and reflective. The well-written and philosophical liner notes explain the origins of all of the songs, adding insight into the artist’s perspective and life experience. Sometimes compared to the late (and wonderful) Laurie Z., JanElaine has a similar approach to her music, wanting to share with, soothe, and uplift her listeners, giving freely from the depths of her soul. Another similarity to Laurie Z. would be JanElaine’s dynamic yet poetic sound - there’s no fluff or filler here! 

“Epiphany” begins with “Sunny Daze,” a piece about the sun breaking through morning clouds and haze, making the air sparkle. Joyful and contented, it’s a great way to start. “Suddenly” is about how life-changing events can often occur in a matter of seconds, offering hope and reassurance that things will turn around even when we are at our lowest. “Breezes of Gratitude” is a favorite. Piano, guitar, and light percussion create a mood of gentle grace and serenity. “You Can’t Hold What’s Already Gone” goes a few shades darker and more introspective, reminding us that if we don’t let go of what needs to be in the past, we often miss the good things happening in the present. Passionate, often yearning, and deeply personal, this is also a favorite. “The Secret Lives of Butterflies” is a fascinating concept piece. JanElaine says in the liner notes that she has a theory about butterflies that they are not the quiet, graceful creatures we think they are - that when we turn our backs, they have a party going on with dances and conga lines! One theme of the piece is gentle and graceful - the butterflies we see - but then the tempo picks up and the percussion and flutes go wild in a kind of musical “Whoo-hoo!” The two themes alternate with the butterflies daring us to catch them being crazy. “Live Like a River” is a beautiful musical illustration of the idea of living “like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” Constantly moving, a river is unaffected by sudden twists and turns and the many obstacles in its path - a powerful lesson we should all heed. 

“Epiphany” is a beautiful CD that conveys many powerful life lessons, emotions, and experiences we can all relate to. It is available from www.JanElaine.com and CDBaby.com. Recommended!

Reviewed by Kathy Parsons  of MainlyPiano.com for CEV (used with permission)

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