Friday, March 30, 2018

Aural Awakenings: Episode 13

00:00 / Omar Akram / Miracle / Echoes of Love
04:25 / Timothy Wenzel / Ascension / What We Hold Dear
08:05 / Camille Nelson / Be Still My Soul / Lead Me Home
12:13 / Anne Trenning / Beautiful Song / Beautiful Song
15:25 / Valerie Romanoff / Pink Skies Over Still Waters (Still) / Healing Music, Vol. 2
20:21 / Michael Whalen / Heart So Full of Joy / Kiss the Quiet
24:49 / Nouveau Papillon / Love Shines / Enchantment Blooms
29:37 / Vicente Avella / Daybreak / Rising
33:59 / Dan Chadburn / Refuge / Held in the Light
38:09 / Deva Premal / Aad Guray / Dakshina
44:07 / Peter Calandra / Morning Dove / The Road Home
49:46 / Heidi Breyer / Eastertide / Moonlight in Empty Rooms
54:20 / Libera / Going Home / Angel Voices

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Spotlight: Healing Music, Vol. 2 by Valerie Romanoff

Valerie Romanoff is an innovative and versatile multi-instrumentalist who’s explored a variety of musical styles. The second installment of her Healing Music series meant to uplift and soothe the soul, Healing Music, Vol. 2 is a fantastic double-album comprised of 18 compositions spanning over 2 hours. Alternating between groovier cuts denoted as “chill” and more meditative pieces denoted as “still”, Healing Music, Vol. 2 is an overall chic and semi-exotic blend of acoustic, meditation and world beat styles of music. Throughout the album, Romanoff plays guitar, piano and synthesizers, while she’s joined by Steven McNamara on sitar and Tom Rossi on flute, kora and percussion.

“Pink Skies Over Still Water (Still)” opens the album with a soul-soothing soundscape of spacious chords, brushes of sitar and gentle acoustic guitar. Seemingly evocative of a misty morning, the collective instruments immediately instill a sense of serenity among nature. “Pink Skies Over Waves (Still)” continues in this melodiously tranquil mode, while adding subtle touches of flute along the way, as elements of both Eastern and Western acoustic music are seamlessly woven into a sonic tapestry of organic resonance. The next track, “Beyond the Bend (Chill)”, is one of my favorites – and as its title suggests, turns up the tempo a few notches. Simultaneously relaxing and rhythmically hypnotic, the piece is guided along by Indian tabla drums, as intonations of “Om” underlie a colorful arrangement of South Asian instruments – effectively bringing-to-mind scenic images of a sacred temple overlooking a lotus pond. Another one of my favorite pieces is “Moving Glass (Still)”, which sounds a bit less “exotic” and perhaps more familiar to Western ears compared to most of the other compositions. A mesmerizing piece characterized by liquid layers of electric guitar and balmy atmospheric textures, it seemingly alludes to a paradisal destination of golden sunset beaches.

Romanoff likewise incorporates elements of traditional Raga music while maintaining a western musical sensibility throughout. Additionally, she’s included radio edits of all the original tracks on the second half of the album, as some listeners and radio programmers certainly appreciate the convenience of being able to opt for shorter versions of lengthier compositions.

Despite first glance at the album’s generic-seeming title and Buddha cover artwork (of which is nonetheless beautifully depicted), I genuinely enjoyed Healing Music, Vol. 2 immensely. Indian instruments and Eastern spiritual themes have long been a staple of the “new age” and world-beat genres and as a result, much of it tends to sound cliché – but not so with this wonderful album. Crafted with utmost professionalism that seemingly suggests an inherent sense within the artist of knowing when less is more, Healing Music, Vol. 2 boasts a majestic array of delightful-sounding instruments that engulf the listening space without overwhelming it. All in all, this is the perfect “chill-out yoga” music for transporting the mind to an idyllic soul retreat! ~Candice Michelle

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Spotlight: Mountains Made of Shadow, Anthems Made of Light by Dan Kennedy

Dan Kennedy is a classically trained pianist and composer who has performed throughout New England and other parts of the country. Following up his 2015 release, Bloom Road – of which included both ensemble and solo piano compositions – Kennedy’s latest album, Mountains Made of Shadow, Anthems Made of Light features twelve contemporary solo piano compositions that are similarly inspired by nature and personal reflection. Recorded by fellow renowned pianist Joe Bongiorno at Piano Haven Studios, Kennedy's piano boasts an impeccable sound quality.

The album begins on a reflective note with “Chilly Morning”, a lovely composition led by a slowly repeating chord played with the left hand, as it seemingly guides the piece along in a gently back-and-forth rocking motion. A more jovial and carefree melody accompanies with the right hand, effectively bringing images to mind of touring a sunny countryside. The next piece, “Give it all Away”, is a joyfully optimistic number that playfully skips and glides along as one might imagine taking a leisurely bike ride though a park full of flowers and sunshine. The particularly lovely “Wintergreen” ensues with a sparkling melody that conveys a feeling of warmth among the seasonal cold. “Backstory” follows next and is one of my favorite pieces on the album with its distinctly contemplative yet dynamically expressive nature, as Kennedy seemingly moves through a colorful range of chords with almost effortless ease.

The tenth track, “Implying Flying”, is my absolute favorite of the lot. Elegant and imposing, this pristine composition bears a notable neoclassical touch, as it flowingly rushes along like that of a river rapid. And finally, “The Fire Within” beautifully concludes the album with a stationary repeating motif in the lower register as accented bolder strokes accompany in the mid-range.

Colorfully expressive with a sophisticated demeanor, Mountains Made of Shadow, Anthems Made of Light is a delightfully lovely album that will especially appeal to many fans of George Winston’s music (of which Dan Kennedy's music is notably reminiscent) – particularly Winston's Autumn, Winter into Spring and December albums! ~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, March 16, 2018

Aural Awakenings: Episode 12 (A Saint Patrick's Day Special)

00:00 / Eamonn Karran / Irish Skies / Celtic Skies
05:08 / Christina Tourin / Sally Gardens / Emerald Harp
08:21 / Camille Nelson / Be Thou My Vision (ft. Alex Sharpe) / Lead Me Home
12:14 / Richard Dillon / Into the Mines / Irish Mist
17:05 / Terry Lee Nichols & Rebekah Eden / The 19th Century Refugee Crisis / We Have Only Come to Dream
22:07 / Nick Farr / Celtic Shores / Between Then and Now
25:57 / 2002 / Éamonn an Chnoic / Celtic Fairy Lullaby
29:46 / Bill Douglas / Return to Irishmore / Deep Peace
33:02 / Kim Robertson / La Belle Dame Sans Merci / The Spiral Gate
36:08 / Áine Minogue / In the Name of Solitude / In the Name of Stillness
41:45 / James Horner / Hymn to the Sea / Titanic: Music from the Motion Picture
48:00 / Trine Opsahl / In a Grain of Sand / Add Colours to My Sunset Sky
52:51 / Dan Chadburn / My Irish Love / Keys of Light
55:29 / Sarah Copus / Gleanntain Ghlas Ghaoth Dobhair / Moorland Winds

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Spotlight: Add Colours To My Sunset Sky by Trine Opsahl

Trine Opsahl is a Norwegian-born harpist who moved to Denmark when she was six, where she currently still resides. Having released three studio albums to date, Opsahl’s previous two albums include her 2012 debut, Somewhere in a Hidden Memory, along with her 2015 follow-up, Unbroken Dreams, which was recorded with her cellist daughter Josefine. Her third album, Add Colours to My Sunset Sky, features thirteen compositions that similarly possess lovely titles evocative of nature – all comprised of soul-soothing harp melodies which are often complimented by subtle ambient textures and enchanting wordless vocals.

“Songs from a Mountain I” introduces the album with a droning, harmonic undercurrent and improvised melodic humming, which feels resoundingly earthy and evocative of the desert. Next is “Sunshine on a Stormy Path”, which initially begins with sparse string plucks, before blossoming into a more robust harp melody of reverberating silken chords. This is followed by “Rosebed Garden”, a lighter, airier piece that possesses a somewhat sweeter celestial feel. The next piece, “In A Grain of Sand”, is one of my personal favorites. Beautifully laced with a Celtic touch, wordless ethereal vocals drift along dreamily in tandem with the magical melody emanating from the strings.

The rest of the compositions likewise subtly vary between more delicately buoyant and sunny instrumentals like “Lightly Dance into the Morning” and “Add Colours to My Sunset Sky”, to more hauntingly reverent, vocal-imbued compositions such as “Songs from a Mountain II” and “Diving into an Ocean of Love”. The album ultimately concludes much like how it began with the final piece, “Graceful like a River”, on which the revisiting of the harmonic drone and accompanying vocal intonations seemingly ground the listener back to the earth.

One of the oldest instruments in the world with its origins in the Near East, the harp has always possessed a seemingly mythical and otherworldly quality about it – having long-ago found its way among many cultures, where it's often depicted in ancient art. Likewise, Trine Opsahl aptly transfers this empyrean and primeval essence through her music, as her compositions variably touch on Celtic, Mesopotamian and other old-world signatures. Wholly beautiful and deeply serene, Add Colours to My Sunset Sky will find much appeal among fans of meditative harp music, including works by Áine Minogue, Claire Jones and the like! ~Candice Michelle

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Spotlight: Kiss the Quiet by Michael Whalen

Michael Whalen is a veteran of over 700 TV and film scores, thousands of commercials and numerous TV themes and video games. A highly versatile composer, his superb discography and many associated projects span new age, ambient, classical, pop, jazz and fusion styles of music. The follow-up recording to his outstanding 2017 release, Dream Cycle, which incorporated ambient-electronic and dreamy vocal elements, Whalen’s newest album, Kiss the Quiet (subtitled Meditations on Life & Love) is comprised of ten compositions that equally stuns with its haunting blend of subtle ambient textures and atmospherically minimal piano. Topping it off is the impeccable mastering skills of none other than Tom Eaton, who’s crafted some top-notch ambient-piano albums of his own.

The title piece, “Kiss the Quiet”, beautifully introduces the album with gossamer textures thinly enshrouding the listening space like a moonlit mist, as a tenderly lulling piano melody reverberates throughout the twilight soundscape. Following next is “Heart So Full of Joy”, which livens the mood a bit with a gently forceful and soulful melody played on piano amid synthetic strings and twinkling timbres. Next is “Full Moon Dance”, which opens with a melody that somewhat reminds me of the classic nursery song, “Lullaby”, albeit more elegant, flowing and sophisticated in what perhaps can be likened to a lullaby for adults.

The next three compositions are comparatively moodier, beginning with the aptly-titled “Almost Touching Heaven”, which imparts a beautifully mysterious and contemplative atmosphere of spacious piano notes that seemingly echo among protracted halls. Equally stunning is “The Prayer Box”, which feels both nocturnal and solitary. Characterized by a perfectly understated melody, this gorgeous composition enthrallingly lingers on with each affecting note. Likewise outstanding is “No More Secrets”, which ensues with churning ambient textures accompanied by reverberating piano notes that are both dramatic yet minimalist.

Another favorite composition of mine is the second-to-last track, “Hush the Night”, which conveys both a pensive and somewhat foreboding atmosphere with its shadowy encompassing tones and somber piano chords. The mood perks up a bit with the final piece, “Ever Closer, Ever Nearer, Ever Sooner”, which seemingly relays a gentle sense of hope and optimism brushed with a subtle touch of longing.

Seeming to relate a story of closely-guarded secrets, Michael Whalen has crafted a supremely beautiful album that simultaneously conveys an overall affecting yet reticent mood throughout. Certain to have vast appeal among fans of both minimal piano and ambient music, Kiss the Quiet is easily on track to be one of the most outstanding piano albums of the year! ~Candice Michelle

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

Friday, March 9, 2018

Aural Awakenings: Episode 11

00:00 / Peter Kater / She Awakens in the Garden / She
05:55 / Valerie Romanoff / Beyond the Bend / Healing Music Vol 2
11:47 / Jesse Cook / Broken Moon / The Blue Guitar Sessions
14:56 / Richard Ross / Laughing Moon / Laughing Moon
19:05 / Mark Isham / Raffles in Rio / Pure Mark Isham
23:37 / Symphonex Orchestra / Dreams in Bloom: Garden by the Sea / Music That Tells a Story
25:21 / Trine Opsahl / Sunshine on a Stony Path / Add Colours To My Sunset Sky
32:05 / Jim Pearce / A Leap of Heart / A Piano Story
34:35 / Gerhard Daum / Smooth Sailing / Rural Renewal
37:10 / Kitaro / Theme from Silk Road / Best of Silk Road
42:19 / R. Carlos Nakai / Into the Twilight / Fourth World
47:52 / Michael Logozar / Dream of You / Starlight
52:02 / Anaya Music / Breath / Aonki

Spotlight: Aonki by Anaya Music

Anaya is a Brazilian composer, keyboardist and vocalist who creates music devoted to elevating the human spirit. Her previous album, Eternity, was recorded with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, with her latest album, Aonki: Gateway of Love, mostly continuing along a similar path. Featuring musicians such as Fabianne Gotelipe on violin, Daniel Marques on viola and Priscila Jota on cello, the compositions are essentially characterized by gently sweeping ensembles of classical stringed instruments with keyboard textures woven throughout.

“Laman Song” opens somewhat dramatically with an orchestral motif that quickly comes to a swell. Immediately bringing-to-mind that of a ship sailing upon stormy seas, the listener is eventually seemingly led out of its path into calmer waters, as the rest of the composition playfully carries on for a bit with its rather peculiar melody of symphony and synthesizer. “Breath” follows next and is easily one of the loveliest pieces on the album. Characterized by celestial tones and subtly flickering textures that convey lots of illumination, the piece is led by a tender cello melody as it seemingly drifts along airily like a feather in the wind.

“Because of You” is another highlight that opens with a chorus of classical strings. Featuring a somewhat improvisational arrangement, Bernardo Bittencourt lends a touch of Baroque with a European lute instrument. The subsequent compositions “Aonki Mov I” and “Aonki Mov II” both reside almost squarely within neoclassical territory, with the latter piece featuring the accompaniment of The Brazilian Symphony Orchestra. Also notable is “Extase II”, which is briefly introduced by sounds of rushing water, as synthesized pan-pipes and celestial tones convey an innocent, magical quality that effectively brings-to-mind idyllic images of peaceful gardens and rivers.

“A Path to the Infinite” offers a caressingly warm conclusion to the album with an arrangement that sounds almost entirely comprised of stringed instruments, as the piece dances lightly about in a rather carefree manner that eventually ends on a radiant note.

One observation particularly worth noting about this album is that its melodies tend to be characterized by a superficially wandering nature, as opposed to being more descriptive of profoundly moving or memorable suites. Essentially, Aonki: Gateway of Love mostly relies on the strength of beautiful-sounding instruments that best-fittingly serve as conceptual aural collages – and will likely be most-appreciated among listeners within that defining capacity. ~Candice Michelle

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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Spotlight: Ama by Michael Brant DeMaria

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Brant DeMaria returns with his latest album, Ama, following a five-year hiatus since his last solo recording entitled The Maiden of Stonehenge. Known for his musical versatility which includes his mastery of world flutes, ethnic percussion and textural electronic arrangements, DeMaria essentially creates electro-organic, ethno-ambient soundscapes within a consciously new age musical framework. Heartwarmingly dedicated to his recently deceased mother, the album is comprised of ten compositions spanning approximately fifty-seven minutes. Likewise, the word “ama” not only means “mother” or “grandmother” in many languages, but also translates as “water” in Cherokee tongue of which aptly makes for an intriguing parallel.

The opening title track, “Ama”, slowly unfolds with sparsely-placed, high-register piano notes that eventually introduce an improvisational arrangement of fluttering flute and breathy intonations amid a fog of soft synthesizer tones. Slipping even deeper into this mysterious mood is “Night Voyage”, which ensues with an ambient-electronic arrangement of shifting synthesizer tones and shimmery metallic percussion that resonates all around. This is one of my favorite pieces on the album – with its deeply nocturnal and dreamily shamanic qualities effectively evoking images of a desert canyon under starry skies. The following “Stella Maris” is one among a few atmospherically lighter pieces on the album, which are characterized by softly layered angelic tones that bear some resemblance to the music of Deuter or Liquid Mind. The next piece, “Lost”, is comparatively earthier with its rewardingly simple combination of lower vibrating flute and gentle acoustic guitar.

Another one of my favorite pieces on the album is “Between the Worlds”, which as its title suggests, likewise exudes a mysteriously transportive, shamanic essence. Here, native flute seemingly echoes upon the winds amid a shimmery droning haze that permeates the listening space. Another particularly intriguing piece is “Renascence”, which features crystalline piano droplets falling upon a bed of billowing ambience. The closing piece, “Arrival”, seemingly guides the listener to an idyllic destination with its celestial tones of light and warmth.

Showcasing lots of subtle variety, the compositions on Ama are overall mysteriously ethereal and hail a most wonderful musical comeback for Michael Brant DeMaria. Additionally, DeMaria’s parallel work as an integrative psychologist and yoga instructor yields profound influence on the soundscapes he creates, of which are deeply serene, gently hypnotic and seemingly esoteric in nature. Effectively bridging the stylistic borders of ambient and new age music, this beautiful work will highly appeal to many listeners who enjoy both genres! ~Candice Michelle

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

Monday, March 5, 2018

Spotlight: Rising by Vicente Avella

Vicente Avella is a Venezuelan pianist and composer who’s scored numerous independent films, as well as orchestrated and worked on music production for major network television shows. In 2013, he released his debut solo-piano album, All the Days of My Life: The Wedding Album. Vicente’s sophomore album, Rising, incorporates additional instruments and styles into the fold with its varying arrangements of piano, strings, guitar, percussion and electronics. Comprised of eleven songs spanning approximately fifty-seven minutes, the album beautifully showcases an overall compelling range of emotion, enthusiasm and passion.

“Yours” opens with gently waltzing piano chords that are played in a repeating pattern with the left-hand and accompanied by a subtle swell of strings. Soon entering the composition is a piano melody initially comprised of single notes played with the right hand, as this combined arrangement becomes increasingly fuller with the composition overall swaying gently to and fro. Subtly brightening the mood a bit is “For Always”, a comparatively more fluid piece that boasts a repetitious stream of piano chords within a melodic ensemble of strings, as starker, sparsely-placed piano notes perfectly lend bolder accents along the way. One particular highlight is the title track, “Rising”, which showcases beautifully resonating piano chords within a mostly minor-key motif. Entering periodically throughout is a stringed percussive type of rhythm that lends the composition an infectious power, as it proceeds along in a galloping fashion that overall conveys both a sense of cinematic drama and pensive thought. The ensuing “Daybreak” is an expectedly optimistic and engagingly lively piece, which boasts a more contemporary piano melody amid a dynamically colorful string arrangement.

Another notably intriguing piece is “I’m Ok”, which features a buoyant arrangement of piano and violin that’s underscored throughout by a steady, staccato drumbeat. Likewise notable is the lengthy “Looking up at the Sky”, which clocks in at nearly ten-and-a-half minutes. One of my favorites, it mesmerizingly moves along like a rushing river, eventually picking up course at about the midway point before winding down to another pause of calm towards the end. Another highlight is the aptly-titled closing piece, “Turning off the Noise”, which is perfectly understated and somewhat minimal, as drifty piano notes hover in the mid-to-higher registers amid softly suspended strings emanating from the lower range.

Sure to appeal to a variety of listeners although especially those who enjoy classical-crossover styles, Rising is an impressive fusion of neoclassical and contemporary instrumental music that's wrapped in both passion and elegance! ~Candice Michelle

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

Friday, March 2, 2018

Aural Awakenings: Episode 10

00:00 / Peter Kater (ft. Robert Mirabal & Mary Youngblood) / Looking Glass / Red Moon
04:49 / James Asher / Sandless Desert / Drum Distillery
10:37 / Heidi Breyer / The Sound and The Fury / Moonlight in Empty Rooms
14:50 / Strunz & Farah / Rimas De Cuerdas / Stringweave
19:46 / Pam Asberry / Dunn’s River Falls / Seashells in my Pocket
22:55 / Kaveh Karandish / Zaagros Zephyr / Silent Whispers
27:27 / Ancient Future / So Near, So Far / Dreamchaser
33:50 / Oscar Pascasio / Magia / Sensaciones
39:04 / Neil Tatar / After the Rain / After the Rain
44:47 / Michael Whalen / Almost Touching Heaven / Kiss the Quiet
50:37 / Terry Oldfield & Soraya / Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha / Temple Moon

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Top 25 Albums for February 2018

TM Artist Name Album Title
1 Cantus Northern Lights
2 Todd Boston One
3 Mychael Danna & Jeff Danna The Breadwinner
4 Heartistry Inner Sanctum
5 James Asher Drum Distillery
6 Eugene Friesen The Essential Collection
7 Christopher Boscole Soul Dreams
8 Camille Nelson Lead Me Home
9 Terry Oldfield & Soraya  Temple Moon
10 Gerhard Daum Rural Renewal
11 Neil Tatar After the Rain
12 Liquid Mind Liquid Mind XII: Peace
13 Steven C Emotive 
14 Kathryn Kaye Songs of Changing Light
15 Russell Suereth Spiritual Odyssey 
16 Anne Trenning Beautiful Song
17 Pam Asberry Seashells in my Pocket
18 Matthew Labarge Spiriti
19 Masako Piano Sanctuary
20 Deborah Offenhauser Soundscapes
21 Kaveh Karandish Silent Whispers
22 John Dahlander Songs for Smiler McGee
23 Terra Guitarra Spirit Wheel
24 Christine Brown Ascend
25 Steven Chesne Sapient