CD Reviews 10 Jul 2006

Jo Gabriel CD Scan0001JO GABRIEL – Island

(2005   Kalinkaland)

Jo Gabriel is a New Yorker now living in Madison. She’s a seasoned songwriter and performing artist with four albums to her credit as well as musical appearances in films and on several compilation albums, including last year’s MAMA-winning No Camouflage, which was the brainchild of Wendy Schneider, a.k.a. Wendy Bugatti.  Gabriel teamed up with Bugatti to record Island at Coney Island Studios and also recruited her to add guitars.  Joining them is Gabriel’s longtime musical soul mate Linda Mackley on drums and internationally renowned cellist Matt Turner.  Two members associated with German goth group Chandeen also contribute: Florian Walther on guitars and Harold Lowy on electronics. Gabriel was recently signed to German recording label Kalinkaland which is distributed by New York-based Projekt Records in the U.S.

Gabriel’s music can best be summed up as Kate Bush circa The Kick Inside and LionheartI, but also the most recent Aerial album.  There are also shades of Tori Amos but unlike Amos, Gabriel never goes over the top.  Expansive song structures built around Gabriel’s considerable piano skills give way to breathy, deeply poetic lyrics.  The album is stunning in its depth and grace, each track is a journey through dense musical landscapes somehow achieved with minimal instrumentation. 

“Objects in the Mirror” is a beautiful piece, featuring Turner’s cello on an extended coda.  “Island” follows, an equally gorgeous track with a lengthy intro punctuated again by Turner.  “Tinderbox” is a killer tune with rock band complement and Schneider adds ethereal guitar in the middle section. “If Not” is an elegant piano solo. Gabriel’s piano playing is exquisite and it’s a remarkable fact that she is entirely self-taught. “Wash Away” and “Little Birds” are Gabriel-Mackley duets and it’s in this configuration that Gabriel has toured with this material. Gabriel’s lilting vocals grace all the music, becoming the centerpiece.  Her melodies are beautifully intricate and she has the utmost control over her multi-octave range.

Hypnotic in its charms and almost childlike in its uninhibited artistic exploration, Island is an outstanding piece of work that deserves international acclaim.  There may be strong resemblances to Kate Bush but Gabriel’s musical statements stand firmly on their own.

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About the author

Rick Tvedt

Rick is publisher of Local Sounds Magazine, formerly Rick's Cafe, Wisconsin's Regional Music Newspaper. He is also the Executive Director for MAMA, Inc., a non-profit organization that produces the Madison Area Music Awards and raises funds to promote youth music programs.

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