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Barbara Rubin - 2010 - "Under the Ice"

(33:47,'Rubin')


*****
                 
TRACK LIST:           
        
1.  Under the Ice 2:59 
2.  The Land 1:05 
3.  Angel Heartbeat 3:40
4.  A Place That Nobody Knows 3:56
5.  Stupid Day 3:42
6.  Liar 4:39
7.  Before the Light 1:38
8.  Ero E Sono 2:43
9.  Music and Love 3:25
10. No More Tears 4:33
11. Orange Roses 1:27

LINEUP:

Barbara Rubin – lead & backing vocals; violin, viola; piano 
Simone Morandotti – drums; keyboards; guitars 
Alberto Rondano – el. & ac, guitars
Paolo Baltaro – ac. guitar
Andrea Garavelli – bass 
Claudia Ravetto – cello 
Sara Morandotti – flute 
With:
Andrea Giolo – lead & backing vocals (5)
Marianna Caltavuturo – backing vocals (3)

Prolusion. Hailing from Pavia, in north-western Italy, Barbara RUBIN is a classically-trained violinist and composer, who has been active on the Italian music scene for quite a few years. She has appeared on albums such as Arcansiel’s “Swimming in Sand” (2004) and Paolo Baltaro’s “Low Fare Flight to the Earth” (2009). Her official debut as a solo artist came in early 2010 with “Under the Ice”, at first issued as a digital release towards the end of 2009. Rubin is also a member of Italian progressive metal band LoreWeaveR, which she joined in 2008.

Analysis. A few months ago, I reviewed a solid debut album by an Italian female artist – Sophya Baccini’s “Aradia” – which shares some of the features of “Under the Ice”, though it is almost twice as long and definitely more ambitious in scope. Anyway, those who are always on the lookout for great female vocalists, but are often disappointed by the sameness of the offer on the modern progressive rock scene (especially as refers to the glut of ethereal sopranos in such subgenres as symphonic prog metal and neo-prog) may have reason to be cheerful when listening to Barbara Rubin’s debut. With “Under the Ice”, as with the aforementioned “Aradia”, we are presented with the complete package – not only a strong vocalist, but also an excellent multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger. Judging from this short but sweet debut (at under 34 minutes, slightly longer than an EP – how unusual in these times of often interminable albums!), with Barbara Rubin Italy might have produced its own answer to the likes of Kate Bush and Tori Amos. Both these names immediately came to my mind when listening to “Under the Ice” for the first time. Not that Rubin, as a singer, sounds like either of them – her voice is rather a strong, self-assured contralto, supple and expressive. However, the starring role played by the piano, as well as the balance between acoustic and electric moments, atmospheric passages and more uptempo ones, cannot help remind the listener of both these extremely influential artists. True, Rubin’s lyrical approach is nowhere as idiosyncratic as either Bush’s or Amos’; moreover, from a compositional point of view, she avoids any forays into more left-field territories. The album, in any case, reveals an unmistakable feminine touch, though not in any stereotyped sense. As a matter of fact, both the title and the cover artwork (some very simple, stylish photos of Rubin clad in white) remind me of Tori Amos’ breakthrough album, 1994’s “Under the Pink” – though I am quite sure the similarity is an incidental one. In spite of its limited running time, “Under the Ice” offers quite a nice amount of variety, from the intimate feel of the title-track to the Beatles-ian vibe of A Place That Nobody Knows. The intensity of Liar allows Rubin to belt out the lyrics like a seasoned heavy rock vocalist; the whistling synth sounds at the opening of the song bring to mind Rainbow’s Tarot Woman, while the robust drumming and assertive presence of the Hammond organ place this track squarely in the time-honoured tradition of hard progressive rock. Much in the same vein, No More Tears alternates melodic passages and harder-edged ones with some nice Deep Purple-like Hammond work. At the other end of the spectrum, we find the lovely, piano-and-violin interlude of The Land, and the subdued, autumnal mood of Stupid Day – both numbers with a definite Kate Bush flavour. Ero E Sono, the only track sung in the artist’s native Italian, is more of a quality singer-songwriter effort than a progressive one; while Angel Dream shares the tender, intimate nature of the title-track, though in a slightly more ‘mainstream’ key. “Under the Ice” shows a good amount of versatility on Barbara Rubin’s part, though, for any future ventures, she should probably decide if she wants to be a rocker, or rather pursue a more low-key path as a singer-songwriter. I would also recommend choosing Italian as her singing language for her next effort (though she does more than an adequate job with English) – since it would give her music a stronger character, and dispel any possible ‘copycat’ allegations.

Conclusion. Even without offering any conventional prog antics, “Under the Ice” will provide listeners with just over half an hour of sophisticated, quality music performed by an interesting new artist supported by a group of excellent musicians. A promising debut indeed, though perhaps a bit too short to present a complete picture of Rubin’s artistic potential.

RB=Raffaella Berry: Agst 20, 2010
The Rating Room


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Barbara Rubin


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