One day I had an envelope arrive from Nick Katona, and I duly copied all the CDs and put them on my playlist and didn’t really think any more of it. I had the made the assumption (yes, we all know what that means) that they were recent releases, so was somewhat amazed when I did some research on this album and discovered not only was it released back in 2012, but as far as I can tell it is still the only album they have ever put out! It took a little more digging to find out why that was the case, and apparently guitarist/producer Gregg Olson suffered a massive stroke the same year the album was released, which obviously had a major impact on him personally and on band itself. The good news is I have been looking at their Facebook page and it appears that not only has he recovered much better than anyone expected, but they are just putting finishing touches on the next album, which is something I am definitely looking forward to.
Scarlet Hollow are American, and with a sound like this they really could be nothing else. This is what Heart would sound like if they were into strong and heavy progressive rock, and if I was to liken singer/keyboard player Allison VonBuelow to anyone else in the scene then it would be to Lana Lane. The rhythm section is Jeff Mack (bass guitars and bass pedals) with Diego ‘GROM’ Meraviglia on drums, and together they make a mighty sound indeed. This is heavy prog with symphonic overtones, with superb songs and great performances from all involved. I had heard the name some years back but hadn’t previously come across the album and am stunned that I have been missing out for so long. There is a confidence throughout, and it certainly never comes across as a debut album, but instead of a band who know exactly what they are out to achieve, and the ability to get there.
Allison can sing delicately and gently when the needs arises, and there is a strong use of acoustic guitars throughout the album to provide different layers and textures, while there is a powerful use of different drum patterns. One is never sure where each song is going to lead, as they mix and meld heavy rock with prog to create something which is more than the sum of its parts. It may have taken me seven years to get to grips with the debut album from Scarlet Hollow, but hopefully the new album isn’t far away at all, and if you enjoy heavy progressive rock, with loads of shade and textures, combined with great songs and a powerful female singer then look no further.
Lee Martin is a New Zealand based singer/songwriter who has been impacting the music scene with her thought-provoking lyrics and storytelling writing style. She is South African born and has previously recorded two original albums which received ample radio play and enjoyed great success with her fans from all the corners of the world. A childhood spent listening to greats such as Van Morrison, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen, etc. has greatly influenced her music. Lee started her training in classical guitar at the age of 9 and has been singing and performing professionally for the past 15 years. Lee Martin is an old soul with a versatile writing style which allows her to cross genres as she glides easily between folk, rock, blues, and country, all the while maintaining her unique sound.
Lee’s storytelling writing style is what intrigues her fans and keeps them captivated. With a new EP being released through AAA Records at the beginning of May, it seemed like a great time to have a catch-up.
Who first influenced you to start performing music?
My dad has always been an incredible music lover with an extensive library of records, and later CD’s. I remember just absorbing album after album when we visited him fortnightly and studying the lyrics. If lyrics weren’t included, I would write them out by hand (not always getting it right ha ha). I used to buy a pack of blank tapes before every visit and I would fill them with all my favourite songs by the end of the weekend, and then continue to listen to it for the next couple of weeks leading up to my next visit. Favourites were Van Morrison, Dire Straits, Leonard Cohen, the list goes on…
When I was five years old, I decided I wanted to learn to play guitar and desperately wanted to be a singer/songwriter. I told my mother of this plan and she was told nine is a good age to learn how to play guitar. This is where the longest wait of my life started! Finally, when I turned nine, my single mother, (on a teaching salary supporting two kids) took me to a pawn shop and we managed to get a $10 guitar that to our incredibly untrained ears sounded semi decent. It had the highest action and just about killed me to play. To my dismay at the time, the guitar lessons she enrolled me in was for classical guitar but after my mother took on an extra job after hours to be able to support this dream, I just sucked it up and gave it my all. My guitar teacher soon realized that I had to endure a lot of pain on the guitar I was playing, and he was quite confident about my ability and passion, so he convinced my mother to upgrade my guitar to a Yamaha after which I just took off.
Because of the classical training, I found it very easy to play chords and pretty much immediately started writing songs about love and other things I had no idea about. My mother was my biggest fan and loved listening to my new compositions (no matter how bad I’m sure they must have been, she loved it). In primary-school I forced family, friends, and neighbors to pay an entrance fee to attend my house concert and in high school Favorites, I had the odd music concert. When I went to University, we started a Uni band and traveled the country with our music. My band was called Southern Soul and we quickly recorded an album and fully immersed ourselves into this music world. The favorite broke up after a few years with life leading us in different directions, but I went solo and kept going at it.
What material have you released?
My first album was with my band Southern Soul in 2006 and was called “Package,” while my solo album as Lee Martin in 2008 was “I Know You’re Sleeping”. I guess it is similar in a sense to what I am writing now, but I feel like my music has definitely evolved and matured. I then got married and we moved to NZ in 2010. Soon after that I had a baby, followed by another, so had a bit of a break. I slowly got back into gigging and starting over in NZ where I was a complete unknown but managed to become active on the scene and I re-released some of my solo music together with some live recordings in 2016 on an album called “Late Night Sessions.”
How would you describe your style to someone who has never heard you before?
I feel like Norah Jones and Eva Cassidy are two of the artists I have been compared to. I like writing about life, and I am a big storyteller in the way I write my songs. I love observing people and making real connections in order to tell a relatable story not only about my own life but about others as well. I cross the boundaries of genres and would say all these are applicable at some point; folk, country, blues.
Who inspires you now, both locally and globally?
Van Morrison is my ultimate inspiration as he kind of breaks all the rules. He keeps bringing out new music, performing and doing what he loves. He never stops. It’s just is who he is. Also, I love the way he crosses the boundaries of genres. He’s not worried about having massive hits or impressing anyone (I know he can be a grumpy bugger), he is just doing his thing and I love it! I also love Norah jones and the fact that she just released another album.
Locally, I adore Jamie McDell, Matty Von Voin, Marlon Williams (the list goes on). NZ has so much amazing talent.
When you perform live is it just by yourself or do you have a regular band?
I like the simplicity of performing by myself and this is what I do most of the time. For bigger shows and launches I’ll perform with a band.
What are your plans for the next six months?
Promoting this EP as much as possible and touring around NZ, Australia and back in South Africa in September.
It has been eight years since the last album from Seventh Wonder, but they are finally back with their fifth studio album with just one line-up change from ‘The Great Escape’. I am not really sure why it has taken so long for them to release this, but I presume the blame should be placed squarely on the shoulders of singer Tommy Karevik who also joined Kamelot with whom he has released three albums. But they are back, and in many ways it is almost as if they have never been away. This is very polished melodic rock with symphonic overtones and great vocals (yes, I know they are often classed as prog metal, but while this is a great album, prog metal it isn’t).
Tommy Karevik is recognised as being one of the best frontmen around, and here he is being given the perfect playground. Given that bass player Andreas Blomqvist, guitarist Johan Liefvendahl and drummer keyboard player Andreas “Kyrt” Söderin have all been in the band since 2000 it should be no surprise they lock in well, while drummer Stefan Norgren (ex: Lion´s Share) drives the music along with a much more powerful and dynamic approach to many in this field. This is melodic and powerful, and far heavier than would often be expected from bands on the Frontiers label. Let’s hope it isn’t quite so long until the next one. 8/10
Roz Vitalis have been one of the most consistent progressive rock bands out of Russia for many years now, always stretching boundaries with avant garde and jazz inspired music, and this their latest album definitely shows them playing to their strengths. Recorded at two different venues in Saint Petersburg and Narva in 2018, the line-up now has a new drummer in Evgeny Trefilov, while band leader keyboard player Ivan Rozmainsky has also brought in saxophone player Ilya Belorukov which also allows the band to spread their wings even further. While four pieces are from their most recent studio album, ‘The Hidden Man of the Heart’, the other three are new compositions.
It is completely instrumental, and while Rozmainsky is at the heart of everything which is taking place, the use of sax on five of the numbers and clarinet on the other two has the band combining jazz, avant garde and elements of VDGG to create something which is sometimes challenging, always fascinating and certainly never boring. No one can accuse Roz Vitalis of wanting to follow the prog mainstream but instead are out there attempting to push boundaries and create something which is truly progressive and not another clone. This album has been released through Bandcamp, and I urge you to discover not only this but also the back catalogue of one the most interesting and enjoyable prog bands around.
In 2018 my good friend Olav furnished me with a copy of Doug Rausch’s second album which had recently been released. Some months later Doug tracked me down and we started having regular contact. During that period, I mentioned that I hadn’t heard the debut, and if he would like it reviewed… So, although ‘Book II’ was released in 2018, ‘Rausch’ actually came out as long ago as 2009, and we are now in the 10thanniversary year. In some ways I find it incredibly surprising there was such a gap between the two, and in other ways possibly not so much. I have lost count of how many times I have played this album recently but know that it is a great deal many more times than I would normally for something I was planning to review.
Doug is first and foremost a pianist and came to public attention when Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) heard a college demo and then asked him to perform in the very first Keyfest. This helped in attracting guitarist/bassist Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery) with drums provided by Joe Novolo and Doug everything else, while Rich Mouser (Neal Morse, Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater) was also involved. The result is an album, where a piano is often at its heart, combined with some stunning guitar, and a mix of styles which should be said to be eclectic. Imagine Wheatus combined with Queen, mixing it up with Bowling For Soup, with some Galahad or IQ is thrown in for good measure, topped up with a little Pallas, and you may get close to what this album is like. It is light, it is joyous, and every time I play it I enjoy it just that little bit more. The ballad like “B.P.M.S.” is acoustic, gentle, and totally irreverent. It is a Seventies album to its very core, and will be enjoyed by anyone who wants to search it out. Doug has a new website, https://rauschband.com/home, so visit it, stream some songs and see what I making a fuss about. This is fun, and sometimes that is all I want from my music.