Music Review: Mariana Bell – Push

Hi all!

For me, all art is about introspection at some level. Whether speaking about a novel, film, or song, the artist is sharing a piece of themselves, whether it’s their view of the world, how they deal with relationships, or how they explore their innermost dreams and desires. Sometimes the art of creation itself is simply a therapy to get it all out in the open. Through every piece, we as the audience gain a piece of the puzzle that makes that creator who they are.

Mariana Bell must have been going through some serious stuff while writing the songs on her latest album – Push. From the title song to the last track, you can tell some of that introspection was going on. As she says in “On It” – “Thank you for making me see myself.” Whether seeking some inner peace or to understand relationships with those around her, she seems to be questing for answers everywhere.

But what I love about this album is that though it’s airy in places, it’s dark in others… Styles flow effortlessly from pop to folk to almost country, rock and blues, with instrumentals combined beautifully with her voice and backing tracks in rich, but not overly complex arrangements. Ten tracks on Push offer a lush landscape of unique sounds, styles, and words evoking emotions throughout. She reminds me quite a bit of Shawn Colvin, with a voice that lends itself well to this kind of cross-genre work.

My favorite song on the album is “Good Enough,” which perfectly suits my relationship with my wife… “As long as you’re good enough, and come back home to me / then we can fall in love again. / I never asked you to be perfect, no… just be good enough…” There’s an honesty there that’s impossible to ignore. Love crests and falls and compromises, but lasts through it all. With a solid drum beat and electric guitars, this song is definitely in the country-rock vein sung by contemporary artists like Lady Antebellum. And though I’m not a huge country guy, the style in this case simply works.

The same holds true for the rockin’ song “California Clay,” which keeps that honesty flowing. Love sometimes drives you to do crazy things for people, so I can identify with these lyrics… “It’s not that I can’t leave I just don’t want to… / Don’t need a leash. I’ll stay easily. I’m putty in your hand…” And the last image is sexy and sultry all at the same time – “Metal sheets and a lead pillow so are we bed magnets…” It’s that attraction between lovers. And the sound is much harder with a rock beat and underlying electric guitar that pulls it all along.

And “Titanic” made me think completely of the film with the song’s opening strings… And through analogy, this song tells the story of a relationship gone wrong. Like the movie, you can see the iceberg in the distance and yet somehow can’t change course. “Of the greatest disaster, that would ever be the greatest disaster – you and me.” Guitars, strings, and reverb help tell the story of the end.

The album may represent a single continuous flow from the fleeting beginnings of love to the bitter end of a relationship, Push shares a journey through song. I hope we hear much more from Mariana Bell and that she once again shares loves and losses with us in the future! For more about Push, her previous albums, and her tour schedule, be sure to check out her website MarianaBell.com.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out Mariana Bell’s music at Amazon below:

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Music Review: James Maddock – Sunrise on Avenue C

Hi all…

Who knew it was possible to sing cheerfully about heartache? James Maddock has certainly had his share. He had a taste of stardom in 2000 and then hit bottom as he adjusted to life in the States, saw his marriage fail, and had his record label decide to drop him and not release his follow-up album to Songs from Stamford Hill with his band Wood. After that round of bad luck, Maddock disappeared from the limelight. But he didn’t give up during the last 10 years.

In 2009, Maddock came back and is telling stories through the tracks of Sunrise on Avenue C. Each of the twelve songs tells a bit of the story about a relationship beginning, waning, and possibly ending. It’s a rare thing to find an album crafted to be listened to beginning to end. But when you find such an album, I feel you should enjoy it the way it was meant to be heard instead of picking and choosing individual songs.

These songs have a little of everything – strings, guitar, piano – and beautifully constructed melodies and lyrics. It’s obvious he took his time getting this effort “just right” before releasing it to the public.

Among my favorites is the title song “Sunrise on Avenue C” which expresses the doubts in all relationships and the little restarts we go through now and then to keep love alive. Maddock’s breathless voice sings… “We came to make this place our home / you say you’ve had enough you’re movin’ on / … / you say nothing’s quite the way it seems / forget the past, we’ll start our lives again / don’t shake your head ’cause baby I know we can…” I think all lasting relationships have those moments and the rise and fall of the song captures those rises and falls in relationships nicely.

“When You Go Quiet” is another of my favorites. “There’s one thing that you do when you’re not ok / you don’t bang on the walls / you don’t return my calls / when you go quiet… it’s when I know you need to talk… ” Again, Maddock’s captured one of those universal truths in most relationships – those little things we keep an eye out for that indicate something’s not right. And it’s then we need to listen and find out what’s wrong. Tough to pass up a little relationship advice in a song.

All through the album, the music is consistently excellent. From the upbeat piano of “Chance” to the amazing guitar and strings rhythms of “Hollow Love” and the rock/blues guitar of “Straight Lines,” Maddock has put together a relationship album weaving together a tapestry of stories and tunes from beginning to end.

So if you’ve been wondering what happened James Maddock since he hit the airwaves in 2000 and toured with the likes of Paula Cole and Train, look no further… James Maddock is back and in rare form with Sunrise on Avenue C.

Be sure to check out his website for album and tour details at JamesMaddock.net.

–Fitz

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Music Review: Vitamin String Quartet – Vitamin String Quartet Performs Radiohead’s In Rainbows

Hi all…

In the very early 1990s, I heard Radiohead‘s song “Creep” for the first time on an alternative radio station in Fort Collins, Colorado. From then on, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard from many of their CDs – including Pablo Honey and their most recent album, In Rainbows. When I heard that the Vitamin String Quartet (VSQ) did covers of the entire album of In Rainbows, I knew I had to take a listen.

As with Per_Versions, which is another recent album from VSQ, this group of classically-trained orchestral musicians manages to tease even more magic from the already magical Radiohead music. “Nude” and “House of Cards” had been played on local radio stations for a while now, but I wanted to see what they sounded like when performed by a string quartet. Once again, I was not disappointed.

With each song, VSQ manages to take Radiohead’s already deep compositions, take them apart, and put them back together again so that not only are the songs still recognizable, but made unique again. They manage to avoid sounding like a cover band, even though that’s ostensibly what they are.

The haunting strains of “House of Cards” are made that much more haunting through the use of violin where voices were originally. You can hear the emotion seeping through from beginning to end. The same held true for “Nude” and “All I Need”, which were among my favorites of the album. There’s just something about the translation from rock guitar, synth, and voices that stays magical during this transformation.

Violinist and arranger Tom Tally, who has performed on and produced over 35 VSQ albums says that VSQ “is about applying rock & roll attitude to classical technique” and bring chamber music into the 21st Century. They do this by transforming contemporary rock songs with their innovative spirit as well as their own original compositions in which you can hear some of their rock influences.

Vitamin String Quartet Performs Radiohead’s In Rainbows brings depth to an already deep album and is an amazing experience into the transformational power of music. Be sure to pick up a copy of the album from your favorite online or brick-and-mortar retailer to support this innovative group!

–Fitz

p.s. Click here to pick up some of VSQ’s albums at Amazon:

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