Friday, October 29, 2004

Standing At The Edge

Standing At The Edge

Review by Reuben

"Standing At The Edge" is a testament of strength, will, and longevity. And that's just not the music. An achingly personal album, Casey Stratton surely does not censor or play down his feelings and emotions. This debut album for Odyssey is mature, strong and surprisingly satisfying for this unheard, youthful but ambitious singer songwriter. With blatantly clear, simple and honest poetic lyrics, Stratton exposes us more than his age tells us. Marked by the experiences of life, relationships and his struggles in both his personal and musical journey, Stratton has aged with wisdom and depth and character.

In true veracious manner, this offers something deep, dark and melodic. But don't let his brooding nature overwhelm you. In his attempt in producing a very adult contemporary album, Stratton doesn't cover all bases of love, rejection and joyful glee. Instead, his album is very deliberate, intensely focused and rewardingly beautiful. In touching us with unique, high vocals and incredibly complex arrangements, Stratton surely does not tremble lightly.

The opening, "For Reasons Unexplained" sets a very high standard. Melodic piano arpeggios and Stratton's angelic vocals compels us to listen closely. You can hear the ache and low self esteem as he sings about sorrow, fear and paralysis. This is definitely not one for the faint-hearted. Statton opens his heart and not only does he bare his soul to his listeners, he has the ability to draw us closer to him and draw out our experiences, pain and suffering as well.

His soulful cry in "Contagious" is infectious. Not only can Stratton reduce us to tears, but even if we had never experienced such heartache, we can understand and listen and sing along as if it was about us. He almost warns us "I tried not to notice the signs / your words so unkind / you stayed far too long / in my life".

However, not all his music complement his lyrical content. In "Violet Room", a rather spriteful guitar strums away to the a brisk drum beat, however Stratton sings about a friendship that should never progress. A hidden agenda perhaps? But he sings "will wonders never cease to amaze me? The way I collide with what you need / I pulled you too close / I must learn to let you go / and find my way back to the land of dreams." An apparent contradiction? A friendship that perhaps to come together in intimacy? We will never know.

The album ends with an abrupt change in style. "Cellophane" has the distinct make of Pat Leonard's augmented synth notes and "Bloom" carry the heart and weight through a stunning array of heavy strings. It is here the tone of Stratton's pain and suffering is realised - of the need of deep solace, friendship and intimacy. The intense urge is sung out "I don't want to breathe without you / I don't want to be without you / I don't want to sleep without you / I don't want to laugh without you / I don't want to die without you / I don't want to love without you / I don't want to bloom without you."

Touching and sad, this is what everyone faces at the end of the day - when we are standing at the edge.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Joyeux Anniversaire!

Joyeux anniversaire Casey!

May you have an exquisite day, and go and knock yourself out!

Much love, Reuben

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Joe's Pub

[quote, backstage at Joe's Pub in NYC]

It was here, February 26, this year that the fresh-faced, wise and talented musician performed - showcasing the much emotional, deeply personal and somewhat angst-ridden songs on life, love and relationships. The power and rawness of it catches everyone by surprise - not expecting the youthful man with eye-catching red hair to stun the audience during his musical debut on stage.

Maybe it was the exuberance of the artist, perhaps it was his honest and hurting lyrics. Maybe it was the flash of red, the sparkle of the stage light, or the brilliance of his piano skills. Perhaps it was his frank discussion of his fragile childhood.

"I was a very sensitive, tortured child," Stratton admitted. "I didn't have a bad childhood necessarily, I guess unhappiness was in my nature. I tended to ruminate about things."

Stratton uses the darkest parts of his life and brings them out to life - blooming them with introspective, heart-chilling ballads about pain and suffering. But like true artists, Stratton is an overachiever and a social misfit. Truly honest. Pure grit. Somewhat beyond the maturity of his young years, his passion began in classical music. Immersing himself in an array of instruments and music writing, pursuing the commercial music industry hasn't been enlightening.

However, always making the most out of every situation, Stratton learnt quickly the dealing and politics and the behind-the-scenes look at the juggernaut of the entertainment business. To many, Stratton's decision to veer off classical music was an ill-wise move.

"Everyone turned against me," the singer pondered. "It was an important early lesson because betrayal happens in the music industry over and over. I proved I can stay the course and succeed, as long as I have the passion. Instead of sitting around being depressed, I said screw them, this is what I'm doing and you can't stop me."

But is this "selling out"?

"There was a lot of pressure to sell out," to which Stratton coldly replies. "When I began in the mid-90s, it was about being a slick entertainer and hawking an image. That's not what I wanted to do. Mostly I wanted to be a singer-songwriter but they were not in style at the time."

"It's one thing to resist selling out when no one is paying attention to you," Stratton explained. "But when record companies start sniffing around and dangling contracts in front of your face, it's an entirely different story. It takes a lot of stamina to say no thank you. I would rather wait tables then betray my artistic integrity."

And artistic integrity is something Stratton possesses abundantly. So much so, not necessarily trying to prove himself, he writes all his music on "Standing At The Edge", plays the piano, sings all the backing up vocals and even arranged the strings on his album. A master feat for any musical prodigy. However, to make sure the young artist stayed guided and focus, Pat Leonard was enlisted to co-produce the album. The A-list producer who had his share of stardom with Madonna, Elton John and Jewel, pushed Stratton vocally, technically and emotionally.

"He respected what I was doing and I respected what he was doing," explained Stratton. "We really listened to each other. If I wanted to change something and had a valid reason, he let me. He did not push me in a direction I did not wish to go."

Did it pay off?

All you have to do is sit and hear Stratton's clear, sweet vocals ring above the twinkling of the ivory keys to know that this is a true talented performer. Without all the fanfare, the electronics, the production, his songs speak honest and truth to his audience. And it is this very connection that makes Casey Stratton above the rest.

[quote, article quotes extracted from David Kennerley's article, 2004]

Saturday, October 09, 2004


con·ta·gious ( P ) Pronunciation Key (kn-tājs)

1. Of or relating to contagion.

2. Transmissible by direct or indirect contact; communicable: a contagious disease.

3. Capable of transmitting disease; carrying a disease: stayed at home until he was no longer contagious.

4. Spreading or tending to spread from one to another; infectious: a contagious smile.

[source: The American Heritage ® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.]

The words are stinging. Acidic and bitter. This is what it feels like to be stuck in a relationship with no way out - because the person is utterly...contagious.

Everyone has experienced it. The subtle knowing and urgings that ring like silent warning bells. With all rational thought screaming to end it all, to break it off, to kill it, to smother it. But it is near impossible. This is the blatant denial - the total oblivious to self and self preservation and the total sacrifice.

"I was so afraid of us
And now I know why
You are dangerous
Tried not to keep with you
But you pulled me closer as I
Learned how to make us
You are contagious" - Casey Stratton

Plain foolishness? Can love be really blind? It's the constant craving and wanting of something so bad, that you see past all the signs, all the unkind words and allowed the familiarity of your surroundings, the familiarity of the touch, and the familiarity of just familiarity sake.

But there is life after death. Like any contagious disease - it must be isolated and treated. The only way out is to take yourself out from the hurt, from the pain, from the persistent nature of a deeply entwine relationship and become isolated - not desolated. Once once the contagious infection has been dealt with, healing and health can returns.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Odyssey

Official Biography

With the release of Standing at the Edge on the Odyssey label, Casey Stratton arrives, at the age of 25, as one of the most arresting new voices in music today. The 12 tracks on this label debut reveal a boldly personal new ballad style - rich, hook-laden melodies and searching lyrics blended with Stratton's powerful, expressive vocals. Standing at the Edge brings Stratton together with top producer Patrick Leonard [Madonna, Elton John and Jewel] in a collaboration that delivers a new, razor-sharp clarity to the singer, songwriter and musician's expansive style, which he has been developing for over a decade. Stratton wrote all of the songs, except for a co-write with Leonard, and plays piano throughout the album.

"Writing songs is, for me, like keeping a journal - it charts my progress as a human being," Stratton says. "I tend to talk about my life not by age or by years, but by the songs I've written. I write very quickly, usually in a day, starting with the melody - the music always comes first. But once I get the basic idea down, I become a professional musician, shaping the melody, building the song, figuring out what the lyric should be.

"Working with Pat Leonard has been amazing," Stratton adds, about the making of Standing at the Edge. "The way we worked was pretty intuitive. We were on the same page, constantly finishing each other's sentences. And it meant a lot to me that he is also a keyboard player, a pianist."

Casey Stratton has packed a lot of music into a relatively young life. With a father who played in a popular Michigan band, the singer, songwriter and musician remembers begging to sing as a child during the band's rehearsals. Violin lessons began at the age of 8, followed quickly by the cello at 10, the piano at 11, and the guitar at 16. The training was rigorous and disciplined, laying the foundation for a career in classical music. It was through the piano that Stratton discovered a passion writing songs and singing them. After graduating from Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy, with training in voice and composition, the budding artist left Michigan for Los Angeles. Independent efforts and performances have already resulted in a bit of a cult following, and Music Connection Magazine voted Stratton one of the "Top 100 Artists of the Future 2002." With the release of Standing at the Edge, Casey has hit a career stride with an unusual sense of purpose and determination.

Stratton's influences are as diverse as his training. Listening to the sleek songs and vocal style on Standing at the Edge, the pop influences register more immediately - Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Peter Gabriel, Radiohead, Björk, Paula Cole and Joni Mitchell, to name a few. Musically, though, Stratton also takes inspiration from various forms of the arts. Musically, he finds inspiration in classical composers: notably Debussy, Ravel, Copland and Barber. Lyrics draw on the example of the contemporary singer/songwriter tradition, as well as a wide range of literature, from T. S. Eliot to Joseph Campbell. One of the songs on Standing at the Edge, "Cellophane," was inspired by Stratton's reaction to a TV evangelist's sermon.

When Stratton and Leonard had finalized the lineup for the recording, they realized that the songs had a common thread - about life's pivotal moments, endings that are also beginnings. Performing onstage required of Stratton something more elusive than technique - an emotional courage that matches the songs' clear-eyed emotional testimony.

"It took me a long time to be comfortable in my own skin when I sang my own songs," Casey Stratton recalls. "When I first started playing them live, my feet would shake on the pedals of the piano. I felt so transparent, like everyone knew what I was thinking and feeling. The courage to take the plunge came from my influences - Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchell. I thought, 'Well, they're doing it.' And the more I did it - the more I forced myself to explore my own songs before an audience - the more empowering it became. Between 16 and 20, I think I encountered my highest learning curve. The more I played, the easier it got for me. I discovered that singing my songs, about the things I have experienced, however painful, was healing. It brings me peace."

[quote, biography extracted from Casey Stratton]

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The One Man Show

The month of October marks a landmark. I will be showcasing one true artist that I believe and know personally. The one and only Casey Stratton is a one man show. The 27 year old from Grand Rapids, Michigan lists Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan as amongst his greatest influences. Also being musically influenced by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, Casey's music reflect those inspirations equally.

Casey's debut album from Sony is entitled "Standing At The Edge" - showcases his clear contro-alto, serene voice and beautiful harmonies set to haunting, juxtaposing piano arpeggios. Co-produced with the legendary Pat Leonard, Casey's album is not only polished, professional and deeply personal, he manages to set a benchmark for quality debuts.

But Casey is no stranger to the music industry. Having just graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy at the tender age of 18, Casey took the bus to Los Angeles and from there recorded and producing his own EP, "Driving To The Moon" and subsequently his independently released "The Giver and The Grave Digger".

Not only is October a celebration of the month of Casey's birthday, but also he is taking his one man show on tour. Playing in selected dates in Michigan, Casey is breathtakingly showing off his consummate piano skills and unique vocals to only those who utterly appreciate his work.

Please stand and give a hand to the talented, one and only, Casey Stratton.