Marina Evans first full length album Unbound reflects the high level of quality and self-assurance that comes with experience in music and in life. Many of her songs have a haunting quality, as if there is an underlying spirit driving them on beneath the voice and music. Evans also composes her songs so they have interesting, engaging rhythmic twists. No matter, though, which technique she employs, genre she borrows from, or inflection she sings in, Evans has come up with a complete artistic expression of where she is today.
Evans’ silky smooth vocal on opening cut “Not Blind” glides over her sensitive melodies so lightly, it’s like a gentle kiss to the ears. She emotes with only a soft croon that contrasts well with an incisive lead guitar edge and a wellspring of organ. Her way of belting, singing with more aggression without getting a harsher timbre, intrigues as she projects a lot of feeling, without overwhelming the listener with unnecessary wailing. The way the piano and rhythm section walk this right up to the listener is loaded with the coolest allure.
“California” has a gritty roots quality in the banjo notes that ride out at their own special pace beneath the vocal glide. A sprawling, clean electric guitar line, and other embraceable sounds make for good stepping stones for Evans to move over. Her silky voice stretches out with breezy smoothness and an easygoing expression of feeling. She’s a master of using self-restraint to keep a lid on her power, which makes her song a more powerful expression, her power simmering just beneath the surface.
In “Borderline,” Evan’s sweet voice rides a dreamy vocal line in beautiful partnership with a tender electric guitar melody. Building some solid drama as she climbs the narrative arc, Evans makes you feel this number grow in power as she moves along. It’s another fine display of self-restraint and tasteful phrasing.
Evan comes grooving in, hip and smooth, on “Turtleshell Eyes.” She finesses well the spaces in between the cool acoustic rhythm guitar peaks and valleys, finding the best moments to chime in vocally. This might be her radio hit. It’s very engaging and involving. One cannot stop responding to the lilting, marching groove while the voice and instrumentation offers dollops of hip engagement. A blustery horn appears and makes things even cooler as Evans showcases some really soulful coos and sustains.
“One Way Or The Other” comes in slow, gentle, resonating in the mind with the quiet beauty of Evan’s voice and an assortment of emotive instruments. Piano chords take their time, echoing out the forlorn feelings of this number. Acoustic guitar notes here seem designed by nature to express an extra line of tenderness beneath the piano. Everything comes together perfectly around Evans’ heartfelt expressions, like a mother’s arms holding a child, like a painter getting every detail just right.
“Stand On Two Feet” finds Evans singing beautifully, her vocal, high and smooth, riding out as gently as a cloud, as purposeful as a march. This song soon reveals its swagger, building up in well chosen moments, then chugging along with Evans’ driving energy. Her voice is mirrored in a clean, wiry guitar phrase that gives off an abundant, mountainous sound, reflecting solid song craft, an ability to build drama and tension while maintaining discipline and resolute soul.
“The Way” rides in on a carpet of tender acoustic notes while Evans’ voice maintains a low key presence. She lets her vocal practically glide through her lyrics, singing over an enticing, vigorous rhythm. She creates as much dramatic feeling as two gunfighters approaching each other with hands over holsters. Then, she suddenly shifts gears, letting the music briefly soften, crooning as sweet and easeful as honey. It’s impossible to stop listening to this piece because Evans loads it up with these intriguing twists.
“Waking Life” moves forward with an authoritative bop that carries well its jazzy instrumentation and swinging vocal lift. Evans uses a lot of her advanced vocal finesse to move her voice around within this number like a whirling dervish. It’s also jammed packed with snappy grooves born out of Evans’ uncanny rhythmic skills.
“Lady America” rocks right in with electric and acoustic guitars in a brisk, flinty weave. Smokin’ organ swirls compliment well as Evans belts with massive enthusiasm her witty, sarcastic lyrics about how the powers that be are manipulating us on a routine basis. The lyrics here are direct and to the point, and Evans rides that pointed attitude in true rock and roll spirit. She’s kicking butts and taking names here.
Title track “Unbound” closes out Evans’ album with her vocal gently but strongly emoting, a powerful presence over quiet but lovely acoustic guitar, violin, and piano notes. This balladry approach lets Evans stretch out lyrically and musically, building a huge arc of emotion and drama as her voice climbs to ever greater and prettier expressions of meaning.
Unbound feels like its title suggests. Evans clearly feels free to use whichever technique, genre, and instrument as colors in her palette to achieve the musical experience she seeks. She uses rock’s aggression when she wants her song to have kick. She infuses other songs with jazz inflection to make them move freely. She even relies on flamenco structures to add more snap to her rhythmic thrusts. There is much to enjoy on Evans’ Unbound album, and all of it comes together as a nice, wholesome, fully realized reflection of an artist who knows where she wants to go.