Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Album Review: Wings by Peter Kater

Peter Kater is among the early pioneers of what has come to be defined as ‘new age piano’ music, as well as one of the genre’s most prominent and successful names. Likewise, a recent first-time Grammy winner for his 2017 masterpiece Dancing on Water (which followed a successive string of Grammy nominations over the years) and multi-platinum selling recording artist, Kater’s more than three-decade span as a consummate composer has seen the release of several landmark solo albums and collaborations with other notable instrumentalists and vocalists.

Often created with an overarching and purposeful theme in mind, many of Kater’s compositions convey concurrently meaningful expressions that are drawn from nature as metaphor for human emotion and personal reflection. Embodying this concept is his latest piano album, Wings, which effectively elicits poetic passion and romantic mystery along its mesmerizing course. Lending further mystique to these fluidly evolving and sparkling arrangements are subtly interspersed synth-textures, which beautifully backlight several of the pieces in crepuscular golden rays.

Although overall mood-elevating and soul-embracing, as with much of Kater’s music Wings also often conveys an alluring sense of hopeful longing and restrained desire quietly stirring beneath its surface. Hence, the enrapturing beauty and depth of the melodies themselves is what sets Kater’s music apart from many others in the field. It’s the precise timing of each note, the spaces between the notes, and the distinct emotion impressed upon each note played that collectively results in nearly unmatched perfection.

A must-have for fans of Peter Kater as well as all lovers of the ‘new age piano’ genre, Wings is yet another memorable masterpiece and easily a top contender for this year’s finest piano album! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon and other retail and streaming platforms.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Artist Spotlight: An Interview with Michael Whalen

We're excited to present an interview with Michael Whalen! He’s a distinguished New York based composer of many genres who’s written music for various advertisements, television and film scores, as well as released numerous albums over that past few decades, including on prominent record labels such as Narada, Hearts of Space and Windham Hill. His latest album has just been released on the Real Music label and it's a beautiful solo piano offering titled Cupid Blindfolded. So please stay tuned for a lively and fascinating conversation as we delve into the creative mind and discuss the muse of Michael Whalen.

Music from the albums Cupid Blindfolded, Kiss the Quiet and Dream Cycle are featured in this segment.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Overview: One World by Michael Stribling

Michael Stribling is a multi-instrumentalist and composer best-known for creating relaxing synthesizer-based music. Although having originally released an album titled Journey Within in 1989, he’s been predominantly active as a recording artist since 2006. In what is arguably Stribling's most ambitious work to date, One World draws its inspiration from various cultural themes and traditions spanning around the globe. Although painting from his familiar sound palette, Stribling brushes in his compositions with many hues of world music; the overall outcome being enjoyably reminiscent of what one might hear at a theme park. Showcasing song titles like “A Gathering of the Elders”, “Buddhist Nursery” and “Persian Night Caravan”, many earthly destinations are visited throughout, with soundscapes ranging from dynamic and tribal-esque to pacifying and Zen-like. Beautifully concluding with a contemplative offering, “Benediction (Prayer for World Peace)” brings us back to the point of origin by riding in on a peaceful cloud of aerial tones and lulling piano chords! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Album Review: Running Away by Timothy Wenzel

Timothy Wenzel is a composer and keyboardist with several albums to his name, the latest of which is titled Running Away. As with his previous release, What We Hold Dear, Wenzel has recruited outstanding violinist Josie Quick (one-half of the duo Perpetual Motion) who once again displays her impressive versatility on the strings. Jill Haley also joins the guest lineup this time around in which she lends her complimentary English Horn and oboe wizardry. Yet the most notable step forward Wenzel has taken with this album is in swapping out his past use of drum machines for live percussion by none other than Jeff Haynes; a move that's greatly enhanced his compositions with an overall warmer, more organic and velvety sound. This artistic progression has demonstrably taken Wenzel’s music to the next level, resulting in what is arguably his best work to date. Topping it all off is the co-production, mastering and mixing skills of Corin Nelsen and Running Away easily becomes a redefining moment for Wenzel’s creative expression.

Laced with many of Wenzel’s signature Celtic and renaissance elements, Running Away conveys a magical innocence and fairytale-like narrative, which is perhaps even more pronounced than with any of his prior works. Not only is this because Wenzel often infuses his central keyboard melodies with harpsichord-type motifs, but likewise, Quick’s and Haley’s respective violin and wind instruments are very much in-tuned to a Celtic musical spirit on this album. Furthermore, realistic sounds along the way of whimsical fairy flutes, elvish vocal tones and the occasional woodsy breeze all collectively enhance the experience of fey-like enchantment; it’s as if Wenzel and team all changed into Renaissance attire and leaped in a fairy ring to dance and play along.

Another thing I especially enjoy about Running Away is that it bears a similar essence to some of the more Celtic and renaissance-themed works of David Arkenstone and Medwyn Goodall. So if you’re a fan in particular of those artists I’d certainly recommend checking this out. Already one of my favorite contemporary instrumental albums of the year, Running Away is a fantastic musical direction for Timothy Wenzel that remains true to his familiar sound. I’m highly impressed with his selection of additional musician and production recruitments, which have further helped to bring-out his artistry and spotlight his talents even more! ~Candice Michelle

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

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Album Review: Waiting's End – solo piano vol. 1 by KeithTim Anderson

KeithTim Anderson is a Nashville-based pianist, composer and vocalist who grew up in a small town outside of Eau Claire, WI. Holding an Education Degree in vocal music with a minor in piano, Anderson has worked as a choral director as well as performed in churches, universities, coffeehouses and festivals. Titled Waiting’s End: solo piano vol. 1, his debut solo piano album marks an inspiring new path for this multi-talented artist who lost his voice for a period of time in 2017. Comprised of nine original compositions, Waiting’s End elegantly weaves contemporary, classical and hymnal motifs into fluid, moderately-paced arrangements, which are illustrated by particularly lovely melodic structures.

On a previous vocal album titled Refuge, Anderson created songs of scriptural and hymnal lyrics set to original compositions. On the all-instrumental Waiting’s End, he intuitively connects the theme of each song to a scripture relating to its title. For example, the beautiful opener “Autumn’s Rain” is a reference to Joel 2:23b. Beginning with twinkling piano notes that effectively convey a light rain in the breeze, this delicately flowing piece becomes more robust as keystrokes slide their way down to the middle and lower registers, before gradually climbing the scale again. Drawing its inspiration from Genesis 1:1, “Long Ago” almost feels like a prayerful lullaby, as it imparts a soul-sense of wonder with its drifting and soothing melody.

A musical reflection of Anderson’s personal faith, Waiting’s End is sure to gently uplift the spirits while bringing stillness to the mind. Peaceful, restful and softly inspirational, the album’s many moments of devotional ponder ultimately culminate in a comforting essence of grace, hope and acceptance. ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon and other retail and streaming platforms.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Album Review: Isalc"Li: A Love Odyssey by Anaya Music

Anaya is a Brazilian-born composer and vocalist with a lifelong devotion to ballet dancing. Having been immersed in a rich culture of music and the arts since childhood, she started out playing piano and guitar at a young age, eventually going on to study the music of various classical composers. To date, Anaya has released a handful of what could be described as true-to-form “neoclassical new age” music albums, including her latest offering, Isalc"Li: A Love Odyssey, which is comprised of eight serene and delicate compositions with emphasis on gentle keyboards and symphonic string arrangements.

The radiant “Luminous” opens the album with gossamer strings and celestial timbres, a signature staple of her sound, as one can almost see the sunlight breaking through the clouds while ascending towards the sky. Eventually arriving at what is easily the highlight of the album, “Dharma (with vocals)” is an especially touching composition that feels like a reunification of sorts. Here, Anaya lends gentle wordless intonations in unison with the lead melody, as the listener is seemingly carried away by angels to a heavenly abode. Closing out the album is the mistily lulling “Breath” with its shimmery, threadlike synth-tones haloing a cello and oboe melody.

Quoted as saying “our best instrument is the universal harmony of being”, Anaya seeks to promote harmony, unity and balance through her music and her tender melodies certainly convey that message. Transmitted straight from the heart, Isalc"Li: A Love Odyssey will resonate with many listeners who are seeking a heavenly slice of peace and comfort through the healing waves of sound! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon and other retail and streaming platforms.

Artist Spotlight: An Interview with Andy Iorio

We’re delighted to present an audio interview with Andy Iorio. He’s a New York based pianist who composes neoclassical music that it is often beautifully cinematic. His latest studio album is called Awakening which has earned him increasing popularity since its release. So please join us where we’ll learn about Andy Iorio, as well as the inspiration behind Awakening.

Music from the albums Awakening and II are featured in this interview.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Album Review: The Light Within by Juliet Lyons

Juliet Lyons is an accomplished singer, songwriter and composer for film and television, who's lent her vocals to various trailers as well as trance-dance and relaxation music. On her latest album, The Light Within (subtitled Songs for Yoga, Healing & Inner Peace) she serves up a soothingly soulful blend of ethereal vocals and lush instrumentation bathed in an Eastern mystique, for an overall vibe that could be described as a Buddha Bar meets healing spa soundscape.

Comprised of ten compositions all written and produced by Juliet Lyons (with “Eternal Now” co-written by Doug Lyons) The Light Within also enlists the talents of several notable guest musicians, including Ricky Kej, Vanil Vegas, Ron Korb and others. Both contemporary and world concepts beautifully collide on these pristine arrangements, which variably feature everything from keyboards and guitars to Native flute, cello, santoor, tabla drums, sacred chants, English-sung melodies and harmonious vocal layers.

While I expected this album to be a pleasant listen, I was in fact quite surprised by how wonderful it truly turned out to be, with its flawless interweaving of warmly engaging melodies, subtle ambient textures and acoustic world elements. And although calming in essence, the music also seemingly embodies a playful oceanic spirit that's evocative of basking in the sun, the sand and the sea.

One of my favorite pieces is “Flow”, on which Juliet Lyons’ wordless vocals softly soar among a silky sound palette of gentle sitar and chilled groove that brings-to-mind a room filled with incense smoke. Also noteworthy is the sensual “Calm”, an ultra-downtempo piece with a dimly-lit atmosphere that employs English lyrics and electric guitar. Additionally, the title piece “The Light Within” is a gorgeous instrumental that delightfully recalls some of Amethystium’s music.

Juliet Lyons’ breathy and sensuous singing style can be somewhat likened to Donna De Lory's, albeit airier, while the mood and instrumentation of several arrangements bears some reminiscence to Paul Avgerinos’ equally outstanding Bhakti album. Additionally, fans of Deva Premal and White Sun might want to check out this album as well.

Though subtitled Songs for Yoga, Healing & Inner Peace, I’ve found myself playing this in the car a lot lately, so perhaps one could tag “and reducing stress while driving” onto that description as well.

A top-notch production sure to have much cross-genre appeal, The Light Within illuminates the listening space and seemingly infuses it with a sense of solace. Though I have much reluctance towards the “new age” label, nevertheless, since that’s the category under which music like this gets filed, with that in mind The Light Within is arguably one of the year’s finest albums in that realm, and sits among my current favorite vocal-centric albums! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available on Amazon and other retail and streaming platforms.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Album Review: Awakening by Andy Iorio

Awakening is the third studio album by New York based neoclassical pianist and composer Andy Iorio. Featuring ten one-word titled compositions, Awakening features elegantly cinematic piano and string arrangements along with some solo piano pieces. Sometimes sweepingly powerful and at other times solemnly reflective, the album exudes both passion and purpose, as it relates a personal story of love, loss, release and redemption.

Conceived as a thematic narrative from beginning to end, the album opens with “Ascend”, a somewhat forlorn piece that features a swell of strings as it proceeds in a gradual upwards climb. “Reflection” follows next, which is one of three solo piano pieces along with “Faded” and “Reverie”. Gracefully flowing at a moderate pace, these tender solo instrumentals offer more reticently peaceful moments.

The orchestrated pieces tend to possess rising-and-falling motifs, which include highlights such as the title piece, “Awakening”, as well as “Adrift” and “Arise”. These wonderful pieces showcase blossoming arrangements that consists of commanding piano leads accentuated by strings.

Paired towards the end of the album are two compositions of rather contrasting moods. The first of these is “Release”, which exudes an air of hopeful optimism without seeming overly buoyant. “Bittersweet” ensues with sustained strings and a cycling piano figure, potentially making this the album’s most enchantingly wistful moment. Aptly conveying images of cloudy skies, it seemingly eludes to that of reminiscing upon the past, perhaps in the form of sifting through old photos and recalling long-tucked away memories.

Seemingly looking towards the sunrise while embracing a new perspective is the final piece, “Solace”, which concludes with a gently galloping piano melody in tandem with delicate strings.

Thematic and narrative though not overly bombastic, Awakening is easily Andy Iorio’s best work to date. It will particularly appeal to those who enjoy expressive instrumental music that draws from both classical and contemporary modes! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon, Bandcamp, and other retail and streaming platforms.

Starlight Dreams by Karen Biehl

Classically trained in piano and violin with a master’s degree in vocal performance, composer Karen Biehl combines romantic neoclassicism with new age sensibilities on her stunning showcase of piano instrumentals titled Starlight Dreams.

Comprised of 13 elegant compositions spanning approximately 45 minutes, Starlight Dreams paints serenely nocturnal images throughout its intricately woven piano passages. Conveying a sense of both drama and minimalism, Biehl’s interlocking melodies of seamlessly alternating major and minor keystrokes often boldly fluctuate in tempo amid gracefully agile and winding figures.

One of my favorite pieces on the album is the enchantingly mysterious “Chanson Des Vents”, which slightly tends towards a more exotic scale. Perfectly evocative of the cover artwork, I can easily imagine the composer playing by an open window at night to a soft breeze by the moonlight.

Biehl has also included two subtle variations of another gorgeous piece called “Meditation on a Moonlit Lake”. The first of these two is entirely solo piano, while the longer closing version incorporates glistening bell-tones and breezy synth-textures, imbuing the composition with a more ‘new age’ essence. This "full version", as it's subtitled, gets my vote as one of the most beautiful piano pieces composed in recent memory.

Likewise easily among the best piano releases I've heard this year, Starlight Dreams elegantly unfolds like instrumental poetry set in the Victorian era. Similarly conveying an air of feminine mystique, at times the album recalls a bit of Suzanne Ciani’s iconic Pianissimo works. Best suited for playing in the evenings or late at night, Starlight Dreams is highly recommended to fans of both contemporary and neoclassical piano music! ~Candice Michelle

For more information, please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon, iTunes and other retail & streaming platforms.

An Interview with Michael Kent Smith at the Heart Dance Records Summit in Phoenix, AZ

Here’s an interview with multi-style guitarist Michael Kent Smith, which was conducted earlier this year at the Heart Dance Records Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. In this segment, we highlight his most recent album After the Harvest, which weaves contemporary acoustic melodies with global instrumental and classical motifs!

Music from the album After the Harvest can be heard throughout this interview.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Overview: Cupid Blindfolded by Michael Whalen

Highly-acclaimed and prolific composer Michael Whalen returns this time with an intimate solo piano offering. Recorded at Will Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, Cupid Blindfolded is a ten-piece album that consists of contemporary melodies imbued with a classical elegance. Gracefully unfolding like a collection of romantic and serenading hymns, Cupid Blindfolded speaks softly to matters of the heart with its boldly intricate yet tenderly executed arrangements. Aptly-placed at the album's midway point is a pinnacle moment called “The Muse”, which beautifully conveys a mysterious intrigue that seems particularly evocative of the enticing cover artwork! ~Candice Michelle

(Available at Amazon and other online retail and streaming platforms.)

Overview: As We Imagine by Lisa Pressman

Lisa Pressman’s fifth studio album titled As We Imagine was written and co-produced by herself and Tim Ponzek. Performed on a 7' Bösendorfer Concert Grand Piano, the album is comprised of ten gently melodic and comfortingly serene arrangements that are beautifully immersed in Pressman’s celestial vocal washes and Ponzek’s enveloping synth orchestrations. Softly shaped by suspended gossamer chords that subtly shift in color and tone throughout, As We Imagine fits the classic “new age” music mold while also sounding refreshingly up-to-date. A perfect accompaniment for massage, acupuncture and other healing arts, this album is certain to lift your spirits while simultaneously calming the senses! ~Candice Michelle

(Available at Bandcamp and other online retail and streaming services).

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Aural Awakenings: Episode 35

Artist – Track – Album & Buy Link
Louis Anthony deLise – Spring Rain – Natural Light
Christoph Berghorn – Egyptina – Let Go
Ciro Hurtado – El Ayaymama – Altiplano
Bill Douglas – Diamond Dance – Celtic Twilight, Vol. 1
A Spot on the Hill – Coffee, Birdsong and You – A Need that Runs too Deep
Masako – Salmon Run – Underwater Whisperer
Juliet Lyons – Stillness – The Light Within
Jacques Y. Fafard & Lise Charbonneau – Lahochi – Invocation
Lisa Pressman – Far Away Dreams – As We Imagine
Mirabai Ceiba – You Are a Song – Aqua de Luna
Joshua Alan Silver – Shalom Rav – Songs for Solomon
Jill Haley – Whirlwind – The Winds of Badlands
Sarah Brightman – Canto Per Noi – Hymn
Rick Sparks – Dreams of Peace – Hushabye

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Top 20 Albums of June 2019

No. Artist – Album & Buy Link
01. Juliet Lyons – The Light Within
02. Jonny Lipford – Migration
03. Scott August – Beyond Summer
04. Michael Neal – Lapse
05. Mikuskovics Baum – Timeless
06. Incendio – Summoning the Muse
07. Robert Linton – Adrift in Wonder
08. Ciro Hurtado – Altiplano
09. Mike Woodlark – Mackland Ave
10. Lisa Pressman – As We Imagine
11. Michael Logozar – Kaleidoscope
12. Perpetual Motion – Dance of Two Souls
13. Brooks & Day – Mystic Messages
14. Gerhard Daum – Songs Without Words
15. Fiona Joy Hawkins – Signature (Deluxe Edition)
16. Michele McLaughlin – Memoirs
17. Secret Garden – Storyteller
18. Kathryn Kaye – Solace of Mountains and Clouds
19. Andy Iorio – Awakening
20. Ann Sweeten – Before Today, Beyond Tomorrow