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Album Review

OPHELIA HOPE
It's 3 A.M. Somewhere...

...and if all is right with the world, someone is listening to Ophelia Hope because I can't think of better three in the morning music--- soft pop music with wafts of the 60s and pop jazz and melodies marinated in the soul. A female voice which is elegance in its simplicity (I could not possibly describe Ingrid Ophelia except to say that she is to Ophelia Hope what Sally Ellyson is to Hem, Maggi Jane is to Maggi Pierce & EJ and Hymn For Her, and Jeanette Beswick is to Amelia Jay--- essential), a songwriter who truly understands the importance and beauty of utlizing major and very minor chords in the right strengths and right places, musicianship of the highest calibre (no, that's not a typo--- I prefer it that way, just as I prefer colour to color), and immaculate production. All of those describe Ophelia Hope, and so inadequately I almost want to give up writing. Then again... Remember a group called The Dirty Shames who recorded a song titled Coconut Grove? I didn't think so. Well, they're about as close as I can come to a comparison. Let's try an experiment.

You're sitting in an art film theater in Eugene, Oregon in 1966 and the movie opens with a neighborhood scene in, say, Liverpool, a lanky long-haired girl in a short dress riding a bike past rows of tenement houses flying Union Jacks, her long straight hair blowing in the wind, makeup a bit inexpertly applied (which ironically adds to her aura and beauty). No sound except the ethereal, haunting music (Albatross) with its odd whistling and Theme from M*A*S*H-like feel, lyrics fading with credits... “Wearing an albatross around my neck makes no fashion sense...” It is one of a handful of British films of that period, could be Blowup or Georgy Girl or The Foxes and could even be a lead-in to the one of the odd masterpieces of a later period, A Clockwork Orange. No, Ophelia Hope is not British, but they don't have to be. They are universal. Canada in the late 60s, same film, same scene except flags are maple-leafed and the music (Constitution Day) substitutes eerie synthesizer for whistle. You really have to hear it to understand.

Ignore the chatter and clinking glasses. This is good stuff...

If you could have married Burt Bacharach to the Fifth Dimension you would have gotten something like When You Rain, but it is not Bacharach nor is it 5D. Maybe it could have been but it is not, in spite of vocal harmonies, Raindrops Falling On Your Head upbeat rhythm and that Bacharach trombone. If that is what songwriter Paul Holden was going for, he nailed it.

Holden, in fact, nails everything. Of the twelve songs, only the 47-second Diamond Wounds disappoints, and that is because it is too short (it is a mere, though perfect, bridge between two amazing songs, Satellite Boy and New Year's Eve). “Diamond wounds uncovered,” Ophelia sings, “Salty smell of an unknown lover/Life and soul of an hour ago/Wants to be alone.” You could not musically portray aftermaths of an exhausting party better. “Throw me in a taxi,” she goes on, “And get me out of here/This ain't no way to start a new year”, and with bum-bum-bums worthy of The Singer's Unlimited, the song (and presumably Ophelia) stumbles to end.

The mix is incredible. There is just enough jazz to keep it intriguing musically, melody to override every step from that path, cinematic crescendos at just the right moments, and strings. Beautiful strings, orchestral support for the heart strings (Beautiful Tears). Despair (One Life Stand). Humility and maybe depths of love (Next To You)--- and you should hear the backgrounds voices--- amazing.

There is nothing more amazing on the album, though, than the high of Whatever...(love is), a beautifully crafted song ballad and a personal favorite, a great verse giving way to an even greater chorus which send shivers up and down my spine--- and when they get to the coda, it is as close to perfection as I can imagine. As a writer and , especially, critic, I feel downright inadequate when a song this good massages my ears. I fall madly in love with Ingrid Ophelia every time I hear it, and want to buy the rest of the band beer, and keep them coming.

The frustration here is that I can only give you scraps. They are scraps which you can put together yourself, though, and I strongly recommend that you do. More than likely, this album is nothing like anything you already have in your collection and I guarantee that the next time you hit the couch at three in the morning, burned out after a night of whatever you do until that late hour, you'll reach for Ophelia Hope (also the title of the album, FYI). They base themselves out of Norway, home of Ingrid Ophelia herself, though Holden himself is Australian, David Bertolini is Italian and percussionist Craig Farr is British, and while I don't foresee myself landing at the Bergen Airport anytime soon, at least I have the music. Ba-ba-bop-ba-oooohhh... (Buy the CD and see what that is all about. You won't regret it).

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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