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Album Review

Start Livin' It Right

This is one of the treasures which makes good reviewers keep reviewing. Handed boxcar loads of mainstream product by an industry in denial (the paradigm is broken but most labels refuse acknowledgment), with press kits written by professionals with sometimes tin ears and, lest we forget, an agenda, critics can be occasionally forgiven for getting lost beneath the mountain of mediocre music and hype. The pure volume is daunting, the praise (as spouted by the PR machine) endless, the incentives to play the game a carrot just out of reach yet tempting. Make the leap and you basically lose your soul, as a critic at least. The music diminishes in importance, the ego grows and you change. Stay in the mines and the work is harder, but the rewards can be immense.

Let's face it. The Green Day's and the Taylor Swift's are easy. The media hands you those (for a small fee), but you have to actually dig to find the Margaux Sky's. You have to search and sample and link to pages and research and listen--- really listen. But when you uncover that diamond in the rough--- oh, man.

Wait. Did I just say “in the rough?” Start Livin' It Right is polished and smooth and ready for setting. Hell, it is set. Sky may not have known exactly what she wanted when she went in to Dr. Caw Recording Studios in Northbrook, Illinois, but she got exactly what she wanted: a full-on professionally recorded gem of an album. Ten songs dipped in decades of music magic, from the '50s to the present. No, these are not remakes nor are they blatant attempts at recreating an era. These are fresh, original tracks with only a whisper of influence. If you hear more, that is you bringing your own influences into play.

For myself, that is a joy. Immersed in music from an early age, I revel in music influenced by the past when it is done right, and this is done right. From the raucous bar-boogie opener of Over You to the slow but powerful Will You Ever Be Mine (the ending a distant cousin to that of The Flamingo's classic I Only Have Eyes For You without crossing lines) to the musically galvanizing chorus of If You Need a Reason (the chord progression alone would have been enough, but throw in superb band backup and background vocals building toward crescendo and it is a step above), this impresses.

Sky's voice (a combination of maybe Eartha Kitt and Della Reese with a smidgen of Teresa Brewer, though that limits it a bit much) form fits itself to each song, each phrase there for a reason. The phrasing, in fact, is icing on the cake. Sky could have gone ballistic vocally, as all too many singers do these days, but she doesn't. Her voice is just another instrument in the song (though a lead instrument) and blends in beautifully. With her, though, it is the song. I suppose like many artists I've known, her songs are her babies. She creates them, she nurtures them and prepares them for life. These have been well prepared.

I can't close this without mentioning the session itself. There is energy in the music which tells me that everyone in the studio was on the same page when this was recorded, and I mean not only technically, but musically. The tracks are threaded with intensity and, at certain moments, fun! Musicians always live for those moments when the music takes them away and they are plentiful here. Sumit Das rocked the bass, Ernie Denov is a guitarist I will now follow closely (his leads are masterful) and Steve Eisen saxed it up magnificently (his flute on The Phoenix Within flooded me with an all too seldom visited love for the late '60s and early '70s when that instrument commanded respect). I assume that Craig Williams (Dr. Caw, his own self) was twisting the knobs and, if so, he has every right to break his arm patting his back.

But the back most patted has to be Margaux Sky's. She brought some really fine music to the table. Without that, I would never have emerged from the depths of the mine to write this and been reminded of how nice daylight can be.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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