AUDREY MARTELL/life lines
Pop On the Fly...
“We didn't set out to do a rock record. We wanted to deliver songs that spoke to real people, young and old. Songs about real life. I wanted the delivery of my melodies to be simple, so I didn't do a lot of riffing because sometimes I think that just masks a melody that's not that strong to begin with. And somehow, the result was a rock-sounding record.”
If that sounds like an apology, don't believe it because what Audrey Martell came up with on Life Lines isn't just rock. It's pop-rock of top quality, presented beautifully and simply. It is no less than twelve well-written and magnificently performed statements from the pen and voice of Audrey Martell and the instruments and knob-twisting of cohort Mattias (Mat-TEE-us) Gustafsson, half of which deserve, hands down, hit status. It would be a triumph for a major artist with a major label. For indies Martell and Gustafsson, it is monumental.
They pieced Life Lines together over three years, creating songs and bits of songs on the fly in the studio until a completed work emerged, which basically meant three long years of frustration and exhilaration and depression and pure joy before they came up with this, uh, finished product (which is how a major label would describe it, but a work this good is more than product, it is almost a living, breathing entity in itself). Such hard work would be nothing without the tunes and the chops, though, and they deliver both in quantity.
Red kicks the album off with a straight ahead rocker complete with killer chorus and harmonic layers of Martell backing her own fine lead voice , a combination heard throughout the album. Add Gustafsson's unerring sense of touch (he plays everything except the bass here, that provided by one Sola Van Motman) and it sets a perfect pace. Wash Me Down rides the rapids in what I can only assume is a modern version of funk--- harsh and chunky rhythms of attitude held together by pounding bass--- perfect underpinning for Martell's upfront and forceful vocals. The crunching guitar riffs grind home the dumbing down of the listening public which seemingly now prefers beauty (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) to real musical talent, the theme of the song. If the beginning of If God Is a Man does not convince you of its Top 40 potential, the chorus will. A light rock ballad, uplifting melody and excellent production take it up three notches and gives Martell's voice a chance to show its true potential. Caution rides hooks like a cowboy rides a horse and while it rocks, the production takes the hard edge off, which could allow it to cross over on any pop playlist. You have to listen to the production and the guitar break to appreciate it, but this one is a step up the depth ladder. If the album has an obvious showstopper, it is Heaven Is Hell, a haunting ballad which sends chills down the spine. Martell wraps herself around this one and lightly shreds her voice for effect which, along with beautiful wall-of-sound accompaniment, can easily take a listener to that other dimension. Then, it's back to light pop with World of Indifference, a rhythmic and melodic look at, what else, this world full of just that. The use of the “I have a dream” line from Dr. Martin Luther King's famous speech sounds like it was recorded specifically for this one moment, eerily so, yet its inclusion makes the song's theme that much stronger. Tatoo speeds things up and maybe it doesn't have that Top 40 feel, but there is more here than first meets the ear. Of course, you don't realize it until you hear it reverberating inside your head in an endless loop. The chorus carries Fractured, and it seems to be a trademark of the Martell/Gustafsson style. All of the tracks have choruses which catch the ear, thanks especially to Martell's flare with lyrics which at times is nothing short of masterful. Acoustic guitar lays the foundation for the softer Never Looking Back, a beautiful song made even moreso by a simple but fitting arrangement and Martell's distinct phrasing. Another candidate for the hit list. Speaking of hits, Casanova has all the ingredients--- hooks, rhythm, arrangement and, as always, that voice. A true upper. Can't Break Me uses beat and minor chords to full effect in a dance of instruments and vocals. Great upbeat but light tune. The album is capped off with the simplest of all the songs here, Slip Away, which features just voice and acoustic guitar, a beautiful wind-down as well as chance for Martell's voice to once again shine.
It would be so easy to point to the voice as the main ingredient here, or the production, or the at times flawless instrumental backup, but no really good album is ever that easy. There are constant surprises, even after numerous listens. A guitar lick here, a vocal moan there, an odd chord change. And simple as it all seems to be, there is so much here that it is impossible to absorb in only a few hearings. That used to be a good thing. In the old days, we called it getting your money's worth.
You can get your money's worth by logging on to www.cdbaby.com/audreymartell and sampling what has been made available. Those few minutes could add a real gem to your collection, and a gem that not everyone has. To some, it would be worth it for that alone.
It should be stated here that neither Martell nor Gustafsson are new to the game. Martell, under the name Audrey Martells, has appeared as background vocalist on numerous projects and has had songs recorded by others as well. Should you feel compelled to research, and why should you not, more info is available at www.audreymartell.com. Gustafsson has had his hands in a few pies too, claiming the Backstreet Boys, George Benson, Katelyn Tarver and the much overlooked Abigail Zsiga among his credits. A multi-instrumentalist, he owns and runs Love Child Studios in Jersey City where this was recorded and has started Love Child Records with Martell, ostensibly to promote this CD, but this could be only the beginning. More info is available at www.mattiasound.com. Happy listening.
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