CD REVIEW: A Private Press - Risky
by: Cyrus Rhodes
Artist: A Private Press
Label: Independent Artist
Genre: Celtic Contemporary, Orchestral, Ambient Vocal, Ambient Pop
Sounds Like: Cocteau Twins. Loreena McKennitt, Enya, Sarah McLaughlin, Celine Dion
Technical Grade: 5/10
Weakness: Winded Songs, repetitive catalogue, Engineering Aspects
A Private Press is a songwriting and performance duo based in Philadelphia, PA. Singer and lyricist Nicola Dixon delivers pure, distinctive vocals over Ian Schaefer’s rich, songbook-tinged electric guitar. Their debut album, Risky, is a heartfelt study of the aesthetics of progress, behavior and change. Influences include: Cowboy Junkies, Low, Beach House, Wye Oak, Neko Case, and Joni Mitchell
The CD gently takes flight with “Deserter” a smooth intro groove that serves up an inviting vocal presence against impressive earthy fretwork, smooth as silk rhythm section and mesmerizing vocal delivery from Dixon. Track 2 the title track presents a striking, slow moving piece that serves up a methodical musical build with a passionate melodic delivery with heartfelt vocals from Dixon that flows and ebbs its way through to emotional fruition. Track 3 “A Joke About Vegas” delivers an hypnotic melody with impressive sonic ambience, thought provoking lyrical content and mesmerizing vocals. The production quality is impressive and the musicianship of everyone involved is clearly above the bar. Along the way you will notice an array of instrumentation with things like flute, tambourine, Shakers, Guitar, Bass, Organ, Steel Guitar and sporadic percussive accents, ambient accents, lush harmonies all built upon an earthy rhythmic foundation. Song for song the combination of Celtic-Alternative Pop meshed with Dixon’s vocal presence is impressive. Now turning our attention over to Dixon - as for her vocal abilities she fills the sonic space peacefully and unobtrusively. Her vocal style is cut from the cloth of Cocteau Twins (Elizabeth Frazier) Sarah McLaughlin, Loreena McKennitt, Enya, and Celine Dion. It definitely works well within the confines of this contemporary Sonic-Pop catalogue. Dixon’s impressive vibrato, falsetto and overall vocal passion clearly showcases a strong and confident vocal ability. I especially like how her voice just sort of flows and ebbs melodically with the music. No doubt she has solid musical instincts behind the microphone. Equally as impressive is the production instincts of Ian Schaefer. This CD from A Private Press delivers 11 compelling tracks all providing an interesting snapshot of an amazing artist with thought provoking subject matter and lyrical wisdom. All pieces are striking, captivating, positive, passionate and extremely compelling. From hypnotic “Adler” to invigorating “Feel Like the Movies” to melodic “Unknown Numbers” to uplifting “The Paris of the South” to grooving “There’s No getting Away” this CD has something for just about everyone. The CD ends with track 11 “Designed to Drift” the perfect wrap for a catalogue like this.
All songs over 3.5 minutes tend to drag you to the finish line. The overall mix is a bit off kilter and a bit heavy on the sonic side. This is especially evident on really high end speakers. Digging a bit deeper on this particular issue and looking within the sparsely written liner notes it looks a as if Schaefer Engineered, Mixed, and Mastered this CD all by himself. This is a big “no no” in the music business .Typically you want a separate engineer handling each phase of the production process to give your project more perspective and checks and balances. Drums sound a bit thin lacking think low end punch and frequencies. Cymbals and percussive accents lack crystal clear high end clarity. Catalog tends to be a bit repetitive overall.
I like everything about A Private Press. Both Dixon/Schaefer are two infectious Ambient artists that possess a lot of potential as their sound evolves over the years to come .This is a great staring part, as every great artist has to start somewhere. The music is compelling, earthy, highly passionate, uplifting and melodic. The pin drop moments are to die for and the songwriting craft is an interesting snapshot of music delivered from two clairvoyant artists.