Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Album Review: Signature Synchronicity by Fiona Joy

Signature Synchronicity is the highly anticipated album by Fiona Joy, an award-winning pianist, composer and vocalist from Australia. Recorded at Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, the album was produced by Will Ackerman, Tom Eaton (who also mixed the recording) and James Englund. As the sequel to her Signature Solo album, Signature Synchronicity features piano ensemble arrangements of its predecessor’s solo compositions. Fiona Joy’s own vocals grace much of the album, along with contributions by a fantastic lineup of musicians who lend various instruments throughout - including cello, violin, flugelhorn, keyboard, bass, percussion, electric and acoustic guitar - as well as additional layered vocals.

“Ceremony” opens the album with a cascading piano melody, washes of wordless vocals, Jeff Haynes playing a tapping percussive rhythm, and Tom Eaton on keyboards, electric and bass guitar. It’s an uplifting introduction that conveys a feeling of flight. Following is the aptly-named “Grace”, an elegant piano piece that gently unfolds like a beautiful flower blooming. Fiona Joy provides lyrical vocals in a delicate breathy timbre, as opposed to an emotive singing style, as she is joined by Eugene Friesen on cello, Jeff Oster on flugelhorn and Tony Levin on bass. An alternate ‘chill version’ of this song is included on the album, which additionally features electric guitar and bass, as well as Fiona Joy’s son, Nick Hawkins, on beat-box. One of my favorites is “Invisible Train”, a more dynamic piece that showcases a passionate, flowing piano melody caressed by wispy, wordless vocals and driving percussion. The equally winsome, “Signature”, is a contemplative interlude-like piece, beginning with Paul Jarman on tárogató - a woodwind instrument common to both Romanian and Hungarian folk music. Together with Fiona Joy’s spacious piano melody and Will Ackerman’s glistening acoustic guitar, these three instruments beautifully weave around one another. I’m also particularly fond of “From the Mist”, another gentle tune that opens with drifting piano notes in a higher register. Accompanied by cello, as well as Rebecca Daniel on violin and Paul Jarman playing an Irish whistle, it feels like taking a stroll through the countryside. Perhaps most cherished is the closing piece, “Little Star”. Complimented by subtle touches of electric guitar and bass, I find the peaceful piano melody to be especially moving yet lulling.

Signature Synchronicity exudes pure elegance and a classically romantic flair, with some of the compositions having a cinematic quality reminiscent of a period film. Even at its most dramatic and powerful, the piano melodies retain an exquisite gracefulness. With past works including piano solo, piano instrumental and piano chill albums, Signature Synchronicity is a majestic display of Fiona Joy’s illustrious repertoire. ~Candice Michelle

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

This review was originally published on Journeyscapes Radio on 03/30/16.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Spotlight: Where Butterflies Dance by Ann Sweeten

Ann Sweeten is a pianist, composer, Steinway artist and poet, who released her first album, Prism, in 1997. Inspired by themes of nature and, specifically, the butterfly, Where Butterflies Dance dually captures the essence of human emotion and life’s experiences, conveyed by the butterfly’s universal symbolism of beauty, love, hope, death, rebirth and transformation. Ann is joined on this album by other talented guest musicians who lend instruments to varying compositions, including Akane Setiawan on English horn, Eugene Friesen on cello, Trisha Craig on flute, Jeff Pearce on electric guitar, Will Ackerman on acoustic guitar, and both Charlie Bisharat and Andrew Eng on violin.

“A Trace of You” opens the album, accompanied by Akane Setiawan’s horn and Charlie Bisharat’s violin, which add a sense of mournfulness to this emotive piece. Ann’s piano playing is at once dynamic yet restrained, with a uniquely artful style that often reminds me of a constant gentle stream, cascading over stones and all its subtle nuances. “Elysian Fields” is perhaps the album’s most breathtaking piece, featuring Ann on both piano and synthesizer, and Jeff Pearce on ambient guitar. Named for the Greek mythical paradise, one can easily imagine arriving in an endless field of flowers while looking upon a distant sunset. A lead melody flutters and floats across the misty bed of guitar and beautiful timbres, which could simply go on forever. “Love Among the Ruins” is another pictorial tune, evoking memories of blissful romances and bittersweet goodbyes, whether it be between human or animal companions. A forlorn quality permeates this piece, which is joined once again by Akane’s horn as well as Eugene Friesen’s cello. Sunrise peers through on “Morning Mist At Chimayo”, showcasing Trisha Craig’s flute and Will Ackerman’s acoustic guitar, further imbuing the composition with grace and elegance. Another piece worth noting is “Sateo”, which is named for an Elephant who once lived in Kenya. Accompanied by Andrew Eng’s violin, Ann offers a most heartfelt musical dedication to this creature, whose life was tragically ended at the age of fifty by poachers. The album’s title track, “Where Butterflies Dance”, is another lovely tune that is carried by a waltzing melody. Complemented by flute and violin, a vision of butterflies dancing in a paradisal garden is conveyed, perhaps alluding to a Greek myth that each time a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, a human soul is born.

Where Butterflies Dance is a thoroughly outstanding album and the compositions lingered in my mind long after the listening experience had concluded. It is also worth noting that the magnificent Monarch butterfly is under threat of extinction due to the gradual disappearance of Milkweed plants along its migration route. Deeply passionate about the environment and its many afflictions, Ann so eloquently conveys a message of environmental awareness through her music, expressing her passion with originality, sentimentality and immaculate beauty. ~Candice Michelle

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

This review was originally published on Journeyscapes Radio on 03/18/16.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Spotlight: Time and Again by Bob Kilgore

Time and Again is acoustic guitarist Bob Kilgore’s fifth album, joined throughout by his brother Bear on keyboards and percussion, and Sarah Dean on cello. As the inventor of a device called the harmonic capo, Bob kept his invention to himself for many years until he introduced it to the world in 2007. Combining elements of world, jazz, classical, solo acoustic and contemporary instrumental, Bob has crafted a dynamic and edgy, yet sophisticated album, full of intricate detail and vivid, colorful tones. There is a nocturnal quality to most of the pieces, with lots of minor chords and a frequent exotic flare.

“IDIBITS” opens the album with cascading guitar and synthesizers in a somewhat pensive mood. It is followed by the gently romantic, “Time and Again,” which features an acoustic trio of guitar, piano and cello that beautifully interact and complement one another. “Meeting of Waters”, which is probably my favorite track on the album, has a strong world fusion element. Inspired by the confluence of the Amazon River and Rio Negro in Brazil, one feels like they’ve embarked on an adventurous night sojourn, as they’re led by the sounds of percussion, piano and a gypsy-like guitar melody. Another favorite is “Caravan Jam”, a slightly dark and mysterious piece that features a ‘been’ or “snake charmer” instrument, hazy synthesizer sounds and sensual, middle-eastern percussion. “Stone Lions” is among the album’s more energetic, fast-paced tunes, and perfectly illustrates Bob’s highly impressive guitar playing skills. In fact, it’s almost hard to believe there are no guitar overdubs here! Likewise, Bob’s unique and interesting use of his harmonic capo is showcased on tracks like “Approaching Joy”, which is a fingerstyle, solo acoustic number; “Stop Motion”, a tapping tune that is accompanied by keyboards and synthesizers; and the closing “The Tortoise and Achilles”, which segues into a reprise of the opening track, before gently winding down.

Time and Again is an absolutely fantastic recording as well as one of the most enjoyable acoustic guitar centric albums I’ve heard in a long time. Bob has masterfully weaved many musical styles together, while touching on several cultures and geographical influences. “Time and Again” is enthusiastically recommended to those who enjoy both stellar guitar-playing and innovative, multi-genre music. ~Candice Michelle

This album can be purchased at Amazon and iTunes.

This review was originally published on Journeyscapes Radio on 03/15/16.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Spotlight: Dark Sky Island by Enya

Following a seven year hiatus since her 2008 album, And Winter Came, Enya returns with the long-waited, Dark Sky Island, which is named after the island of Sark in the English channel where the absence of light pollution allows for naked-eye astronomy. As if to pick up where she left off twenty years prior, I can honestly say this is easily the best album the beloved Irish singer has put forth since The Memory of Trees. In fact, it’s a rather stunning return to the formulaic sounds and concepts of her most seminal works, Watermark and Shepherd Moons, yet it’s also freshly modern and musically evolved. The many shades of mystique are back, conveying a perfect balance of light and shadow, as are the lush orchestrations, enveloping, cathedral-like atmospheres, and Enya’s ever-captivating multi-layered vocals, each having been recorded separately and then stacked upon another to mimic a choir of hundreds.

Powerful, energetic songs with marching rhythms and soaring choirs like those on the “The Humming” and “Even in the Shadows”, contrast with more tender, melancholy pieces like “I Could Never Say Goodbye” and “Dark Sky Island”. Themes of lost love often revisit the album, conveyed by poetically beautiful lyrics that are wrapped in enchantment and innocent wonder. Favorite songs include “So I Could Find My Way Home,” a piece dedicated to producer Nicky Ryan’s late mother. Reverent and hymn-like, this deeply touching song could tug at the heartstrings of even the least sentimental listener. The more buoyant and sparkly, “Sancta Maria”, is another particular favorite that is led by a harpsichord and heavenly choir. Also equally notable is the distinctly Celtic-flavored “The Loxian Gates", which Enya sings in Loxian - an elvish-like language and alphabet created by lyricist Roma Ryan. Majestic and magical sounding, it brings to mind images of scenic Ireland, its pastoral lands and ancient castles. “Pale Grass Blue” is one of three bonus tracks included on the deluxe version of the album and makes getting this edition worth it alone. A moderately-paced tune that is highly reminiscent of Enya’s classic hit, “Caribbean Blue”, it features one of the most lovely, haunting melodies on the album, which seems to convey the passing of time, changing seasons and colorful leaves dancing in the wind.

There is simply little doubt that Enya is the gold standard when it comes to ethereal perfection, and although I felt her later efforts overall lacked the magic of her earlier works, I am pleased to say that Dark Sky Island is undoubtedly classic Enya in every sense. While immersed in these spellbinding compositions, I was reminded at every twist and turn why I originally fell in love with her music once upon a time. ~Candice Michelle

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

This review was originally published on Journeyscapes Radio on 03/08/16.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Spotlight: Urban Metta, Vol. 1 by Anaamaly

Urban Metta, Vol. 1, is the debut album by Anaamaly (pronounced “uh-nom-uh-lee), the alias of electronic music composer Phil Strickland. Featuring eleven tracks that are titled after different affirmations, it is a deeply relaxing electronic album with many organic elements. Peaceful, subtle melodies drift in and out over a bed of droning bass lines, washes of synths, and many unidentifiable or muted sounds throughout that seem to mimic nature. A notable feature of the compositions is its balanced incorporation of lower musical tones, which lends to an overall more grounded feel, whereas a lot of new age or ‘spa’ music is largely dominated by higher musical tones that can often result in an overly saccharine sound. This pleasing quality may be due to Phil Strickland’s musical background in chillout, downtempo and instrumental hip-hop.

Conveyed throughout the album is a feeling of being submerged in a watery abode, as rays of light peer through obscurity. Lots of subtle, intricate textures move about in a relatively compact space, as opposed to an expanse or open terrain, and the compositions seem to explore inner rather than outer worlds. Favorite tracks include “I Walk Through Fire”, with its slow transitions of contrasting crystalline textures and distorted effects; the lighter, more gossamer “I Embrace All Wisdom”; and “I Love Unconditionally”, with its sparse, gurgled melody and voice-like effects throughout. The closing track, “I Am Healed on All Levels”, is appropriately, also the brightest piece, as if the listener is rising to the surface while being imbued with a sense of hope and lightness.

Although Urban Metta, Vol 1 is certainly recommended for relaxation and spa therapies, it boasts enough aural intricacies to serve as an equally rewarding listening experience on headphones. I look forward to hearing other outputs from this diverse musical composer, including what will presumably be a second installment of the Urban Metta experience. ~Candice Michelle

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

This review was originally published on Journeyscapes Radio on 03/07/16.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Spotlight: Transmigration by Al Jewer & Andy Mitran

Following a string of highly-acclaimed albums that emphasized a more ethno-ambient style of music, Al Jewer and Andy Mitran turn their attention towards a more world fusion sound with a celebratory sonic journey titled Transmigration. Featuring collaborations with twenty-two talented musicians, the compositions traverse across many musical landscapes as they meet up with familiar friends along the way. Nearly all of the tracks feature the duo’s varying ethnic percussion, flutes, keyboards and synthesizers, plus each of the contributing artists’ signature instruments, which include varying kinds of flutes, bass, guitars, brass instruments, ethnic instruments, and a light sprinkling of vocals. The album comes beautifully packaged and designed, with detailed liner notes and a photo gallery showcasing most of the artists.

“Talking Stone” opens the album with the voice of Miriam Stockley, who is perhaps best known for her work with Adiemus and AOMusic. Her familiar tribal-esque vocals lend an energetic and sunny feel to the song. “First Crossing” is among the album’s more atmospheric pieces, as well as one of my favorites. The track features Jeff Pearce on electric guitar, which is beautifully complimented by marimba and subtle accordion. Other standouts include “Cloudwalker”, with Lisa Downing on piano, accompanied by native flutes and singing bowls; the glistening, nocturnal-sounding “Unfolding Path”, featuring Biff Blumfumgagne on violin; the mysterious and gently romantic “Quiet Waters”, with its delicate chimes and cymbals that are joined by Muriel Anderson on harp guitar and Sherry Finzer on alto flute; and the serene, percussion-free closing track, “Even Horizon”, featuring TC Furlong on pedal steel guitar and more violin by Biff Blumfumgagne. Other notable contributions include Jeff Oster’s flugelhorn on the more funk-driven “Council Fire”, as well as Ricky Kej on “Rendezvous”, who lends keyboards to this Indian-flavored piece, which also features vocal contributions by Karthika Lyer.

While Transmigration varies between lively festivities and tranquil moments, the overall mood is consistent and uninterrupted by musical detours. Despite the variety of artistic contributions, I was quite impressed by how the album entirely avoids veering off into overly bombastic terrain, or sounding like a mere compilation of wildly varying styles of music. Al Jewer and Andy Mitran have once again crafted an impeccably well-done offering, carving a distinctive new path in this wondrously gifted duo’s growing body of work! ~Candice Michelle

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

This review was originally published on Journeyscapes Radio on 03/05/16.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Spotlight: Celtic Fairy Lullaby by 2002

Celtic Fairy Lullaby is the follow-up to 2002’s landmark album Trail of Dreams, and once again showcases the angelic voice of Sarah Copus (daughter of 2002 husband and wife team Randy and Pamela Copus). While many listeners could easily mistake this for Enya, 2002 have their own signature sound, although similarities to the Irish singer are probably more pronounced than ever given the Celtic bent of this album, with lyrics sung in Gaelic, Welsh and English. Pure magnificent beauty seems to be the primary objective of 2002’s music, for every track on the album sparkles and shines. A pristine arrangement of both electronic and acoustic instruments is present here, with Randy on keyboards, piano, bass and guitar, and Pamela on flute and harp. Sarah provides both lead and back-up vocals as well as additional harp.

The old Irish lullaby “Seoithín Seo Hó / Gartan Mother’s Lullaby” opens the album like the soundtrack to a fairytale, with chorale washes, sweeping chimes and a cinematic quality that defines much of the music throughout. The overall sound is at once light and sweet yet richly majestic. “Cariad”, meaning “darling” in Welsh, is a beautiful ballad as well as perhaps my favorite song on the album. Led by gentle harp and vocals that are complimented by exquisite harmonizing, the piece conveys a hazy, mysterious quality. Two instrumental tracks are present on the album, of which include “Éamonn an Chnoic”, a piece based on a Robin Hood type figure of Irish history, along with the soothingly tranquil “My Singing Bird”. The album perfectly concludes with a traditional Irish song sung on May Day titled “Thugamar Féin an Samhradh Linn”, albeit presented in 2002’s signature style, of course.

Celtic Fairy Lullaby just might be 2002’s most impressive accomplishment to date. While even the most ethereal of Celtic music tends to retain a certain folksy, earthy quality, 2002 essentially stays in their airier element while lulling its listeners into a magical, dreamlike world of beauty and innocence. ~Candice Michelle

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

This review was originally published on Journeyscapes Radio on 03/03/16.