Thursday, August 1, 2019

Album Review: The Winds of Badlands by Jill Haley

Jill Haley is a pianist, oboist and English horn player both as a solo artist and a frequent guest musician on many other recordings. The latest installment in her signature national park-themed series of albums, The Winds of Badlands takes the listener on an imaginary tour of Badlands National Park in South Dakota with Haley serving as our informative musical park guide. Characterized by its rugged landscape of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, spires, canyons and prairie grasslands, Haley musically interprets the Badlands terrain in the form of earth-tone soundscapes that hearken back to the classic Windham Hill Records sound with her Americana-infused acoustic instrumental compositions. Leading the pieces with English horn, oboe and piano, Haley is additionally joined by David Cullen on guitar and bass along with Graham Cullen on cello, while recording master and mixer Corin Nelsen co-produced the album with her.

As always, Haley’s album is artfully packaged with an accompanying booklet and natural photography, along with brief sentences describing what each composition is about. It’s like turning the pages of a picture-book that, while listening along to, encourages one to more deeply appreciate the pristine beauty of these North American landscapes.

Favorites include “Cliff Shelf Breeze” with its particularly lovely piano melody and open-air atmosphere effectively conveying a big picture view of the landscape below. Likewise, the album’s only solo piano piece, “Sculpted by Water”, is also one of its most striking, drawing its inspiration from the process of water erosion reshaping the park’s rocky terrain over time. Additionally, “Rustles of Green and Gold” musically illustrates a turkey winding its way through the rustling grasses with a peaceful ensemble of mesmerizing piano accentuated by tender oboe and guitar. Although Haley’s compositions are typically set against a sunny backdrop, she does occasionally slip into a more nocturnal mood with reposeful pieces like “Silhouettes at Dusk” and “Moon Over Badlands”. Ultimately however, The Winds of Badlands fittingly wraps it all up with the lively acoustic guitar-accompanied “Prairie Grass Dance”.

With there being no shortage of breathtaking American landscapes to be creatively inspired by, I suspect we’ll be hearing many more national park themed albums to come, and it’s always a rewarding experience whenever Jill Haley sets her sights on another natural environment to observe, explore and interpret via her musical excellence! ~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.