monoblogue music: “Half-Life” by Marla Mase
I haven’t reviewed a lot of music for this feature, but this album was perhaps the most challenging one to assess so far. There is a lot that goes on in “Half-Life,” which to me came across as a series of moving parts that couldn’t quite come together as a satisfying whole.
From the opening track, Drown in Blue, to the eighth and final ballad with spoken word called Hold Fast Your Dreams, Marla takes us to several varied corners of her performing world – I say performing because several segments and songs rely on her spoken word lyrical talents, including a track called The Heart Beats, with its minimal instrumentation.
Even Drown in Blue is taken in a different direction during the set – from the upbeat, rocking initial track to a shorter acoustic reprise later in the CD. It’s an interesting way to re-interpret a song, a tactic which reminded me of the old Eric Clapton song After Midnight, which found new popularity in a bluesier live release Clapton put out several years after the original.
Mase puts together several ingredients on the title track, which has a more smoky soul feel to start, but works its way into a rocking chorus before evolving again with tasty sax and a spoken word interlude.
But the album has some annoying quirks to it as well – the simplistic, sing-song lyrics of Things That Scare Me (billed as the “2014 Club Version” of the song) seemed to me that of trying to hard to make a musical point rather than just letting things play out.
Backed by the Tomas Doncker Band, comprised of many of the same musicians who backed Lael Summer (whose debut full-length release I reviewed in March) and participate in many other True Groove Records exploits, their instrumentation shines on songs like Bitch in Heat and Gaping Hole, the latter perhaps being the most conventional song of the album with its call-and-response element. The “Half-Life” version is actually the second rendition of the song, which, along with the original Things That Scare Me, was first released on Mase’s 2010 album called “A Brief Night Out.”
Mase has made her reputation as a performer moreso than as a musician – her resume includes other writing, as she bills herself a “writer/performer/producer/singer/songwriter” who “writes songs, plays, monologues, short stories, erotica, blogs, and poems.” It’s obvious that spoken word and poetry looms large in her most recent release, but the problem is that poetry and other forms of writing intended to read and spread a message don’t always lend themselves to good, listenable music. Thousands of people fancy themselves as lyricists – witness the tiresome parade of rhymers and rappers we’ve endured over the last quarter-century – but few know how to craft those lyrics into a workable and marketable song. In the end, that’s what I find as the biggest weakness of this compilation.
As always, though, don’t just take my word for it: listen for yourself. You may come up with a different, more approving opinion.