She The Musical

'She' Album Review by Pete Pardo (Sea of Tranquility)

In the mood for a grand, majestic, symphonic rock opera? Well, then you've come to the right place my friends. She is the latest musical vision from Caamora, the side project of Clive Nolan (Arena/Pendragon/Neo), that also features Polish vocalist Agnieszka Swita. This intense 2CD concept album is based on a 19th Century novel by H. Rider Haggard, about "two explorers who travel to Africa and stumble into a world of mystery and intrigue. They discover lost tribes living in vast underground caverns and worshipping a living Goddess Ayesha, the queen who is believed to be a woman of vast age. She welcomes the explorers, but her true motives soon become apparent. Ayesha has been waiting for the return of the man she loves…a man she murdered 2000 years ago." Sound interesting? It certainly is, so prepare yourself for a complex maze, both lyrically and musically, throughout this lengthy set.

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Joining Nolan (keyboards/vocals) and Swita here are a host of guest musicians, such as Alan Reed (Pallas/Neo)and Christina Booth (Magenta) on vocals, bassist John Jowitt (IQ, Neo), Mark Westwood (Neo) on guitars, Mark Kane on horns, Alaster Bentley on oboe, Hugh McDowell (The Move/ELO) on cello , and drummer Scott Higham. Musically, this falls somewhere in between the majestic & grand symphonic nature of Renaissance, and the bombast of Arena, Ayreon, or Nightwish, Nolan's lifelong dream of creating a progressive rock opera finally coming to fruition, as She is a classy and grandiose presentation on all fronts. Vocally, all of the singers really impress here, with one soaring passage after another, Swita & Booth delivering lush and passionate female vocals on par with any you will hear in the genre today, with both Nolan and Reed also making sure their performances are spot on (Clive is actually a damn good singer in his own right) and filled with plenty of emotion. The music backs up the vocal performances, with sweeping keyboard orchestrations, occasional guitar thunder, whimsical horn & reed passages, and when the backing choirs come into play, the overall sound is immense.

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While there's not a lot of instrumental soloing going on here (which might dissapoint some prog loyalists), the focus is more on the storyline and vocal performances, which as I mentioned above are quite good. Symphonic music lovers who cherish things like Rick Wakeman's Journey To The Center Of Earth, Ayreon's many concept albums, or the rock operas by Andrew Lloyd Webber, will no doubt fall in love with this sprawling package from Clive Nolan and crew. Speaking of packaging, the 40+ page booklet is a true treasure chest of lyrics and artwork, exceptionally well done and put together by Metal Mind Productions which makes reading along to this grand-opus all the more enjoyable.

Well done Mr. Nolan...

Review by Pete Pardo (Sea of Tranquility)
Photo by Marta Tłuszcz, 'She' cover by GRAAL
March 2008