Album Review: Marina V – Born to the Stars

Marina V

photo by Franz Salvatierra; photo courtesy of Marina V

Marina V is an international, award-winning singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles. Her music has been featured in television shows and movies. You’ve probably heard some of her music without realizing who wrote or performed it. She’s one of those L.A. artists, one of the performers who is one right place-at-the-right time away from being a household name. Suffice it to say, she’s exceptionally talented. Of course, I discovered her music and became a fan in much the same way you may be now, randomly finding a review or a music clip and, after a bit of investigation and song-sampling, realizing I had stumbled across someone special.

Marina V

photo by Erik Fischer; photo courtesy of Marina V

Longtime Blog readers may also recall that Marina was one of the artists I featured in the nine-part “Road Back to Music Journalism” series I wrote to launch this Blog in the fall of 2015. This CD and house concert review was item number five on my nine-part journey back. The follow-up to that album, Inner Superhero, is Marina’s new release, Born to the Stars.

Album Review of Marina V: Born to the Stars

Marina’s voice is strong and versatile. Her trademark is a quickly-identifiable, breathy vocal delivery, and many of her popular songs are the slow-tempo, soaring songs you’d expect to contain those vocals. A 10-song album format, however, can show her range and versatility, as she mixes rocker power and uptempo pop styles that reflect the variety of influences you’d expect from an artist with Marina’s clear star power – that transcendent quality you know is there but can’t quite pin down. Born to the Stars explores the rough-edged rocker influences, the pop hookiness, the hint of pop-danceable energy, all while remaining rooted in classical influences (she’s a pianist, after all) and folky traces that creep into her keyboard- and guitar-driven ballad and light pop-rock tracks. As is the case with so many of my favorite artists, Marina V has an identifiable core sound while incorporating a variety of influences.

Marina V - Born to the Stars

cover photo by Evelina Pentcheva; image courtesy of Marina V

The new album kicks off with power and authority, the initial release off the album (supported by a video sporting cameos from a lot of A-list [and B-list] musicians singing along to the music), the title track, “Born to the Stars” (featuring Árstíðir). Marina’s voice can be so sweet and crystal clear that it’s nice when she balances the softer songs with tracks like this one, a stadium-filling rock ‘n roll song with a vocal edge. There’s an ’80s pop flavor and an Imagine Dragons-esque soaring-music-wall roar providing the arena-caliber bigness, with Marina’s rich, tuneful vocal carving the melody weaving through the big sound. Indeed, this is either a concert-opener or an encore song, one that’s meant to bring a crowd to its feet.

Marina V

photo by Erik Fischer; photo courtesy of Marina V

The following “I Am Iron” is a nice transition to the softer songs on the album. It’s edgy, with dance-pop/rock-type of power and some of the soft, sweet, clearly soaring power vocals just a handful of vocalists can pull off.

It’s that softening of the vocal the leads well into the ever-softer, more saccharinely-pleading “Be My Light.” The expressive, emotional vocals are extraordinarily classical in nature, as is the piano. You can imagine a music video with a grand piano, a mostly-empty ballroom with large windows, curtains flowing in the breeze, perhaps a starry sky outside. Yes, it’s one of those grand, big, sweeping ballads. Classical-driven popular music.

Marina V

photo by Emily Hanley; photo courtesy of Marina V

Next up is “Together Alone,” another favorite of mine, this one a folky soft pop swayer that serves as a commentary on the solitude of modern life.

And then the album gets super-ballady for a while, soaring behind Marina’s vocal power, all the while maintaining lightness and conveying tremendous emotion. “Fire in the Sky” has some of that booming pop-balladness (the sound that often recalls bands like Imagine Dragons for me). “Beautiful Forever” is so sweet, strong, and touching. “Good” has one of those big-empty-room, piano-ballady openings, which the richness of Marina’s soft vocal carrying the day as it displays both fragility and determined strength in support of its emotional message.

Marina V

photo by Erik Fischer; photo courtesy of Marina V

“Bring It On” picks up where “Good” left off, but this time sporting a rhythmic music bed of soft pop power carrying the emotional rises and falls.

“Autumn Song” is the Russian-language song in this collection. And perhaps it’s just me, but with the rhythm of the music and Marina’s pianowork, this makes me think of a song that might accompany a ballerina music box. Or perhaps, at a fancy costume ball, it might be played during a dramatic ballroom dance.

Marina closes the collection with a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The soft edges of her voice and the unique tempo Marina uses in her phrasings sometimes become most apparent when she covers other people’s songs, and they’re what make her covers truly unique, identifiably Marina V. This is one of those Marina V covers I enjoy immensely as its own song, even though the original is so iconic. (Her cover of Scorpions’ “Wind of Change,” which appears on her extended 2017 release of Inner Superhero, is another such tune.)

Marina V

photo courtesy of Marina V

In the end, the rock ‘n roll power at the beginning of Born to the Stars and the softer, more balladic and slower tempo power that inhabits the middle and latter portions of the album result in a satisfying, beginning-to-end listen. They showcase the talent that has earned Marina a fair level of recognition within the music business and has garnered her music placement in video productions. You’ll wonder why you’ve never heard of her before. Of course, that’s the reason for this review – to introduce you to one of those top-shelf talents who’s still flying somewhat under the radar. Seriously, give this album a listen, sample some of Marina’s music. You’ll be glad you did.

Looking Ahead

Marina V

photo by Amelia Yokel; photo courtesy of Marina V

I can also vouch for her exceptional live shows. Whether in an intimate setting or on a big stage, Marina V delivers a rock concert performance you’ll long remember.

Check out the “Tour” page of Marina’s website for upcoming shows, and check back regularly as she adds new dates. Currently, the only spring shows listed are an April 22nd afternoon gig in Woodland Hills, CA and a May 11th show (opening for Tiffany) in Big Bear Lake, CA. Marina’s summer shows scheduled so far are June 23rd at The South Bay Festival of the Arts in Torrance, CA; a June 24th “Concert at My House” (these intimate dinner concerts sound fun!) in Valencia, CA; and an August 3rd through 5th sequence of shows in Big Bear Lake, CA (3rd), Mesquite, NV (4th), and Las Vegas, NV (5th). Since I’ve been following her music the last few years, I’ve noticed that Marina plays frequently on the west coast, regularly in and around Illinois (where she got her U.S. start), and periodically books European tours. Catch her when you can, and on the rarer occasions you find her performing elsewhere, be absolutely sure not to miss her.

Marina’s Patreon

Marina also has a “2 Songs a Month Club” via Patreon. For as little as $1 per song ($2 per month), you’ll receive 2 songs each month. Of course, greater pledges earn greater rewards. Her club members received the Born to the Stars album when it was released. Of course, some of the songs were monthly releases along the way. Rather interesting was being able to witness a couple steps of the evolution of “I Am Iron” via the club. Once you’ve discovered Marina’s music, it’s a neat way to support a new favorite musician. She’s not the only musician doing this, but I really do like the approach of offering a new song or two each month, as Marina has adopted, as a Patreon format.

The Road Back #5: Marina V

The Road Back to Music Journalism #5: Marina V’s House Concert in Boston

First CD Purchase Directly from Artist; First House Concert

Spring and Summer 2014

Marina V

photo by Emily Hanley; photo courtesy of Marina V

The Backstory

I believe I first discovered Marina V via ReverbNation. The website has rankings based on its users’ listening habits and preferred artists. Occasionally during the early days of my music rediscovery when I was actively searching for new music, I would check the charts of major entertainment cities (Los Angeles, New York, Boston, etc.), figuring if someone was among the best there, perhaps they were worth checking out. Marina V sat high among those rankings in Los Angeles. Upon hearing her music, I was quickly impressed. In the spring of 2014, after listening to Marina V’s songs that were available for free download for several months, I ordered her Inner Superhero CD. It was the first CD I had ordered online directly from an artist. A few months later, I attended a house concert hosted by one of Marina’s supporters in Boston. It was an intimate affair; in fact, during the evening Marina commented that it may have been the lowest attendance she’d had at a house concert. But a small event with before- and after-concert mingling (much like a backstage event at a concert, but much smaller) was a great initial house concert experience.

Why This Was a Step on the Road Back

This was my first CD purchase directly from an artist, which is nice. The house concert was a bigger deal, as it was the first extended time I’ve had to talk with one of the musicians I had discovered since returning. To that point, my circle of music contacts still consisted entirely of people I had gotten to know during my first stint in the music business. But the house concert sparked a desire for the first time to write a live review of the concert or to arrange an interview to help the deserving musician-in-question get more exposure, to the extent I could, wishing with greater desire than I had for years that I still published a newsletter with distribution within the music industry. So yes, this was another step that increased my desire to get back into writing/publishing.

Marina V and Nick Baker

Nick Baker and Marina V; photo by Milena Wilbur

House Concert review

The house concert was fun, but I didn’t take notes and didn’t plan to write about it, so the review will be minimal and purely from memory. It was a small event, with everyone bringing snacks and wines, a lot of mingling before and after the show. At such a small event, Marina and her guitarist/husband/co-collaborator Nick Baker were able to have nice chats with everyone in attendance. Some of the attendees had discovered Marina many years earlier and had attended many similar events, so they were recalling old times. The show itself was quite energetic and dynamic, especially considering the size of the venue. Marina played favorites old and new. There was audience participation, including the passing around of small tambourines. Indeed, “Sunshine Guaranteed” was a big crowd-pleaser. And I was particularly impressed with the acoustic arrangement she and Nick were able to come up with for one of her more rocking songs, “Win.” Overall, an outstanding performance, one worthy of any venue from a living room to a concert hall.

As a side note, during this tour, Marina produced a tour documentary, Enjoy the Ride, chronicling the journey back and forth across the country, including event and tourist stops along the way. If you take a look at the trailer, you’ll even get a glimpse of your intrepid publisher from the 1:09 to 1:13 marks. (I put down my glass of wine, take a camera out of my pocket, and pick up my glass of wine. I think you’ll find the acting to be superb and believable, most likely because I didn’t realize I was being filmed.)

CD review of Marina V: Inner Superhero

Marina V

image courtesy of Marina V

Marina V’s Inner Superhero album is another step forward in what was already an award-winning independent music career filled with memorable songs. As a performer and songwriter, Marina remains one of LA’s award-winning best kept secrets, at least beyond her lucky core market, though the fan base she has built through the years is admittedly relatively large for a still-independent musician. Musically, Marina’s songs tend to be mostly soft rock, though she proves on occasion she can clearly really rock a room when she decides to; vocally, she tends to be a mix of sweet and sultry, while occasionally unleashing her vocal power.

The first four songs on Inner Superhero showcase Marina’s stylistic range. The album kicks off with “Hello,” a song that opens with piano then builds to persistent, pleading musical and vocal power. It’s a great kickoff, followed by “Run,” which may be the best song to start with if you haven’t previously heard her music. This is an extremely well-written soft pop/rock number that ought to grace soft rock radio playlists. The verses open with effective use of Marina’s trademark breathy, sultry vocals, then build along with the music. The verses, the chorus, the transitions… this is songwriting! But that’s not the song that won me over. Instead, it was the following song, “Win,” that convinced me of Marina’s versatility, talent, ability to occupy a broad enough range of musical space to produce an album that would appeal to a broad audience and that would have staying power across multiple listens. Dude, “Win” has some chops. It’s an attitude-filled, mid-tempo, arena-worthy anthem that would be an excellent choice for an ESPN college tournament end-of-day sports montage. Fourth track “Stand,” meanwhile, is a powerful piano ballad with a message that features some of Marina’s soaring vocals. The rest of the album remains solid, as well. Depending on my mood and time of day, one of those might also be my favorite. “Stand,” for example, is perhaps the most powerful ballad on the disc. And Marina’s delivery-with-a-smile adds something really special on light, cheerful tracks like “Light Up the Dark” and “Say Hello.” In fact, watch this video of “Say Hello.” Between the cheerful song and video, I guarantee you’ll be grinning from ear to ear.

Considering her talents, Marina may have an interesting dilemma in her career, though it’s one I think she can navigate easily enough if she maintains the sort of balance found on Inner Superhero. Her distinctive vocal style lends itself to almost-folky soft-pop/rock in such a way that she likely has built a significant fan base that clamors for that sort of song; meanwhile, she has the versatility as a singer and songwriter to reach farther and wider with her music, occupying the much broader singer/songwriter (and occasionally rockin’ signer/songwriter) category. I suspect a mix as found on Inner Superhero can satisfy both audiences; I, of course, count myself among those who, while appreciating a mix of the softer stuff (and she does deliver it amazingly), think Marina really sets herself apart when she mixes in the occasional more rocking number like “Win.” Combine Marina’s world-class songwriting with her vocal and performance style that seems to connect directly from artist to each individual listener (whether live, on video, or on her recordings), and she’s just “exposure” away from much greater success.

Marina V with her Hollywood International Entertainment Award

photo courtesy of Marina V

Marina’s 2-Songs-a-Month Club via Patreon

I just thought I should share that I am a supporter of Marina V via her 2-songs-a-month club, albeit at the most minimal level. Because I “joined her club” while I was not an active music journalist, I plan to continue to honor this commitment going-forward. From a broader perspective — listen up independent musicians — this is a great idea, one that allows her supporters to pledge as little as one dollar per song (which is two dollars per month) in exchange for two songs a month. I think this is something other independent musicians should consider duplicating, if it suits their schedule and career objectives. Marina releases one new original and one new cover song each month. I suspect other artists who may not be such prolific songwriters could substitute a heavier mix of covers, if necessary. As a result, for artists with a large enough following, this could provide a reliable source of secondary income in addition to the usual performance, recording, and merchandise income that’s typically more sporadic. Something to consider, though if you, as a musician, do something like this, you’ll need to dependably follow through. After all, you’re making a commitment to your fans when you do this.

In any case, now that I’ve returned to music journalism, this isn’t the sort of thing I will be signing up for from any other artists. At the same time, since I committed to support Marina while I was still a “civilian,” I will continue. I felt it was important to reveal this support; at the same time, now that I’m a journalist again, please don’t expect me to support your music in the same way, no matter how much I like it. As a journalist, I now have other ways to show my support. But yes, of course, I will gladly honor commitments I made while I wasn’t a journalist. (This is the only remaining one of those commitments.)