Sasha and Shawna - Siren

Sasha and Shawna Sasha and Shawna
Siren

3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

According to Greek mythology, a siren was a half woman, half mermaid creature whose intoxicating beauty and voice could lure a sailor to his death. Sasha Lazard and Shawna Stone, two operatic, photogenic uber blondes are the modern day equivalent. Sometimes, such as when they’re reinventing James Taylor or Kansas, you’ll feel as if you’ve died and gone to Valhalla (the Norse heaven, not the town in Westchester County). At other times, particularly when they sing opera and blare like air raid sirens, you’ll feel like one of those poor sailors whose vessel has run aground in shark infested waters.

Much will undoubtedly be made of the ladies looks. It’s unavoidable. Shawna alone will cause many an adolescent to stop by the CD racks and consider purchasing “Siren” without hearing a note. Beauty, brains, and they can sing too? Seems unfair. You might excuse their over reliance on creaky opera standards in exchange for the fetching photos on the CD (and you can bet that’s what the marketing department is hoping for), but when Sasha and Shawna lend their classically trained voices to modern material, it becomes immaterial that they look they stepped out the pages of Penthouse. They can truly sing.

Seasoned Sasha Lazard attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music studying opera, but was equally attracted to the area’s electronic-influenced music scene. She released her classical/dance debut “The Myth of Red” in 2000, following up in 2005 with “Moonfall,” which leaned toward a more acoustic sound. Stunning Shawna Stone studied voice at the University of California and has appeared on stage in theaters on the West Coast. Add producer Peter Asher to the mix (who was part of the 60s duo Peter & Gordon and produced James Taylor’s magnum opus “Sweet Baby James”) and you’ve got an efficient team.

Get out the chamomile tea for “Fade Out,” which actually fades in on a bed of harps and tinkling piano. Its seraph music, quiet, elegant, very much in tune with The October Project or Renaissance, even though it’s a Radiohead song (!). The Sirens luxuriant vocals are in prefect contrast to the swirling, intimidating strings and dark lyrics: “Rows of houses are bearing down on me. I can feel their blue hands touching me. All these things are into position, all these things we’ll one day swallow whole, and fade, fade out, out again, and fade, fade out.” The duo does the unspeakable, blending opera with pop in “Perte/For You” a John Denver son sung partially in Italian. The more experienced Sasha powers up an impressive vibrato, and the ladies’ harmonies make Denver’s typically weak lyrics appealing, although the “Per Te” section does sound a bit too close to Abba’s “Fernando” for comfort.

“I Know It’s Real” has Disney fantasy all over it, perfect for a “Cinderella” or “Beauty and the Beast” soundtrack, and the ladies glide through it with the vocal wattage of Celine Dion. The production is wholesome (thanks, Peter) and the orchestra is prominent but not dominant. There’s a lot of mush about wanting to be in their lover’s arms and being together forever. In less accomplished hands the lyrics would sound tired and hackneyed, but having perfectly trained voices can make sappy sentiment sound important and meaningful. Pubescent would-be romantics will dig the sentiment without knowing what it all means, but “I Know It’s Real” is also perfect for couples looking to rekindle the brush fire of love.

Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” is one of songs anyone with a sense for the dramatic can pull off. And who better to give it a shot than two opera singers? Sasha tackles her vocal in a more traditional manner – good thing there aren’t any R’s in the lyrics or she’d be rolling them like Henry Higgins giving Liza Doolittle an elocution lesson. Sasha comes off as being a bit stiff, too high society, but when Shawna joins in they sound like proud birds in gilded cages, challenging and bending notes at will. This version won’t knock the original by Kansas off of the radio, but it’s a pleasurable listen, with credible guitar work by Esteban sound-alike Tommy Emmanuel.

Another highlight, the extraordinary “Stabat Mater IXXI” follows. The Sirens sound like mystic Egyptian high priestesses casting a spell. Its music to belly dance by, a combination of the somber menace of Dead Can Dance brewed together with third world rhythms. “Sleep Song” takes the music to the shores of Ireland with Uillean pipes conjuring up visions of the fog rising off the heather. The folky, traditional approach suits the Sirens reverent approach, and they even manage to survive lines like “Looli loo li loo li lai lay” (must be an alternate translation for “tura lura li”) with their dignity in tact.

“Una Furtiva Lagrima” is pure opera and pure hooey. There hasn’t been this much Italian conveyed in such a threatening manner since Il Duce took Ethiopia. Get some opera glasses for this one – that way no one will know you’re asleep unless you snore (and snore you will). “O Del Mio Dolce” is another night at the opera, a slice of respectability that proves the Sirens have a pedigree – but nobody likes a show off. “Time (Air on the G-String)” by Bach is pop opera with a lot of tasteful, but showy warbling. Unfortunately the G-string the title refers to is not mandatory apparel for the Sirens, but seems to have something to do with the Chris Squire-like electric bass played by Larry Klein.

Sting’s “Fields of Gold” was hardly an essential tune when he penned it, but its pompous blarney is a good fit for the Sirens respectful format and makes a case for a remake outstripping the original. “One Simple Wish” is a return to Disney fantasy pop with the Sirens polished harmonies set against the abundant string section. The lyrics are bit trite (“One simple wish to carry me through, I trust my secret is safe with you”) but the ladies voices will draw you in. (Hey, they really are sirens).

James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes” is an excellent capper to the CD. (Kudos to Taylor producer Asher for recognizing the song’s potential.) Opera meets folk head on and there are no casualties. The voices twist and blend together like streams meeting in a refreshing pool. There’s a slight credibility issue when the Sirens purse their lips, claiming “I can’t sing the blues no more” – ‘cause you know the only blues they’ve got is their blue blood – but they do know how to sound enticing, and if you’ve been paying attention, that’s what sirens do.

Although it’s a little uneven in spots (leave the night at the opera stuff for the Marx Brothers), Sasha and Shawna’s maiden voyage is often as vexing as the front cover of their CD suggests. When these Sirens wail sailor, sit back, relax, and enjoy the voyage.



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