EP REVIEW: Kristina Train “Dream Of Me”

Kristina Train is an artist who was not afraid to dream big, but also understood the practicality of her chosen career. As opposed to simply walking in to a record deal blind, she heeded her mother’s wise words and undertook a degree first. The diversion may have postponed her inevitable success in her chosen field by a handful of years, but when a talent is as accomplished as Train, there is little that will hold her back.

Having already established her solo career Stateside with her 2009 debut “Spilt Milk”, Train is teasing UK audiences with the sublime three track EP “Dream Of Me” ahead of her debut UK album “Dark Black”. The move is a clever one. With audiences currently unaware of her dynamic vocal or skilled songwriting, she has picked three differing angles with which to introduce her.

Train is a fusion of Diane Birch, Shelby Lynne, Shea Seger, Mama Cass, Nerina Pallot and Sarah MacLachlan. She is intoxicating and enticing, without ever being overpowering. She skilfully colours her vocal to prompt a reaction.

At her strongest, the EPs chillblain inducing title track “Dream Of Me”, Train uses her epic presence to knock her listener for six. “Lonely Summer” brings a grinding Shea Seger to fore. The blustery blues within Train’s contained vocal is never fully unleashed, but nonetheless pulls all the right heartstrings. Closing with her most radio friendly fodder, Train delivers a winsome, wishful “I Wanna Live In LA”. While “I Wanna Live In LA” is optimistic pop, Train’s sensational vocal is sidelined in favour of an approach-ability.

By placing the standout track first, “Dream Of Me” wilts at first listen, but each of the three songs has the power to stand alone. As an introduction “Dream Of Me” serves Train well-let’s just hope “Dark Black” is scintillating, stirring and diverse as her EP suggests.

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jeremy Williams

The Kaje talks Reclaimed to Louise Latham

Welsh songstress Louise Latham blew The Kaje away with her recently released debut album “Reclaimed”. An effortless, timeless release, Latham has far from followed the current trends, yet still managed to release a fully relevant and provoking debut. With echoes of many of the all-time great female soloists-from the American: Paula Cole, Tori Amos and Sarah MacLachlan, through the homegrown: Kate Bush and Nerina Pallot, Latham’s versatile vocal and ethereal presence are both uplifting and engaging. With the female vocalist still holding strong at the forefront of the music scene, Latham introduces an interesting side step from the power ballad and soul lament. In a class entirely of her own, Latham needs no comparison, simply an introduction. For that reason, The Kaje wasted no time in inviting Latham to Kensington Palace Park for a quick chat to find out more…

“Reclaimed” is your debut album – are you ready for it be released?

Reclaimed has been a labour of love, an incredible amount of passion and commitmen thas gone into the making of it! There has to be a point however where you let a creative endeavour go out into the world and thankfully I feel this naturally. I am ready to share the album and I have a wonderful team surrounding Reclaimed that understand and appreciate the music. My manager Maarten Sol has beautifully crafted a plan for release and we are enjoying seeing the whole campaign and months of dedicated preparation unfold!

Can you tell us a little about the thought process behind the album?

When I was thinking about the songs I wanted to include for Reclaimed I realised that I wanted to tell a story, not only within each song but also within the album as a whole. I have always been drawn to wistful stories full of longing and yearning for someone or something, you can see this in my writing. I wanted Reclaimed to tell the story of reclamation, about returning to something that you have lost. I brought together songs that had that particular theme or atmosphere and decided I wanted to record them with a full, rich analogue sound evocative of the beauty found in early Joni Mitchell records like “Blue”.

What would you say were your lyrical inspirations for the record?

Stylistically, I think I’ve been inspired by the writings of John Fowles and Daphne du  Maurier. In the novels by both of these authors there is an atmosphere created in the books that is haunting and evocative. I am drawn to this style of story telling. The stories I tell when I write are created spontaneously in the moment, on the record the songs take their inspiration from awakened memories and feelings of longing for a lost love.

How did you settle on the title ‘Reclaimed’?

The central theme is reclaiming something that has been lost and renewing it to its former glory. Either the memory of a loved one, your identity and freedom, the stories and souls of the past or the melody of a beautiful moment in time. Sometimes returning can be as intense and moving as discovery.

The album has a mixture of sonic influences – who would you say had the greatest impact?

I think that would have to be Sarah McLachlan. The sound I discovered in “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” was a combination of raw intimacy with epic, cinematic arrangements. The piano and her voice are the central instruments and around these are layers of rich instrumentation. “Reclaimed” has a similar feel, the producer Arno Guveau and myself wanted to create something pure and earthy with mainly strings and vocal harmonies surrounding the voice and piano to create a celtic, magical and haunting sound. The sound is organic and intimate whilst being uplifting and dynamic.

Reviews are citing similarities to Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, Paula Cole and Cara Dillon. How do you feel about these?

There is something common to all these artists, they have a purity of vision and commitment to their music. Musically, the piano is one of the main instruments on these artist’s records and is used in a cinematic way. Writing myself on the piano I think I am naturally drawn to this instrument being used to tell the story. Also each of these artists has an ethereal and pure quality to their voice which I also take as an inspiration.

What have been the best and worst comparisons you have heard?

The best comparison would have to be Sarah McLachlan as her music has continued to move and inspire me as each album is released. There is an honesty and integrity to her creativity and her voice is sublime. The worst comparison was when someone  compared me to an artist I don’t sound remotely like, this was a bit confusing!

“Erase Me” is the current single from the record-what made it stand out for you?

Erase Me is one of my most dramatic tracks and has an energy that is very direct and immediate. I thought I would like to start with one of my rawer, more candid songs. The song is about being stalked and is deeply personal.

How do you set about choosing the singles?

They are usually songs that have a strong sense of universality. When myself and my manager were selecting singles, we concentrated on the songs that we felt were the most open, dynamic and memorable. Maarten did research into the popularity of certain songs from the album by approaching several listeners and asking them to choose their favourite track. It was obvious from feedback which tracks should be the singles.

If you had to recommend a skip to track, which would it be and why?

I would recommend you skip to track 8, as ‘Young Boy’ has a beautiful and haunting double bass intro! The story is about the transition of a young boy moving from childhood into adulthood and how we deal with hurt during this time.

What is your personal highlight on the album?

“Gilded Bird” is a cinematic song that takes you on a journey from land, across the sea. The production (by Arno Guveau) is so atmospheric.The harmonies and strings glide  and soar reflecting the flight of the bird. Also I feel very connected to this song as vocally it is one of my most expansive – deep low notes reaching to long sustained high ones!

What are your hopes for the record?

I hope that “Reclaimed” finds listeners around the world, that it connects with people and that its success leads to many more albums to come.

You have been building a fan base on the live circuit – do you prefer performing to recording?

With live performances there is an exchange with the musicians on stage and the audience and this is really spontaneous and intimate. I definitely feel more vulnerable and laid bare emotionally when I perform which is where the intimacy happens. For me, when recording it is about creating a feeling of safety so the creative collaboration between the producer, artist and musicians can blossom. I love both performing live and recording, both are fulfilling and challenging.

What has been your live highlight?

I had a recent performance at Blackheath Halls, London on a Bosendorfer grand piano which was a real treat. I performed with a wonderful cellist called Sacha McCulloch and the combination of the acoustics in the room, the quietness of the audience and the richness of these two instruments meant I was in sonic heaven!

Which song do you most look forward to performing?

‘Saint’, it has a poignancy and lyrically a universality which connects with people. Understanding and accepting loved ones imperfections is something I think many of us struggle with and is the main theme of the song. Whenever I perform this song it resonates, it always has meaning and relevance in my life.

LIVE REVIEW: Joe McElderry, Symphony Hall (Birmingham), 09.11.11

Now I have to admit that the last I heard of Joe McElderry was when he lost out on the Christmas chart battle back in 2009. Not long after I moved to Australia and missed out on the next chapter. While I had not been a McElderry champion (I concede that I was rooting for the second from last placing Rikki Loney, before hedging my bets with the equally unpopular Rachel Adedeji), I thought him a worthy winner and secretly hoped he could break the curse of the male X Factor winner. However, through the wires I heard that his debut single “Ambitions” was only a mild hit and that he was swiftly dropped post debut album “Wide Awake” – despite it featuring a cover of one of my personal favourite tracks – Nerina Pallot’s “Real Late Starter”. The curse had struck once again and McElderry was bound for the bargain bin.

Thus I was more than little surprised when a couple of weeks ago I spotted a poster of McElderry which detailed his tour. Upon mentioning this to a couple of friends, their disdain was obvious. “McElderry should be doing musicals” the one noted, before the other snidely remarked, “he is the modern-day Cliff Richard – clean-cut, inoffensive.” Their instant rebuttal fuelled my curiosity and that evening I googled McElderry and found out a little bit more about the in-between time – but it was his mind-blowing rendition of “Nessum Dorma” on Popstar To Operastar that cemented in my mind that I needed to attend to satisfy my morbid curiosity. I knew in that moment it would be either total car crash or beyond brilliant.

Luckily it was the latter. While my friends are possibly right that McElderry veers towards the safer side of things, I personally see little wrong with that. His boy next door charm clearly has its appeal as the Symphony Hall is bursting at the seams with an all-ages audience. While the dazzling Roxanne Emery makes more of a lasting impression than X Factor rejects The Reason 4, neither act is able to touch the evening’s headline act. With a million dollar smile, McElderry promises to take the audience through his journey – the highs and the lows – from the X Factor through to the current day.

As he makes his way through a selection of tracks from his debut album “Wide Awake” it becomes clear that suffered for his status rather than his lack of ability. Though he may not be a born dancer, his vocal aptitude is immense. Every word he breathes resonates through the crowd and is met with roared appreciation. While early highlights include the aforementioned “Real Late Starter” and the surprisingly strong “Ambitions”, it is his cover of Savage Garden’s “Affirmation” that really hits home for me.

Having explored his post X Factor failure with enthusiasm, McElderry is clearly thankful for the show that brought him to the public’s attention. While “Don’t Stop Believing” goes down a treat with the audience, a rendition of “Open Arms” hits home his forte. McElderry is a singer who connects with emotional strength. Mouths drop in amazement as McElderry wows with spine tingling beauty.

Before long we are into ‘Classic’ terrain – an announcement that is met with unanimous applause. In my absence, McElderry has gone from flopstar to superstar in an unexpected manner. After a brief introduction, in which he humbly expresses his own surprise at his good fortune, McElderry launches into material from his latest release with a notable increase in confidence and presence.

Post an emotional rendition of the diving “Dance With My Father”, the evening builds through chill blain inducing renditions of “Canto Della Terra” and “Time To Say Goodbye” to an almost orgasm-inducing delivery of “Nessum Dorma”. Oozing confidence and with impressive presence, McElderry revels in his reaction as he is met by a standing ovation.

With debut hit “The Climb” as yet unperformed, the wait for the inevitable encore is  met with riotous chants. Before long McElderry is back with an acoustic working of Michael Buble’s “Home” and the obvious “The Climb”. As McElderry is joined by his adoring audience in the refrain, “Always gonna be a uphill battle, sometimes I’m gonna have to lose. Ain’t about how fast I get there.
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side – It’s the climb”, it suddenly hits me just how poignant a prediction his debut hit had been.

McElderry is a rare talent. He is not a reality television discovery. He is much more than that. The show upon which he made his name may have led to his initial downfall, but the determined star has been able to find his feet and if tonight is any indication, this star has remained grounded and is laying strong foundations.

While my friend may have meant malice with their Cliff Richard comparative – I now see it in a different light. Cliff Richard has weathered the seasons and had consistent success. McElderry may be made from the same mould. A versatile performer with a dedicated following. Time alone will tell where his journey will take him next, but during this evening he added another fan to his camp and I have added his CDs my birthday wish list for this weekend (friends take note..).

Reviewer: Jeremy Williams
Rating: 5/5 

ALBUM REVIEW: Kylie “Aphrodite”

File:Kylie Minogue - Aphrodite.jpgRecord Label: Parlophone
Release Date: 5th July 2010

Everyone’s favourite Australian pop princess is back with her eleventh studio album “Aphrodite”.

The album sees Kylie go back to what she does best “dancey pop music”, and the result is twelve catchy dance floor fillers, which are pure Kylie.

Executive producer Stuart Price is the mastermind behind the musical development of “Aphrodite” and was heavily involved in the track listing, leaving a number of recorded ballads out in favour of the twelve up tempo numbers.

The single “All The Lovers” is pure electro pop delight, and proves that Kylie is not scared of the likes of Lady Gaga, who has been wearing her crown while she has been away.

“Too Much” co-written by Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters) and Calvin Harris, has instant hit written all over it. Catchy, synthetic, and  fun, with a hooky melody and beat, it is a dance floor classic.

Other more surprising contributors to her latest release include Nerina Pallot “Aphrodite”, and Tim Rice-Oxley “Everything is Beautiful”. I say surprising only because they seem unlikely electro pop contributors, but the title track especially is one of the gems on the album.

Kylie has come so far since the “I Should Be So Lucky” days. She is an artist who can continually re-invent herself, and slot perfectly into the musical niche of the current times. Die-hard fans will not be disappointed by her latest release, and my only criticism is the lack of surprises, even if it was just in the form of a hidden track of one of the left out ballads. But Kylie doing what Kylie does best is still a treat to behold, and this release is definitely another must have for your definitive Kylie collection!

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Kim Harrell

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