MERMAID KISS The Mermaid Kiss Album Flame 20250CD (2003)
This band came to my attention in one of life's nice coincidences. The band's guitarist sold me his copy of Virginia MacNaughton's debut album on Amazon.co.uk and revealed his own musical interest.
Girl-fronted rock bands are in vogue at present, and Mermaid Kiss join an increasingly long line that includes Mostly Autumn, Magenta and the sadly defunct Karnataka.
The Herefordshire-based band seem to have based their debut album around the clear vocals (and occasional flute) of Evelyn Downing who has now left for studies at Uni. to be replaced by Kate Belcher.
Eve has a very pure tone, but frankly the emphasis on voice and lyrics means that fellow Mermaids Jamie Field and Andy Garman are reduced to backing artists.
The ambience of this album is very much chill-out, no fiery guitar solos wreak havoc with the carefully-constructed themes. And more's the pity, actually. In places, a less Celtic Capercaillie come to mind, not least similarities with Karen Matheson's vocals.
The paucity of killer tracks, or solo instrumentation, is a little worrying too. It's not until 'This Feeling' that the album moves up a gear, whilst 'Some Days Are Like This' is infectious and shows welcome urgency. And we get a radio-friendly sing-a-long chorus with 'Like Water'. This all demonstrates there's a fundamental quality underpinning the songwriting and musicianship.
Instrumentally, Garman develops some atmospheric soundscapes. This is perhaps best demonstrated on 'Whisper' which has the much needed drama but, really, Jamie should have unleashed a power solo and this would have all moved up a notch.
Interestingly, the band are well advanced on the follow-up album and have engaged the services of ex-Karnataka's Paul Davies, someone who is well-known to crank it up when appropriate. It's worth checking out the band's website for the latest updates and news of their separate 'American Images' project. Also, the band appear to be a veritable magnet for attractive female singer songwriters. Their website beckons, then.
In summary, this is an incredibly pleasant, pastoral album, and it is a grower, but there's a bottom line. Things need to be roughed up a bit and those darker themes explored. Only then will Mermaid Kiss be able to keep their collective heads above crowded waters.
Review by David Randall
Postcript: The ever-generous Jamie Field kindly sent me two new tracks after this review had been published. 'The Blushing Bride' is the track that features Paul Davies on guitar. Both include new vocalist Kate Belcher. Needless to say, the band's sound seems tighter and...darker, with slightly more attitude, especially 'Human Zoo' which features some interesting vocal and instrumental stylings. Think female fronted early-period Marillion crossed with All About Eve in their electro days.
These tracks will feature on the band's second album; if they can maintain their consistency - and a certain quirkiness - it could put Mermaid Kiss firmly on the prog-rock road map. ****