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.