Monday, March 11, 2019

Aural Awakenings: Episode 28 (A St. Patrick's Day Special)

Artist – Track – Album & Buy Link
Méav – Celtic Prayer – Méav
Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning – Tír na nÓg – Eirlandia
Adiemus – Children of Dannu – Adiemus IV: The Eternal Knot
Paul Machlis – The Black-Haired Lass – Greenwoods: Upon a Celtic Path
Adrian Von Ziegler – Hymn to Annûmara – Celtic Collection II
Kerani – Celtic Mystery – Small Treasures
Briana Di Mara – Home – Haven
2002 – Finding You – A World Away
Loreena McKennitt – The Ballad of the Fox Hunter – Lost Souls
Bill Leslie – Irish Girl – Across the Water
Secret Garden – Elan – Dreamcatcher
Áine Minogue – The Sitting Pilgrimage – In the Name of Stillness
Órla Fallon – Red is the Rose (ft. Tommy Fleming) – My Land

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Album Review: Haven by Briana Di Mara

Briana Di Mara is a composer and violinist whose remarkably impressive debut album entitled Haven draws from Celtic, Balkan, Turkish and Arabic musical traditions for a striking amalgamation of classical world fusion.

Comprised of nine compositions, Haven enlists the talents of several guest musicians from the around the world, including Tobias Robertson, Sean Tergis, Kalliope Landgraf, Gari Hegedus, Aharon Wheels Bolsta, Surya Prakasha, Dan Cantrell, Diana Strong, Gabriel Navia, Schuyler Karr, Miles Jay and Evan Fraser. This amazing team assists Di Mara in impeccably manifesting her captivating compositional arrangements, as listeners are treated to a plethora of both exotic and familiar instruments such as the darbuka, kalimba, frame drum, tabla, handpan, accordion, bass, guitar and more. Aside from being a master violinist, Di Mara also plays the santur and lends a touch of her vocals.

The album opens with "Home", a beautiful piece which is noted for its distinctive Celtic lilt, as a galloping violin melody is guided along by texturized tonal percussion. Weaving Balkan and Turkish elements, "Storyteller" conveys a sense of walking through old village streets. The mysterious "Seyyah" is one of my favorites with its nocturnal Arabian soundscape and Middle-Eastern percussion, making this piece aptly-fitting for a bellydance routine. Possessing a Celtic flair, "Grace" is a notably calmer piece solely comprised of strings. Expressively dynamic and sultry, "La Partida Tango" showcases a vibrant pairing of Spanish guitar and violin amid a complementary array of instruments. Another one of my favorites is "Reverie", a comparatively solemner though nonetheless intensive number, which reverberates multi-tonal percussion along an evolving pace throughout. Equally captivating is the seemingly ritualistic "Muse" with its distinctly Middle-Eastern and Old World feel. Regaining the pace once more is the soulfully rhythmic and gypsy-like "Moonrise"; until finally concluding with "Kalliope's Lullaby", which features a gentle ensemble of violin, accompanying strings and subtle vocal intonations.

Seemingly relaying ancient folk tales via her enthralling musical arrangements, Briana Di Mara simply stuns with Haven. At times I'm reminded of the neoclassical-world music of Angel of Venice, as well as Loreena McKennitt's pioneering fusion of Celtic and Middle-Eastern soundscapes. One of the genre's top debut albums to emerge in recent years, Haven is an enthusiastically recommended debut that potentially signals a new rising star to keep an eye on! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available on Amazon, Bandcamp, iTunes and Google Play.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Album Review: World Café by Ron Korb

Ron Korb is a master world-flute player whose music beautifully reflects his global travels to various countries and continents where likewise, he's collected various ethnic and indigenous flutes. Like its predecessors, Europa and Asia Beauty, Korb’s latest album entitled World Café is a colorful sound-collage of beauty, culture and imagination. Led throughout by his versatile top-notch flute-playing, Korb is accompanied by a handful of other outstanding guest musicians along the way, including Cuban-Canadian jazz pianist Hilario Duran, Johannes Linstead on Spanish guitar, Joseph Marerollo on accordion, and Margaret Maria on cello, as well as Laila Biali and Bill Evans on piano.

From the opening piece, “Bailar Conmigo (Dance With Me)”, we’re introduced to a sultry fusion of Latin guitar, tropical percussion and a breezy flute melody that feels reminiscent of a romantic island paradise. Next is “Sans Regret” with its pairing of piano and accordion aptly bringing-to-mind quaint Parisian streets. Considerably livening up the mood is the Andalusian-inspired “Cordoba”, which ensues with fiery rhythms and Spanish guitar. It's one of my favorite pieces on the album, as Korb beautifully weaves his signature flute-playing into a luscious flamenco-flavored soundscape.

Other personal favorites include “Hilario” with its sizzling samba rhythm, along with the tango-imbued “Argentina” and the South American-inspired “Patagonia”. Also noteworthy is the duskier “New Orleans”, a jazzy-blues piece that conjures images of a smoke-filled lounge. I'd assume this composition was inspired by Korb’s time spent in The Big Easy, as I personally had the pleasure of seeing him perform in concert there a few years ago.

A flawless integration of world, jazz and contemporary instrumental music, World Café aptly showcases Korb’s compositional mastery and musical versatility. Whereas his equally lovely Asia Beauty took us on a cinematic journey to the Far East, World Café seemingly plays out like an exciting backpacking adventure through old cities and along hidden roads of Southern Europe and Latin America.

Elegant, sophisticated and dynamically expressive, World Café sounds like an album that Ron Korb and company had excessive amounts of fun recording while remaining committed throughout to utmost musical perfection. Making for the perfect traveling companion, listeners will feel inspired to dance, dine and discover new places as they explore this musical world café! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available on Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Aural Awakenings: Episode 27

Artist – Track – Album & Buy Link
Briana Di Mara – Seyyah – Haven
Jeff Johnson & Phil Keaggy – Ouo Vadis (Where Are You Going)? – Cappadocia
Dominique Carpenter – Raz Blanchard – Carnet de Voyage
Lawson Rollins – Ever Onward – Dark Matter: Music for Film
Timothy Wenzel – Dancing in the Darkness – Running Away
Malou Beauvoir – Papa Damballah – Spiritwalker
Cathy Oakes – From this Day – On the Other Side
Grayhawk – The Banteay Srei Temple – Voice of the Ancestors
Mylle Fournier – Penta – Ailleurs
Shoshana Michel – Soothing the Tempest Within – Reflection
Radical Face – I’ll Be There Soon – Missing Film
Kurt Reiman – North Maple Road – North Maple Road
Joseph Trapanese – Rob Inspires the People – Robin Hood Soundtrack
Samer Fanek – Before Dawn – Guide Me

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Top 25 Albums of January 2019

Presented in alphabetical order by artist name.

Artist – Album & Buy Link – Record Label
2Cellos – Let There Be Cello – Sony Masterworks
Acoustic Ocean – Blue Moon Rising – Natural Health Source
Al Jewer & Andy Mitran – Perihelion – Laughing Cat Records
Bluesilhouettes – Looking for Utopia – Bluesilhouettes
Brian Crain – Piano and Night – Crain Records, Inc.
Cathy Oakes – On the Other Side – Sierra Keys
Dario Crisman – Oltre – Blue Spiral Records
Greg Maroney & Sherry Finzer – Remembrances – Heart Dance Records
Imogen Heap – The Music of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Masterworks Broadway  
Joseph Nimoh – Conversations on Piano – Joseph Nimoh
Karen Biehl – Starlight Dreams – Karen Biehl
KeithTim Anderson – Waiting’s End – Kamsongs Music
Kerani – Small Treasures – Kerani Music
Libera – Beyond – Invisible Hands
Lisa Hilton – Oasis – Ruby Slippers Productions
Mary Lydia Ryan – Little Red Boat – Mary Lydia Ryan
Michael Kollwitz – Serenity III – Michael Kollwitz
Pangaea Projekt – Winter, Vol. 4 – Crainium Music
Reneé Michele – The Space Within – Reneé Michele
Samer Fanek – Guide Me – Samer Fanek
Sarah Brightman – Hymn – Decca Gold
The Haiku Project – Life – Real Music
The Piano Guys – Limitless – Sony Masterworks
Tom Caufield – Deep Cuts from the Moral Wilderness – Bohemian Embassy
Vellua – Portrait of Souls – 1069461 Records DK

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Album Review: Serenity III by Michael Kollwitz

Michael Kollwitz is a lifelong master of The Chapman Stick, a unique stringed instrument created by Emmet Chapman that resembles the head and neck of a guitar but is played more like a piano. The third installment in his soothing Serenity trilogy, Serenity III is comprised of sixteen balmy passages that are comfy, cozy and beautifully pristine.

Having formerly resided in Sacramento, CA before relocating to Hawaii in 2007 until eventually settling in Sedona, AZ, Kollwitz seemingly infuses a part of each of these beautiful locations into the essence of his work, with his pieces often evoking a vast range of scenic beauty stretching from the red rocks to the blue Pacific.

Warmly melodic and deeply tranquil, additional textural threads and tones all produced on The Chapman Stick are subtly woven into the compositions, effectively casting them with a dimly-lit ambience and creating additional depth to get lost in. Not surprisingly, the album’s song titles are mostly inspired by natural landscapes, reflective moods and positive states of mind, which is exemplified on beautiful pieces such as “Smooth Sailing”, “Winding Down”, “Crystal Caves” and “Forgive and Forget”.

Debuting in the top five of the Billboard New Age Chart, Serenity III just might be the best album yet in Kollwitz’ mesmerizing Serenity series. Like it’s two predecessors, this album will transport the listener to a leisurely paradise wherein all of one’s troubles are left far behind.

Although adept at creating peaceful musical environments that encourage feelings of wellbeing and personal contentment, Kollwitz clearly manages to avoid falling into predictably cliché “new age” traps, nor could his thoughtful compositions ever be relegated to mere background music. Rather, Kollwitz' style is expressively unselfconscious, yet down-to-earth and refreshingly humble in approach.

Certain to appeal to a wide-range of listeners in need of some relaxing sonic vibes, Serenity III is another a top-notch album of atmospheric instrumental delight! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and CD Baby.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Aural Awakenings: Episode 26 – A Valentine’s Day Special

Artist – Track – Album & Buy Link
2002 – Strings of Your Heart – A World Away
Ahn Trio – Heart Asks Pleasure First – Lullaby For My Favorite Insomniac
Chris Spheeris & Paul Voudouris – First Kiss – Enchantment
Scott Reich – Paths of the Heart – Instar
Vladi Strecker – Acoustic Love (After 8 Mix) – Sax and the City
Ron Korb – Forbidden Love – Asia Beauty
Marth – L'amore é (I Will Love You Even After I’m Gone) – L’amore é
Christine Brown – Love’s Legacy – Ascend
Nancy Shoop-Wu – Always in My Heart – Rainbow Road
Acoustic Ocean – Love is a Force Field – Blue Moon Rising
Monica Williams – Love from a Distance – Journey of Tears
Mysteries of the Night – My Love is Here – Alive Inside the Tank
Michael Hoppé – Romance for Violin and Orchestra – Solace
Cecilie – My Heart Has Loved – Fearless