Thursday, September 22, 2016

Spotlight: Road to Chiang Mai by Bill Wren

Bill Wren is a Texas-based musician and composer who’s released a couple of critically acclaimed albums. His third release, Road to Chiang Mai (named for the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand), was inspired by a trip to the Southeast Asian country and the start of a new life. Four of the album’s thirteen compositions were composed by Frank Ralls (whom also arranged, orchestrated and mixed the album) as well as provides drums and keyboard – while the rest of the tracks were composed by both Bill Wren and Frank Ralls. Also joining the musician line-up is Micha Gilliam on both electric and acoustic guitar as well as mandolin and banjo, John Gibson on bass guitar, Jim Farrelly on penny whistle, Aubrey Logan, Ben Bram and Tim Davis on vocals, Ben Lash and Nick Curry on cello, Ann Marie Calhoun on violin, and strings courtesy of String Mob LA.

“Enchanted Kingdom” (featuring Frank Ralls) is a sweeping and cinematic opener that boasts a full orchestra led by powerful drums with interspersed digital effects. Hovering somewhere between the realm of neoclassical and symphonic rock music, this lively and colorful piece immediately signals the embarking on a fantastic voyage. Frank Ralls also lends both his arranging and instrumental talents to the next piece, titled “The Other Side”. One of my favorites, this amazing fusion of neoclassical and electronica features piano, strings and keyboards set to an infectious staccato rhythm, with female vocals providing airy ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ throughout. “The Beginning” is another highlight initially led by a beautiful mandolin instrument amidst sparking chimes, soothing electronics and lush orchestration, which collectively unfold into a colorfully sonic arrangement. However, “Journey around the Sun” (also featuring Frank Ralls) is perhaps the album’s most prestigious moment. Guided by encircling textures of dreamy synths and cascading guitars, which are underscored by hypnotic percussion, it exemplifies an exquisite fusion of acoustic and ambient music. A more solemn tone is conveyed on a couple of tracks – including the solo cello piece, “Longing” (featuring Ben Lash), as well as “Memories” (once again featuring Frank Ralls), which consists of both piano and cello – before the gently uplifting mood returns on “The Way It Was”, a Celtic-flavored piece featuring Jim Farrelly on penny whistle. “Ebb and Flow” closes out the album with mandolin, light bells and gentle orchestration, signifying that our enchanting celebration is quietly winding down. A childlike wonder is conveyed on this piece, evoking images of a beautiful city beneath a starry sky, as if to honor the magical memory of an enchanted land somewhere far away.

A successful blend of east-meets-west, Road to Chiang Mai incorporates neoclassical, contemporary instrumental, electronica and world music into a thoroughly rewarding musical experience. Those who possess a love of geography will additionally appreciate the CD’s inside cover artwork depicting what appears to be an old map of Thailand and surrounding area. Unfolding like a cinematic story full of twists, turns and dramatic pauses injected at all the right moments, ‘Road to Chiang Mai’ perfectly captures the sights and sounds of a country rich with beauty, culture and fascinating history! ~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 09/22/16.