Album Review by David Smith, Global Musicians Fish Pond
Margo Rey – A Genre All of her Own
Source: Global Musicians Fish Pond
Born in Acapulco, Mexico, Margo Rey has a rich history in music; with a solid 10 year grounding in the classical style, at 16 she fronted rock band The Debs, and went on to lead Latin/Jazz/R&B band Miss Margo and the Lost Souls, with whom she achieved one top 5 and two top 20 pop releases. With a successful career in the theater, and releasing albums ‘My Heart’s Desire’ (2008) and ‘Get Back (The Remixes)’ (2010), her latest, ‘Habit’ (2012) is a beautiful mix of styles. With a genre all of her own, Margo describes her music – organica – as “…basically adult pop music that’s deeply rooted in jazz, with really, really funky grooves; and it’s created by humans, not machines”.
‘Habit’ features “Between Us”, as well as Billboard number 17 chart hit “Let the Rain”, co-written with John Oates, which remained in the charts for 21 weeks. You can listen to “Between Us” here as you read the review.
In so many ways, this album is an interesting work of art to review. Living up to the spirit of ‘organica’, there is so much variation in style, all tied together with Margo’s strong and beautiful vocal. I can only imagine the way these songs evolve when Margo performs them live.
Beginning the album with a strong and softly rocky title track, “Habit” is a perfect introduction to Margo in 2012. Inconspicuous, yet making its point:
“I want to love you, but now I’ve got to leave you,
creating a memory of the things we never did do…
wouldn’t you agree, that you’ve become a habit to me”
Building into the body of the album, it’s a catchy first number; toe-tapping, and reminiscent of late night live country music, dancing, and good times.
“Let the Rain”, featuring John Oates, brings a completely different mood; musically intelligent, and instrumentally well-composed, the lyrics are fascinating – clearly a song with a message. The chorus washes over you, much like the often-mentioned rain:
“So let them run and hide, I like a cloudy sky,
and let the rain wash over me”
Written in challenging times for Margo, as you can hear in her TV interviews, she is a woman who overcomes adversity and writes it out in strong songs like this one. There are particular lyrics in this song which I consider “daring” for a sweet and popular number:
“Winds blow round a plastic bag, a pile of leaves,
and a dirty mag; children yelling, playing tag,
A man lights up and takes a drag; what a drag”
These are not typical images I like to think about, and yet they offset the song beautifully, the rain washing all of these things away, to “sanctify me”. Another great example:
“Rainbow pools of gasoline, another city washes clean,
sparkling like a beauty queen”
I love it. The kind of lyric that isn’t particularly safe, and evokes the power of the title even more, images and colors and people of contrast painted into this powerful little song.
We move onto “Between Us” (also featured on Margo’s Fish Pond profile here). I have to confess, this is my favorite on the album. Right from the start, it makes the very best of Margo’s natural vocal talent, which she’s obviously worked hard to perfect over a long career. It’s catchy, the guitars and the little touch of country violin in the intro creating the perfect setting:
“We are not alone, you and I
Trying to make a home, but there’s something that stands between us”
From verse, to prechorus, to a lovely swelling chorus, this is a study in songwriting. Writing a popular song like this one is very much about being educated in what you’re doing as well as needing to have a natural gift. Creativity is a wonderful thing, but put it together with smarts as much at she has here, and you have a very pleasing number for public consumption, and a hit on your hands.
“What if I held you so close to me,
You wouldn’t see my faults,
And could you ever look at me the same
if you knew my thoughts,
I wanna give myself to you, without the fear of it all”
Equally beautiful, is the use of the violin in the solo and woven throughout the song, it feels like an often-told story. It’s a song I could listen to again and again.
“Get Back” is a completely different direction again; coming off the back of the big hit song on the album, it truly does “Get Back” to Margo’s roots; fast, funky, danceable, and introducing a mood for this two song sub-section of the album. Following on, “I Saw You” is liquid, smooth, and sweet, the funky bass holding down a solid groove, and a great chance for the band to excel and produce a true musicians track. It’s the type of music that would sit well in Ronnie Scott’s club in Soho. All musos, fine Scotch whiskey, and fat cigars as the band produces something truly organic.
“I’ll Give My Heart” transitions us back to pop; it’s a nicely produced ballad. Lyric of the day from this song for me was:
“It took some frog-kissing to prove I was,
I was missing the prince in you”
Throughout the album, Margo surprises with this type of sentiment. The true diamond lyrics are easy to miss in these well-crafted big-hitting songs, if you don’t take the trouble to read through them to understand what she’s singing about. It’s more than worth grabbing a lyric sheet to enhance your listening experience.
“Couldn’t Be More Wrong” fits and follows on, as another ballad which is easy to empathize with. Some of the easiest songs to absorb yourself in on a rainy Sunday are lyrically based on unrequited or cast-aside love. This song is moody and haunting, and uses beautiful strings, my favorite, the cello, providing backing.
“No passion to run wild, no longer fortune’s child,
Betrayed my hopes and all the trust that I had for you,
You’ve lost your fighter’s rage, and settled for a cage”
Once again it’s a strong message for the empowered, and beautifully delivered by Margo’s soulful tones.
It’s chased by “Saturn Returns”, the second John Oates collaboration on the album, poppy and upbeat, and a little reminiscent of Peter Gabriel and Genesis in their heyday.
The album takes a political turn with a little reggae feel, and “Plastic Karma”. Cheery and upbeat, yet not a “nice” message, it has to be said it’s good fun. With a serious side, the song is a challenge to “big business”, and in some ways maybe it reveals why Margo went the way she did with “Organica” and the Organica Music Group. Tired of answering to others and being boxed into a non-existent “genre”, and the overly-present focus on financial reward with little regard to humanity in “big business”, she took her own path. And this song feels like a celebration of her success in that, wishing “peace” and farewell to corporate America. It could apply to anything of that nature; the banking crisis and the mantra “too big to fail” (as she sings), or African or Middle Eastern politics, or the worst side of the music business; it’s well-written, and gets an important message across with a smile.
“Roses” is a sweetly heartfelt love song. Wait – no, of course it’s not! Deceptive in title, there are so many lyrics in here to dwell on. Not disturbing, but vengeful in an ironic way;
“Roses are red, violets are blue,
This is a song about me and you;
Violence is golden, revenge is sweet,
You threw me down but I’m back on my feet”
You can only wonder what caused this intensity of feeling. To me, it’s not even necessarily written to an individual; it could equally apply to other adversities in life which challenge, but can be, and have been, well and truly beaten.
“Off in the distance, the church bells ring
The blade sinks deeper and the angels sing;
The sheets turn red, your skin turns blue,
I kiss your lips and whisper “I loved you”"
But then again, it really feels like someone really messed with Margo, and got a lyrical beating in return. The thought makes me smile.
“10 Reasons” is back to that funky groove, rich with a head-nodding instrumental vibe. It’s a well-written pop song, and quotes the 10 reasons “why not” (“you want me to kiss you, tell you that I miss you”). It’s a fun listen, and by the end had me really into the vocal and band blend they’ve created.
The album is finished off with a couple of little gems hidden in Tracks 12 and 13. “You’ll Be Coming Back” is close to surfer rock, has a great beat, and feels like a return – musically – to her roots in Acapulco. “She’s Not There” is a delightful end to ‘Habit’; it’s so 60′s, and for me ties nicely to the surfer beat in “You’ll Be Coming Back”; it has me picturing the famous Travolta/Thurman dance scene in ‘Pulp Fiction’. It’s a mover and shaker all right, and the pre-chorus build with the title line, the song is reminiscent of all that was great and free about late-60′s rock and roll, and it gives me a smile as I think of dance hall images in black and white. Try it; it will make you want to get up and party for sure.
True to her word, in “Habit”, Margo has delivered a thoughtful and organic work of art. It’s intelligent, and it’s well put together, with some superb and varied musicians putting their creative best into the process. Lyrically, the message is often harsh, but with a wink and a smile that Margo is empowered, can cut through glass like a diamond, and is more than able to respond; in short, she’s going to be more than alright. The musical styles vary a huge amount, as you’d expect from a musician of Margo’s philosophy, so there is something for everyone on a long 13-track album; far from being chaotic, it’s knit together so well that the transitions really work. A great listen, and added to the “repeat plays” for me. Some might even say; “Habit” forming.
It’s a superb album, and most certainly deserves the accolades and chart positions it has achieved thus far.
- Review by David Smith, Global Musicians Fish Pond, March 31, 2013