These days, major labels don't believe in real artist development -- if you aren't a hit right away, you get dropped. And that's regrettable because so many artists really need to be developed; they get better as they go along. Take Mariel, for example. The Philadelphia singer/songwriter has improved with each release, and she continues to grow and progress on her fourth album, Fragments of a Dream. In a perfect world, Mariel would have a label's A&R department to give her guidance -- instead, she has had to function as her own A&R department by releasing her CDs on her own Aerial Sounds label. And on this 2001 release, her pop-rock/adult alternative instincts pay off. While earlier efforts like Mood Swings and Starry Eyes were uneven, Mariel's writing is undeniably consistent this time -- she wrote all of the material herself, and Fragments of a Dream is actually a bit stronger than 1999's enjoyable The Darkest Angel. Mariel's style of singing hasn't changed since the early '90s; she still favors a sweetly delicate, gossamer vocal style, but she sounds like someone who has, over the years, grown more confident with her singing and writing. Although pleasing, Fragments of a Dream isn't the happiest album in the world -- many of the songs are melancholy, expressing feelings of disillusionment and disappointment when it comes to romantic relationships. And when originals like "Cruel Scorpio," "Wish," "Lost My Love," and "Say What You Mean" are playing, you find yourself hoping that she'll eventually find a lover who is worthy of her. You also find yourself admiring Mariel's artistic growth and hoping that future albums will as consistent as Fragments of a Dream.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson