Project Mercury
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Project Mercury

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Project Mercury are a band consisting of Marian Mastorilli (singer/songwriter/guitarist), Charlene Donohue (vocals/violin) and Craig Fox (lead guitar/vocals). They are a breath of fresh air in the Acoustic Rock scene, creating a unique sound that I find difficulty comparing to other artists. The band calls the CD a musical journey, from acoustic ballads to epic Middle-Eastern flavored rock, and they are not far off the mark.

"Family of Strangers" portrays a truth we don't often think about: how we grow apart from our families, not intentionally, but just because of the nature of existence. "Enemy Lines" reminds me of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War," not in the way it sounds but in the complex message it portrays. It is certainly a troubling song for the troubled times we live in.

Project Mercury quickly change pace with the jazzy, sultry "Faded Leather" lightening things up with a tune of a good girl doing bad things. The song is sexy and a real toe tapper.

Project Mercury have a gift for capturing sentiment through the use of what may seem a simple story. This is the case in "At Palisades." The Palisades was an amusement park just outside New York and the main character is remembering the park as a simile of lost youth. Ironically, as a child I often dreamed of visiting Palisades Park so this song has special meaning for me. The softness of the song reminds me of some of the things Heart did on their classic "Dog and Butterfly."

"If I Was a Child" is a pure rock number, again reminiscing about childhood.

I could take the time to analyze and tell the interesting story of every song on this release, instead I'll leave it by saying that this disc is definitely worth a listen. - Best Female Musicians


Light This Candle is the latest release from Project Mercury a four member crew based out of Nyack, New York. This female fronted band has crafted eleven originals that range from ballads to rockers many with a dash of Middle Eastern tones, jazz and progressive. Project Mercury endeavors to meld acoustic and classic rock with modern folk and the blues into compelling combinations. Their mission is accomplished on this innovative CD. Marian Mastrorilli and Charlene Donohue are both powerful singers with wide expressive vocal ranges. They can start at a whisper and build up to wail all in the journey of a song. Their lyrics are poetic and far reaching. Imagery of childhood, homelessness and evil are undertaken in songs that are dynamic with subtle instrumentation and textured tones. 'Family of Strangers' is the opening track featuring rich harmonizing vocals, violin accents and cool percussion including the conga. The lyrics are powerful in their truthfulness of how families drift apart. 'Please Don't' is the frightening account of a women trapped in her house with a serial killer. The song starts off deep and slow moving to a climatic end in which the heroin survives. The story is told with haunting instrumentation and convincing vocals. Project Mercury lights up the music universe with their most - Kweevak


NY based ensemble Project Mercury escorts the listener through an occasional brush with social consciousness to a seemingly more innocent time and place through their music. The moniker Project Mercury appears to be an ideal fit with its optimistic reference to the imminent NASA mission of its time. The music and subject matter creat a seamless blend of captivating the targeted audience with its down-to-earth, yet occasional dreamy feel. - JavaMusik Blogspot


Don't forget Warwick Valley Winery's annual Dylan Tribute, May 28th-30th. I'm looking forward to bellowing along with Project Mercury's killer cover of "I Shall Be Released." - Acoustic Live


Diverse and absolutely lovely, Project Mercury have crafted 11 genuinely beautiful songs on their album “Light This Candle.” However, when you go along for the ride, seeking out a full album as opposed to a collection of songs, “Light This Candle” seems to lose its song-based prowess and begins feeling more like a disjointed anthology than a smooth beginning-to-end journey.

Each song on “Light This Candle” stands beautifully as its own entity, each spirit crafted with precision, every note virtually flawless. Within Project Mercury lies not only an acoustic rock band, but a female-fronted Led Zeppelin (sumptuous, powerful rhythms and twinges of Middle Eastern influences), a campfire folk duo, a sultry jazz combo, and an ethereal goth band. Utilizing bass, guitar, drums, violin, keys, and various percussion instruments, Project Mercury manage to explore a wide-ranging spectrum of sounds, continuously adding to their compelling melodies and lyrics. Each musician on the album is proficient, each instrument blending seamlessly with the next. On tracks where the instrumentation is slightly heavier, the production stands strong. Each instrument is heard clearly. Thankfully, nothing is overshadowed or lost in the mix.

Marian Mastrorilli, Project Mercury’s primary lyricist and vocalist, is terrifically proficient in both her creation and delivery. Each verse is more refined than the next, the whole album ringing of genuine emotion. The pain, joy, lust and love are all tangible after only one listen, and the vocal delivery, be it Marian’s or Charlene Donahue’s, helps to further the emotive impacts of “Light This Candle.” With lyrics like “It’s been forever/Since her body was her own/ And days revolved around/ A whisper and a moan/ The years they go so fast/ The hours go so slow/ How future turned to past/ She’ll never, never know” (Champagne Afternoon), Project Mercury have a place with some of today’s finest songwriters.

As absolutely wonderful as the songs are, they have no connection. It could be the production/mixing style, or it could even be the fact that some of the tracks were written in 1995 and are therefore naturally disconnected from the newer material. Regardless of what the problem may be, the flow is ultimately ‘off.’ The second track, “On Enemy Lines,” is a sonic tribute to Led Zeppelin, with a ferocious rhythm and guitar work echoing the influences of the Mid-East. Its descendant, “Faded Leather,” is a breathy Norah Jones-esque take. In three words: sexy, sexy, sexy ! “Faded Leather” is what you get when you put down the (moral) wall, and let that leather do its work. Both songs are things of beauty on their own, but one after the other, they are too drastically different to really click. As “Light This Candle” progresses, the flow becomes slightly more natural, but it never loses its distracting transitions.

It may not be the ideal for those who seek out a seamless soundscape, but “Light This Candle” is an amazing showcase of individual songs, crafted expertly by the talented members of Project Mercury. - Muse's Muse


I recently sat down with some of the members of Project Mercury, Marian, Charlene, and Craig. We had a great chance to chat in the quiet of a yoga meditation center and talked about everything from the band's unique style to the completely unplugged acoustic show they had just performed. This is a band who are well grounded and know what they want out of the future.

Marian and Charlene have been working together for quite a while, while Craig joined the band about eight months ago to fill out the current line up. Marian and Charlene were working mostly with Rock musicians and the harmonies that are so prevalant in Project Mercury's sound were lost in this atmosphere so they took some time to retool and find the current line up that fit the style of music they want to play. Charlene's violin was lost in the rock sound and it was something Marian considered important for the current sound. Charlene is formally trained in violin and is somewhat stage shy as comes across when you see the band perform. I must say this shyness is unfounded once you hear her play.

She found her current sound when she saw a rock band using violin. after the show she immediately went home and popped in her Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd CDs and started playing along. She soon found that there was a place for violin in this type of music. She is still working on the logistics of using a traditional violin in a rock setting but is feeling more comfortable all the time. She even jokes that her pick up sometimes falls out of the violin and she is toying with the idea of going to an electric violin, but my intuition tells me that this is something that she will do reluctantly, if in fact, she does choose to move to an electric violin.

Marian is the driving force behind the band doing about 90% of the writing , but as the band members become more comfortable together they work on compositions together and they are collaborating more and more on the arrangements. Marian says she never wanted it to be her band, she wanted a band where everyone worked together. they are still in the process of finding their places together and collaborations will become easier as time moves along.

They love the studio because it is so exacting and gives the opportunity to work and rework pieces until they are perfect. Marian jokes about a track Charlene was laying down in the studio and says they had this great chocolate cake waiting for them but she would not let Charlene have a piece until her track was laid down correctly. I personally can think of no better motivation than a piece of good cake.

They are a somewhat grass roots foundation doing their own PR and CD promotion.

They tell me CD sales are soft which amazes me when I hear the CD. Reviewers compare Project Mercury to bands from Led Zeppelin to Aimee Mann, but, in my opinion they draw comparison to no one. They have a unique sound that must be heard to be appreciated.

Marian lists Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, and Coldplay as bands she is listening to right now. Charlene considers Alisson Krauss and Nickel Creek as major influences. These bands make for quite a soup and help to explain the eclectic nature of Project Mercury's music. Craig lists The Jayhawks, and a lot of country music as his influences.

Marian sums the band's philosophy up perfectly by saying, "enjoy the ride, and savor the ride, which is a line from one of their songs. She says they are not necessarily looking for fame and fortune but would enjoy being a big fish in a little pond. It is this reviewers opinion that Project Mercury is carving out a sound that will make them successful at whatever level they choose to rise to. This is a band that is absolutely worth a listen regardless of what your musical genre of choice may be. They are also well grounded people who are enjoying making music and enjoying the ride, and this comes across clearly when you speak to the band. LISTEN TO THEM! - Best Female Musicians


If the quintessential "girl next door" were real, I would nominate Marian Mastrorilli as one among the sisters of that category. On first meeting, Mastrorilli came across as a wholesome, thoughtful, energetic and loving human being. She is the kind of person I would want as a friend. Since she lives in the Hudson Valley, it is entirely possible that we will forge a friendship. What is entirely probable is that I will become among those who populate her audiences.

Marian Mastrorilli is a singer-songwriter who loves to rock, as does her band, Project Mercury. She will tell you, straight up, that her music is rooted in classic '70's rock. I will tell you, that however grounded she may be in the pop music of that era, the songs she writes and performs are deeply personal stories that define our collective experiences as men and woman who have lived - and survived - the crucible of our follies, foibles, flings and fancies. She writes simple, straightforward prose that, when coupled with melody, flows like poetry. She sings with an instrument that is pure silk, and whose timbre changes, chameleon-like, to support the many-faceted faces of the characters she portrays in these illuminations of a life.

Mastrorilli's band, Project Mercury, has released adebut CD called Light This Candle. Let me be clear, here, that the musicians, the back-up vocalist and the orchestrations are first rate from the first note to the last. This may be a freshman effort, but there can be no doubt that Mastrorilli has the confidence of a bandleader born to the craft. She has surrounded herself with magnificently talented musicians, each of whom brings the perfect tone, the perfect touch, to the eleven original and varied tracks on the CD. Backing vocalist and violinist Charlene Donohue possesses a clarion, sonorous voice that she uses to powerful effect in a solo that opens the CD's second track, Enemy Lines. Mastrorilli backs her in the chorus, and then together their voices alternate the lead and the backing in a provocative call to arms that bristles with the power of a Mother Courage leading her rag-tag crew through the madness of the War of the Roses. (In the '70's, The Performance Group presented Brecht's Mother Courage at the Performing Garage on Wooster Street in Soho. Thirty years later, Donohueand Mastrorilli deliver Enemy Lines with stark, propagandistic force. The metronomic pulse of tenor-toned drumbeats reinforces the message. The effect is Brechtian.)

Mastrorilli follows up with a decadent rumination about a time in her life, when she broke out of her girl next door parochial school upbringing, to sample some of life's, shall we say, exotic delights. The first chorus of Faded Leather states the theme without apology:

Faded leather
And a certain attitude
Faded leather
What was a girl to do (when faced with)
Faded leather
Add a fifth of rye
Just the thing to get me through the night

Then she does a complete one-eighty and delivers a delicately poignant acoustic reminiscence of a classic American amusement park from her childhood, the now-defunct and long-gone Palisades Amusement Park:

From the side of the road I still look twice
Get caught in the spell of carnival lights
Chalk it up to the way I was raised
A regular at Palisades

Then it is another one-eighty as Project Mercury glides into If I Was a Child, a paean to the classic anthemic power rockers of a quarter century ago. The liner notes credit Mastrorilli's husband, Eric Rosenberg, as composer to her lyrics. Again. Charlene Donohue provides perfect backing vocals and violin lines that override the orchestrations to just the right degree.

In sum, Light This Candle showcases a fine Valley-based artist who merits our attention. Mastrorilli is a prolific songwriter, and Project Mercury is headed in the right direction. According to the songwriter - and to the CD's title track - that direction is up. Perhaps even straight up.
- Hudson Valley Arts & Lives


zoe's essentials this week feature:
project mercury with "down to earth" - thanks to marian mastrorilli for sending in this EP... knowing full well you all fit like a glove here on radioioACOUSTIC ;) ACO fans rejoice there is SO much great music from indie artists to be heard! my fave here is "why do i" - everyone's eternal question - well sung! - radioioAcoustic


Discography

Down To Earth, 5 original songs and a cover of Dylan's I Shall Be Released, released independently in 2005.

Light This Candle, 11 original songs, released independently in 2002. Received airplay on over 60 stations.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

The band officially launched in '98 when singer-songwriter Marian Mastrorilli teamed up with violinist-vocalist Charlene Donohue. After spending a year backed by an electric rock band, the duo went acoustic to allow their intricate harmonies, violin and sensitive lyrics to shine. Guitarist Craig Fox signed on in January '03, and cellist Jeanne Fox added to their evolution in January '05, transforming Project Mercury into a string quartet!

PM is harmonious both literally and personally, with a camaraderie that comes across onstage. Three distinct voices take turns in the spotlight and back one another for lush harmonies: Marian's airy soprano, Charlene's earthy alto and Craig's rich baritone. Jeanne's cello and basslines interweave with violin over a backdrop of solid acoustic guitar work.

Project Mercury's 6-song mini-CD Down to Earth, released in the spring of '05, features the earnest acoustic sound of the band's days as a trio, before Jeanne joined up. Their first CD Light This Candle, released in '02, uses full production and arrangements to showcase roots in 70's rock and singer-songwriter balladry. It gained airplay on over 60 radio stations, including WFUV, WNTI, WFDU and WVKR.

The band has built a solid reputation by performing steadily at festivals and venues throughout NY and NJ, including a winning songwriter's slot at the NJ Folk Festival's New Folk Showcase in '02. Their tri-state travels have taken them as far north as Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY to south Jersey's The Saint in Asbury Park. They have shared bills with Sarah Lee Guthrie, Mark Erelli, Jen Chapin, Cliff Eberhardt, Galdalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, Terence Martin, Sloan Wainwright and regional colleagues Pat Wictor and Red Molly.

For fans of Crowded House, Alison Krauss, Queen, early Elton John, Tori Amos, R.E.M., Indigo Girls, Kate Bush, Aimee Mann, Heather Nova, Sinead O'Connor, Fleetwood Mac, Vienna Teng, Pretenders, Ben Folds, Joe Jackson; and regional acts We're About 9 and The Kennedys.