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Taking a break from the Ancient Ones to chill at the waterside, vocalist Jasmin Saarela has arrived with her debut solo album, 'Under the Red Light Shine', under the moniker Jess By The Lake. And "chill" is most apt, as this is a more laid-back outing than Jess And The Ancient Ones. However, it's not a stripped down, minimalist singer/songwriter solo venture; rather, she's gathered a number of musicians to help flesh out her songs with all kinds of interesting instrumentations. Some more interesting than others. And when it all clicks together, it works a treat, although this is an inconsistent album, to say the least.

Helping her out with her inaugural solo outing are drummer Marianne Heikkinen; bassist Heikki Leppäjärvi; guitarist Aapo Kauppinen; and Ethel Seppälä on keys; and Saarela herself, aside from lead vocals, plays guitar and Wurlitzer. As with her day-job band, her music has distinct 70s flavours, and with a little psychedelic flair here and there, but nowhere near as emphatically as JATAO. And while some of the songs are likeable and enjoyable enough, there's nothing overtly remarkable here; nothing remotely nearing the "wow" factor. I guess that’s not the point, as this is steeped in melancholy for large parts of its playing time, so isn't necessarily all about the "wow"… yet, melancholy can still provide an emotionally moving experience. This album doesn’t do that for me. In fact, there are some genuine duds to be heard, such as the plodding misery of 'Halo (Ghosts in the Flame)'; a seemingly directionless composition that lacks any kind of imagination or emotional depth. This isn't helped by an off-key vocal during particular passages. The singing's just plain grating on this one.

Elsewhere, Saarela’s singing ranges from dull to okay to great. So, a proper mixed bag. The soulful qualities of her voice, for which she’s come to be respected as a vocalist, can be heard in each and every song. As they can in JATAO... although, at the same time, her vocal flaws and shortfalls are axiomatic within some of the tracks. Take her attempted vocal acrobatics midway through the lengthy closing piece, ‘Interstellar’… it’s just, well, cringe-inducing. The title track, ‘Nightmare’, ‘Freezing Burn’ and ‘The Wait’ work best as songs, and Saarela's vocals on these provide some of the strongest moments of the album. But, in reality, she hasn't got the range, power or emotional depth to truly engage and move. She's no Anneke van Giersbergen or Cammie Gilbert, that's for sure.

All in all, ‘Under the Red Light Shine’ is quite an introspective affair, as Saarela has said her songwriting “stemmed from a need to create and ponder one's existence and surroundings”… but it’s perhaps a little too introspective for its own good, at times… where melancholy seemingly becomes a tad too maudlin. As a first solo work, though, it’s a decent effort and worthy checking out.
Svart Records
Review by Mark Holmes
7th June 2019
1) Under the Red Light Shine
2) Freezing Burn
3) The Wait
4) Halo (Ghosts in the Flames)
5) Nightmare
6) Legacy Crown
7) My Hands
8) Interstellar
"...it’s perhaps a little too introspective for its own good, at times… where melancholy seemingly becomes a tad too maudlin."