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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Mama Sutra


Review by Vivian Lee

Mama Sutra is an independent acoustic trio from Raleigh, North Carolina. Formed in 1998, the present lineup is Rick Frye (lead and backing vocals), Jeff Tinling (guitar and backing vocals), and Jason Schmidt (percussion, drums, keyboards, fretless bass, guitars, and backing vocals). Their appropriately named debut, Three, consists of fourteen tracks that reflect the group's absorption of 'everything except country and polka', says Schmidt.

Three features short, sweet, folksy tunes with midrange tenor vocals, guitars, gentle percussion, and muted bass. The band plays in tight unison, with no vocal acrobatics or heavy grooves, just intricate melodies with a deceptively simple structure.

The advisory on the back reads "Listening to this CD with headphones, candles, incense, and dimmed lights is highly recommended". Having listened to it, I wouldn't dispute that. Mama Sutra is an acquired taste. If you give them a listen, they'll leave a good aftertaste in your ears. Three is available via mail order for US $10 + $2.00 S/H and at local shows. For more information, email

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 2 at

Track by Track Review
Starting with upbeat guitar picking, this song features the melody of Frye's vocals along with Schmidt's and Tinling's, especially in the chorus. "Here I lie upon the ground, Beasts are gathered all around, Eyes are peeled, chops are licked, Waiting for a bone to pick'. The song ends with a sharp silent space, then the echo of percussion instruments.
Diggin' Ditches
In a slower tempo than Beasts, 'Diggin' Ditches showcases cooperating guitars; one plucking a melody, the other playing a low rhythmic part along with restrained bass.
The sad intro belies the lighter tone of the song's body. This track features a low guitar melody, bells and faint shushy cymbals. After the bridge, the tempo quickens a tiny bit. The overlapping vocals before the instrumental outro calls Yes to mind.
Each instrument here seems to be playing in its own time zone in some parts. Tinling and Schmidt provide distant-sounding vocal support for Frye's melody parts. Look for the musical pun at the end ("Catch the train that leaves today").
Last Caress
Rhythmically slower than 'Glad', this seems to be a cautionary tale against believing everything you hear; and trusting your feelings. "I know you heard, but don't you listen".
Don't take life for granted, this one seems to say. The seemingly chiming guitar notes are pleasing to the ear.
The backing vocals to this one sound not as present, almost like punctuation, as opposed to support for the lead vocals.
September Journal
Frye's vocals sing an interestingly odd melody on this cut.
Wish In One Hand
The guitar work here is very faintly Zeppelinish in some parts. Overall the song has the rhythmic feel of 'Redemption'.
Wings (For Miles)
This cut is kind of playful, like a kid's song "One, two, three/look at me".
Opening with slow Latin-flavored acoustic guitar plucking, this one is almost like Rush's La Villa Strangiato, but not quite. On the surface, the lyrics are about drinking strange substances, but the deeper meaning is open to interpretation.
A fretless bass riff begins this piece. The music's lightly funky tone kind of opposes the lyrical content. Down is a kind of 'dance in your chair' type of song.
Another Day
The music has an almost sad tone here. This tune begins and ends with songbirds, rain, chimes, and the sounds of a rushing brook.
Banged Oddiities
This final cut lives up to its name with several layers of percussion instruments being beaten in regular rhythms, and indescribable synth that makes the listener float to another place, as if lulling us to sleep.
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