Friday, January 31, 2020

Album Review: Star Lullaby by Raphael Groten

Having grown up in a musical family that would often get together and perform, Raphael Groten picked up the guitar at age thirteen after playing the saxophone during his younger childhood years. Later taking an interest in the holistic healing arts, he entered shamanic studies and sound therapy practices, thereby utilizing a variety of acoustic world instruments to help positively effect both mind and body. This newfound path in life was particularly inspired by a near-fatal accident involving his then four month old son, after Groten played guitar for him during that first night in intensive care, an experience that was followed-up the next day by a therapeutic harpist who also played for his son in his room.

Co-produced with Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton, as well as mixed, mastered and engineered at Ackerman’s own Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, Star Lullaby is Raphael Groten’s sublime 2019 follow-up to his 2015 debut release, Journey Home. That four-year period between the two albums not only allowed Groten to further mature as an artist, but to additionally develop his own sacred path as an integral part of what he calls “intentional healing music”.

Resulting in a phenomenal double-album consisting of 29 tracks in total, Star Lullaby is the perfect kind of record you wouldn’t want to leave behind while living in or lodging at a cabin in the woods. Providing the listener with two slightly, yet distinctive, listening experiences, disc one is comprised exclusively of fingerstyle acoustic guitar solos, while disc two includes both collaborative renditions of the original solo pieces, as well as additional environmental sounds and textures on those compositions and other non-collaborative pieces.

Having enlisted the talented contributions of some well-known musicians who are often recruited for Imaginary Road Studios projects, our ears are variably treated on the second disc to the harmonizing accents of cello (Eugene Friesen), violin (Charlie Bisharat), flute (Rob Korb), bass guitar (Michael Manring), percussion (Jeff Haynes), and additional acoustic guitar (Will Ackerman).

While listening to this supreme recording, scenic images of mountains, rivers and wildlife come to mind, as well as the comforting warmth of a cozy fireplace. By allowing just the right amount of thoughtful pause between the intricate notes of his reflective melodies, Groten creates a calming space for the listener to relax, imagine or contemplate.

Highlights include the opening “Dawn”, which is a perfect song to wake up to first thing in the morning. Its soothing melody is further enhanced on disc two with the airy tones of gentle wind chimes. Likewise, the alternate take of “Waking” is subtly expounded upon by both cascading and percussive rainstick. This popular indigenous instrument is also heard on the ensemble variation of “Levity”, a marvelously livelier piece that is additionally accentuated by Ron Korb’s sprightly flute and Jeff Haynes' folksy percussion. One can easily imagine themselves taking a stroll through the woods at night while nodding along to this tune, or perhaps enjoying a celebration with friends around a campfire.

Another favorite, “Compassion”, displays an improvised arrangement on which Eugene Friesen’s cello provides a solemn elegance to delicate guitar figures. “Prayer” is perhaps the loveliest piece on the album and is noted by its Latin-style guitar melody. Mysteriously meditative, this enchanting tune feels evocative of walking alone through an old Spanish monastery, even more so while listening to the slightly alternate version, which is softly enhanced by distant birdsong.

Finally, we are treated to three variations of the title piece, “Star Lullaby”, the last of which appropriately concludes the album. Featuring Noah Wilding on vocals in addition to Michael Manring on bass guitar, both male and female lyrical vocals soothingly sing a prayerful lullaby.

Depicting the mysterious night owl against a starry sky, the album’s artwork aptly conveys the nocturnal woodland feel of these beautiful compositions. Therefore, if you love contemplative acoustic guitar music, particularly in the style of classic Windham Hill or Narada Records, then you will most certainly cherish Star Lullaby! ~Candice Michelle

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Album Review: Two Hearts by David Wahler

In addition to having enjoyed a successful career in Interior Design, acclaimed composer David Wahler has also released a string of outstanding albums over the past several years which have been particularly well received among contemporary instrumental and new age music circles.

On what could fittingly be described as "romantic lullabies for lovers", Two Hearts is imbued with a Greek mythical semblance that seemingly relates the story of a reunification of soulmates. Comprised of eleven enchanting compositions, the album showcases beautifully tender keyboard and woodwind melodies accompanied by delicate string textures, ethereal vocal pads and silky synth grooves.

Highlights include “Paris Rain”, a gorgeous number that feels evocative of sailing down a river beneath vivid constellations in the night sky, as shimmering sounds mimic twinkling stars and mist-filled waters. Speaking of constellations, “Night Sky of Orion (Remix)” is another prepossessing piece that similarly paints imagery of a starry firmament casting its light upon a watery abode, aptly conveyed by the composition's gently rippling outward figures and softly shuffling rhythm. Lastly, the mysterious “Confession” conveys a secret to tell and is perfectly illustrated by a haunting melody wrapped in a mythic aura of hidden halls and shadowy sirens.

In an utmost compliment, while listening to this recording, at times I was simultaneously reminded of new age landmark album Enchantment by Chris Spheeris and Paul Voudouris, as well as The Ambient Collection by Art of Noise.

An overall mesmerizing display of dreamily romantic and lushly ethereal synthesizer ballads, Two Hearts is quintessential new age music with a touch of ambient groove! ~Candice Michelle

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

Friday, January 10, 2020

Aural Awakenings: Episode 36 ~ The Top 25 Albums of 2019

A special 2-hour episode showcasing music from some of the most memorable releases of 2019 in the new age, neoclassical and contemporary instrumental genres!

First Set:
0:00:17 / Scott August / Spirit of the Canyon / Beyond Summer
0:05:05 / Al Jewer & Andy Mitran / Welcoming Light (ft. Sherry Finzer) / Perihelion
0:10:03 / Juliet Lyons / Flow / The Light Within
0:17:15 / Acoustic Ocean / Spirit Awakening / Blue Moon Rising
0:21:35 / Kerani / Sakura / Small Treasures
0:26:48 / Sharon Fendrich / Song of the Dove / Red Sky Prairie
Second Set:
0:31:38 / Rémi Orts Project / Leaves Are Falling / Peaceful Moments (Reign of the Forest)
0:36:32 / Mirabai Ceiba / Silence to Break / Agua De Luna
0:40:35 / Timothy Wenzel / Gazelle Dance / Running Away
0:44:33 / Camille Nelson / Into the West (ft. Alex Sharpe) / Sacred Lullabies
0:49:16 / David Wahler / Night Sky of Orion (Remix) / Two Hearts
0:54:55 / Lisa Pressman / At First Light / As We Imagine
1:00:00 / Shoshana Michel / Shooting Stars / Reflection
Third Set:
1:05:27 / Douglas Blue Feather / Celebration Day / Ascension
1:09:41 / Harrison Edwards / Into the Light / Into the Unknown
1:13:33 / Sangeeta Kaur / Sa Re Sa Sa / Compassion
1:20:26 / Forrest Smithson / Compassion Wheel / The Healer’s Way
1:26:41 / Libera / Benedictus Deus / Beyond
1:30:01 / Crystalline Dream / Inner Voice (ft. Alex Kelly) / Seventh Chakra
Fourth Set:
1:37:18 / Jonny Lipford / Migration / Migration
1:42:31 / Vellua / Meraki / Portrait of Souls
1:46:46 / Paul Adams & Elizabeth Geyer / All That I Am / Deeper Imaginings
1:52:37 / Mikuskovics Baum / Endless Ozean / Timeless
1:59:15 / Karen Biehl / Meditation on a Moonlit Lake (Full Version) / Starlight Dreams
2:03:45 / Peter Kater / Angel’s Nest / Wings