Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Spotlight: Rural Renewal by Gerhard Daum

Gerhard Daum is a German multi-instrumentalist who’s composed music for film and TV, as well as toured through Europe with his jazz and rock ensemble called Gerhard Daum Quartet. Having formerly lived and travelled in the United States before returning to Berlin, Daum’s latest album, Rural Renewal, draws its inspiration from both the natural scenery and personal experiences of having lived in both countries. An acoustic ensemble album in the contemporary instrumental genre, the compositions incorporate guitar, violin, piano, midi-keyboard and computer programming throughout – with Sarah Piorkowsky and Till Handrick providing additional violin solos on a couple of tracks. Comprised of twelve, all-instrumental compositions spanning approximately thirty-four minutes, most of the songs clock-in at under three minutes, while all them are less than four minutes duration. 

“Best Friends” initially opens the album with plucking keyboard effects that soon unfolds into a festive and warmly upbeat ensemble comprised of acoustic guitar, violin and drums, as a picturesque overview of woodlands and countryside immediately springs to mind. Following next is “Indian Summer” – a slower-paced number and one of my favorites. Here a warm, echoing twang is emitted on the guitar, as it beautifully blends among accompanying violin and a smoothly steady drumbeat. The title piece, “Rural Renewal”, ensues with more classical-tinged guitar and violins that jointly lend it a subtle renaissance flair, as thundering distant drums seemingly feel evocative of travelling along a winding mountain road.

Songs like “Gentle Rain” and “Smooth Sailing” skew a bit more exotic with their subtle world percussive undercurrents and romantic Mediterranean overtones. In subtle contrast, other pieces such as “Heartland” and “Early Sunrise” are seasoned with more Americana flavors that’s characterized by twangier guitar licks and steady soft-rock rhythms, as classical strings imbue them with a touch of graceful elegance.

Thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end, fans especially of warmly melodic, acoustic ensemble music that’s equally rejuvenating and relaxing – while possessing just the right amount of stylistic variety to keep things interesting – will certainly find much to appreciate on this album! ~Candice Michelle

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

Friday, February 23, 2018

Spotlight: Spiriti by Matthew Labarge

Matthew Labarge is a pianist and composer who’s released several previous albums. Described as his “most intimate and personal to date”, Labarge’s latest offering, entitled Spiriti, features twelve reflective solo-piano compositions spanning approximately sixty-three minutes. Appropriately depicted by its beautiful artwork, the music herein is likewise contemplative and oftentimes reverent in nature.

“Spiriti” is a thoughtful opener that gently moves along at a moderate-pace in the mid-range, as Labarge injects bolder touches along the way. “Entrance” ensues with a sustained and flowing pattern that gives the composition an overall glistening, liquid-like effect, and is one of my favorite pieces on the album. Equally compelling is the aptly-named “Each Quiet Sound”, which conveys a sense of comforting solitude. Minor-key and subtle throughout, it’s easy to envision a lone man playing his piano in the kind of spacious and dusky-lit hall so beautifully depicted by the album’s artwork with only a soft ray of light pouring in through the window. Next is “Between the Stars”, a piece that appropriately begins with a twinkling effect in the higher register, until gradually making its way down into the lower register where it seemingly coalescences. Following next is “Children’s Song”, a carefully-paced number that could perhaps be described as a ‘classical lounge’ type of number. “Breeze from the Courtyard Garden” then ensues at a slower pace with stark opening chords that give way to deeply resonating notes throughout.

“Bells and Dwindling Light” begins with slowly repeating bell-like notes in a quietly understated fashion, with additionally solemn chords eventually lending more fullness to the composition. Next, “Six Hundred Year’s” comparatively lightens the mood a bit with its warmer essence of gentle brightness. “Elegy” continues along in this mode, adding fuller and bolder chords that ripple and resonate throughout. Upping the pace up even more, “Kindness” is perhaps the most dramatic and upbeat piece on the album, showcasing a gently galloping quality along its course that eventually comes to a gentle close. Quieting things down is “Weightless Timeless”, a more minimal piece characterized by piano droplets and sparse chords that effectively convey a feeling of suspension and formlessness. And finally, “Love Song” concludes the album with a warmly radiant melody that’s a bit more straightforward and simple.

An alluringly graceful album from start to finish, listeners especially who love contemplative and classically-infused piano music will likely enjoy Spiriti immensely! ~Candice Michelle

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

Aural Awakenings: Episode 9

00:00 / Fiona Joy / Ceremony / Signature Synchronicity
03:45 / Gerhard Daum / Time and River / Rural Renewal
06:12 / Yanni / Whispers in the Dark / Sensuous Chill
10:04 / Mychael Danna & Jeff Danna / The Crown Sleeps / The Breadwinner
13:47 / Valerie Romanoff / Pink Skies over Waves / Healing Music, Vol. 2
21:17 / Terry Lee Nichols & Rebekah Eden / Conquistadors / We Have Only Come to Dream
27:08 / Steven C / Missing You / Emotive
31:18 / Johann Johannsson / The Mercy / The Mercy
37:10 / 2002 / Ar Hyd Y Nos / Celtic Fairy Lullaby
40:57 / Trine Opsahl / Diving into an Ocean of Love / Add Colours to my Sunset Sky
45:30 / Patrick Kelly / Feels like Home / Beyond the Horizon 2: Mystical World
51:32 / Anaamaly / I Radiate Healing Energy / Urban Metta, Vol. 2

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Listening Apps

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Aural Awakenings: Episode 8

00:00 / James Asher & Arthur Hull / Helix Rising / Drum Distillery
06:00 / Kaveh Karandish / My Dream / Silent Whispers
11:05 / Pam Asberry / Moonlight over Moorea / Seashells in my Pocket
16:08 / Russell Suereth / Where Will I Go / Spiritual Odyssey
20:43 / Anne Trenning / El Farol / Beautiful Song
25:26 / Jon Dahlander / Origami’s Dream / Songs for Smiler McGee
28:17 / Peter Sterling / Walk with Me / Twilight Serenade
34:38 / Neil Tatar / Night Walk / After the Rain
40:12 / Christine Brown / Magic Carpet / Ascend
45:31 / Steven Chesne / Words of The Baha’i: Oneness of Humanity / Sapient
53:03 / Terry Oldfield / After the Storm / Pure Flute

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Aural Awakenings: Episode 7 (A Valentine's Day Special)

00:00 / Joslin / Lonely Lovers Lullaby / The Road Ahead
04:51 / Al Jewer & Andy Mitran / Lost Heart / Chicago Chill 1
07:54 / Johannes Linstead / Surrender to Me / Azul
12:36 / Aija Alsina / Love Letter / Domum
15:00 / Lisa Lynne / I Love My Love / Maiden’s Prayer
19:03 / Lena Natalia / Love’s Steps / Love’s Steps (Single)
23:40 / Christopher Boscole / Heart Traveler / Soul Dreams
27:48 / Todd Boston / Astral Heart / One
32:44 / Áine Minogue / Love’s Silent Song / In the Name of Stillness
36:24 / Joseph Akins / A Love Story / Into the Flow
40:46 / Michael Stribling / Longing / Union: Music for Lovers
48:44 / Steven C / Love & To Be Loved / Emotive
52:40 / Liquid Mind / Surrender to Love / Liquid Mind XII: Peace

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Spotlight: Songs of Changing Light by Kathryn Kaye

Kathryn Kaye is a pianist and composer who has previously released six albums. Her seventh album, Songs of Changing Light, is a collection of thirteen solo-piano works from her past releases of which prominently feature subtle ensemble arrangements. Characteristically gentle, reflective and softly-lit while occasionally basking in the shade of more shadowy atmospheres, Kathryn’s music mostly revolves around themes of nature, changing seasons and the passing of time. As with her previous albums, Songs of Changing Light was produced by Will Ackerman and co-produced by Tom Eaton along with herself – and likewise recorded at Will’s own Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont.

Opening the album is “Winter’s Deepest Sleep”, a lovely piece that begins with a moderately-paced melody while injecting thoughtful pauses along way. Although its title may allude to a cold winter’s night, the piece feels quite comfortingly warm and more akin to that of cozying up by a fireplace. On “Summer Afternoon” Kathryn’s left-hand moves at a waltzing pace, while her right-hand employs softly tinkling notes up-and-down the keys. Gentle and leisurely with a lightly-swaying motif, one might aptly imagine rocking on a swing or hammock on a summer afternoon. “Taos Song” is a contemplative tune that showcases bolder chords with smoothly rounded edges, while “Heavy as a Feather” exudes a lightly-dancing quality with a gentle touch of wistfulness. Possessing more neoclassical underpinnings, this piece is one of my favorites.

The introspective yet softly buoyant “A Rose in Winter” opens with delicate keystrokes in the upper register, until mid-range chords join in towards the midway point. Comparatively, the elegantly understated “Distances” resonantly hovers in the lower register and is another one of my favorites; its title may either or simultaneously refer to distances of land or the space between two people. “Dreaming Still” nicely follows it up with an equally introspective and slower-paced melody. Ensuing next is “A Lark in the Last Light of Day”, which starts off rather cautiously, before unexpectedly bubbling over with radiantly resonating chords that soon revert to the piece's original motif. “Willow Waltz” could easily allude to a willow trees’ branches gently swaying in the wind. Similarly, the drifty notes and rolling undercurrent of “Adrift in Fading Light” (another favorite) might suggest a sailboat slowly drifting over the horizon.

“So Much Sky” feels more open and outward-flowing with a melodically colorful range. It’s followed up by “There was a Time”, which imparts a reflective and tender mood with a touch of sentimentality. And finally, “Frost” perfectly concludes the album as another one of my favorites. Here, Kathryn plays a lightly drifty melody with her right hand in the upper register, while employing a gentle give-and-take maneuver of her left hand in the lower registers – overall creating a shimmery effect like that of moonlit snow.

Never one to be excessively elaborate in her musical approach, I’ve always particularly enjoyed Kathryn Kaye’s thoughtful, down-to-earth and nonintrusive piano-playing style. For those who’ve enjoyed her past works, but would like to pick out the solo piano pieces on those, this is a worthy collection to own. Likewise, fans of solo piano music who are new to Kathryn’s music will find Songs of Changing Light a great place to start! ~Candice Michelle

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

Spotlight: They Were Here by Byron Metcalf & Jennifer Grais

Byron Metcalf is a master world-percussionist whose music I’ve enjoyed immensely for many years. On They Were Here, he teams up with fellow shamanic practitioner and vocalist, Jennifer Grais, with whom Byron first recorded and performed, in collaboration with Steve Roach on his 2004 album Fever Dreams II. Comprised of seven compositions spanning a little over an hour, They Were Here explores the bonds that have long existed between horses and humans – paying musical homage “to the eternal spirit and mystical healing abilities of these treasured (but quickly disappearing) icons”. Like the very nature of these beautiful creatures that inspired it, the album’s musical essence is elegant, mysterious and powerful – as fervent trance-shamanic drumming melds with atmospheric textures and the often-sound of horses running wild. Jennifer’s resounding voice possesses a gothic-tribal quality that's stylistically similar to Lisa Gerrard – with her expressively soulful wordless singing and seemingly extempore ecstatic chanting serving as the perfect complement to these deeply immersive, organic-electronic soundscapes.

The title track, “They Were Here”, unfolds gradually like epic moving images in slow motion. Within just the first two minutes of hearing the piece I can tell that the rest of what lies ahead on this album is going to be phenomenal. Byron lends earthy, polyrhythmic percussion that envelops the listening space, while Jennifer’s invocation-like vocalise feels both transcendent and primal in nature – as if seemingly carried by the wind. Subtle didgeridoo further grounds the listening environment on the one hand, while suspended atmospheric chords effectively lend it an intangible ethereality on the other. “Opening to Freedom” – one of my favorites – considerably revs up the pace with deeply reverberating shamanic drumming, rhythmic shakers and cavernous vocal intonations. “Soul of Mestengo” comes bursting forth with fiery drums that seemingly rise from below into an upwards climb and vibrate throughout every fiber of the listener’s being. Another favorite, “Near & Far Away”, is comparatively slower-paced and guided along by a gentle yet powerful rhythm. Likewise, Jennifer sounds more softly supernal here, as if turning our attention more towards the sky.

“Womb of the Serpent” is perhaps the most darkly dynamic piece on the album. Conveying an ancient, ritualistic essence, its potently encompassing rhythm seemingly echoes throughout a vast chamber, as Jennifer delivers some of her most intensely seraphic and spontaneous ecstatic chant. The aptly-titled “Run” exudes an air of freedom and wild instinct – employing a fast-cycling rhythm that brings-to-mind horses majestically running in open terrain. “Song for Solo” perfectly concludes the album with spacious chords and nocturnal sounds, as softly sparse drums echo like thunder in the distance. Here, Jennifer’s mesmerizing intonations effectively soothe and center, as if one is being gathered into a metaphorical calm within the eye of a passing storm.

A sonic immersion overflowing with passion and power, They Were Here feels sacredly attuned to the earth and rooted in nature’s essence. Destined to be one of this year’s most outstanding releases, this music is made for moving to yet also deeply meditative – and in my experience best played at night. As a side note, I was somewhat reminded of Dead Can Dance’s Spiritchaser album at times – and fans of that musical style, along with Byron Metcalf’s unmistakable signature motifs, will likely be especially pleased with this beautifully magnificent work! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album can also be purchased at Bandcamp, Amazon and iTunes.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Spotlight: We Have Only Come To Dream by Terry Lee Nichols & Rebekah Eden

We Have Only Come to Dream is the collaborative project of Terry Lee Nichols and Rebekah Eden. Subtitled A Resonance of Human Migration to the Americas, the album moves through eleven enthralling compositions, as the listener is welcomed on a journey that begins with the first people who populated the New World – eventually leading up to the foundations of its modern civilization. Credited as the album’s producer, composer, orchestrator, pianist and virtual instruments performer, Nichols masterfully integrates styles of cinematic, new age and neoclassical music. Drawing much of his inspiration from a range of notably accomplished film score and contemporary classical composers, his own works are often likewise thematically grand-scale. Joining Nichols on this album is Rebekah Eden who provides exceptional vocal arrangements throughout – her soprano singing mostly wordless and semi-veiled, as it frequently ascends to ethereal heights. Additionally, the album’s liner notes include a descriptive overview of the individual pieces, along with an accompanying poem written by Philip Spevak for each.

The opening piece, “Phantasmagorical Voyage”, is inspired by the earliest known voyages from the descendants of Australian aborigines and Melanesians to the Americas thousands of years ago. Seemingly conveying a mysterious arrival from the mists of the seas, its initially tip-toeing introduction soon blossoms into a mesmerizingly cascading piano riff merged with Rebekah’s layered, wordless vocals. Affectively tender and sweepingly cinematic, the piece essentially signals the beginning of great immeasurable potential that lies ahead.

Named for one of the earliest advanced civilizations of North America, “The Ansasazi” (meaning “Ancient Ones”) is characterized by a moving blend of classical and contemporary motifs accentuated by glistening chimes, native-style flute and Rebekah’s dreamy vocals soaring above a majestic soundscape. Following next is the title piece, “We Have Only Come to Dream” , which draws its inspiration from the Aztec culture of Mexico that was once part of the greater Mesoamerican civilizations (that also included the Maya). Rainforest sounds comprised of waterfalls, birds and insects form the backdrop to gentle piano notes – eventually evolving into a symphonic motif in tandem with angelic vocals. The ensuing “1492” denotes the year of the first Spanish-based transatlantic maritime expedition led by Christopher Columbus. Pristine, dramatic and darker-toned, the composition brings-to-mind the iconic 1992 soundtrack, 1492: Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis, which accompanied director Ridley Scott’s movie of the same name. The storyline continues with “Conquistadors”, of which also sounds somewhat Vangelis-esque, as the piece seemingly evokes powerfully moving images in slow-motion. Named for the Spanish conquerors of the Americas whose genetic seeds would eventually merge with that of many Native populations, this turning point in history has always been of enduring interest to me – perhaps because it’s so integral to my own.

Inspired by the enlightenment philosophy held by many leading colonists of North America, as well as their ultimate declaration of independence from Britain, “The Courier” engages its listener with a dynamic arrangement of synthesizers and symphony. Further expressing the gist of this passage is an accompanying poem titled Paul Revere’s Ride. The next piece, “The River of Life”, is inspired by the subsequent influx of many more European arrivals and their westwards expansions. Tonally bright and optimistic, it seemingly feels like that of watching a time-lapse video depicting a long passage of time.

Aptly imbued with a Celtic touch, “The 19th Century Refugee Crisis” is named so in reference to the large wave of Irish migrations to the United States. Denoting how the Irish once endured hardship, discrimination and prejudice in their newfound American homeland, Rebekah conveys this motif with a lovely melody sung in English, which boasts a pleasing reminiscence to the music of Loreena McKennitt. Likewise, “A House Divided” is a poignantly heartfelt composition inspired by the bondage and eventual emancipation of Africans who were brought to the New World. Beginning with a vocal performance by Kehembe Eichelberger singing the lyrics of a traditional slave freedom song – the piece’s contemplative atmosphere of sorrow injected with glimmers of hope is perfectly enhanced by its affecting cello and piano melody.

“The Last Cowboy” is named for the vaquero traditions that developed in Mexico and the American southwest from methodology brought to that region from Spain. The vasquero eventually became the foundation for the North American cowboy – and so this piece is captivatingly enhanced by the sounds of running horses, saloon music and human chatter along its course. Finally arriving at “Canyon Sunset”, this passage is aptly dedicated to the national parks across the U.S. Showcasing an enchanting flute performance by Sherry Finzer, the piece seemingly conjures an aerial overview of breathtaking landscape, in a most fitting conclusion to a riveting journey.

As a longtime enthusiast of history, geography and genealogy related subjects, it was easy to become immersed in this truly epic sonic voyage. Listening to the pieces while reading the accompanying narratives and poems sometimes felt like witnessing the often complex and fascinating stories of my own ancestral melting pot unfold. Destined to be one of this year’s most highly-praised releases, numerous fans of period drama film scores – particularly by the likes of James Horner and John Barry – are especially encouraged to take note of this musical achievement! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the websites of Terry Lee Nichols and Rebekah Eden. This album can also be purchased on Amazon, iTunes, CD Baby and Google Play.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Aural Awakenings: Episode 6

00:00 / Cusco / Ariadne / Inner Journeys: Myth & Legends
06:46 / Terra Guitarra / Palamino / Spirit Wheel
12:33 / Deborah Offenhauser / Decidedly Joyful / Soundscapes
17:52 / Kathryn Kaye / Taos Song / Songs of Changing Light
21:13 / Gerhard Daum / Scenic Route / Rural Renewal
23:58 / Ken Verheecke / This Languid Motion / Consider the Moon & Stars
30:00 / Heartistry / Sacral Waters / Inner Sanctum
37:31 / Eugene Friesen / Cove / The Essential Collection
40:48 / Pangaea Projekt / Snowfall / Winter Vol. 3
45:06 / Dan Chadburn / Breath of Life / Held in the Light
49:05 / Steven C / Communion / Emotive
51:26 / Liquid Mind / Trust / Liquid Mind XII: Peace