Some thoughts on the debut of decembergirl

I am glad to say I have heard the new five-song sampler and got to hear the decembergirl herself live in New York (Dec. 14, 2000).

My impressions: those who love her restrained (soft?), nearly vibratoless sound on many of October Project’s songs will find her vocal style familiar on these recordings, with a slightly stronger sound on some tracks, like the ones you can hear or download at her site.

In any event, Marina’s voice and her songwriting are top of the line here, certainly up there with my favorite OP songs.

Having heard her voice go nearly full throttle live on ‘When You Go’, I was surprised straightaway in the first minutes of hearing the CD version: her initially soft touch really evokes a sound picture of someone crying at a window on a rainy day.

‘Return to Me’ is a treat here and live for OPals, as it presents some alternative history: a near-total band reunion with our Marina singing lead! What can I say? Julie Flanders and Emil Adler have written some of the best pop music ever, and if you loved Marina’s serene style on the OP albums, you’ll want to hear this.

‘The Wheel’ changes gears for some contagiously catchy pop with intelligent lyrics. Having read the words of this one, it appears to be a song for the Jung at heart. Carl Jung, that is. Here Marina has more of her ‘live’ sound, with a little help from her friends. This song has got to get some airplay on stations like WXPN that played OP. Call. Write. E-mail. And ask!

‘Come With Me’ is in a completely different mood... almost noirish (sorry, no, I don’t know which movie(s) she is alluding to). Since first hearing Marina live solo (at New York’s famous Bitter End, October 1996) I always imagined she could be a successful jazz singer if she so chose (though I think her heart is in folk) and here she proves it, with a muted trumpet adding some smoky haze to the atmosphere.

Finally, one of my favorites, ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’, actually a Gregorian chant tune from the 1100s (the words, originally in Latin, are from the 800s). I am very sensitive and picky when pop musicians try to do something with chant. I hated what the French group Enigma did about nine years ago when they cut up and sampled Benedictine monks chanting for some slow-groove dance tune... I know some Latin and so I knew the monks were praying and understood what they were saying. No worries here. This version, a traditional (19th-century?) English translation, is reverent but manages both to re-create the birth of Renaissance polyphony, riffing on the chant melody with harmonies, and introduce some great atmospheric, ethereal instrumental music that doesn’t intrude. Of course a Marina album would have harmonies! And I think that’s several tracks of her, harmonizing with herself. The Two Siberians, Yuri Matveyev and Artjom Yakušenko (originally from Irkutsk near the Mongolian border, now from Moscow), make music very like one of my favorites, electric violinist Caryn Lin. (But their music on their own recordings is much more rocklike.)

This sampler CD is a good representation of the decembergirl’s versatility, from an October Project song and a Marina original, ‘When You Go’, in a rendition that instrumentally sounds like OP, to originals (she co-wrote ‘The Wheel’ with Dana Pomfret) and a traditional song, each of which covers different ground.

Finally, for all living on the US’s East Coast: come to a show!! Having got used to Marina live as half of Julia Macklin’s duo (beautiful), I was blown away to hear her go to several other places musically, from gospel (‘It’s Gonna Rain’ — with two talented friends, Dana Pomfret and Deborah Newallo — keep the faith, Deborah!) to ‘The Little Red Apple’, a Slovak folk song a cappella, which she taught Dana to sing phonetically in Slovak, a language that, even though it’s related, sounds more challenging than the Russian I am acquainted with.

Merry Christmas/happy Hanukkah/wa’Salaam (for Ramadan this month)... and to the decembergirl herself, djakuju. Thanks.


Dave Sabatino, Urbano Sanchez, Marina Belica, Julie Flanders and Emil Adler (photo by Alan Roos)

Eric Postel recently wrote me: ‘I always thought Marina’s vocals were not prominent enough in OP music so I am psyched to hear just her.’

So am I.

As of Dec. 14, I have been blessed to have met everybody in OP save one, and each person gave something unique to the band: Urbano Sanchez, a friendly, self-effacing fellow, brought the Caribbean percussion sound with some African influences (his latest project is called Sonidos Costeńos, or Sounds of the Coast), while guitar man Dave Sabatino (he of the famous long hair — now trimmed — and a favorite of lady fans) definitely represented the ‘rock!’ in ‘folk-rock’, giving the music a shot of testosterone that balanced out its sound.

The other singer of course was a big natural talent, the goth-style power pasionaria, while Marina was so serene and regal (the latter was the first word that came to my mind seeing her before an audience of thousands at Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia, in 1994), the trained musician blessed with both a sweetness and maturity to her voice the other one did not have. Like Selene, the moon, that in its own way outshone the sun.

To hear that voice go full strength live, and trying different musical genres, is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Click on the album cover to read more about and buy decembergirl

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