1/ Scream (Reprise) (Mase,Doncker) 2.20 2/ Piece of Peace (Mase,Doncker) 4.20 3/ Open Up My Heart (Mase,Doncker) 5.28 4/ Lioness (Mase,Doncker) 3.44 5/ New Cell Phone (Mase,Doncker) 5.10 6/ Queen of Imperfection (Mase,Doncker) 3.59 7/ She Hooked Him Up (Mase,Doncker) 5.21 8/ Divine Restlesness (Mase,Doncker) 4.58 9/ AnnaRexia (Mase,Doncker) 4.13 10/ Kill Love (Mase,Doncker) 3.07 11/ Blog (Mase,Doncker) 3.25 12/ Dance the Tango (Mase,Doncker) 3.23 13/ Smithereens (Mase,Doncker) 4.50 14/ Scream (Mase,Doncker) 3.43 15/ Squirm (Mase,Doncker) 3.43 16/ AnnaRexia (Bill Laswell dub mix) (Mase,Doncker) 6.40 Recorded at Orange Music Sound Studios, West Orange, New Jersey Additional recording on 5 and 14 by Benny Steele at the Steel Factory Recorded and mixed for Creative Music and Audio by James Dellatacoma Track 14 mixed by Benny Steele Track 16 remix engineered by Robert Musso Track 16 assistant: James Dellatacoma Track 16 mixed by Bill Laswell Produced by Tomás Doncker, Marla Mase and James Dellatacoma Mastered by Michael Fossenkemper at Turtletone StudioMarla Mase: lead and background vocals; Tomás Doncker: acoustic and electric guitars, background vocals; Daniel Sadownick: percussion; Booker King: upright and electric bass; Alan Grubner: violin, viola; Heather Powell: background vocals; Tobias Ralph: drums; Nick Rolfe: keyboards; Garrison Hawk: lead vocals (9,16); Josh David: bass (2,3,11), background vocals (1,2); Ken Jenkins: bass (9,16); James Dellatacoma: guitar (2,3,11), sound effects (1); Damon DueWhite: drums (1,3,11); Morris Roberts: drums (7,8,9,16); Manu Koch: keyboards (1,3,11); Benny Steele: keyboards (5).
All string arrangements by Alan Grubner.
2013 - True Groove (USA), no catalog number (CD)
Two words come to mind when listening to the deluxe edition of Speak, the latest from New York singer-songwriter Marla Mase: variety and confidence. Throughout this record these two traits complement each other, and Mase has them in spades. They work together to produce one of the most eclectic and exciting albums this reviewer has yet heard in 2013.
Let’s be clear about this: the 16 tracks on Speak end up covering ground equal to about half a record store. But happily Mase avoids the most common trap that typical genre-jumping albums fall into. Occasionally when artists release a record like this, the whole thing feels empty, as though its creator is just running through the motions, checking musical styles off a list in order to appease the widest audience possible. That is precisely not what Mase is doing here. Yes, the genre experimentation on this record is positively mind-bending – Mase transitions from airy spoken-word monologues to a dirty Patti Smith-style rocker like “Piece of Peace” to a kind of cheeky yet still meaningful reggae tune like “AnnaRexia” with no difficulty. The difference here is that Mase truly feels like she belongs in each of these genres. She embraces each style she attacks with aplomb, and the result is truly rewarding.
Mase’s backup for this project, the Afrobeat/soul group the Tomas Doncker Band, must also be applauded. They seem up for any style Mase can throw at them, from the Madonna-in-the-jungle vibe of “Lioness” to the Stones/KISS marriage of “Queen of Imperfection” to the perfect Lilith Fair-esque lilt of “New Cell Phone.” Given the impressive pedigree of Doncker and his players, this collaboration with Mase seems like a match made in Heaven.
For me what’s really impressive about Speak is how ably it convinces listeners that it’s worth their time. The multitude of genres represented on this record are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t typically find myself seeking out spoken-word music, for instance. But the opening punch of “Scream (reprise)” and “Piece of Peace” guaranteed that I’d welcome the rest of the record with open arms. I think that, as long as listeners can find any one foothold here (and there are many to be found), they’ll have no trouble enjoying the rest of the record.
In sum, there’s an earnestness and honesty here that makes Mase’s music attractive regardless of one’s genre proclivities; the soul behind each of these tracks is immediately apparent. Rather than feel like a tawdry excuse to tour popular (and not-so-popular) music genres, then, Mase’s collection of songs employs its diversity in the best way possible – to showcase a wide range of emotions and experiences. This album feels satisfying not just because it covers so much ground, but because every step feels earned. Put simply, this is a winner.
Eric Garneau (courtesy of the Nerdy Nothings website)
Marla Mase is a complicated artist; one with the ability to go from the war cry-like call for peace of "Piece of Peace," to something much more seemingly mundane, such as the common act of purchasing a new phone on "New Cell Phone." Her sound can be rock & roll one moment, and spoken word put to music the next. Whatever guise Mase's art takes, though, it's never less than compelling.
One of Mase's most effective examples of musical-poetry is "Open up My Heart," which speaks openly and honestly about a pitiful girl suffering from a life of over protection. "It wasn't that she wasn't loved/In fact/She was loved too much," Mase states at one point, in the song's most jaw-dropping moment. Interestingly, Mase sounds a lot like early Laurie Anderson recordings on this track. There is a bit a bite in her vocal tone, as though she knows a whole lot more than she's actually telling us.
Not everything on this album is entirely effective, however. For instance, the song "Lioness" features Mase speaking/singing/shouting the word 'roar' over and over. Although, yes, this expresses what a lion does, it just sounds rather awkward as a song lyric. Even so, this song has a killer good groove, reminiscent of Talking Heads recordings from the 80s.
Far better, however, is the reggae of "AnnaRexia," a gripping song lyric about the deadly female obsession with staying – or getting – thin. Sung over a fantastic reggae beat, this song is included both as a basic song form, and once again as "AnnaRexia-Bill Laswell Dubmix," and extended. It is a fairly lighthearted musical bed, which deceptively couches a very serious lyric.
A track titled "Dance the Tango" is one of the happiest songs about suicide, ever. It's sung over a snappy, swinging beat. It tells the story about reading somebody's obituary. That's followed by a complaint that this written piece failed to mention the suicide victim's enjoyment from dancing the tango. It also "forgot to mention" how this person liked to laugh. Granted, obituary columns cannot include everything. However, sometimes these articles can have a boatload of information, yet still completely miss the essence of that individual. The track ends with a respectful string outro.
Mase is at her most passionate during the rocker "Piece of Peace, when she screams hoarsely, "They say we all need the same things/So what's stopping us?" This is a question we all must have asked ourselves at one time or another. While humans have the same basic wishes for the world, we too often let politics, religion and any number of other factors get in the way of making these wishes come true.
Even something as seemingly mundane as "New Cell Phone," however, includes the line, "The bills keep coming," which makes a philosophical statement about the manner in which life continues to roll on. It's also a reaction against being pelted by circumstances. Yes, Mase deceptively deep, even when seemingly lighthearted.
Sure, Marla Mase is a complicated woman. Yet even within all this complication is a relatively straightforward soul, with easy to comprehend ideals. So even though you may not peel away all the layers to the onion with this one album, you will still get a filling meal out of it.
Dan MacIntosh courtesy of the anti music website)