Marla Mase – “Speak”

(Photo Credit: Bandcamp.com)

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Piece of Peace,” “Lionness”

Musician and activist Marla Mase’s new album “Speak” is lengthy – sixteen tracks that stretch into a long running time – but the album’s message is consistent. Mase has been making a name for herself as an activist-performer, writing songs about equality, peace and feminism and equating them with raw and multimedia performances. “Speak” delves and winds through many genres. Opener “Piece of Peace” is a building rock song, reminiscent of “Gloria,” the song that started off Patti Smith’s legendary “Horses” album, only with a much different and more peaceful message. Next is “Open Up My Heart,” a spoken word track, and “Dance the Tango” embraces reggae later on. There is no consistent genre of music, just consistent messages of peace and love. “Lioness” is easily the album’s most experimental song lyrically, a song about feminism that has Mase growling like a lioness (in tune with the song, too, which is pretty tough). Mase is joined by eight musicians on the album, that help to create the ambient twisting through genres. The instruments themselves are all traditional of rock and pop music – guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, etc. – but Mase’s inspiration lends to the blending that the musicians create.

Mase’s singing voice, on the whole, isn’t overly strong. Some songs are talk-sung, and as a singer she never attempts to make her voice the focal point in a song. Normally this wouldn’t be good for a solo singer, but Mase’s voice isn’t the point here. The lyrics to her songs have much more depth than most other pop/rock singers. Thankfully, the strongly poetic lyrics and consistent genre-switches easily save the album from sounding awkward because of this. Again, think Patti Smith. Smith’s lyrics are often stronger than her voice, and her music is more often successful than not. Mase channels a lot of activist singers (John Lennon, Midnight Oil, etc) but none more than an early Patti Smith. Mase’s message is clear, and while “Speak” might feel a little long and sound a little too apparent that Mase is a young artist, learning the ropes, it works as a consistent message and an engaging listen.

Mase is performing the mutimedia presentation of this album on August 17th (my birthday!) at the East River Park in NYC. Admission is free. The album “Speak” can be streamed here or here.

If you like this, try: Patti Smith’s album “Banga” from 2012. A great album that went relatively unnoticed.

-By Andrew McNally

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