Dana Mase,
Through the Concrete & The Rocks
(Water Records, 1998)

I believe I am one of the few males who could look beyond Lilith Fair's presentation of "cute chicks" and enjoy the music and talent behind it. There is no doubt that, musically, the 1990s belongs to women, and I can do nothing but applaud. But now that we're all on equal standing here, I must make this request to all record producers everywhere -- stop cloning successful acts to sell records.

Which brings me to Dana Mase's third album, Through the Concrete & The Rocks. I think what happened here was that producers Steve Addabbo and John Putnam felt the urge to unlease an Alanis Morrisette clone on the world, and picked Jewish folksinger Mase to fill that role. The same lilting voice that jumps around on syllables, the same incessant droning ... all she needs now is mp3.com stock.

The vast majority of the songs on this album relate to the singer's self-examination of her life -- where she's been, her fears about where she is going, etc. And when I say most, I mean 10 out of the 11 songs on the album. Ten songs about not knowing who you are. Could we have picked another topic? In fact, the first four songs are almost identical in nature -- "I don't know who I am, but I trust you," with "You" representing a loved one. Reading her biography on her Web site, you can see why she has this obsession with examining her life. It's an interesting look into someone who's had a very hard life and is lifting herself out of it, but it's not something I wanted to be bashed over the head with.

Don't get me wrong -- I didn't hate this album. "Fall Away" is a nice and cheery song not quite ruined by the singer's vocals. It's a catchy tune that fits in well with the music of today. I really enjoyed her backup band. Mase picked an eclectic mix of musicians to back her up, including people that played with Madonna, 98 Degrees, Melissa Etheridge and Susanne Vega. If you will enjoy anything on this album, you will enjoy the music and the arrangement. Pay special attention to the excellent guitar playing of John Putnam (yes, the co-producer) and Ric Molina.

But I cannot finish this review without discussing the all-important presentation of the CD case and insert. The insert was designed as a CD-sized circle that opened up to reveal six circles barely attached to its neighbors a la a paper doll. You have to take great care not to accidentally rip the insert when browsing through it. Mase includes the words to her songs -- some nicely typed, others handwritten. A few of the lyrics were done in poetry stylings I haven't seen since ninth-grade English. For example, the lyrics to the song "Dandelions" were in a stylized flower ... which, coupled with the fact that you have to be very careful reading the insert anyway, made it almost impossible to read. Adding to this "earth mother" feel are the pictures of flowers that make up the insert and the very vivid colors. This is not a subdued insert but a smack you in the eyes until you cry tour de force. I would have liked to have seen pictures of the band, but I guess since it is HER album, you only get to see pictures of her.

To summarize, if you like female folk with a slightly modern feel to it, you might like this album. Her Web site has some samples you can listen to. As for me, I'm going to carefully fold the CD insert up, put the CD away, and hope that Ms. Mase takes some of the profits from this album and buys herself some singing lessons.

[ by Timothy Keene ]

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