Angels of War is not the album I was expecting from Christine Martucci, in a couple of ways.
I had read on her web site, christinemartucci.com, that the seven-track EP “tells tales of her struggles to find solace as a lesbian during her 10-year stint in the US Army at the height of the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ period, to her battle to recover and regain sanity after an attempt to take her own life, to her spiritual awakening, and finally — to finding peace.” That’s a pretty specific description of an album’s subject matter, and yet I find the songs themselves light on the kind of autobiographical details that would make all that clear.
I also knew the Readington native and longtime Asbury Park music scene member’s defining musical characteristic, previously, to be her powerful, almost Janis Joplin-esque voice. But this album is gentler and more reflective in tone than I expected. There’s still grit to her vocals, but also quite a bit of restraint. It’s almost the kind of album they used to call “soft rock,” in the ’70s.
Neither of these “surprises” are bad things. The songs may be inspired by personal experiences, but they feel universal, and Martucci’s willingness to let these songs simmer, instead of building to an emotional crescendo every time, has resulted in an album of great variety and subtlety.
It also lets Martucci give each song a distinct personality: “Come Inside” feels like a late-night, heart-to-heart talk, the half-rapped “Free Sweet Freedom” is a joyful celebration. And it helps allow the album’s supporting musicians to make a big impact. “Here I Am” is practically a duet between Martucci and harmonica player James Dalton; Reagan Richards’ backing vocals on “Piece of Heaven” push the song towards soul-gospel territory.
Overall, this is a very strong release from a Jersey artist who really seems to be coming into her own.
Martucci will perform at a CD release party for Angels of War, April 4 at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, with doors opening at 7:30 p.m. Proceeds will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.