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.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Aural Awakenings: Episode 42

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

Kevin Keller / Solana / The Front Porch of Heaven
Mark Vickness / Hot Apple Stuff / Interconnected
Marya Stark / Celestial Butterfly / Sapphire
Lisa Lynne & Aryeh Frankfurter / Oasis / Harmony House
Jon Richards / Memories of Home / Skyrim: Three Kingdoms
Matthew Mayer / Block 17 / 16670
Sangeeta Kaur / If Time Stood Still / Mirrors
Kerani / The Philosopher / Sands of Time
Scott Reich / Kindness / Interbeing: Elements of Connection
Richard Souther / If Wishes Were Horses / Waiting in the Wings
Unita / Sweet Ellyon / Through the Veils
Matthew Labarge / Regret / Music from the Long Quiet
Carl Borden / At First Light / Beyond the Sunrise

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Album Review: Double Helix by Peter Manning Robinson

Born in Chicago, IL though having grown up in Vancouver, Canada and Los Angeles, CA, Peter Manning Robinson began playing piano at age three and performing in bands by age twelve. Despite touring and playing in clubs, he managed to receive formal music training at USC and Berklee College of Music in Boston, which put him on an exciting musical career path. In addition to having performed and recorded with notable jazz legends like Ernie Watts, Phil Woods and Freddie Hubbard, Peter has also nabbed several awards for his television and film scores, including an Emmy and multiple BMI awards.

An eclectic music composer whose unique style is rooted in classical structure and jazz improvisation, Peter Manning Robinson is the inventor of the Refractor Piano™. Forgoing any use of prerecorded tracks, triggered samples, external sounds or MIDI instruments, Peter plays an innovative type of music called “Refracted Music” on an acoustic piano that is “refracted” during his live performances.

Additionally, Peter is an accomplished vegan chef whose complex cooking recipes inspire his musical compositions and vice versa. Such creativity and uniqueness culminates on his latest release, Double Helix, which is a double album of quirky flair and whimsical delight.

Disc one includes eight compositions performed on Refractor Piano™ that showcase freeform melodies, kaleidoscopic tapestries and odd-tempo rhythmic patterns, for a resulting sound that can be likened to a musical gallery of abstract paintings formed by liquid shapes and mechanical structures.

One particularly noteworthy piece is “Moon Vines”, which effectively potrays a nighttime tropical setting. Here, an improvised piano lead is encircled by echoing timbres that mimic both metallic and wooden sound textures.

Disc two is comprised of eight solo piano pieces that, although more formulaic and standard than the markedly experimental nature of disc one, nonetheless possess many similar compositional patterns. Featuring simple yet intricate melodies, Peter’s signature melodic composing really comes to the forefront here in the form of notable pieces like “Labyrinth of Petals” with its lightly twirling piano figures gently rising and falling through the registers.

The album’s most touching moment is arguably “Undying Spirit”, with its contemplative mood and gentle ebb and flow, making this number my personal favorite of the lot.

Like a music box full of colorful expression, imagination and playfulness, Double Helix allows much openness to interpretation for the listener along its course. Likewise recalling to mind both BlueSilhouettes’ Utopia and Deborah Offenhauser’s Soundscapes albums, Double Helix is similarly worth checking out for fans of improvisational classical-jazz and contemporary avant-garde music! ~Candice Michelle

Available at Amazon, Bandcamp & iTunes. For more information, please visit the artist's website.