Shoreworld: Christine Martucci - Angels Of War
-by John Pfeiffer
Christine Martucci has always been a fighter. From her "boots on the ground" time as a Sergeant in the Army right up to her musical and personal tribulations, she's not one to cower or back down in the face of adversity. I have covered several of her performance and recording timelines, and was curious to see what directive she had applied with her latest CD, Angels Of War.
Martucci is well-known as a powerhouse vocalist, fronting big bands and sidling up to the traditional influences of Janis Joplin and Melissa Etheridge. But on Angels Of War, gone is the roar of continuous battle. Gone are the anthemic guitars and bombastic bass and drums. Gone is the approach of having to fight for something to prove.
In the past, Martucci had more to say about topics of survival and flying in the face of adversity. But Christine has grown, and this record highlights the change of a writer thirsting for a different level of substance and an outlet for a maturing view of the world at large.
Martucci utilized the co-writing team of Marc Swersky, Brielle Brown, Charlie Midnight and Joseph Gian to get Angels Of War into the pearly gates of compositional heaven, and the multi-partnered direction has resulted in a more seasoned Martucci and some interesting twists on this platter of intimate tone.
The disc namesake, "Angels Of War" takes the lead and explores the cacophony of our modern aggression and the ensuing damage that it leaves behind. Martucci laments in verse two, "There were cities of fame that no longer exist. They were turned into dust, disappeared in the mist." The band waltzes a half-time march behind Martucci as she lays down the woes of our modern global interaction. The acoustic guitar work of Carolyn Marosy blends with Vincent Mascalo's electrics, pirouetting into myriads of revolving hooks while employing perfectly soundscaped volume swells. Brielle Brown, Gedeon Luke & Evvie McKinney put up an ethereal wall of harmonious backing sound. Stately and poignant, "Angels Of War" fires a somber salvo at the habitual battles of mankind.
"One Good Year" is up next and saunters in courtesy of rhythm aces Steve Holley and Marc Swersky. The guitar work of Mascalo is measured and cleverly effected, intertwining with Alan Markley's seamless continuity. Martucci joins the fold with smooth, breathy vocal hits reminiscent of Marianne Faithful's days with Jagger, Richards and Oldham. "One Good Year" explores the all too familiar tribulations of who we are and the precious minutes we use to attain happiness. From booze-hazed regret to terminal illness, Martucci waxes poetic on the life choices we make and the time we have left. Guitars swirl in phased choruses as Alan Markley sends synthesized and melodic drones deep into the backbone of the structural soul. The middle-eight at 2:22 is crucial, serving as a superb set-up hook that delivers Martucci back to the next verse and subject. The bridge is expansive and catchy, and elevates an already great chorus to an exceptional level before she moves into the outro and the call and response of Brielle Brown.
"Come Inside" rolls off the platter with the folkie charm of Joni Mitchell's summertime '70s gold. Acoustic guitars fingerpick melodic patterns underneath Martucci's confidential invitation. Flowing with an impassioned offer of solace and protection, Martucci beckons you in with the most honest of intentions as the band floats above and beyond the melodic messages of warmth and safety. Mascalo's single note slide work is desolate and lonely, accurately portraying the dark, cold exterior of the night.
"Easy" shimmers with analog piano beauty as Martucci swings into this dusky jewel. "Easy" is by far my favorite song on this disc and it immediately hits the spot that many will feel as well. Martucci struts her collective stuff on "Easy." Sultry, soulful and in the pocket, this is a song that could easily get her elevated notice. Mixing a 1970s Gladys Knight vibe with the structural feel of Al Green and Adele, Martucci lays down the law for anyone who thinks experiences that make you who you are would ever be a simple walk in the park. I love Joey DeMaio's hooky sitar work in the bridges and the middle-eight. DeMaio is old school real as he plucks his melodic pattern with the style of Steve Bolten (Paul Young). Keys and pianos ride the slow motion hook from valley to the hilltop as the entire band winds back into the gloriously thankful theme of the chorus.
James Dalton is featured on "Here I Am." Dalton's harmonica believability brings me back to my Kentucky homestead as Martucci digs in. Acoustic guitars splash rise and fall signals as Christine steps into the theme. Martucci shines as a minimalist, and this tune is no exception. Toned and emotionally open, she moves through the verses, searching for answers to life's conundrums on "Here I Am." This is yet another high point on the disc, and Martucci pushes the point of making your own luck with exceptional flair.
"Piece Of Heaven" is an enjoyable slice of compositional serenity. Featuring a chorus that is memorable for weeks, Martucci utilizes the background icing of Reagan Richards (Williams Honor) as she works her multi-timbre vocal up and down the dynamic ladder. Once again, the song serves as a vehicle to show Martucci is much more than a one-trick, rock and roll pony. Layered in exotic percussion and lush orchestral maneuvers, "Piece Of Heaven" easily puts Christine Martucci into a tasty position of musical recognition.
The disc ends with my other bet for a winner. "Sweet Freedom" pumps and grinds with keyboards, bass and drums, as synthesizer chirps beep rhythmically, lending a body moving command throughout the verse. Big, brash and full of immaculate horn arrangement courtesy of Steven Salcedo, "Sweet Freedom" is a sexy, soulful ride through the storm and into the sunshine. When the band kicks in, I already know it's a hit song. This is the musical and the personal culmination of everything Martucci has experienced to date. Life and music come together as one in a celebration of success as guitars chime and growl signs of light at the end of the tunnel. Free and flowing, Martucci lays it down in the hip shaking style of Sheryl Crow's early days. Gedeon Luke & Evvie McKinney are back for chorus backups and they turn the proceedings into a good time religious experience for all. The back eight winds and climbs to the very top of the pops before Martucci turns Salcedo (saxophone) and trumpeter Jonathan Powell loose for a crescendo of powerhouse brass.
Christine Martucci knows that she hasn't always hit it out of the park, and she never handled that the wrong way. Sometimes you score big, and sometimes you discover that changes need to be made to get where you need to go from there. Angels Of War is not only the grand slam disc she's been searching for, but it's a reckoning of an entire past into an apex of clarity. Gone is the mere point to prove, replaced with a confident ease and belief in her music.
And while Angels Of War may be quizzical to a few diehards, survival depends on growth, and this record is the next successful step in Christine Martucci's journey of true musical prosperity.
Kudos goes out to producer Marc Swersky, who helped Christine see the musical world from a different, and success-driven point of view. Also, this type of a record wouldn't exist without the engineering magic of Joey DeMaio and Shorefire Recording Studios over in downtown Long Branch.
Martucci sums it up best when she tells me, "This is the most honest portrayal of my life set to music. We have all battled something in our lives and somehow hope to come away from our struggles with as few scars as possible but stronger and wiser and more appreciative of who we have and where we are."
Christine will be celebrating the release of Angels Of War this Saturday, April 4, at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. Doors are at 7 p.m. For more information on the show, the band or Angels Of War, stop by her site at christinemartucci.com.
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