Friday, April 9, 2021

Album Review: Innocence by Force For Good

Joyfully guiding us into the blossoming spring season is the second album by Force for Good, which comes on the heels of the musical project’s debut 2020 release Passions. Produced by Jonathan Sprout and Joe Mennonna – the latter of whom contributes all keyboard, woodwind and brass instrument performances as well as MIDI programming – Innocence features fourteen instrumental compositions that range from calm and gentle to festive and lively.

Having performed professionally since the early 1970s, Jonathan Sprout has played thousands of concerts, with the bulk of those being performances for children. Additionally, his 2009 album, American Heroes #3, earned him a Grammy Award nomination in the category of Best Musical Album for Children.

Comprised of expressive acoustic guitar arrangements and cinematic piano performances accentuated with classical and new age overtures, Innocence seemingly paints rural, rustic scenery dotted by meadowlands, plainlands and lakeside landscapes. Bright, wholesome and warm overall, shades of tenderness are also revealed on more solemnly symphonic songs like ”Hunger” and “Homeless”.

Other highlights include the opening track “Natural” with its Americana flavors and steadily galloping groove – as well as the more neoclassical “Wilderness”, which showcases delicate harp and flute figures amid tip-toeing swells of silky symphony and impassioned piano preludes.

Conjuring images of a bright blue day and dolphins swimming in the sea, “Oceans” impressively stands-out from the view with its unexpected divergence into a Celtic-laced interplay of celebratory instrumentation that peaks at about midway with a pulsating percussive hook.

Relaying a message of care for humanity and environmental stewardship, Innocence offers an hour of mood-elevating optimism that encourages us to reconnect with our inner child. ~Candice Michelle

Available at Amazon, iTunes and other online music retailers. For more information, please visit the artist's website.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Aural Awakenings: Episode 46 (A Valentine's Day Special)

A romantic selection of new age, neoclassical & contemporary instrumental music to honor the day of love!

Clannad / A Song In Your Heart / Nádúr
Omar Akram / Echoes of Love / Echoes of Love
Sarah Brightman / Anytime, Anywhere / Eden
2002 / Finding You / A World Away
David Wahler / Two Hearts / Two Hearts
Sangeeta Kaur / All My Love / Illuminance
Kerani / Where the Heart Belongs / Small Treasures
Earth Tree Healing / Aphrodite / Goddess
Jillian Aversa / You And I / Atlantis Awakening
Ryan Judd (feat. Kristen Miller) / Hearts Entwined / Soaring Together
Ronald Van Deurzen / Come Back Because I Love You / Imaginations
Eurielle / Je t’Adore / Arcadia
Peter Calandra / Quiet Romance / Ambient Tuesdays

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Aural Awakenings: Episode 45

Another refreshing blend of new age, neoclassical & contemporary instrumental music!

Shunia / Breeze at Dawn / Breeze at Dawn
Acoustic Ocean / Shadow Dancers / Blue Moon Rising
Marya Stark / Echo / Sapphire
Kendra Logozar / Enchantment / Equilibrium
Sangeeta Kaur / Light of Love / Illuminance
Lisa Lynne & Aryeh Frankfurter / Circle the Moon / Harmony House
Ashley Davis / Banquet / Songs of the Celtic Winter
Jon Richards / Provenance / Beyond Skyrim: Three Kingdoms
Mediaeval Baebes / Blow Northern Wind / Mistletoe & Wine
Vellúa / Lori / Ancient Echo: Chapter 2
Juliet Lyons / Eternal Now / The Light Within
Tom Moore & Tim Sadow / Peace in Every Moment / Peace in Every Moment

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Album Review: Christmas Night by Rick Sparks

Rick Sparks is a pianist and composer whose recordings have been warmly received in neoclassical, new age and contemporary instrumental music circles. He also heads-up the long-running internet radio station The Cove on Live365 which has been a leader in the field for many years. Having begun piano lessons at age seven, Rick subsequently lent decades of service as a church pianist and earned a master’s degree in music. Influenced by iconic pianists such as George Winston and Jim Brickman, he eventually went on to release his debut album, Christmas Love, in 2007. Followed up by a handful of albums over the years, Rick recorded another Christmas album in 2020, which is his latest titled Christmas Night.

Comprised of ten compositions spanning approximately forty-three minutes, Christmas Night was partly inspired by the annual BBC broadcast of the King’s College Christmas Eve service in Cambridge, England. The ensuing result is one of the most magical albums of the season, with its synthesized arrangements of familiar carols and two originals prominently featuring celestial choirs, glistening bells and classical strings throughout.

One of my favorite pieces on the album is the opening title track, “Christmas Night”, which along with the closing piece, "Nativity", was composed by Rick. Delicately whimsical, it convey a wintry ballet feel that conjures images of falling snowflakes and the smell of evergreen trees. Also noteworthy is Rick’s uniquely varied rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter”, which is led by a gentle piano melody accompanied by textural choral figures.

Not surprisingly, one of the album's most soothing compositions is the classic Christmas lullaby “Silent Night”, and if I didn’t know otherwise, I could have easily mistaken this rendition for fellow new age music artist Liquid Mind. Musically evocative of heavenly realms and radiant streams of light, an alternate piano variation comes in towards the end as the melody seemingly moves in a cinematically ascending pattern towards the sky.

Enthusiastically recommended to fans of both Christmas carols and peaceful synthesizer music, Christmas Night is a beautiful expression of Rick’s personal faith and musical talent, which is suitable not just for Christmastime but all winter long! ~Candice Michelle

Available at Amazon, iTunes and other online music retailers. For more information, please visit the artist’s website.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Aural Awakenings: Episode 43 (A Christmas Special)

A Christmas themed episode featuring a seasonal blend of Celtic, neoclassical & contemporary instrumental music!

Moya Brennan / Angels We Have Heard On High / An Irish Christmas
Jocelyn Obermeyer / First Light / Christmas From the Heart
Ashley Davis / Nollaig Moon / Songs of the Celtic Winter
ELEON / Christmas Island / Peaceful Christmas 
Sarah Brightman / Colder Than Winter / A Winter Symphony
Dana Cunningham / We Three Kings / What I Hear
Blackmore’s Night / Emmanuel / Winter Carols
Giuseppe Dio / O Tannenbaum / Merry Christmas
Camille Nelson / O Holy Night (feat. Marj Desius) / Acoustic Christmas
Nightnoise / Snow On High Ground / Celtic Christmas
David Lanz & Kristin Amarie / Sweet Winter Love / Forever Christmas
Rick Sparks / The First Noel / Christmas Night
Michael Neal / Snow / Lapse
Enya / Miraculum / And Winter Came
David Arkenstone / White Sentinels / Snowfall

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Album Review: Acoustic Christmas by Camille Nelson

Recording artist Camille Nelson is a supremely talented Billboard-charting guitarist and violinist whom I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing in the past. Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah and now living in Switzerland, she’s also younger sister to Steven Sharp Nelson of the hugely successful classical crossover group, The Piano Guys.

Camille’s latest album, Acoustic Christmas, is a heart-warming collection of Christmas carols that showcases acoustic folk, neoclassical and adult contemporary styles of music, with half the album featuring guest vocalists.

Leading the album is a relaxing acoustic version of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” which immediately paints an idyllic window scene of a cozy fireplace and snowfall outside. Evoking memories of Christmases past and an overall sense of soul-soothing comfort, Camille continues with a softly flowing rendition of “Joy to the World”, with its warm acoustic layers subtly rising and falling like gently rolling waves. Following next is “Little Drummer Boy” which features a soulful vocal performance by Yahosh Bonner. One of the most pronounced songs on the album, it’s smoothly guided along by organic percussion throughout, as improvised vocal and instrumental touches seemingly take the listener on a joyous night ride through a starry winter night.

One of my favorite pieces on the album is “Wexford Carol”, wherein Camille adds a lovely Celtic twist with violin. Likewise, a repeating guitar pattern underscores the main melody throughout, which creates a meditative atmosphere of old-world mystique. Another sung performance ensues with “Still, Still, Still”, which is a lovingly tender lullaby-like piece showcasing the harmonious female vocals of KORA.

More beautifully peaceful instrumentals follow like “Once in David’s Royal’s City” and “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”, as well as a couple more vocal pieces – notably the timeless classic “O Holy Night”, which features singer Mari who's performance is supported by Camille's beautifully simple acoustic arrangement. Perfectly concluding the album is a solo acoustic rendering of “Silent Night” to help calm the spirit and close out the night.

Capturing the nostalgia of past Christmastimes, Acoustic Christmas will appeal to fans of both contemporary acoustic and traditional Christmas carols. Wonderfully reminiscent at times of some of the iconic Christmas albums released on Narada and Windham Hill Records throughout the 1990’s, Acoustic Christmas is both classic and modern in sound and style – peaceful yet spirited – down-to-earth yet divine! ~Candice Michelle

Available at Amazon, iTunes and other online music retailers. For more information, please visit the artist's website.