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Oh Sweet Tragedy (...anthems from the ashes)
Artist: Sonia V 
Label: Relive Records
Length: 11 tracks / 49:47

To some people Sonia V's Oh Sweet Tragedy might sound a lot like Stryper with a female vocalist - and there are some good reasons for that. The music is good strong melodic pop-metal combining positive life-issue lyrics with specifically Christian themes. The production is crunchy enough to have an edge but clean enough for a good radio presence, and Sonia herself - with jet-black hair and Goth-light wardrobe - has a vocal style that separates her from the 'safer' front-women of Christian rock, but not so far as to make her music inaccessible. 

Oh, yeah - her back-up band happens to consist of McKendree Agustas (keys and effects), Derek Kerswill (drums), Tracy Ferrie on bass, and a guy named Michael Sweet on guitars. For those of you that have been keeping score, Ferrie is the bass player on Stryper's current studio CD, Murder By Pride, and Sweet is... well-- is Michael Sweet! His signature guitar sound (as well as his uniquely recognizable vocals on the duet, "Meet Me in the Middle")  immediately places Oh Sweet Tragedy on the 'hmmm - maybe I should give this a shot' list for any Stryper fan. Sonia V wears the Stryper influence almost literally on her black leather sleeves, as she belts out power ballads and pop-metal anthems that wouldn't sound too far out of left field on a Stryper project. In other words, having Sweet on Sweet Tragedy is no tragedy at all. As a matter of fact it's pretty sweet.

Okay - that gets the puns out of the way..... 

Sonia Vannest (hence, the 'V') co-produced the project as well as having written and arranged all of the songs. Add to this the fact that she's a formidable vocalist, and Sonia proves herself a considerable quadruple-threat, at the very least. Songs like the pop/metal/gospel/funk opus, "Sing me a Halleluiah" and the afore-mentioned anthem, "Meet Me in the Middle," reveal  good songwriting skills, plenty of hooks, and a smart approach to production. "2nd Place" features a Billy Idol-esque snarling vocal by Sonia and a nice, nasty guitar attack by Sweet. Tracks like "Hold On" are big, arena-ready rock songs in the Bon Jovi mold - a sing-along with a big hooky chorus that's tailor-made for an encore with glowing cell phones swaying from side to side.  

The Big Ballad here (and you knew one was lurking) is "Beauty For Ashes," a song that shows the more sensitive side of Sonia V, without betraying the edge of the project. The track certainly shows that this is a song writer capable of producing some very radio-friendly tunes. The power tracks continue without missing a beat with the last quartet of titles, highlighted by the Stryper-like "Free," the aggressively positive "Pocket Full of Posies," (a return to the 'beauty for ashes' theme with a more rock & roll sensibility), and the radio edit of the catchy opener, "Begin Again."

There might be those that will see Oh Sweet Tragedy as a bit too derivative of Stryper, but Sonia V has managed to create an album that's still good enough to stand on its own merit - and she certainly succeeds in giving us a commercial-sounding pop-metal project that avoids the 'pretty front-girl' syndrome of some recent product out of Nashville. Occasionally the vocals might be a bit too mannered for some tastes (including mine) but Oh Sweet Tragedy manages to deliver the sweet while successfully avoiding the saccharine. Sonia's an artist to keep your eye on.

Bert Saraco 


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