ashley maher


reviews

Ashley Maher should be a HUGE star!
Roz Larman, Folkscene syndicated radio

Imagine the soaring melodies of Joni Mitchell and the darkly lyrical twists and turns of Paul Simon, sung over a steaming cauldron of African rhythms. But, as intriguing as that may sound, it still doesn't quite do justice to the music of Ashley Maher, who manages to use those fertile sources as the stimulation for songs and performances that are uniquely her own.
Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times

Today, Ashley's a cult figure for a discerning few. Tomorrow, perhaps, she'll be a heroine for millions.
Record Mirror, U.K.

...a hugely talented Canadian singer-songwriter who has incorporated Afro-Caribbean influences seamlessly into her own neo-Joni Mitchell style ... marks the arrival of a major talent.
Musicweek, U.K.

Her two albums on Virgin UK ... are amazing. All my worldly musician friends have been flipping over them. The songs and arrangements are extremely cool, with the top African musicians in London including Hilaire Penda/bass and Paco Sery/drums. Andre Manga (monster Cameroonian bass player ...) is producing her new album and Youssou N'Dour's guitar player was just in town and played on a few tracks. Andre plays live with her mostly, too ... Regardless, she has an excellent band and dancers. She's like a world music Joni Mitchell. Nice person too. I have no stake in her career except just that of a friend and fan of good world music.
Gary Johnson, Conjunto Jardin

Canadian-born, Southern California-based artist Ashley Maher deserves widespread recognition for her remarkable new album. It will send your spirits soaring. Her voice not only works wonders with melodies, but also creates infectious percussive energies. Maher's beautiful blend of folk, jazz and world elements brings Joni Mitchell to mind. There is an involving, driving African sensibility to some of Maher's songs. Paul Freeman, Palo Alto Daily News

Ashley has released the type of album that will prompt many to proclaim her as this year's winner in the annual singer-songwriter stakes. These bewitching tunes make for an exuberant, effortless debut...bound to cause a ripple like Chapman and Vega before her. One of the year's more pleasing discoveries. *** 1/2
Nick Duerden, Record Mirror, U.K.

Unusual and intricately wrought fusion of shimmering African and Caribbean rhythms...recalls Sade at her languourous smokey best... full of strange open plains echoes and twilight campfire charm.
****Q Magazine, U.K.

...she exudes a real energy, a lust for taking a song as far as it can go...
NME (New Musical Express), U.K.

One of the things I love ... is the mix of complex, driving rhythm, under a clear, simple, but beautiful melody line, combined with those gorgeous harmonies. I visualise the combination like an intricate Persian carpet with a garden design, from which the vines and flowers are growing into the room and morphing into glass ... it's like you take the monophonic tradition of European music and the call-response tradition from Africa and land somewhere between - keeping touch with both sides. Genius.
John Mindlin, London

...a vibrant alternative to Peter Gabriel on the whole earth stereo.
Richard Cook, Vogue U.K.

flying over bridges
FolkWorks Magazine
Shawn Madden
Drummer Magazine
Heaven Magazine
WomansRadio.com
the blessed rain
Skope Magazine
Harmony Ridge Music
www.heaven.be
FolkWorks
pomegranate
Arena
The Independent
Time Out
hi
Evening Standard
Music Week
Record Mirror
Record Mirror
Record Mirror
Q Magazine
Q Magazine
Sounds
Time Out
Vogue
What's On
Zig-Zag

flying over bridges

Every once in awhile, I get a disk in the mail from someone that I've never heard of that reminds me why I do this. I received two disks in the mail from Los Angeles-based world/folk/pop singer/songwriter Ashley Maher.

Ashley Maher's most recent CD, Flying Over Bridges, combines singer/songwriter folk, African folk and pop, western pop, and jazz influences into an eclectic melange greater than the sum of its parts. The groove is insistent, whether it comes from a lone set of sabar drums, as on "Seven", or from a tight Afropop-influenced rhythm section featuring swirling guitar and walking bass on most of the other pieces. All of it is held together by Maher's smooth Joni-Mitchell-like voice and remarkable ability to craft and control complicated syncopated melodies. If you like astists that step out on the edge to fuse a variety of styles, such as Baka Beyond or Afro Celt Sound System, then I recommend checking out Ashley Maher.
Greg Grant, Online Folk Festival

Maher isn't very well known but she has a small cult following, and "Flying Over Bridges" ... should help expand her fan base. Maher might be considered just another singer/songwriter, albeit a good one, if the arrangements weren't so sophisticated. ... Even the few songs that are lightweight are anchored by tasteful and sparse instrumentation that's always very rhythmic.
Paul-Emile Comeau, Global Rhythms Magazine

... a recording by a remarkable artist.
... a truly original musician and songwriter.
... a vibrant, refreshing sound that shows Maher isn't averse to taking a risk to further her musical vision.

The expressiveness of her voice is ... strong and supple, reminding one of Joni Mitchell. It lifts and soars, often adding subtle nuances to her lyrics.

Her music reflects a strong affinity with African music, with wonderfully complex rhythms and percussive backing with additional Latin American, jazz and folk elements. Her songwriting is biographical in nature, drawing on her personal experiences to relate telling stories both moving and heartfelt.

... contrasts ... make this recording work so well. Contrast the song "Seven" with it's multi-track vocals backed by just the sabar drums of Aziz Faye, with "Distant Sister Moon," a song with a conventional 4/4 beat, smooth and melodic with a catchy choirs that wouldn't be out of place on commercial radio ... to the funky "Sundiata" or the very rhythmic and up-tempo "One". ... producer Manga lovingly mixed and matched the backing musicians and arrangements to suit each song, making each an individual statement.
Jim Lee, FolkWorks

... a pop/singer-songwriter album that should appeal to all Joni Mitchell fans ...
Eric van Domburg Scipio, editor, Heaven Magazine, a Dutch Music Magazine, www.popmagazineheaven.nl

Imagine the soaring, angelic melodiousness of Joni Mitchell-esque American folk singing and dancing to the deep, complex rhythms of Africa inside the harmonic house that jazz built - all the while spinning stories portraying the beauty of human life on planet Earth. ... Ashley has a gift for writing songs that move you, that paint pictures and tell stories that get in deep ... a work of musical art ...
Shawn Madden

... Maher treads strikingly new musical ground. Combining pop and jazz schemes with ... percussion, she weaves the layered rhythms into a rich unity. The African and South American musicians, often virtuosos, lift Maher's compositions to a high level. ... a jewel to her crown.
Ruud Heijjer, Heaven Magazine

Ashley Maher's "Flying Over Bridges" is the CD that I would grab if my apartment were on fire. Not only does it lift my spirits and reconnect me to myself and this beautiful, difficult world, but Maher's music and lyrics link worlds--musical styles, countries, cultures. Her clear-as-a-bell Joni Mitchell-esque voice weaves in and out of various world rhythms as she tells tales of transformation, migration, family, darkness and light. The many faces of love are addressed here, ranging far beyond songs of romance. My favorite, "Gracefully", written about her mothers struggle with cancer, shines with deep love and, yes, grace.

Maher seems to have a direct pipeline into the truth, and shes aided here by master musicians from Africa, South America and the USA. Uncategorizable, her music is a delicious mixture of folk, world, jazz and pop. Ive followed Mahers work for years, grasping like a drowning woman onto each new album. "Flying Over Bridges" is my favorite thus far. It helps give me the faith and the trust and the love to go forward each day, and it makes me exceedingly glad to be alive.
Katherine Wessling

Seven is the type of song that has the potential to make a serious change in this world.
Brian Ball, Music Editor, WomensRadio.com


FolkWorks Magazine

Ashley Maher - Flying Over Bridges
review by Jim Lee
FolkWorks, March/April 2006

In this melting pot of cultures that is Southern California, its not surprising that an artist so culturally diverse as Ashley Maher would call Los Angeles home. Her music reflects a strong affinity with African music, with wonderfully complex rhythms and percussive backing with additional Latin American, jazz and folk elements.

Her songwriting is biographical in nature, drawing on her personal experiences to relate telling stories both moving and heartfelt. The expressiveness of her voice is another strong component of Maher's music. Its strong and supple, reminding one of Joni Mitchell. It lifts and soars, often adding subtle nuances to her lyrics.

Born in Canada to British parents, Maher's family moved to Los Angeles when she was five. She grew up singing jazz, classical, choral and medieval music, but found her true calling in African music while attending UC Berkeley in the late 80's. After graduation it was off to London, then in the middle of an African music renaissance, to immerse herself in the local music scene.

Maher's talent brought her to the attention of Virgin Records UK, who released two critically acclaimed recordings, "hi" in 1990 and "Pomegranate" in 1991. While commercial fame and fortune was not yet to be, her third recording, the independently released "The Blessed Rain" showed Maher moving on undeterred.

Recorded in both Paris and London using some of the finest African musicians available, The Blessed Rain illustrated how well she fused her lyrics and melodies with African rhythms. The song "And I Believe" related the story of her first visit to her husbands family in Africa, and other songs like "Crown for Adorning" and "Babalu", illustrated the strength of her songwriting. Seven years on, this recording remains a powerful and moving statement, refreshingly undated and as valid today as the day it was recorded.

After the release of "The Blessed Rain", Maher's career was slowed as she returned to Los Angeles to care for her ailing Mother and to raise a family. She's now actively performing and writing again, and has released her first new recording in many years, "Flying Over Bridges".

Its the opening track, "Lucky" that sets the tone and theme for the entire album. Its the story of her husband's visit to his African hometown and contrasts the envy the young men have towards him because he lives in the west (and therefore must be rich) with how he longs for the simple pleasures found in his native home. This subject of contrasts, of transition, of bridges to newer things (for better or worse) is reflected throughout the recording.

Musically, the opening track bridges the old (the African rhythms from producer Andre Manga's bass and guitar work) with the new, the jazz undertones from pianist Otmaro Ruiz which adds a completely different feel to the tracks hes on. Its a vibrant, refreshing sound that shows Maher isnt averse to taking a risk to further her musical vision.

In fact, it's contrasts that make this recording work so well. Contrast the song "Seven" with its multi-track vocals backed by just the sabar drums of Aziz Faye, with "Distant Sister Moon", a song with a conventional 4/4 beat, smooth and melodic with a catchy choirs that wouldn't be out of place on commercial radio (if such a thing existed anymore) to the funky "Sundiata" or the very rhythmic and up-tempo "One". Credit this to how producer Manga lovingly mixed and matched the backing musicians and arrangements to suit each song, making each an individual statement.

As a lyricist, Maher shines especially bright on two songs, "Lift Your Heels" about sledding with her brother in Canada, but with a deeper meaning about risk taking and having the courage to let oneself go, and the moving closing track, "Gracefully", about her mothers death and how she faced the prospect with such dignity and resolve. Its a fitting ending to a recording by a remarkable artist.

As enjoyable as Maher's recorded efforts are, seeing her perform live is an additional treat. Her live shows take on many different facets. She can perform in an acoustic setting, usually with Latin guitarist Roberto Montero, with a strong focus on the lyrical and melodic nature of her songs. Theres also many different group settings, one that features a band with a world jazz influence to another larger group with backing vocalists and featuring more improvising from the musicians. But the most exciting and vibrant is the full band with West African dancers.

During these shows, Maher is joined by a number of other dancers in an explosion of color and sound. Dressed in bright costumes, the dancers perform both choreographed and solo spots, with audience participation much encouraged. Its the ultimate culmination of Maher's Global musical vision, and what defines her as a truly original musician and songwriter. Its not to be missed.


Shawn Madden

Imagine the soaring, angelic melodiousness of Joni Mitchell-esque American folk singing and dancing to the deep, complex rhythms of Africa inside the harmonic house that jazz built - all the while spinning stories portraying the beauty of human life on planet Earth - and you can begin to get a sense of what Ashley Maher is offering with her latest release, Flying Over Bridges. Ashley has a gift for writing songs that move you, that paint pictures and tell stories that get in deep and show you something about life that brings you aware of the miracle that is being human.

The record starts right off with it; "Lucky" is a driving, rhythmic narrative about the pull of contemporary Western culture on village youth: "young man / wond'ring why his wrists / aren't glittering as they should...?" There's a wise lesson in here about the inner life being a place to look for riches; she sings in the chorus "that whether you go or stay / no matter how much you hope and pray / you will lose as you will win"...

Of all the songs on the record, my favorite is "Seven," an exquisite song sparsely arranged for sabar drums and voices, a poem delving into the necessity of embracing darkness as the partner of light. This is where Ashley's voice and vocal arranging truly shine as she sings the chorus: "oh, seven, seven seven the angels on the way, singing songs to carry on / carry on 'til christmas day / seven seven seven / the devils 'round the room / singing, "throw your cloak away, / howl at the midnight moon". The effect of the harmonies is intoxicating, and you find yourself howling along with her, drunk on their beauty.

The musicianship throughout the record is top-notch, and she has brought together players from all around the world (Senegal, Cameroon, Venezuela, Uruguay, Brazil, and the USA, to be exact... :); the result is a musical blend that is seamlessly international, and a record whose message is universal in scope. You can dance to it, you can listen to it for the stories, and you can just be with it. It's a work of musical art, and well worth your investment.

You can visit her website at http://www.ashleymaher.com, where you can buy her CD and get updates on where she's at and what she's doing. Visit her NOW and support a truly great artist making music that makes a difference in the world!

Shawn Madden of SKOPE Magazine


Drummer Magazine

Ashley Maher
Flying Over Bridges
(Spin Wild Records SWCD-03)
www.ashleymaher.com
Over the last fifteen years, Ashley Maher has released four consistently enjoyable CDs. The quality of her music is matched by the quality of the drummers she chooses including Vinnie Colaiuta and Paco Sery on 'Pomegranate' and 'Blessed Rain'. Maher's music is world-influenced pop with a strong African element and is catchy, memorable and uplifting. Vinnie and bassist/producer Andre Manga lock for some great grooves, particularly on 'Taxi', aided by the grooving rhythm guitar of Federico Ramos. A refreshing and highly recommended CD.
****


Heaven Magazine

Flying Over Bridges
Spin Wild Records SWCD 003

World Jazz

Where predecessor The Blessed Rain convincingly gapped Maher's years of silence, Flying Over Bridges contains twelve strong new songs. In these pieces, written together with her musicians, Maher once again merges West Africa with her personal, jazzy singing, both in the up-tempo pieces and in three ballads, one of which with music by Mano Dibango. As always she grounds her songs on percussion, e.g. opener Lucky and the even more African Seven. After that drummer Vinnie Colaiuta joins in, as once on Maher's ambitious debut hi. Producer André Manga's bass often flashes masterly through Colaiuta's tight playing, which creates surprisingly measured jazz accents together with Federico Ramos' or Roberto Montero's guitar.

Thus Maher treads strikingly new musical ground. Combining pop and jazz schemes with Aziz Faye's and Jason Hahn's percussion, she weaves the layered rhythms into a rich unity. The African and South American musicians, often virtuosos, lift Maher's compositions to a high level. They serve the song structures, while piano player Otmaro Ruíz, the main soloist, surprises with his exuberant and unpredictably shifting jazz solos.

As a result Maher's cool, crystal voice jubilates, clearly inspired by bebop. In her contemplative lyrics she sings about her love for the individual, be it compassion for an illegal taxi driver, her son's choice of music or an homage to her deceased mother. To top it off, the impressive sound never gives away that this fourth CD is practically a no-budget production, despite a loan. This way, Maher's independent labour of love leads to a jewel to her crown.

(four out of five)

Ruud Heijjer
Heaven Magazine www.popmagazineheaven.nl


WomensRadio.com

Flying Over Bridges

Ashley Maher's deep and intuitive connection to our planet is displayed in a very flattering and mature light on her fourth studio release entitled Flying OVer Bridges. This seasoned singer/songwriter has seamlessly "entwined" the roots of jazz, folk, and world music into a blossoming "tree of life" on her 2005 release available on Spin Wild Records.

Seven was the first of several songs to catch our ears here at WomensRadio.com. Ashley's sweet and nymph-like vocals lightly dance atop the tribal sabar drum beat laid down by Aziz Faye while we are gently ushered into a deep and relaxing meditation.

Another enchantingly provocative and danceable gem found here is the fourth song, Entwining Trees. Here we see a well-rounded production, featuring a strudy base of somewhat experimental jazz piano mixed with a little bit of a funk groove and the repeated mystical vocal hook, "like entwining trees."

One other necessary listen is a beautifully written story involving the social and racial "distances" traveled by a taxi driver on Taxi, which features the clear cut jazz-funk fusion created by band members Otmaro Ruiz on piano, federico Ramos on guitar, Andre Manga playing bass and additional keys, while Vinnie Colaiuta holds down the beat on the drums.

In closing, we could all use a little more thoughtful music in our libraries, and Ashley Maher is one very thoughtful artist whose style comes from the heart and not the contract, so do yourself a favor and "entwine" your musical roots with this beautiful release, available right here on WomensRadio.

"Seven is the type of song that has the potential to make a serious change in this world." - Brian Ball, Music Editor, WomensRadio.com


review excerpts for the blessed rain

Quite simply, if you love music and life, you will love Ashley Maher! Just as rain nourishes the earth, Ashley nourishes the soul. With a thoughtful tapestry of vocals and world rhythms, the Blessed Rain is an afternoon shower that cleanses, uplifts and renews the spirit. I am new to this gem of an artist after the fortunate opportunity of a recent live performance. Immersed in Ashley's CDs for a couple of weeks now, I continue to feel very lucky on my discovery. I think you will find that she assimilates her life into art in a very personal, unique and endearing way.

On the Blessed Rain, Ashley celebrates melody and rhythm with her well layered vocals, reflective words and an implicit thankfulness that resounds. Ashley brings together some very inspirational players and cultivates a musical community that will make your heart sing. I can hear the smiles of the musicians as these infectious grooves lock and soar. A nice blend of traditional world beats, funk, folk and soul. Lots of cool vocal styling. Would love to hear an extended mix as the grooves are very therapeutic. I get the sense that she had a blast singing and arranging these sessions.

The music is so real and the human spirit so tangible. Ashley, as poet, singer and musician, is a true gift to the listener. A wonderful voice for all to hear!
Jerome Cruitt

As I was listening to this for the first time completely lost in the beauty of the music, the wonderful arrangements, the rhythms, and Ashley's striking voice, 1 was rocked by the spiritual and humanistic insight of the lyrics... 'The Blessed Rain' is an uplifting spiritual good feeling gift...you can listen in a casual way and have the music sweep around and through you, but something inside says, "I need to drink in this splendor slowly and deeply."
Jack Sutton, Director, Harmony Ridge Music
a premier website/catalogue devoted to the best in womens' musici.

Hidden treasure...combines West African influences with her complex and jazzy vocals... subtle, interwoven rhythms of drums and percussion...rich, fascinating melodies...Maher proves once again that good music knows no "best before" date. (Four out of five stars).
Ruud Heiijer, Heaven Magazine
a Dutch Music Magazine.

It isn't often that you find a CD that finds the perfect balance of diversity and cohesion, or one with so many tracks that stay with you. After a few spins of The Blessed Rain, you find yourself singing or humming one of the many melody lines or tapping out one of its rhythms.
Larry Wines, Folkworks


Skope Magazine - www.skopemagazine.com

Listening to Ashley Maher's "The Blessed Rain" is like drinking cool water from a pure spring on a perfect day anywhere on the planet. She sings a refreshing blend of American folk and pop with traditional African rhythms and vocal styles, Afro pop baselines, and bright, hopeful lyrics. Following in the footsteps of giants such as Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Youssou N'Dour, Angelique Kidjo, Joni Mitchell, and others - all of whom she credits as inspirations - she has found her way into the global soul, and she brings a message of inspiration, peace, and deep connection to the rhythms, cycles, seasons, and wonder of the planet that we call home.

She starts off with "And I Believe", painting pictures of life in Africa, singing of pride and loving family honor over an infectious afro pop groove of which Paul Simon would be proud. "Spin Wild" follows; a direct appeal "to you who choose / an unconventional road" to "throw caution to the wind / lose no more". She has succeeded here in putting a new, inspiring spin on the idea of being who you are, bold, unafraid, and completely committed, surrendered to life's plan for each of us as we find our wings. The talking drums and percussive vocal arrangements set an urgent, passionate mood; the overall effect sets off the desire to go out and claim that which you know was always meant to be yours.

The rest of the album as well is filled with rich imagery taken from Ashley's travels in Africa and time she spent living in Europe; she evokes seasons and nature: a lioness, black crows, kingdoms, "golden seeds deeper into clay...". She is an artist paying close attention to the wonders of being alive on planet Earth.

Recorded in 1997 in Paris and London, the album is beautiful; cleanly produced and boasting tasteful, inspired performances by some great names in global music. Cameroon's Hilaire Penda plays bass throughout, his spare, melodic influence anchoring the rest of the players in an atmosphere of gentle yet deeply moving listening. Paco Sery of the Ivory Coast brings his drumming magic to the table as well, providing a rhythmic backbone that never wavers. There are so many great performers on this album that it would take an entire new review to cover them all; the percussion throughout is superb - talking drums, congas, shakers, berimbau, among other toys, all add global spice to the music, and the vocals arrangements and performances are topnotch. The album is a quality listening experience throughout, and only gets better with each new hearing.

If you like global music, then you want to treat yourself by following these links: first, to Ashley' s home page (http://www.hrmusic.com/ashley/ashley.html ), and then to cdbaby.com to get your copy of "The Blessed Rain" ( http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/amaher). You'll be glad you did; she's an artist truly singing from the soul of the planet, and we'd all do well to start resonating with these tunes.

Shawn Madden
Skope Magazine
www.skopemagazine.com


Harmony Ridge Music

For those not familiar with Ashley, she is Canadian born, now living in England and has had two previous CDs on Virgin Records. "The Blessed Rain" is an independent release and continues her musical journey into African rhythms and percussion with jazz, folk, and rock influences. As I was listening to this for the first time, completely lost in the beauty of the music, the wonderful arrangements, the rhythms, and Ashley's striking voice, I was rocked by the spiritual and humanistic insight of the lyrics. Spin Wild seemed to be directed at me. How true the message, and how we need reminders like this so we can remember the power and beauty we all possess:

"the golden ring you're grabbing at
is already in reach
the answer in a bottle's
already washed up on the beach
if you're ready to fly
life will teach you
don't forget

to spin wild
spin free
pull in the nets
of your secret sea"

"The Blessed Rain" is an uplifting, spiritual, good feeling gift, given and received at the same time, the perfect human exchange. Every cut gives me the feeling of great depth requiring many careful listens. It's like you can listen in a casual way and have the music sweep around and through you, but something inside says, I need to drink in this splendor slowly and deeply.

The title cut "The Blessed Rain" is a special treat for me and a great addition to my collection of "rain songs." Sometimes I feel quite alone in my affinity for rain and wonder why so many people seem to spend much energy to avoid being touched by rain. Ashley said she was a great "rain affectionado" and Maireid Sullivan, an Irish Celtic singer told me she put corrugated tin on her bedroom room roof to amplify the rain. Oh yes, "The Blessed Rain,"... I like that.

Jack Sutton, Director, Harmony Ridge Music, www.hrmusic.com
A premier website/ catalogue devoted to the best in womens' music.


www.heaven.be

The Blessed Rain
Spin Wild Records SWCD 001

Hidden Treasure

After two CDs Ashley Maher fell from grace with her label. How unjust that is, is proven on this self-released CD, that she recorded with her two right-hand men from then. With bassist Hilaire Penda and guitar player Rod Beale she wrote ten songs, in which she once again combines West-African influences with her complex, jazzy vocals.

In the clearly produced music the subtle, interwoven rhythms of drums and percussion are prominent, together with Penda's leading bass playing. He plays in a flowing as well as explosive style, and thus pushes the songs forward. They were arranged by him and Beale in a mix of fusion and world, including the potential single You Are The One For Me.

In the rich, fascinating melodies Africa is present stronger than on hi and Pomegranate. Sometimes the repetitive patterns branch out, following Maher's beautiful voice as her vocals indicate the melody, in other songs the music is structured more emphatically.

On top of that, Maher smoothly sings her autobiographical lyrics, often furnished with her own layered background vocals, about signs after her son's birth or wrong interpretations of religions.

Although these unnoticed recordings already date from 1997, Maher proves once again that good music knows no best before date. She hasn't lost faith in her music: "Give what you got/Your best shot/Then watch/What happens naturally," still writes new songs and performs in and around LA, but deserves to be rediscovered.

(four out of five)

Ruud Heijjer
www.heaven.be


FolkWorks

It isn't often that you find a CD that finds the perfect balance of diversity and cohesion, or one with so many tracks that stay with you. After a few spins of The Blessed Rain, you find yourself singing or humming one of the many melody lines or tapping out one of its rhythms. During the recent rainy season, I found myself wanting to hear the title track over and over, in tandem with the drops striking the roof.

This album is a standout, solidly in the mainstream of the current trend that fuses world music with American folk sensibilities and the most listenable dimensions of pop. It's an ensemble of traditional instruments from many cultures, guitar, piano, Hilaire Penda's restrained electric bass, and Ashley Maher's silky voice and clear lyrics. There are challenging tempo changes, sometimes complex rhythmic patterns and instrumental phrasing.

Maher's vocals, often pleasantly overdubbed to provide backing harmonies, are not simply supported by the instrumentation. Her singing is as integrated and involved as any instrument, too rarely attempted in most of what we hear. Each song is a delightful orchestration. There are flutes, guitars, electric bass, accordion, some use of finger cymbals, Chinese cymbals, triangle and tambourine and claves. And there is an emporium of African instruments: djembe, marimba, congas, gbalia, twanga, talking drum, shakers and shells, berimbao, bedir, brekete, agogo and other bells, bamboo abendua, cabassa and African harp. If you're unfamiliar with many of these words, as are most folk fans, this album will have you visiting Bang a Drum to check out the instruments. The western drums are a bit too much on top in Blind, a tune that's truly modern pop. Jazz and R&B influences are felt, but most listeners will be drawn by the interplay of traditional and western instruments with the melodies and vocals.

One track, Ogoniland, while maintaining the pleasant melodic theme of the album, has a powerful social conscience. It talks hauntingly of the oil pipelines through this war and famine ravaged part of Nigeria's Niger River Delta, and the song is a tribute to the late activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. (NPR and others have reported on the billions in wealth extracted, along with the oil, into the hands of western financiers, and the unending tragedy of the Ogoni people. A web search produces about that.)

Other songs, like Babalu, speak of African culture confronting western influences. There are spiritual dimensions here that may or may not reach the sensibilities of all who track the CD, but they are potent, if one listens to Maher's lyrics.

Ashley Maher wrote or co-wrote all the tracks, and comes by these influences honestly. Her husband is African. She lived for years in both Africa and England, and has absorbed musical influences of both, as well as those of time spent on both American coasts. Those familiar with the old Apple Records catalogue will readily hear the British influence.

We are all accustomed to movies that are made and not released for years, and we sometimes encounter songs that languished in a studio before becoming hits. This album has a similar od history. Had it been released when it was made, it would have led the current wave of world-influenced music, rather than riding that wave. The tracks were recorded in England in 1997, and while the CD bears that date, it wasn't actually released in the US until 2003. Maher says, "Moving back to the US from England, taking timeout to have children, some years just got away." Fortunately, her music from those years is back, in her fine live performances throughout Southern California, and on this temporarily "lost" CD. There are ten tracks, and the album runs over 45 minutes. It is nicely packaged, with all lyrics in a booklet.

Larry Wines
FolkWorks, 2005


review excerpts for pomegranate

I listen to your CD, Pomegranate, each evening as I drive home, in the wondrous tangled traffic of Los Angeles, and I listen in pleasure as I discover another nuance, a stunning note, an overall beauty ... I sense that your music will continue to enthrall me and never reach its end. It will be as exciting in the years to come as it was the day we discovered it on a grassy slope in Oxnard. Thank you.
John Polinsky

Pomegranate is her second album and like the first, it draws all its musical juice from the vines of the developing world and Joni Mitchell. Her tunes are almost indecently luxurious, the playing exquisite and the arrangements as full of subtlety as you could wish...hers is a golden world, in which words are garlands, voices are a glow and drums...well, you know what they say about the drums.
Nick Coleman, TimeOut, U.K.

An intriguing front-runner in the current crop of heart-and-soul bearers...original and accomplished... Her fluent mixing of West African influences with jazz bass, fuzzy guitar, and introspection on this new collection remains novel..
David Troop, Arena Magazine, U.K.

...delicate, sly ethnic inflections, largely acoustic in instrumentation and obviously thoughtful - the lyrics stay well away from sob stories...even the tribute to her father who died last year is resolutely upbeatl
The Independent, U.K.

What an amazing album! Her singing is so different, so refreshingly different...she can certainly write some cracking stuff.
Modern Dance, U.K.


Arena

An intriguing front-runner in the current crop of heart-and-soul barers, Ashley Maher doesn't feel the need to murmur New Age spells like Ingrid Chavez or Tori Amos. Her roots are in Canada but, following traditional migratory patterns, she moved south to Los Angeles. Temporarily settled at this epicentre of urban tribalism, she studied West African drumming. And were it not for a further migration in search of some gritty London experiences, the entire biographical trek would be heading inexorably in the direction of a Joni Mitchell's" Jungle Line" -type Afro-Hollywood situation. On the first album (entitled "Hi", just to be really gauche), the Joni Mitchell comparison was not exactly confounded, thanks to some sustained and flattened vowels, as well as a bunch of songs about friends who throw pots, write poetry and draw with charcoal. Maher's approach was original and accomplished enough, however, for her to attract attention and warrant another album, "Pomegranate". Her fluent mixing of West African influences with jazz bass, fuzzy guitar and introspection on this new collection remains novel, particularly on tracks like "Throw My Heart". Elsewhere she submerges herself in accountant-inspired Sting-isms. If there's a third album Maher should ditch the menthol musos and employ some dirty musicians. The sales figures will be similar, if not better, and the talent will flow freely.
David Troop


The Independent

The Gloom Boom

MAYBE IT'S something to do with a widespread guilt hangover from the greedy Eighties. Or maybe it's an emotional side-effect of the worldwide economic recession. But not since the mid-Seventies --- when "sufferation" was reggae's stock in trade --- has unhappiness been so attractive to the mainstream music business. However, unlike that musical style of 15 years ago which emerged from what was very much a boys' club, this current generation of misery merchant is almost entirely female. They're the singer / song-writers and the fact they have their own generic label is a sure sign that they come with official industry endorsement.

The most striking difference from what used to be called roots reggae, is that this sensitive end of rock's broad spectrum has, in no small measure, proved that angst-inspired song-making and colossal earning-power need not be mutually exclusive. Very often these artists' records yield balance sheets which read "interesting" rather than "pale". Take, for example, the youthful Tanita Tikaram with her worryingly solemn first album; or Michelle Shocked's suffragette-style seething; or Toni Childs and Julia Fordham's emotional unburdellings; or, most lucrative of all, Tracy Chapman's first collection of hymns to the tunnel at the end of the tunnel. The overly-inoffensive likes of Beverley Craven and the clearly traumatised Tori Amos form the frothiest part of the most recent wave.

"It is," claims Californian singer / songwriter Ashley Maher, "something of a glut. It may have been triggered by the success of artists like Tracy Chapman, but it's quite understandable that there are so many. Women songwriters tend to speak from personal experience much more than men, and it's not unusual that the events of their past that have been pondered on deeply are the unhappy ones --- upbeat situations tend to be enjoyed for the moment. Often, the act of writing a song becomes some sort of catharsis for their misery: Tracy Chapman would say she found it impossible to sit down and write when she felt good, because she had no reason to."

While Maher's music may bear the hallmarks of typically gloomy singer / songwritillg - delicate, sly ethnic inflections. largely acoustic in instrumentation and obviously thoughtful --- the lyrics stay well away from sob stories, in an attempt to avoid being, as Maher puts it, "just another face staring glumly up from an album sleeve". On her new LP, Pomegranate, even the tribute to her father who died last year is resoluteiy upbeat: "His death completely. floored me, but there was no way I could remember such an extraordinary presence with anything remotely mopey."

Commendable - and uplifting for the listener - as this distancing herself from the pack may be, it's clear that record company interest is focused on the more conventional, emotionally hamstrung artists. Huge investments have been made in Tori Amos and Beverley Craven. It's almost impossible to visit a decent-sized record store without a larger-than-life Tori Amos cutout gazing past you into the middle dis- tance. And few can travel on the London Underground without being reminded that Beverley Craven's self-titled debut album, released last year, is still in the shops. An informal poll of marketing departments reveals the fact that record companies, ever-mindful of the "caring and sharing" attitudes supposedly taken on board by rock listeners in the cause-ridden late-Eighties, now afford these folkie types (previously, perhaps, too left-of-centre to be taken seriously) "the same promotional budgets and marketing considerations as any album-selling mainstream rock artist."

However, while previous successes in the area seem to justify such outlay, history also dictates that one huge-selling angst-ridden album is not an obvious cornerstone for a sturdy and long-lasting career. After one particular account of life's misfortunes has made its mark on public and media, it appears it's virtually impossible to sell essentially the same thing a couple of years later. The Second Album Syndrome - whereby an act fails to live up to a massive debut LP - is common across the board, but in the area of singer-songwriters is particularly acute: take as evidence the sharp downward curves experienced by Tracy Chapman (whose third album is imminent), Tanita Tikaram and Julia Fordham as soon as they attempted to follow up their initial, popular homages to hopelessness with more of the same.

Maher believes it's preciscly this decision not to progress beyond that prior emotional stage that accounts for the failures "If an attist is writing autobiographically, then each album should represent a different chapter. A capsule of where you are at the time. You have to move on because it's impossihle to revisit the past and do it convincingly --- especially if your circumstanccs have changed as radically as they would have done after a hit album."

Audience demographics play their part, though. Traditionally, angst's keenest market is among people in their late-teens and early-twenties --- college students, bedsit dwellers, those yet to embark on life's rich highway --- who have time to spend listening to, identifying with and discussing this kind of soul-baring. It's a particularly white, middle-class preoccupation, too --- which is where the majority of support for reggae in the mainstream came from, a decade and a half ago --- and accusations of listeners suffering by proxy are not entirely unfounded. Unfortunately this is exactly the section of the population likely to be swiftly moving upwards. In the couple of years between albums a singer / songwriters fan base will have moved on to the point where their own life and its problems may well have hccome more demanding than somebody else's. At which point compassion is much more likely to restrict itself to a labour-saving credit card pledge to the Comic Relief Hotline.

Also potential record buyers quickly become aware of the artist's changing circumstanccs. Even the most terminally bedsit-inclined cannot fail to realise that the sales enjoyed by say Chapman and Tikaram must have led to hefty sums of monney being banked in their names. It would be unreasonable to expect an intelligent audience to accept another dozen or so "woe is me" ditties or to believe the artists lives were still as bleak as they were when they wrote their first collection of songs. And it's difficult for a previously-successful singer / songwriter to pick up a new generation of fans --- this being in accordance with the rock industry's most basic of rules: each new wave of fans requires it's own heroes to discover.

However the artists themselves can-not be held entirely to blame for disregarding conventional rock marketplace laws. Record companies are as responsible for any damage done to career prospects. According to one A & R executive who declined to he named "for a long time nobody really understood what made a saleable angst album and the industry was a bit intimidaled by it: although they'd sell it like a regular album they'd treat it very differently in other areas. Artists were signed to long-term contracts simply because they obviously weren't disposable pop singles acts, but then nobody wanted to believe that the acts should --- or even could --- develop as musicians or personalities. It's not hard to imagine how quickly she would have been shown the door if Tracy Chapman had delivered a second album of disco songs. It was very much the 'don't do anything different just in case we miss another five-million seller' approach. As frustrating for the artists as it is for the public."

As Maher puts it "remaining introverted for too long is a big mistake as other people will see it as selfish." Although the corporate attitude to the singer /songwriter does seem to be relaxing as they become increasingly part of mainstream policy, and as more learn by what's happened in the past, the "angst album" still looks set to remain essentially a short term proposition. Research has shown that few people have more than n couple of doom-laden LPs in their collections, and both of these are highly likely to have been bought around the same time. The inevitable corporate response to such findings is, the A&R executive maintains to shy away from the idea of longevity or careful career-nurturing:

"People imagine because the singer / songwriters arc perceived as strong characters, that they're more in control of their destiny than the average pop group. When, of course, they're not.


Time Out

Open Secrets
Nick Coleman on Ashley Maher and Tori Amos.

Billowing orange hair is the thing to have in the second week of January. Tori Amos and Ashley Maher between them have yards of it, and new albums out, and they share that least furtive of all personal defects: a sensitive North American poetic sensibility.

Sounds grim, I know. So soon after Christmas too. But you're going to have to suppress your sniffier instincts. They are both, in markedly different styles, fine records -- over-written in places and indulgent of the singers' individual pathologies, for sure, but records of the heart nevertheless. Both 'Pomegranate' and 'Little Earthquakes' treat emotion as a commonplace, an open secret operating without cover in a code-free zone. In other words, both Amos and Maher sing descriptive songs about how they feel and do it in the first person. And they want you to share the experience.

You're not put in good heart by the sleeve iconography of either album. On the front of 'Little Earthquakes' Amos braces herself against the walls of a wooden crate, troublesomely boxed with nowt but a tiny blue piano for a friend, while the back cover has un-equivocal mushrooms on it. This is Post-Freudian Naff of the highest order. At least Maher has the gumption to cover herself in peanut butter, make ambiguous oral play with a pomegranate and do her hair in a sort of Medusa-goes-mud-wrestling arrangement, as befits her pan-global anthropo-mythological attitude to life. But you do rather wonder whether it hasn't been too long a road from Carole King's tapestried bower. Confessional songwriters are supposed to grapple with the inner world, not advertise it. Still, for all the vulgarity of their respective surfaces, the inner worlds of 'Earthquakes' and 'Pomegranates' are rich indeed, overflowing in fact with flesh, pips and fungi from the fruit of the unconscious.

Amos's album is the tougher of the two. By the sound of it she's had a tougher life, one that's involved with-standing 'the atrocities of school', resisting the pull of 'nine-inch nails and little fascist panties' and being racked on the timbers of male sexual malevolence. It all spills out in a terrible gush, most compelling when there's irony about ('Silent All These Years' 'Leather' and 'Tear In Your Hand' -- 'I don't believe you're leaving 'cause me and Charles Manson like the same ice cream') but still effective when her weakness for spouted poetry is reined in and disciplined by succinct musical ideas ('Winter', 'China', 'Happy Phantom'). She can't always bung the gusher, however, and sometimes the images flood the basement with slurp about crucifixion and so on. It's to her advantage then that she whacks the crap out of her piano and goes in for spartan arrangements -- odd bits of guitar, strings, bass, very few drums -- the kind of modest apparel that becomes the roue exhibitionist. Normal people will find Amos fascinating. Slobberers over Kate Bush, and the terminally sniffy, will be offended.

No one could reasonably be offended by Maher, however. Unless the abuse of peanut butter for trans-cultural purposes is an offence. 'Pomegranates' is her second album and like the first, it draws all its musical juice from the vines of the developing world and Joni Mitchell. And if you ignore the ghastly global rock-waffle of the opening track, 'The Flow', a pretty gorgeous afair it is too. Her tunes are almost indecently luxurious, the playing exquisite and the arrangements as full of subtlety as you could wish, given the parlous nature of the lyrics they are set to frame. You see Maher's thing, unlike Amos's, is not irrepressible witchy pessimism but its opposite: hers is a golden world, in which words are garlands, voices are a glow and drums... well, you know what they say about the drums. Hell's bells, it seems mean to be picky about records that include music as lovely as 'Laughter In The Rain' and 'Spring', riveting as 'Leather', but at this end of the production chain it's not so much an irrational world as a world in which irrationality is taken according to taste. Buy 'em both and suck out the good bits.

'Pomegranate' is out on Virgin, 'Little Earthquakes' on East West.
Nick Coleman


review excerpts for hi

From out of nowhere - well, almost - Ashley Maher has emerged with one of those audacious, fully formed first albums whose very self- confidence and completeness is kind of hard not to admire. ...her songs are densely worded affairs that invariably rely on the rhythmic tug of The Dark Continent in a way that Joni Mitchell hinted at all those years ago around the time of 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns. ...rich, deeply textured...lush, ethnically induced...this is just the kind of gently persuasive noise that can get under the skin and stay there.
Peter Kane, Sounds Magazine, U.K.

The sound of her debut LP...isn't quite like anything else in this year's releases: it's all voices and drums; world music scaled down into simple melodies and undeniable hooks. Since Maher has done her homework, researching rhythms at the National Sound Archive and immersing herself in the fabric of African drum techniques, there's an authenticity about it which elevates the project above the usual colonial appropriation. ...it's an appealing first step and a...vibrant alternative to Peter Gabriel on the whole earth stereo.
Richard Cook, Vogue Magazine, U.K.

...her music stands rather coyly at the interface between theethni{: and the indigenous, a jungly mixture of quirky homegirl narratives, Afro rhythms..her sweet contralto is unmannered... She is confident and bright.
Nick Coleman, Time Out, U.K.

Unusual and intricately wrought fusion of shimmering West African and Caribbean rhythms...recaHs Sade at her Janguourous smokey best...full of strange open plains echoes and twilight campfire charm.
****Q Magazine, U.K.

Her introspective narrative lyrics are given an extra lease of life by the sophisticated jamboree of the background instruments. Widely compared with Joni Mitchell, her songs reveal a range of moods - romance, desire, hope and fear - and tell tales of friends.
Khalid Omar Javed, What's On in London, U.K.

...rhythmic and summery... Unlike some of the other female singer/songwriters, Maher wi}] undoubtedly get lumped in with, she exudes a real energy, a lust for taking a song as far as it can go, branching it out and breaking it up into lots of rhythmic patterns and plyaful vocal interludes. It's as if she writes around the drums and backing vocals, bringing these parts up front.
Michele Kirsch, NME (New Musical Express), U.K.

...undeniably charming...standing above it all are the vocals, full of the kind of heartfelt power and emotion that begs you to take the time to listen.
Eleanor Levy, Record Mirror, U.K.

Despite being 'the last duck out of the water, the 365th singer/songwriter this year,' Maher is different from the preceding 364. Her album 'hi' is an alloy of anecdotal lyrics and Afro-centric rhythms that washes over you...
Caroline Sullivan, Melody Maker, U.K.

'Hi' is a huge pressure cooker simmering with a mixture of rhythms, styles, and atmosphere. A light sprinkling of jazz and folk, evenly peppered with African beats and intricate harmonies...
Nick Duerden, Record Mirror, U.K.

...she gets her feet in the doors of the world's top rhythm players in search of Big Beats to match her alliterative lyrics. And she succeeds. There is a menacing tribal feel to the darker songs as quirky characters cluster around original storylines.
Helen Jerome, Zig-Zag, U.K.


The Evening Standard

Drum Punch

Lured by the rhythms of Africa, Californian student Ashley Maher dropped the medieval for the ethnic, and followed the beat to London

Ashley Maher could so easily have gone the beady, hippie way of countless Californian golden girls before her had she not taken a short cut through Berkeley's music department one fine summer's morning.

Coming from one of the windows was the sound of master Ghanaian drummer C K Ladzekpo. She was so impressed that she promptly ditched her medieval studies course and left for London to write and sing, lured by the cosmopolitan promise of the capital's music scene.

She now resides in Portobello Road, a handy base from which she can continue to assimilate ethnic rhythms --- especially African ones. "I love African rhythms. They are an integral part of my work. I can never perfect them. I am not African," she reveals, not entirely surprisingly. Does it worry her at all that she could be accused of capitalising on African culture a la Paul Simon?

"Well, I haven't really capitalised on anything yet," she replies wryly, an oblique reference to her so-far-limited success. "If I become successful it won't be on the back of someone else's skill. My multicultural interests are personal --- although, inevitably, their influence has a far-reaching effect on my music. I work with a lot of musicians from different cultures, but for me it is a learning experience rather than one where I borrow and don't pay back." -JJ


Music Week

ASHLEY MAHER: Step By Step.

(Virgin (12) VS1253).

First single by a hugely talented Canadian singer-sangwriter who has incorporated Afro-Caribbean influences seamlessly into her own neo-Joni Mitchell style. Too unorthodox to be a hit but marks the arrival of a major talent.


Record Mirror

After marvy Manc mania, how about Montreal madness? Well, OK Ashley Maher (pronounced Marr) was only born in that Canadian city before moving to LA with her British parents, and her nomadic background may well read like a Sunday supplement travel guide, but it got you reading this for didn't it?

Ashley's music reflects this varied upbringing, drawing on both traditional western folk sounds and African and Latin percussion ond vocalising, indicating her great love of what back in the dim and distant days af the Eighties some people tried to term 'world music'.

Having moved to London to become immersed in the multi-cultural music scene over here, the ex-medieval studies scholar is about to release her debut album 'Hi'. The first single from it, 'Step By Step', due out in May, is a strange affair that sees Ashley wearing her musical influences on her kaftan sleeves, but undeniably charming at the same time. Ashley describes it as "a big ethnic jumble", but standing above it all are the vocals full of the kind of heartfelt power and emotion that begs you to take the time to listen.

Do just that and you too will want to say 'Hi' to Ashley Maher.
-Eleanor Levy.


Record Mirror

ASHLEY MAHER

'Hl'

True, 'Hi' is hardly an inspiring, attention-grabbing title, but delve a little deeper into its contents, and you might well be pleasantly surprised.

California raised Ashley has released the type of album that will prompt many to proclaim her as this year's winner in the annual singer-songwriter stakes. And they could just be right.

Described (by herself) as a big ethnic jumble". 'Hi' is a huge pressure cooker simmering with a mixture of rhythms, styles, and atmosphere. A light sprinkling of jazz and folk, evenly peppered with some African beats and intricate harmonies, its aroma is distinctly Cal.

Her rich vocals wrap snugly around the likes of 'Shine Shine Shine', the bright and breezy 'Sage Is Under My Feet', and the glorious 'Step By Step'. A quick costume change later, and the tone is lowered to a gentle whisper for the tender 'Hush Child' and bleak 'Honeycomb Grey'.

These bewitching tunes make for an exuberant. effortless debut, and while not the type of music to set the charts alight, is bound to cause a ripple like Chapman and Vega before her.

One of the year's more pleasing discoveries. ***1/2
Nick Duerden


Record Mirror

Ashley Maher

'So Many Times'
Virgin

Big things should be just around the corner for Ms Maher especially now that Tracy Chapman seems to have gone into hibernation. Ashley belts out a song with a voice that could stun an elephant at 50 paces, but she also has an endearing sensitivity and 'So Many Times' will play very wickedly with the little hairs at the back of your neck. Today, Ashley's a cult figure for a discerning few. Tomorrow, perhaps, she'll be a heroine for millions.


Q Magazine - #44

Ashley Maher

Hi
Virgin V2611

Unusual and intricately wrought fusion of shimmering Africanand Caribbean rhythms, from an American newcomer now resident in London. The 10 tracks are built upon Maher's sweetly innocent vocals, taut Ghanian percussion, funk guitar, beautifully trilling native flutes and wild saxophones. Side one's Dreaming and So Many Times could hit both the world music and new age booms, while Honeycomb Grey recalls Sade at her langourous smoky best; Eddie is a more lighthearted skit on a Casanova shoeshiner, and Tick Tock a slightly sinister township chant with hints of the armed struggle. The flip's Jumping Mouse and Hush Child weave a softer, more pastoral mood, full of strange and open plains echoes and twilight campfire charm. As an introduction, this is just fine.
-Henry Williams


Q Magazine: HMV advertisement feature

The HMV Selection (10 albums featured including:)
Ashley Maher
Hi

Ashley Maher is a name from the grapevine and a talent to conjure with. Born in Montreal, raised in Los Angeles by English parents, weaned on rock and distilled by soul it's small wonder she views her own debut 'Hi' as 'a big ethnic jumble... a funny amalgam, percussion and vocally led.' Maher (pronounced Marr for your ease and comfort) is also a drummer's dream ticket. With her producer Philip Giffin she has assembled the cream of the crop rhythmic wise, scouting through the Caribbean, South America, the USA and, err, North London for folks who can get a decent noise out of the improbable. Maher's own vocals are best described as heart stopping but she's moved into another league since her early grounding with Backlash and her dance grooves swing _and_ jump. Say 'Hi' to what will be one of the most enjoyable albums of the year.


Sounds

ASHLEY MAHER

'Hi'
(Virgln V2611/CD) ***l/2

FROM OUT of nowhere - well, almost - Ashley Maher has emerged with one of those audacious, fully formed first albums whose very self-confidence and completeness is kind of hard not to admire.

A Canadian who was raised in LA and is now a resident of London, her songs are densely worded affairs that invariably rely on the rhythmic tug of The Dark Continent in a way that Joni Mitchell hinted at all those years ago around the time of 'The Hissing Of Summer Lawns'. She even manages to sound a little like the woman, too, in the lower register; a combination that works rather better on recor than it might sound on paper.

Although conspicuously lacking in the hit single department to make an instant name for herself, the drifting focus of the voice - rich, deeply textured - settles into a comfortable niche somewhere within the parameters of what had better be called World and New Age Music for ease of reference. The opening tracks, 'Dreaming' and 'So Many Times', in particular dance stylishly against the lush, ethnically induced backcloth as though it's the most natural thing ever.

Given the chance, this is just the kind of gently persuasive noise that can get under the skin and stay there.
Peter Kane


Time Out

Ashley Maher

Ashley Maher's excuse is that she is a 'kind of cultural mongrel'. She was born in Canada of English parents, grew up in California and has since spend half her life continent hopping. 'If my family ever had money it was always measured in plane tickets rather than houses and cars,' she says through catarrh, chucking a sheaf of orange hair over her shoulder. 'All my life I've only been interested in looking at other cultures as a way of asking what really is the best way to live; to ask how do you get through your day, what's the role of women in your culture, how do you eat, how do you organize your household, what do you do at weddings? All of that colour and information has been grist to my personal mill. What is the best possible way of life?'

Portabello Road parches in afternoon spring sunshine, its culture hanging like vapour at her door. 'But emotionally and spiritually, I feel most at home in London because of its cultural mix. Better than in the States, better than in Europe where the ethnic population is considered to lend an exotic and beautiful dimension to society...' She stops abruptly, her point made.

Too much kulcher can be bad for you. Global village idiocy is a plaguethat aflicts half the planet, and it's highly contagious. After all, why should one dirty one's mitts in the messy afterbirth of the Western multi-culturalism when protective kulcheral rebberwear is so readily accesible to the average shopper? We have Simple Minds, we have Benetton and we have the most marketable commodity in the post-industrial, number-crunchng, information-fatigued economy: guilt.

These are the polotics of race sugar-frosted and settled during transit. Kulcher is what Radio One has. Multi-kulcherism is what would happen if we all joined hands and learned to sing in perfect harmony. So Ashley Maher needs her excuse. She is entering the marketplace at a vulnerable angle: her music stands rather coyly at the interface between the ethnic and the indigenous, an jungly misture of quirky home-girl narratives, Afro rhythms and the tunes of Joni Mitchell --- a ghastly notion on paper but one that works well in the life, largely because her sweet contralto is unmannered and Joni Michell wrote great tunes. She is confident and bright.

'Well some people write politically, because that's their most natural mode of expression, their particular voice, while others write very personally, others narrativelyand, some in established formula like bubblegum pop. You just have to find out what's comfortable to you.

'When I was in Italy a couple of years ago studying opera at the conservatory there, the main thing I came away with was that opera was about constructing a voice on top of your natural voice, just like bodybuilding is all about taking a body and making it bigger than it actually is. Well, I decided that I wanted to find a way of singing and a kind of music that came absolutely naturally to me, so that working becomes a process of tearing away barriers to what was natural. My whole involvement with singing is an attepmt to find what my voice actually is.' She is given to epigrammatical utterances. Later on in the interview, while discussing the relative demerits of New York and LA, she explains Los Angeles scandolous reputation of a place of community with an ironical sneer and a particularly testy shove on her ginger mop: 'At least in New York your still have to step over someone to get to your limousine.' She's very likeable.

She's also preoccupied by the fractal relationship between music and community: how the more you look the more complicated it appears; the deeper the patterning, the more frightening the detail; how half the time you can't see the chicken for all the eggs In great ernest she discusses Ghanaian drum music in terms of its 'beautiful geometry', and she justifies her elison of musical hemispheres in paintery terms.

'I'm very conscious of coming from a (Western) tradition of writing about personal feeligns, emotions, experiences, as opposed to those of the community, but that doesn't mean that if those values aren't married correctly to different textures they can't be necessarily understood. It's a question of varying your musical pallette, like Kate Bush or Peter Gabriel do.' She indicates the edge of the large, round table at which we sit. 'I mean, if you imagine these to be the parameters of music, they're expanding all the time, the frontiers are being pushed outwards. Technological music has its own heroes, rap has others, metal others again, and I thind that the "World Music" section of that expanding concentric circle is really, really interesting because music is getting more and more international with every passing day.

'I'm not African. I don't want to sing like an African. I don't want to pretend to be an African --- I mean, I'd like to be a milkmaid in the jungle --- but I'm so drawn by those rhythms. I love them. The more I learn about them, the more fascinated I become, and the less I can help my feelings about it all. I just can't help it.'

Then there's the gawkily sepulchral jazz-country spiritualism of the Blessed Mary Margaret O'Hara. 'Stunning, stunning. I left her concert last year in tears. As I walked down Charing Cross Road I was bawling my eyes out, got on the bus and these two African woman looked over to me and asked what was wrong. I said (sniffle), "She's the real thing (snuffle). I'm a phoney. I'm going to throw in the towel, ger a job in the laundromat and give up!" Everything about her is completely true --- all that nervousness and everything too. And when she finally gets into a song and her eyes open up in that big, blue, crystal way, you know that you're seeing directly into the soul of someone who is genuinely transported by what she's doing.' Of all places, this is the one Ashley Maher would choose to make her destination.
Nick Coleman


British Vogue

Rhythm Queen

The look is statuesque Californian rock doll, but Ashley Maher is something of a scholar when it comes to rhythm and drums. Montreal-born, of British parentage, Maher quit her studies in Los Angeles to live in London. The sound of her debut LP, Ashley Maher, isn't quite like anything else in this year's releases: it's all voices and drums; world music scaled down into simple melodies and undeniable hooks. Since Maher has done her homework, researching rhythms at the National Sound Archive and immersing herself in the fabric of African drum techniques, there's an authenticity about it which elevates the project above the usual colonial appropriation. Her voice can be a little arch at times, and a few songs such as Hush Child move dangerously into Kate Bush country, but it's an appealing first step and a potentially vibrant alternative to Peter Gabriel on the whole-earth stereo.
Richard Cook.


What's On In London

Hi Lights

Ashley Maher talks with Khalid Omar Javed about the multi-cultural influences which went into moulding her debut album, Hi.

As debut albums go, Ashley Maher's Hi is full of promise. It's certainly slick and well produced. Intermingling an African beat and Latin percussion, propped against a soft tenor voice, the rhythms link up precisely with the home grown, clear eyed lyrics very nicely. In fact everything about this is very nice.

Iconography apart, the record is peculiar enough to leave its mark. Touched by humour and an eccentric taste the audience it will appeal to probably reflects Ashley Maher's hybrid background. Hi works well as an introduction to today's upbeat cosmopolitan sounds and has pop credentials. Most likely it will fit snulggly into the thirty-something M-O-R market, though it's debatable wilether Hi will engross the listener wllo goes directly to the source of Ashley's influences.

It is difficult to criticize Ashley Maher; she is very amicable, lucid, educated, presentable and promotable. The question which will be answered in time is whether she is profitable. From small beginnings so far she has appeared on the Wogan show and, in contrast, the BBC arts programme The Late Show and she also sang live on Johnny Walker's GLR. These are not programmes aimed at teeny-boppers. A combination of expert management and her own entrepreneurial drive have brought Ashley's music to the attention of the right ears and launched her in the right direction.

Born in 'icy cold' Montreal and raised in the 'monotonous' sunshine of Los Angeles, Ashley has found the moody British weather inspirational. Her easy-going parents, an Irish father and English mother, encouraged her musical development. She studied Opera in Italy, medieval history at University and has described herself as "a cultllral mongrel". She took classes with Ghanaian drummer C.K. Ladzekpo that were to have a profound influence and give her music an immediate direction.

"It was music I just absolutely loved. I've been listening to rhythmic music from quite a young age, but this suddenly put in front of me a plate of food that I was definitely going to find out who had cooked."

After graduating four years ago she arrived in London and made contacts.

"In some ways you have an added advantage arriving as a foreigner, as people are more impressed when you seek them out having travelled far".

Before long she was jamming around with a group of North London lads looking for a break and coming to London as it turns out was the right thing to do.

"America is one huge ethnic mixing, like a big salad. There is every single race but the opportunities to express ethnic music available here are much more extensive. The public here is in general better versed in the cultures of other people as well as more receptive."

This came as a surprise are we really ahead of the Americans?

"In England there is probably a similar amount of multi-culturalism as there is in the States but here it is much better organised. I loved the vibe of London there is so much happening. The cultural attitudes here are translated down all the way on all levels of society. Granted racially there are still problems here but in comparison to the States it feels much closer to the degree of equality that we are all looking to realise."

She describes how on returning to Los Angeles to record part of the album she found to her embarrassment that similar bands to those she had worked with in London had always been there.

"World music has always been there but the channels for expressing it are more open now. In the 60's, during the civil rights movement thele was a terrific amount of ethnic activity on the music scene. A number of artists were experimenting and going to Africa like Earth Wind and Fire.

"I am trying to hustle that back into focus. Now there are high profile artists like Paul Simon, Sting and Peter Gabriel who are at the centres of things and are also working with peripheral elements. Naturally it is going to become more mainstream."

These guys have paved the way for artisls like Ashley. Her introspective narrative lyrics are given an extra lease of life by the sophisticated jamboree of the background instruments. Step by Step the first single released from the album describes her days working as a waitress in a Greek restaurant.

"It was just doing any job to pay the rent while you're growing in other ways and doing your exploring while you are not really tied down. Step by Sfep is a positive, bright and clear introduction to my alhum with a number of elements which run throughout the album. It's not as obscure or avant-garde as Tich-Toch. I love all the songs, but Giving is dear to me It's got a hypnotic repetitive gloove that is I representative of the balance between the African and Western styles. I am working towards in my heart."

"African music is cyclical and synchronised into one finally tuned common element. It is not obsessed with ego boosting solos in the same way as Western music, which starts with a motif and builds and builds until it grows into a climax. I like the philosophy of community linked with African music. It does require a quantum leap of attitude to listen to African music. You have to be willing to relinquish that state of 'entertain me immediately'. Africans are content with keeping the groove going 'til dawn.

"I am in a position where I have an eternal infinily with tllat musical prospective. But at the same time I am also conscious of being from a western tradition which enjoys getting to that real high. My task is to find a medium between the two.

"I like writing about people around me and describing what I see. Maybe, as time goes on I'll feel more comfortable writing in a more personal vein. Ultimately these songs are indirectly personal in that the way I write about others obviously reflects me."

Widely compared with Joni Mitchell her songs reveal a range of moods --- romance, desire, hope and fear --- and tell tales of friends. The beat could do with being revved up lOrpm but it is a charming album, try it and decide.

Hi is out now on Virgin.


Zig Zag

Ashley Maher:

Hi
Virgin

With British parents, Canadian passport and a Californian upbringing Maher could be a crazy mixed-up kid. Instead she gets her feet in the doors of the world's top rhythm players In search of Big Beats to match her alliterative lyrics. And she succeeds There is a menacing tribal feel to the darker songs as quirky characters cluster around original storylines.

The two best tracks convey varying degrees of optimism. Honeycomb Grey is peppered with divine Burt Bacharach style backing and plenty of hooks about a potter In his gloomy tower block. Step By Step is the classlc autobiographical tale of a struggling artiste doing a bunch of crummy jobs with the hope of realising her ambition. Elsewhere the world goes on around a narrator Dreaming to the sound of flutterlna flutes. Hush Chlld, has a stutterer cry 'I am a bird beating broken wings inside a bottle' accompanied by throbing bass and folksy mandolin. Eddie is a silly tale of a shoeshine valentine, ond Jumping Mouse a fable. Tick Tock has a cool cats lure a lad into crime with 'big boasts about little adventures'. The Sage Is Under My Feet ends a solid debut with triumiphant jazzy vocals.
Helen Jerome


Thanks to Jane Wood and Ashley Maher for providing the reviews on this page.