Music Matters A Place for Music Fans! <![CDATA[ From]]> Yanni
2014 / YanniWorks
51 minutes

"Inspirato" is an impressive collection of thirteen pieces composed and orchestrated by Yanni  and sung by some of the biggest names in opera. I have to say upfront that I am not a fan of operatic singing, but I really enjoyed Yanni’s earlier Voce and Voices, so I thought I’d give it a try. Yanni didn’t write any of the lyrics (most of which are not in English) and the songs have been retitled, but these are some of Yanni’s best-known pieces and should be easily recognizable to long-time fans. All of the music is orchestrated and most songs include piano, strings and other instrumentation, providing a lush accompaniment to some of the most powerful singing voices from around the world. Yanni has always been an artist who dreams big and has a way of making those dreams come true, so it must be quite a triumph to make this complex project come to fruition so beautifully. With classical music becoming a dying art, I salute Yanni for bringing what are often totally opposing forces  in music (contemporary and classical) together and clearly demonstrating that music is music no matter what the genre. I can only imagine the thrill of having artists like Placido Domingo and Renee Fleming singing your songs!

The featured singers are Renee Fleming, Vittorio Grigolo, Placido Domingo, Katherine Jenkins, Nathan Pacheco, Placido Domingo Jr., Micaela Oeste, Chloe Lowery, Russell Watson, Lauren Jelencovich, Rolando Villazon, and Pretty Yende. Most appear as soloists, but there are a couple of duets and a quintet that present several of them in combinations. Placido Domingo Jr. wrote the lyrics for six of the pieces and Nathan Pacheco wrote words for four.

This is not one of my favorite Yanni albums, but it is still very beautiful and well worth a listen. Inspirato is available from Amazon, iTunes, and just about any other music outlet.

Kathy Parsons

7/23/14]]> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:47:59 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Written in the Key of Me: Notes from My Audiobiography
Christine Bustos
2014 / Christine Bustos
42 minutes

Writing a review of Christine Bustos’ "Written in the Key of Me: Notes from My Audiobiography" is a very special pleasure because it is the first CD I’ve reviewed by a former piano student of mine. Christine found me sometime ago on Facebook and when she asked if I’d give her new CD a listen, I agreed, not really expecting to be blown away by the music. I was and am! A very gifted musician even as a child, Christine started playing the piano for her church when she was quite young, often improvising hymns and making up songs as she played. As far as I can remember, that was in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, so it’s been awhile. 

Written in the Key of Me... Notes from My Audiobiography" is a group of unpolished personal recordings that were not originally intended to be released. Bustos was recording a diary without inhibition, “finding herself in imperfection.” The eleven original piano solos were often inspired by her two daughters as well as other events and  people in her life. The music is very melodic with a lovely, flowing quality, and each piece comes from a special place in Christine’s heart, played very expressively and with deep emotion. 

"Written in the Key of Me" begins with “Behavior,” a somber, melancholy piece that gradually lightens as it evolves, telling its story with great feeling and sincerity. “Crimson Tide” has a dark intensity and passion that make it compelling. I’ve often said that the piano is the perfect instrument for depicting rain, and Christine figured out the secrets for making “Raindrop Reflection” percussive without being harsh. The slow tempo and poignant melody give it the feeling of watching or listening to the rain late at night. “Keiki Lullaby” is my favorite track - so simple and yet so evocative and soothing. “Train to Tachikawa” picks up the tempo and spirit a bit with lots of deep bass accents and a sense of moving forward. “Midori” is another favorite. Slow, introspective, and  passionate, it’s beauty! “Beyond the Limit” has the graceful flow and warmth of a romantic slow dance. “The Fragile Child” feels very spontaneous - an outpouring of deep emotion, perhaps late in the night. “Footprints to Forever (A Walk With Gail)” is a tender tribute to a dear friend who recently passed away. Overflowing with love and hope, it’s a wonderful memorial that comes from the heart.

Christine Bustos is off to a fantastic start with her recording career and has touched me deeply with her music! "Written in the Key of Me: Notes from My Audiobiography" is available for download from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons


]]> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 02:57:15 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Mark Freshwater
2014 / Mark Freshwater
46 minutes

"Trees of Life" is the third solo CD from keyboardist/pianist/composer Mark Freshwater. The twelve songs on the album were inspired by family members and friends, making this music a very special and personal expression of love and appreciation. The music is mostly piano-based with keyboard orchestrations and embellishments and occasional nature sounds. A few of the pieces are light and playful, but most are reflective and meditative. Mark Freshwater has had an eclectic life in music with strong influences from classical, choral, folk, Christian, rock, new age, and smooth jazz genres. He started playing the piano at the age of five and has been at it ever since, although he took a 38-year break from composing until a couple of years ago. Hopefully, now that he has some momentum going, he’ll continue to compose and record!

"Trees of Life" begins with “Winter Reflections,” one of my favorites on the album. Chilly atmospheric sounds blend with haunting ambient music to create a feeling of icy calm. “Rhapsody,” composed by Dan Siegel, lightens the mood considerably with a gentle but catchy rhythm and easy sway. “Debbie’s Waltz” is Freshwater’s first composition in 3/4 time and is dedicated to  his wife. With a tender and delicate keyboard touch, the piece moves gracefully like the dancer who inspired it. “Native Meditations” is another favorite.  Peaceful yet poignant, piano narrates the story as flutes, strings, and other instruments add colors and intensity to the mix. As its title suggests, “Solace” was designed to be a comforting piece to commemorate the loss of family members. Quietly reflective, it gives the listener room to be with his or her thoughts and emotions at one of life’s most difficult times. “Blood Brothers” is rather dark yet very evocative, composed with a spiritual connectedness in mind - I really like this one, too. “Etude No. 1 in C Minor” is very classical yet very in the now, smoldering with a quiet intensity. “Snoqualmie Suite”  is the most upbeat and joyful track on the album, ending it with a smile and warm sense of satisfaction.

With three new albums to his credit in the span of less than two years, Mark Freshwater is producing an impressive body of new music. "Trees of Life" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very nicely done!

Kathy Parsons

7/21/14]]> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:04:27 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Kevin Mongelli
2014 / Mongelli Music
54 minutes

"Insperato: Take the Journey" by pianist/composer Kevin Mongelli is a combination of one new release (the 19-minute title track), four tracks from "Fort Lonesome" (2012) and two from "Ascension" (2009). Like Mongelli’s earlier work, this album is bold and dramatic with moments of tenderness and grace. A classically-trained pianist with a music degree from Duquesne University, Mongelli plays with strength and confidence without being overly showy, telling stories and expressing emotions by way of his fingertips on the piano keyboard. His previous release, Fort Lonesome, garnered a number of awards and nominations from the Indie Music Channel Awards and the Global Music Awards, so  Insperato is something of a “best of” album as well as a showcase for Mongelli’s dazzling new piece. All seven tracks are solo piano.

The album begins with the title track, a pianistic tour de force that is both powerful and eloquent. A multi-movement work, “Insperato” begins with a dark octave progression in the bass of the piano that expands into the treble as it unfolds. The second theme alternates between a soft-spoken melody and darkly mysterious responses that build in intensity, eventually becoming one voice. Mongelli chose the cover artwork of a ship in turbulent seas for a reason! Over the course of the 19-minute journey, we encounter challenges that seem insurmountable, moments of shimmering beauty and calm, passion, danger, frustration, peaceful reverie, and triumph. Several themes recur throughout the piece, keeping it cohesive as it goes through many changes in color and intensity. Well done! “Beyond the Heart” is more of a  passionate ballad. “Darker Days” is Mongelli’s best-known and most-celebrated piece (so far!). Intense and very classical in styling, it brings to mind what Liszt or possibly Beethoven might be composing if they were alive today. I also really like “Train To Despair,” a potent emotional expression that pours out from somewhere deep within. “The Sunrise Waltz” is much lighter and more flowing while remaining very expressive. “Unafraid” was my favorite track from Fort Lonesome and makes a great closing for this album. Strength and fierce determination are the words that come to mind while listening to this piece and it seems to be offering hope and encouragement. Powerful stuff!

If you are new to Kevin Mongelli’s music, check this one out! "Insperato: Take the Journey" is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby.

Kathy Parsons

7/20/14]]> Sun, 20 Jul 2014 23:32:28 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Steven Vitali
2013 / Steven Vitali
78 minutes

"Language of the Soul" is the latest release from Canadian composer/multi-instrumentalist Steven Vitali. Vitali has been composing music for more than 35 years, and has written a large body of music for films, television and radio in addition to his own recordings. The lush orchestrations and cinematic sweep of much of this music give it an evocative, visual quality that can conjure up images in the mind of the listener and create a soundtrack for those images. Some of the seventeen tracks are uptempo  and have a strong rhythm while others are quieter and more subdued. It’s a fascinating mix that works well in either the background or with full listening attention. Despite the larger scale of some of this music, it appears from the liner notes that the music was composed, performed, arranged, produced, and orchestrated by a team of - ONE! Impressive! Vitali plays piano, keyboards, guitar, drums, and percussion, so that covers just about everything! A self-taught musician and composer, Vitali’s music is melodic, accessible, and varied enough to appeal to a broad listening audience.

"Language of the Soul" begins with “Everything Happens For A Reason,” a beautifully-flowing piece with an easy rhythm and gentle spirit - one of my favorites. “Guitar Of Soul” has the graceful sway of a slow dance and the warmth of a very pleasant dream. “Be The Miracle” invites comparison to some of Yanni’s music, partly because of the instrumentation and partly due to the scope of the piece - another favorite. “Creative Soul” begins with a really heavy beat like someone tapping on a piece of wood with something harder than a knuckle - really ear-catching and interest-piquing! Guitar, keyboards, strings, and other percussion add their flavors to this very compelling piece - love it! The cinematic “A Sign Of The Dragon” would be fantastic behind footage of China’s landmarks and countryside. Voices, Chinese instrumentation, and a driving beat create feelings of majesty and beauty. “Forever Germaine” is a gentle, loving tribute to Vitali’s mother. The bright and light-hearted piano-based “Red Piano” includes pizzicato strings, a strong beat, and voices. “Soul Healing” is more mysterious and a bit darker in the first couple of minutes, gradually brightening and lifting to an intense and vibrant theme that eventually returns to the opening theme to close - another favorite. “Tomorrow Starts Here,” a swirling dance of life, overflows with energy and celebration. “Piano In Paris” is a light, romantic piece that brings the album so a warm, contented close.

"Language Of The Soul" is a great choice for those who like more orchestration and an uplifting emotional experience. It is available from Amazon and iTunes. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

7/15/14]]> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 23:05:43 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Steven Chesne with The Luminous World Orchestra
2013 / Brahmasong Records
48 minutes

After listening to "Moments From the Life Stories of Strangers, Part 1," it came as no surprise to learn that Steven Chesne has been composing music for television and films for more than twenty years. His fourth release with The Luminous World Orchestra is a fascinating mix of vibrant world music and more subdued ambient styles. Strings, flutes, voices, an assortment of ethnic instruments, and full orchestration offer the feeling of a soundtrack recording - diverse, but unified by a common theme. Most of the nine tracks are 5-7 minutes long, giving the music time to evolve and tell its story. Quite a bit of the music has a strong Eastern influence, both in instrumentation and in style. "Moments From the Life Stories of Strangers" takes the listener on a colorful journey of spiritually-inspired moments that include joy, contemplation, reflection, playfulness, and the transcendental.

"Moments From the Life Stories of Strangers" begins with “Invocation,” an ethereal and mysterious piece that features wordless vocals as well as strings, harp, and Eastern instruments that give much of this piece its exotic flavor. “For When the Love Will Rain Down Upon You” is much more ambient with a shimmering guitar providing an atmospheric background, percussion (gongs and drums), and a gorgeous cello combining to make musical magic. “Flicker of the Glistening” is perhaps the most cinematic of the pieces, beginning with a quiet theme with a smooth and graceful flow that gradually builds to a bigger and livelier second theme and then returns to the first.  Strings, horns, and a soothing female voice give this piece a pleasurable sweep. “Glory Story #2” sends us soaring heavenward with flute, strings, and gentle wind chimes - a favorite. “Morning Hocket” is quite different. By definition, a hocket is a medieval practice where a single melody is shared between two (or occasionally more) voices such that alternately one voice sounds while the other rests. This piece includes an interesting assortment of instruments that sound individually and with one or more of the others to create a vibrant, colorful mix. “Change, Your Oldest Friend” is a bit more haunting and melancholy. My favorite piece on the album is “Lumiere du Soleil.” Light and breezy, this mostly guitar piece expresses playfulness, freedom, and joy, bringing the album to a warm and satisfying close.

"Moments From the Life Stories of Strangers, Part 1" is available from Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Check it out!

Kathy Parsons

7/12/14]]> Sun, 13 Jul 2014 00:12:13 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Ricky Kej & Wouter Kellerman
2014 / Listen2Africa Series

"Winds of Samsara" is a glorious collaboration by keyboardist/composer Ricky Kej, flutist Wouter Kellerman and a crew of about 120 musicians from five continents. With musical instruments and stylings from all over the world, this is clearly a world music album. Several of the tracks have a very strong Indian influence, reflecting Kej’s cultural background, but there is also a gorgeous arrangement of “Greensleeves,” a track by Australia’s wonderful Fiona Joy, and a Nocturne by Chopin. Impossibly diverse? In less capable hands, perhaps, but this album works seamlessly and beautifully from the first note to the last. With themes of peace and global harmony as well as musical tributes to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi, Winds of Samsara is a richly rewarding experience from an emotional and spiritual as well as a musical perspective. I predict that this one will shoot up the charts very quickly!

"Winds of Samsara" begins with “Mahatma,” a piece with diverse musical elements that come together as one to symbolize the late visionary’s message of world peace, non-violence and love. Guests artists on this track include guitarist Ciro Hurtado and vocalist Prakash Sontakke, but it is Kellerman’s flute that makes it soar. “New Earth Calling” scales back the production a bit, but not the beauty or effectiveness of the music. “Crystal Moon” is the first piece Kellerman ever composed. Haunting and graceful, it features Kellerman on flute and fife, accompanied by guitars, keyboards, and percussion. “Madiba” is the family name of Nelson Mandela, and this piece expresses the feelings of gratitude the two composers have for the great leader. Both powerful and very gentle, it’s a favorite. “Heaven Is Here” is a new arrangement of “Pieces of Heaven” from Kej’s 2013 release, Shanti Orchestra. It is also the first piece Kej and Kellerman worked on together. With ethereal vocals and the universal spirit of love, it’s a deeply emotional stand-out. “River of Time” remembers a lost loved one and was composed by Phresh Makhene and Kellerman in a distinctive African style. “Remembrance” is set to the old English folk song, “Greensleeves.” Inspired by the universal and timeless quality the song, it is sung here by Indian and African voices. “Journey to Higher Grounds” is another favorite. An ode to positivity, progress, and resilience, Kellerman’s flute goes heavenward as strings, piano, and keyboards give it wings. “Grace” brings in one of my favorite artists, Fiona Joy, with her original composition and playing her new Stuart and Sons grand piano. Backed by Kellerman’s flute, Kej’s keyboards and bass, santoor and vocals, the song elegantly  enchants as it touches the heart. “Nocturne” was a real surprise! (This is Chopin’s C# minor Nocturne, not the better-known Nocturne in Eb.) I don’t generally like my classics messed with much, but this arrangement is stellar with Michael Lewin on piano, Kellerman on flute, an Indian choir, and the Seattle Pro Musica choir. What a stunning ending for an incredible album!

"Winds of Samsara" is amazing and certain to be on many Favorites lists for the year! It will be released on July 15, 2014, and is available for pre-order from, Amazon, and iTunes. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons

7/4/14]]> Fri, 4 Jul 2014 22:28:43 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Stephen Peppos
2014 / Sonic Bear Music
68 minutes

"Still" is the fifth independent release from pianist/composer/multi-instrumentalist Stephen Peppos. After starting his music career playing keyboards and guitar in popular east coast cover bands, Peppos has built a very impressive body of original music used in television, commercial jingles, and music libraries all over the world in addition to his own recordings. Still is a collection of fifteen original piano-based pieces (several of which are solo piano) that invite the listener to take some quiet time to relax and reflect (while listening to this music, of course!). Because of the peaceful quality of the music, this is an album that is equally at home as music to get lost in as well as a soothing backdrop for other activities, such as reading, working, or driving. Some of the pieces are more orchestrated than others, but strings are the main addition to the piano. This is an emotionally-rich album that flows easily from one track to the next - quite possibly Peppos’ best work to date.

"Still" begins with “To Watch a Pond,” a mesmerizing piece for piano and strings. Effortless and blissful, Peppos beautifully describes the glassy surface of the water with an occasional burst of ripples or sparkles. “Silhouette” is a melancholy piano solo with just a hint of mystery. “Remembering” is a favorite. Melodic minor key arpeggios and strings (especially cello) evoke feelings of loss and sadness that really touch the heart. “The Essence Of” is a quietly passionate piano solo that feels introspective and possibly searching for answers - beautiful! The light, fluid “Butterfly” gently glides from place to place, stopping here and there to flutter its wings. In “The Ballet,” the piano and cello express heartbreak with soulful grace and great emotion - also a favorite. “Prelude Always” is all strings and very cinematic. That segues into “Always,” another favorite. Piano and strings build passion and intensity as the piece evolves. Often dark and mysterious, it’s a standout! As its title suggests, “Above the Clouds” is a light and dreamy duet for piano and cello that floats on air. “Tranquility” isn’t quite ambient, but the piano and cello flow so freely and easily that it comes close - very lovely and soothing. The title track comes last and is a quiet piece that is not without a pulse. The interesting left hand rhythm and uncomplicated right hand melody are graceful and magical, bringing this excellent album to a close.

Stephen Peppos is definitely one of the more interesting composers out there.’s Michael Debbage refers to him as “the Indiana Jones of New Age music” with good reason! I expect this release to generate some major buzz! Highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons  

7/4/14]]> Fri, 4 Jul 2014 19:41:11 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Carl Weingarten
2014 / Multiphase Records
53 minutes

"Life Under Stars" is the follow-up to Carl Weingarten’s 2012 ZMR “Best Chill/Groove Album,” "Panomorphia." Long regarded as one of ambient music’s most innovative guitarists, Weingarten infuses a lifetime of musical experience into the unique sound that he continues to explore, allowing it to evolve organically. On Life Under Stars, Weingarten appears on acoustic and electric slide guitars, dobro, looping, keyboards, and sound design. His very impressive group of collaborators includes Michael Manring on electric bass, Celso Alberti on drums and percussion, Jeff Oster on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Kit Walker on keyboards. While the ten tracks are varied in style and instrumentation, the album holds together as a flowing unit that can be savored with full attention or as a colorful backdrop for working, relaxing, driving or whatever else you choose. Weingarten’s  instrumental music has been described as “Cinematic Jazz,” which seems very appropriate. Also an avid photographer with a college degree in cinema production, Weingarten’s music is evocative and visual.

Eight years in the making, "Life Under Stars" opens with “I Remember Summer,” a piece with an easy-going rhythm and a lazy attitude. “Evie” might fit in the smooth jazz category (if you have to categorize), and features some beautiful flute playing by Barbara Else. “A Different Rain” includes a repetitive rhythm as well as the sound of thunder behind electric guitar and layers of other instrumental sounds - a favorite. I also really like the serenity and gentle motion of “Mr. Sundance.” “Nightwalk” conveys a sense of dark mystery while Oster’s muted horn gives it a taste of film noir. Guitar, bass, and various sounds of the night paint a story in deep shades of gray and blue. “Code Blues” expresses more of a party spirit with laughter in the background and some funky guitar blues. “Sundial” brings us back up to the light - ethereal and peaceful. My favorite is the closing track, “Three Will Pass By.” Cool and aloof, it has an easy-going mood at the beginning that darkens and becomes more intense as it unfolds.

Although Carl Weingarten is based in the SF Bay Area, this is my first exposure to his music. I’m intrigued and will be looking for more of it! "Life Under Stars" is available from, Amazon, and CD Baby. Check it out!

Kathy Parsons

6/28/14]]> Sat, 28 Jun 2014 23:41:31 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Christopher Boscole
2013 / Christopher Boscole BMI
46 minutes

I never know what to expect when I get a CD with the terms “new age” and “classical piano” juxtaposed since quite a few compilations are arrangements, often simplified and shortened for listeners with “on-the-fly” listening preferences. Much to my delight, Christopher Boscole plays this collection of classical favorites mostly as originally composed with a few personal touches here and there. His "A New Age of Classical Piano" consists of ten solo piano classics and two stunning originals. The classics include four by Debussy, one by Satie, four by Chopin, and one by JS Bach. All of these pieces are familiar and easily accessible, and Boscole chose his selections for the music’s relaxing and uplifting qualities, performing them to perfection on a 9’ Steinway D grand piano. Mastered by Joe Bongiorno at Piano Haven, the piano sound is warm, clear and pristine. In short, I LOVE this album, and am almost certain it will be on my list of Favorites for 2014.

The first four tracks are by French Impressionist composer Claude Debussy: “Arabesque #1,” “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum,” “Claire de Lune,” and “Reverie.” In most of his compositions, Debussy wanted the piano to sound like it didn’t have hammers hitting the strings, and Boscole captures that velvety sound beautifully. Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie #1” is a haunting piece that most people don’t know the name of even though they’ve heard it many times. Often used in films and advertising, it is by far Satie’s best-known and best-loved piece. Boscole keeps it slow, graceful, and simple as it was originally composed. The first of the Chopin pieces is “Prelude #1,” a short flowing piece that livens the mood. His “Mazurka Op. 17 #4” has a dreamy, sighing quality and Boscole plays it from the heart. Bach’s piece is his ever-popular “Prelude in C” with a few small changes that extend the piece a bit. Despite my deep love for these classics, the piece with the biggest “wow!” factor for me is Boscole’s own “Prelude in C Minor.” What a compelling and passionate piece! I hope there will be sheet music for this one soon! Chopin’s “Valse Op. 64 #2” is one of my favorite Chopin pieces to play and I always love hearing others play it well - Boscole does an exceptional job. “Playing Rain” is the second Boscole original. Slow and on the melancholy yet peaceful side, the piece expresses different kinds of rain while staying soothing and relaxing - love it! Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” (which is never played in just a minute) brings this wonderful album to a playful and lighthearted end. Encore!!!

"A New Age of Classical Piano" is excellent from the first note to the last! It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons

6/26/14]]> Thu, 26 Jun 2014 23:06:05 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> EVI
2013 / Edward Von Ichter/ Edward Blumenthal
43 minutes

When EVI contacted me about reviewing his debut solo piano album, "The Way The Story Goes," he mentioned that his playing was “clumsy” and “inconsistent,” so while I accepted the CD for review, my expectations were not high. My hope was of perhaps discovering an artist who plays with a raw, visceral style and an original approach to the piano. Untrained musicians are not uncommon, but I was shocked at the beauty and fluidity as well the deep emotional expression in EVI’s music. He explained to me that he bought a baby grand piano some thirty years ago and although he couldn’t play anything on it, he discovered that “if I let my fingers drift along the keys, I could express pieces of songs, that over time, I could express to their completion. And so it began.” Over the years, EVI composed quite a number of pieces and apparently recorded them so he wouldn’t forget them. Two years ago, his wife converted a number of old tapes to CD format, reminding EVI of some of the music he had forgotten and rekindling the flame. With the encouragement of family and friends (some classically-trained musicians), EVI relearned his music and recorded it as "The Way The Story Goes." Interestingly, EVI hears his music as orchestrations, not solo piano, and this music is in the process of being recorded with a full string ensemble. I love it as solo piano and am more than impressed with the music as is!

EVI also explained to me that the musical composition, from start to finish, is a story that expresses a drama of life and that the song titles are a poem describing the drama. “Life dramas are fraught with mistakes, so I left many of mine in as well because it felt more raw and real.” I have listened to this album quite a number of times, and although I’ve heard a few discordances, I couldn’t identify anything that sounded like a mistake.

"The Way The Story Goes" begins with “From Across the Room,” a romantic prelude that sets the tone of the album. Some of the phrases from this piece appear in the other pieces in one form or another. The graceful, dreamy “At First Sight” expresses the hope of new love. At this point in the album, I was hooked! “That Night” is a tender love song that seems to be dancing on air. “Be Home Soon” is a bit more melancholy and full of longing. “Another’s Smile” goes somewhat darker and more dramatic, but is still very smooth and soothing - one of my favorites. I also really like “All Is Lost,” which isn’t nearly as bleak as its title. It seems to be looking inward and working something out. “Missing Laughter” seems to be reminiscing, again with longing and deep emotion and “Ever After” is the happy ending to the story.

If you like graceful, passionate solo piano music that comes from the heart, you need to check this one out! "The Way The Story Goes" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons

6/23/14]]> Tue, 24 Jun 2014 00:10:24 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Tobin Mueller
2014 / Tobin Mueller
67 minutes

A week ago, I was writing a review of Tobin Mueller’s hard-driving "Come In Funky" collaboration with Ron Carter and Woody Mankowski. Today I’m writing about "Impressions of Water and Light," Mueller’s jazz interpretations of the music of his favorite Impressionist composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I have mentioned before that Mueller is an artist who never fails to surprise - a true original - and that is certainly true of this album. Mueller isn’t the first musician to give classical music a jazz makeover, but he sought (and succeeded) to forge a balance between Impressionism and jazz in what he calls a “Neo-Classical post-Impressionist Pastoral Jazz hybrid.” Love it! Classical purists may find some of this music a bit jarring, but those who appreciate a fresh take on (mostly) familiar classics will be fascinated by Mueller’s exploration of the “intimacies” between jazz and Impressionism. The harmonies and discordances as well as the freer rhythms of Impressionist music were certainly a precursor to jazz and, in a way, Mueller is taking that early evolution several steps farther. Some of the pieces are arrangements of the originals while others are new songs that quote passages from the originals; a few are in a theme and variations format. The CD contains a gorgeous 12-page booklet that includes Mueller’s thoughts and intentions along with an Impressionist painting to illustrate each piece. (These notes and illustrative paintings are also available on Mueller’s website.) It’s a very beautiful package!

Eight of the thirteen tracks are based on music by Debussy, two by Ravel, and one each by Faure, Carpenter, Ibert, and Satie (which also refers to Debussy). The first is based on “The Girl With the Flaxen Hair,” #8 of Debussy’s Preludes. Flowing and delicate with a jazzy edge, it’s a beautiful beginning. Next is an expressive take on Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” retitled “Leur chanson se mele au clair de lune (Their song mingles with the moonlight).” Some of the passages are played close to the original and others are given a new “impression” that is still recognizable. “Dance for a Princess Gone” is based on Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante defunte.” Dark, mournful and very poignant, Mueller obviously has a strong personal connection to this piece. When I first started studying ragtime piano, I was surprised at how often Debussy was mentioned, and Mueller shows why with his interpretations of “Le Petit Negre” and “Golliwog’s Cakewalk.” In “The Petit Negre,” Mueller goes beyond ragtime and includes a boogie woogie section based on riffs used in Debussy’s original music. In “Golliwog is Steppin’ Out,” his playful side emerges with lighthearted left hand syncopation and a swinging melody - definitely a favorite! Debussy’s “Reverie” is played close to the original - dreamy and gently flowing. “Blue Prelude,” again based on a Debussy Prelude (#4), goes very dark and dramatic with some fascinating left hand passages in the deep bass of the piano. Faure’s “Pavane” is another favorite with the lyrical melody given a series of variations including Faure’s original piano version quoted in the final verse. Mueller closes with “Sitting with Satie: Conversation & Life,” a medley of Satie’s “Trois Gymnopedies” and “Gnossienne,” Debussy’s 6th Prelude, and Mueller’s own music. Mueller uses extra reverb to give the piece a sense of space and openness in homage to Satie. It’s a fascinating piece and a great way to end this exceptional album.

Samples of the music on "Impressions of Light and Water" are available at The album is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

6/15/14]]> Sun, 15 Jun 2014 21:18:05 +0000
<![CDATA[ "Platinum" Retains A Freshness Despite Some Lyrical Familiarity With What Lambert's Done Before]]>  
If anything, what Platinum does for me is it establishes that she’s a force to be reckoned with, whether she’s penning her own tunes or putting her individual ‘stamp’ on something written by someone else.
Girls (4.0 out of 5.0) – Miranda’s voice takes on a terrific lyrical quality in this tune exploring the horribly mismatched battle of the sexes.  Why is it men can never truly tap into why women do what they do?  Of course, it’s probably as universal from the ladies’ perspective, but – as a man – I tend to think we’re horribly much more predictable than the fairer sex.  It’s as true today as it was when it was first uttered: “You don’t nothin’ about girls.”
Platinum (3.5 of 5.0) – Terrifically poetic lines about the trials and tribulations of being a true individual, especially when that individual is a platinum blonde.  A song that’s probably cleverer than it is anything else, and it undoubtedly means more to platinum blondes than it does to this bald-headed male.  An impressive stretch but perhaps not the most interesting tune here.
Little Red Wagon (3.5 of 5.0) – Playful, sexy, innovative, snarky, and probably the most fun Miranda’s had with a tune in years.  It’s a covert celebration of one powerhouse’s pronounced femininity, and no doubt it’s the kind of song ladies will be dancing amongst themselves to in bars all over Texas tonight.
Smokin’ and Drinkin’ (Featuring Little Big Town) (5.0 of 5.0) – Miranda pairs up with Little Big Town, some of the best ‘harmonists’ working in the entire world of music today; quite frankly, they could produce an album once a year, and I’d still argue it’s not enough.  Terrific to see them paired here alongside Miranda’s vocals, and they sound like they’ve been singing together for years.  “Here’s to all those nights …” A wonderful easy-listening tune with a wonderful, head-shakin’ refrain.
Priscilla (5.0 of 5.0) – Amazing toe-tapper that typifies a certain type of country tunes, those telling a story about a particularly fortunate (or unfortunate) soul and the struggles of being that person.  “How do you get the love you want when everybody wants your man?”  The bridge has some excellent guitar work.  It might be a bit of an honest reflection on her own life, compliments of one of the best singer/songwriters working today.  “It’s a difficult thing bein’ Queen of the King.”
Automatic (5.0 of 5.0) – This is what our lady has done exceedingly well since her professional career began.  Miranda spends a few minutes reminiscing about the way things used to be not all that long ago and how we’ve changed as a consequence of it.  Terrific vocals highlight a song that has an even more terrific refrain.  “It’s only worth as much as the time put in …” A lesson that’s sorely lost on a whole generation of fans thanks to the digital revolution.
Bathroom Sink (4.0 of 5.0) – Miranda uses a daily object to wax on poetically about the trials of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And why not?  Is there any place as private?  Aren’t we hardest on the face we see staring back at us?  That sink is where we stand much of the day.  We primp there.  We clean there.  And – like she says – we still have to wash it all down.  So don’t waste too much time there.  A surprising backwoods rocker.
Old Sh!t (3.5 of 5.0) – Opens up like any whimsical little ditty and then turns full-blown hillbilly bluegrass, somewhere Miranda isn’t too proud to go.  Creatively, she backs it up with the sound of a needle running on an old record at just the right volume to remind you that that’s the point of the song.  A solid listen, but then isn’t all bluegrass?
All That’s Left (Featuring the Time Jumpers) (5.0 of 5.0) – Every album of Miranda’s has a song that excels entirely on the strength of her vocal performance.  This isn’t meant to malign any or all of the other efforts; rather, it’s only to underscore that there’s always one tune that manages to claw its way to the top when compared to the other tracks.  Here it is.  Enjoy it in all of its twangy glory.  Perfection.
Gravity Is A Bitch (5.0 of 5.0) – Opens with a player-style piano putting out the impression of an entirely different era, and then Miranda shows up to remind you that those days are long gone.  A big, brash, fun song that reminds you that you can’t stop aging so you may as well buckle up and enjoy the ride as best as you can.  A brilliant musical commentary for life.  Bravo!
Babies Makin’ Babies (4.0 of 5.0) – The song plays out like an anthem for middle-America where these kinds of things – erm – ‘happen.’  (Maybe not every day, but it still happens.)  If nothing else, it plays out a bit predictably, but Miranda backs it all with a powerful refrain the way lesser singers might ignore.
Somethin’ Bad (Duet with Carrie Underwood) (4.0 of 5.0) – Sure, it’s a good song, but Miranda’s done this kind of thing much better on previous albums so far as I’m concerned.  However, it’s more an event number, primarily because it takes the two biggest and best country/pop divas at work in the recording studio today.  They sound terrific together, and I’d love to hear ‘em do it again.  Soon.
Holding On To You (4.0 of 5.0) – The song gives a nod to classic country tunes of a woman standing by her man, but it does so by sounding more contemporary as opposed to cashing in on the past.  As she sings, we never quite understand why love does what it does to us, but it still manages to transcend any other experience we have this side of Heaven.
Two Rings Shy (3.0 of 5.0) – Another thing Miranda has a solid track record is she explores what it’s meant to be a woman in a relationship – the good and the bad.  ‘Two Rings Shy’ is clearly about the bad.  As she tells it, why waste mascara just to watch it running down?  A bittersweet slow-movin’ rocker.
Hard Staying Sober (3.0 of 5.0) – Relationships put each of us through a share of heartaches, and country girls love to remind the men who are listening that they are one of the primary reasons drinking is so appealing.  Like the track before this, ‘Sober’ is a bit too predictable for my learned tastes.  It’s good, but I’ve heard far better from Miranda.
Another Sunday in the South (3.0 of 5.0) – A few years ago, I wrote something about how performers tend to these days love to close out their albums with something easy-listening and reflective, and that’s pretty much what you have here.  It’s a good experience with some great lyrics; still, near the end of Miranda’s career I’d imagine this won’t be one of the tunes she’s remembered for.
 ]]> Wed, 11 Jun 2014 23:09:14 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Tim Neumark
2014 / Tim Neumark

"Storm" is Tim Neumark’s fifth solo piano album and goes in a somewhat different direction from his previous releases. Wanting to step outside of his comfort zone, Neumark challenged himself to write music with a different emotional depth, including anger and heartbreak, and pieces that are mostly in minor keys. Although the music has been influenced by events in his own life and the lives of others around him, Neumark says that this album is not autobiographical, but is dedicated to anyone who has experienced any of life’s difficulties and set-backs. The music describes “a journey from hope to disappointment, and ultimately to healing” (from the liner notes). It’s no secret that I often prefer music that is on the dark side, so this could easily be my favorite of Neumark’s recordings (so far). Don’t get me wrong - this is NOT a depressing collection of piano solos. The emotions vary, and the feeling is often more of looking inward for answers rather than plunging into the darkest depths or feeling completely hopeless. I would say that the overall feeling of the album is one of compassion and empathy, although there are several very turbulent and “stormy” moments. Fellow pianists will be happy to learn that there is also a companion sheet music book available.

"Storm" begins with “Anticipation,” a beautifully-flowing piece with a variety of themes that feel anxious and restless. “Ice” is a favorite - this chill is definitely on the inside, expressing loss and hurt. “See You Soon” seems to be smiling through tears, trying to be strong but unable to hide the sadness. “Setting Sail” turns up the intensity and drama with a lively pace and a sense of excitement. “Stolen” is heartbreaking - a close friend or loved one unburdening and speaking from the heart. “Transitions” steps up the tempo and energy level to one of action and moving forward - I really like this one, too! Neumark always includes a shorter meditation piece on his albums, and this time it’s “Calm.” Again looking inward as acceptance of the situation and healing begin, it’s a soothing beauty. The title track starts out slowly and menacingly, becomes turbulent, calms, builds intensity, becomes ferocious, calms, and then races to a very dramatic ending. (I’m looking forward to seeing Neumark play this one live!) The first couple of themes of “Adrift” are slow and very sad, expressing loss and pain as anger seems to build. Suddenly, we’re in extreme darkness, lost in swirling emotions. A catharsis seems to take place, taking us to a much calmer place. The last two tracks, “Forgiveness” and “Peace” take us to the other side of the storm, once again able to see the sun and feel the gentle breezes - healing and ready to go on.

Tim Neumark has created quite a story without words with "Storm"! It is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

6/9/14]]> Tue, 10 Jun 2014 02:37:40 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Tobin Mueller with Ron Carter & Woody Mankowski
2014 /  Tobin Mueller
59 minutes

"Come In Funky" is the twelfth release from Tobin Mueller (I’ve reviewed them all!), and I have to say that this is one artist who never fails to surprise. I can think of very few artists who come close to Mueller’s versatility and drive in so many artistic pursuits. Musically, he is all over the map from solo piano to jazz to vocals to musicals, folk, classical and progressive rock - and he does them all exceptionally well. Mueller has included original funk-influenced tracks on some of is earlier recordings, but this is the first full album of jazz and funk. Mueller collaborated with legendary bassist Ron Carter and sax player Woody Mankowski to create a collection of thirteen upbeat, often carefree tunes - five with Carter and six with Mankowski; one is just Mueller and there is a bonus track that includes the late Fran Dagostino on guitar. Mueller appears on electric piano, organ, and synth. Some of these recordings go back fourteen years and some go back eight. Finishing touches on the album were being done in 2011 when life got in the way and the project was shelved until Mueller’s son, Woody, recently heard the tracks and loved the sound. Several of these pieces are in a classic funk “big band” style from the 1970’s while others are a bit more subdued. All convey playfulness, humor and the unbridled joy of making music. It is interesting to note that the layout of the album is unusual in that the bigger funk pieces with Mankowski are alternated with the four much cooler jazz “Interludes” that are duets featuring Mueller and Carter.

"Come In Funky" begins with the title tune with Carter’s fingers tapping on the bass (like a knock on the door) and Mueller’s laugh. Then Carter leads off with a catchy bass line that conveys pure fun(k). Organ and sax come in - cool and breezy - and then the trio gets cooking. “Frankenfanny” also features the trio in an infectious jazz groove. “Deconstruction of a Glance” sounds like a huge band of saxes and brass as well as organ and percussion - driving and very danceable. “Interlude I: Grandfather Clock” is the first duet with Mueller (organ) and Carter (bass) - what a duo! “Hitchhiker Tales” returns to the big funk sound of a full band and a really smokin’ organ. I can’t imagine anyone being able to sit still through this one - or not cracking a smile - my favorite! “Interlude III: Prowl” is a slinky little number for organ and bass guitar - intoxicating! “Beam Up the Funk” all but dances out of the CD player, strutting around with a major (good time) attitude - fantastic party music! “Blue Tats” is based on Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” Quite a bit more stripped down than the big funk pieces, it’s a nice contrast with keyboard and sax and a little bass guitar. The bonus track, “What I Was Thinking While You Were Talking” features Mueller on organ and Fran Dagostino on acoustic guitar (“wonderfully mangled through the magic of electronics” - liner notes). Sometimes cool and aloof and sometimes sparkling and bright, it brings this unique and exhilarating album to a close.

I’m sure you can tell that this isn’t music for massage or meditation, but it can certainly give the spirit a big lift while providing an hour of swirling musical fun. "Come In Funky" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Check it out!

Kathy Parsons

6/8/14]]> Mon, 9 Jun 2014 00:27:09 +0000
<![CDATA[ Ain't it Fun? Yes!]]>
As it turns out, Paramore isn't some out-of-nowhere success coming along in the last year. While their current self-titled album is looking like a definite mainstream breakthrough, Paramore had a very real career long before the release of Paramore. This new self-titled album, in fact, is the band's fourth album, and while most seem quite ecstatic about it, the band's loyalists actually seem to be pretty pissed off with them. In their time in the music business, Paramore has undergone musical evolution which included a couple of personnel shifts. For this self-titled album, the band actually had to endure the departures of their longtime creative stalwarts Josh and Zac Farro. The common story is they got put off by the media's constant emphasis on lead singer Hayley Williams. That should set off a nostalgic twinge for anyone who came of age in the 90's. There's no way we can avoid recognizing Paramore for what they really are: They're No Doubt with a better vocalist and no ska section. Also, their Facebook page is about to hit 30 million Likes.

Although the band has a poppy sound, make no mistake; they're not some studio-manufactured product created by a sleazy manager to cash in. They do all their instrumentals and songwriting themselves. Normally the departure of the band's creative geniuses can slow them down, but Paramore seems to be surviving just fine without the brothers Farro. Paramore the album contains several songs which seem to have sprung up from the inner strife, be that from the usual stuff or Williams's onetime relationship with Josh Farro. (Another No Doubt parallel.) The overall sound of Paramore isn't as tight as it was during the Farro years - and I tracked down two of the band's three previous albums in order to be a better reviewer, so I can say that - but other than that, there's not a great lot of trash to be said about them. They HAVE matured. While Farro and Farro might have been responsible for Paramore's sound on All We know is Falling, Riot!, and Brand New Eyes, those albums also tend to lean into kiddie punk territory. Think Avril Lavigne, but a hair harder. So, considering just how much real credibility Avril "Sid Vicious was One of My Biggest Influences but I've Never Heard of the Sex Pistols" Lavigne has now, you can see why a jump in style was necessary.

Maturity is everywhere on Paramore. This 17-song, hourlong behemoth includes songs like "Grow Up" and "Interlude: Moving On." (There are three "interludes" on Paramore. All three are full-fledged songs, so why the band saw it fit to refer to them as interludes is completely beyond me.) Three guesses as to their subject matter. "Fast in My Car," the opening song, is about how the three remaining members of the band - Hayley Williams, Jeremy Davis, and Taylor York - managed to tough out the storm.

Okay, we're getting the message. But in between the lines, we're listening to a band that isn't a kid, but not quite mature either. With the poppy punk clearly in the past now, Paramore is free to move in any direction they want, but they haven't quite decided on a particular direction to go in. So on Paramore, they're allowing themselves experimentation in a bunch of different directions, but never committing to one. The first few songs are filled with gimmicks - the stuttering chorus in "Now," the stuttering CHORDS in "Grow Up" - which are fun and work well for a band which is basically recovering from an old ethos, but they're gone before long and never heard again. Hayley Williams is using studio depth for her vocals often. They don't hurt anything, but she just doesn't need them. There are choir singers in a couple of backgrounds, including lead single "Ain't it Fun."

The songs after "Ain't it Fun" start to flow rather than stutter, and it's really here that the first signs of Paramore's musical maturity start to emerge. It's the pop-rockiest part of the album. The songs here are still catchy and fun, except for "Last Hope," whose acoustic strums against a very generic background don't do it for me. Williams is also holding back through a lot of the song. However, "Last Hope" is followed up by one of Paramore's singles, "Still Into You," which for my money is the best single on the album. It's another stutter punk song, and although the style is pure pop, the stuttering doesn't stand out quite enough to damage the rest of the song.

"Anklebiters" is introduced by one of my longtime musical banes: The distorted guitar, and it brings in the choir. The song doesn't mix well. It's easily the most punk song on Paramore, but the band tries to mix it with a jangling guitar, and the song's sheen doesn't go with the speed of a proper punk song.

Hayley Williams mainly uses the interludes to gives us a real feel for what her pipes are capable of. They're all instrumentally minimal, and they don't use a lot of studio tricks to enhance Williams's singing. If anyone believed Hayley Williams was in any way in inferior version of No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani, they need to hear Williams sing one of these pretty interludes and track down an instrumental minimalist piece with Stefani. Stefani is a very effective singer - that much can't be argued. But her vocals at best tend to be very-good-not-great. I've always thought Gwen Stefani was held back by a rough sandpaper voice which usually sounds like it's slamming against her nasal ceiling. Although it made Stefani sound extremely hard on No Doubt's records - and we forget that, despite the upbeat sound, No Doubt's iconic "Just a Girl" was a very ANGRY song - it was her band which was able to give Stefani her backdrop. Although I don't like to downplay the great work done by Davis and York on Paramore, Williams's soaring voice is easily the element which will jump out to most listeners.

If you hear one of Paramore's earlier albums, one thing that always seems to stick out is how out-of-place the slower, more balled-like songs appear. It's a weird irony that Paramore, while not being quite as tight or musically coherent as Paramore's other three records, does have a smoother flow because the band doesn't commit to a particular sound. When the record's wind down time begins with the third interlude, the hiccup isn't so noticeable. The slower songs are faster than before. Unfortunately, they're also a little bit weaker. There's none of the catchiness of, say, "Brick by Boring Brick."

Yes, there are some strong, catchy songs on Paramore. There are also some weak ones. I'm hoping to see if Paramore picks a way to go musically. Until then, there's almost certainly something on this self-titled record to catch your ear at least a few times, but you might want to preview it before committing to the record or download.]]> Sat, 7 Jun 2014 19:28:44 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Psychic Equalizer
2014 / Hugo Selles

"Madrid (or Suite For The Solitary Contemporary Citizen)" is the second EP released by Psychic Equalizer, following the 2012 debut release, "Memories of a Cold Place." Founded by Spanish pianist/composer Hugo Selles, Psychic Equalizer now includes guitarist Quico Duret, from Madrid. While the first album was inspired by the countryside around Selles’ homeland of Cantabria, this second work focuses on the loneliness of living in a big city. This new project incorporates elements of rock and jazz as well as the influence of electronic and ambient music established by the previous album. This five-track EP continues to develop the idea of theme-based recordings and includes additional musicians on violins, viola and cello in addition to Selles on piano, keyboard and percussion and Duret on acoustic and electric guitars. Sometimes smooth and very graceful and sometimes dark and edgy, this is music that tells a story. It should be noted that Psychic Equalizer’s piece, “While You Were There But Not Here” has been nominated by the 2014 Hollywood Music In Media Awards in the New Age/Ambient category.

"Madrid (or Suite For The Solitary Contemporary Citizen)" begins with the sounds of heavy footsteps walking into a room, the creaking of a chair and then a cough to announce “Here Am I.” The music that follows sounds like it could be an old phonograph record or an old piano playing a bluesy piece - a very intriguing start! “Where Past and Present Collide” begins as a rhythmic piano solo with a swaying dance feeling. The piano continues the beat as guitar takes the melody and keyboards supply background washes. About two minutes in, the intensity increases dramatically. After a frenetic passage, strings enter, but not too smoothly - agitated and intense. As they gradually wind down, the viola comes in with a heart-rending solo before the piano and guitar return with the original dance beat, letting that theme evolve for several more minutes before fading out with a simple keyboard melody. At over 8 1/2 minutes, this piece tells quite a story! “(Interlude) Beholding” is a beautifully ambient piece that suggests solitude and loneliness, growing darker and more mysterious as it develops - great film music! “Gran Via at Sunset” begins as a passionate, bluesy piano solo, gradually building in dynamics and improvisation to a wild explosion of sound. As the piece quiets and other instruments are added, subtle street sounds are also included - another amazing bit of musical storytelling. “Epilogue) Walking Alone” is a fascinating duet for electric guitar and keyboard with lots of reverb for atmospheric effect. Very dark and moody,  it just sort of trails off at the end.

Psychic Equalizer is definitely one of the more interesting musical projects out there, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more from them! "Madrid (or Suite For The Solitary Contemporary Citizen)" is available from iTunes and Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

6/2/14]]> Mon, 2 Jun 2014 23:12:39 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> J.M. Quintana Camara
2014 / J.M. Quintana Camara
55 minutes

"Timeless" is the follow-up to J.M. Quintana Camara’s 2012 release, "Feelinks," which was nominated for Best Solo Piano Album of the Year by in the category of “Classical/Modern Classical.” Quintana Camara is a very versatile composer who also writes music for soundtracks, documentaries, and television commercials. Born in Spain in 1984 and conservatory-trained from the age of nine, Quintana Camara started composing music at the age of twelve. With advanced degrees in music (piano) and computer science, Quintana Camara also teaches piano and music theory. His music is melodic, passionate, elegant, and sometimes quite energetic, reflecting life experiences in a very personal way. Classical influences with contemporary sensibilities gives the music a genre-crossing appeal that makes it difficult to classify (I really like that!). "Timeless" is mostly solo piano, but there are other instruments included in some of the compositions. Two of the thirteen pieces are presented in two different versions. Hopefully this excellent and very colorful music will bring Quintana Camara the more international following that he deserves.

"Timeless" begins with “The Challenge.” Starting with a slow, mysterious piano introduction, strongly rhythmic percussion and orchestration enter and send the piece soaring. Passionate and very dramatic, we can immediately hear why Quintana Camara is working in film soundtracks. “Fighting Against the Unknown” is fully orchestrated behind the piano. With a melancholy tone, the piece is sometimes light and determined, and other times burdened and a bit lost - beautiful and very expressive. “Sleep Paralysis” feels very much like a night of tossing and turning - agitated and frustrated, on the verge of falling asleep, but not quite there. It is fascinating how Quintana Camara expresses the quiet stillness as well as the turbulence of a restless night. A great piece! “Wonders of Earth” is an enchanting piece that seems to soar above the earth, awed by the beauty and drama below. “Stop Hunger!” comes from the soundtrack to the documentary The Third Rider, about hunger and malnutrition on our planet. Very dark and powerful, I love this one! The vibrant rhythms give the piece a sense of urgency while the slower sections reinforce the peril of the world and its inhabitants. A wonderful solo piano version of “Stop Hunger!” comes later in the album. “Welcome Back” is a warm and tender piano solo that overflows with love - another favorite. “Frenetic World” again picks up the pace with a spinning and twirling piano spurred on by agitated strings. “The Magic of Christmas” is a sweet piano solo composed in a very classical style, viewing Christmas through the eyes of a child. “Successful Challenge” is a second version of the opening “The Challenge” that brings this album to an upbeat and triumphant close.

JM Quintana Camara is on his way to becoming a major player in the contemporary classical music scene. "Timeless" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons

6/1/14]]> Sun, 1 Jun 2014 21:46:54 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Michael Hoppe & Harold Moses
2014 / Spring Hill Music
46 minutes

Michael Hoppe has been one of my favorite artists for a very long time and has composed some of the most breathtakingly beautiful music on the planet - he never disappoints. "Serenity" is no exception. Hoppe often collaborates with other artists such as Tim Wheater (flute), Martin Tillman (cello), The Prague Symphony, Joe Powers (harmonica), and has recorded the music for several spoken-word albums with Michael York and others. This Grammy-nominee and consummate artist partnered with Harold Moses (viola) to create a series of thirteen improvisations, each named for a month (two for January) and each with its own haiku by Brett Brady. What a class act! And the music? Utter bliss, calm and, yes, serenity. Harold Moses is the director of the Institute of Harmonic Science, an educational organization in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a composer, recording artist, educator, harmonic theorist and partner in Harmonic Research and Design, an Arizona company that develops vibrational health and wellness devices. Most of the improvisations are ethereal and ambient, but most also have a bit of a melody line as well. The grace and elegance of the music make it wonderful for massage and healing, as a backdrop for many quieter activities, and also for simply relaxing and getting lost in. As I said, Michael Hoppe never disappoints, and I’m sure Serenity will be on my Favorites list for the year.

“Serenity I - January” is cool and bittersweet. Moses plays the viola with the poignance of a cello - sometimes warm and earthy, sometimes achingly sad. Hoppe’s keyboard washes guide the development of the piece effortlessly and compellingly. “Serenity II - February” expresses the chilly grace and peacefulness of winter. “Serenity IV - April” conveys the promise of spring and the freshness of new life, quietly and tenderly. “Serenity V - May”  features Moses playing his viola pizzicato (plucking the strings) as well as with the bow. Darkly mysterious and exotic, it’s quite different from the others. “Serenity VIII - August” is almost fragile yet touches very deeply. “Serenity XI - November” goes in a livelier direction with a folk/Celtic spirit that really wants to dance. “Serenity XIII - A New Year” returns to calm, reflection, and deeply-felt emotion. This one seems destined to become a Hoppe classic, as it clearly demonstrates his sensibilities at their very best. Bravo to Harold Moses as well, as he and Hoppe seem to be kindred musical spirits.

If you love peaceful music with a strong classical influence, "Serenity" is a must-have. Michael Hoppe never disappoints! It is available from Amazon and iTunes. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons

5/27/14]]> Tue, 27 May 2014 23:32:47 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Jennifer DeFrayne
2014 / Little Hartley Music
49 minutes

"By a Wire" presents us with two significant firsts: the debut recording of pianist/composer Jennifer DeFrayne, a very promising new artist, and the producing debut of Fiona Joy (other than her own recordings). Co-produced by Will Ackerman and recorded at his Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont, DeFrayne’s soulful piano is backed by an impressive list of musicians that includes Charlie Bisharat (violin), Jeff Oster (flugelhorn), Jill Haley (English horn), and Eugene Friesen (cello).

DeFrayne is a self-taught pianist from Michigan who started improvising as a very young child. As a teen, she played in a local art gallery and the owner told her she sounded similar to George Winston.” When it was obvious that DeFrayne didn’t know who Winston was, the gallery owner gave her a CD of his music and literally changed her life. DeFrayne attended college in Music Management and continued to play wherever their was an audience, but then a series of tragic events derailed her plans. The deaths of several close family members (three of whom are celebrated in musical tributes on the album) and a debilitating stroke in 2009 that left her with many challenges in movement, memory, and speech as well as the inability to find solace in her piano, made her fiercely determined to recover and reconnect with the “wires” of her beloved instrument. It’s a very inspiring story, to be sure, and the resulting music is warm, powerful, and expressive.

"By a Wire" opens with “Sunrise to Sunset,” a piece that begins as a quiet piano solo and gradually builds to include flugel horn (Oster), light percussion (Tom Eaton), and wordless vocals (Eaton and Noah Wilding). As the piece hits a climax, it gradually winds down to a gentle hush - a lovely start! “Calling Angels” was one of the first pieces DeFrayne composed after her stroke, and it overflows with raw emotion. There is very little accompaniment to the piano for the first half of the piece, but then the other musicians enter and send the passions soaring. I love this one! The title track is the only piano solo and is dedicated to DeFrayne’s father, who passed away when she was eighteen. Loving yet very sad, it’s another favorite. “Summer Reunion” is dedicated to DeFrayne’s late uncle, who believed in her dream and encouraged her to follow it. Much lighter and happier, just about the whole list of musicians played on this one. “I’ll See You There” was written for DeFrayne’s late sister. A duet for piano and cello (Friesen), it’s a gorgeous remembrance that flows from the heart. The lighthearted and carefree “Mexican Daydream” is a surprise, but a very welcome one that evokes images of warm breezes, cold beverages, and a lazy afternoon with friends. The poignant “Letting Go” begins with a heart-rending cello solo (Friesen) and becomes a quartet for piano, cello, English horn (Haley), and violin (Rebecca Daniel).  “Clear Night” is a song DeFrayne improvised in the studio and dedicated to her two children. Oster and Wilding contribute their own musical magic and bring the album to a close.

Hats off to Jennifer DeFrayne for making her dream come true - and in very grand style at that! This album is already generating a lot of buzz, so check it out! It’s available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

5/26/14]]> Mon, 26 May 2014 22:23:07 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Simon Reich
2014 / Simon Reich
34 minutes 54 seconds

"Time Apart" is an eight-track album of original, mostly piano-based pieces by Australian pianist/guitarist/composer Simon Reich. An active member of the SoundCloud community and an executive member of, Reich’s music has already garnered an impressive list of awards. His music is also used at University of Western Australia in emotional responses experiments. Most of the pieces in the collection are (electronic) piano with synth strings and/or orchestration. Most began as piano improvisations recorded at home with the lights off, and Reich later added strings where they would be the most effective to enrich the emotional impact of the music. A couple of the tracks are solo piano.

"Time Apart" begins with “Ashes,” a solo piano improvisation that is melodic, peaceful, and somewhat introspective. “Suspended” is also a solo piano improv that is a bit brighter and more optimistic. In “Breathe,” Reich adds strings to what began as an improv, adding more emotion and drama to the music - I really like this one! “Deep Black” seems to suggest a very dark and mournful piece, but this time it refers to Reich’s preference for improvising and recording in the dark. The piece itself is graceful,  flowing and very lovely. Strings again add to the emotional impact of the music while the piano tells its story in a clear, heartfelt voice. I love “Schnee Gefallen,” which translates to “the snow has fallen.” Peaceful, crystalline, and very light, it gently conveys the sparkling quality of the snow as well as the hush it creates. Gorgeous! The last track, “Deep Forest,” goes in an entirely different direction that I would love to hear more of. Calling this a duet with nature sounds (some of which Reich sampled himself), the water, bird, and insect sounds are given an equal emphasis with the humanly-created music, creating a rich sound that is exotic and serene - a very effective and beautiful piece.

All of the tracks from "Time Apart" are available for listening on SoundCloud. Downloads are available on Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Check it out!

Kathy Parsons

5/11/14]]> Sun, 11 May 2014 23:03:18 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Ken Townshend
2014 / Lucid Creativity
68 minutes

"Love’s Embrace" is a newly updated re-release of pianist/composer Ken Townshend’s 2009 album by the same name. Some of the pieces have been changed or re-recorded and some are newer compositions. I felt the 2009 version was some of Townshend’s best work to date and this new version is even better. Townshend has adopted the tagline “Gentle Music for Gentle Hearts” and it suits his music perfectly. Very ethereal and “floating,” Townshend plays the main part of most of his music on piano or keyboard    and then adds washes of peaceful sounds and reverb that soften the edges and remove the percussive effect of the piano. Sometimes melodic and sometimes more on the ambient side, Townshend’s music is all about his love of gentle feelings and emotions. Some of the music hints at Townshend’s Japanese heritage and adds a unique quality to his compositions and improvisations.

"Love’s Embrace" begins with an improvisation called “My Beautiful Catharina,” named for Townshend’s wife. At just under seven minutes, the piece has time to create a peaceful mood as it evolves and sets the tone for the album. “Feeling the Flow of Love” is a sweetly tender piano solo with a minimum of atmospheric sound behind it. Uncomplicated and from the heart, it soothes the mind as well as the soul. The title track has a warm and graceful shimmer that enhances the gentle melody. “Peaceful Moments” is the perfect name for this daydream of a piece. Like floating on a cloud with a warm spring breeze moving you ever so gently through the sky, this one will definitely calm you for at least its nine-minute duration. “Tears of Joy” is a two-part piano and synth piece that explores the mystery and beauty of happy tears. The blissful “Dreams of You” is expressed with a harp sound that is effortless and oh so peaceful. “Ashley’s Spirit” was orchestrated by one of Townshend’s friends, but doesn’t feel at all out of place among the other tracks. Piano, strings, and woodwinds blend to create a piece that is more upbeat yet still very tender. “It Will Always Be You” is a very gentle and loving duet by Townshend and his wife, Cat - “gentle music BY gentle hearts”!

It’s been a long time between releases for Ken Townshend, and it’s great to have him back with an album of such musical tranquility. "Love’s Embrace" is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Guaranteed to soothe and calm!

Kathy Parsons

5/10/14]]> Sun, 11 May 2014 00:21:58 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano]]> Inner Circle
Peter Calandra
2014 / Peter Calandra
56 minutes

"Inner Circle" is a fascinating collection of thirteen original pieces by Peter Calandra, a composer best-known for his scoring for film and television. Piano and keyboards are prominent in all of these pieces, and Calandra is backed by an impressive list of guest musicians on an assortment of instruments. I think the most remarkable thing about this album is that Calandra is so comfortable with and adept at such a broad spectrum of musical styles that range from classical to jazz to pop and fusion. Calandra’s goal with "Inner Circle" was “to touch the listener’s heart, to strike an emotional chord, while also exploring my wide-ranging musical interests.” Mission accomplished! "Inner Circle" is Calandra’s fifth independent release, and should bring him out of the background and into the spotlight. In addition to his soundtrack work, he has also played keyboard for an impressive list of Broadway productions and has music published and playing in sixty countries around the world. He has also played and recorded with the New York Pops Orchestra and artists that include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Aretha Franklin, and Allen Ginsberg.

"Inner Circle" begins with the intriguingly-titled “Clyde And The Pearl,” a jazzy confection that features Calandra on percussion, keyboards, and piano. Upbeat, rhythmic, and very catchy, it’s a great opener! “Dine’s Waltz” goes in a different direction with a light and very graceful dance for piano and strings. The first movement of “The Wayfarer” reminds me a bit of early Yanni with darkly intense strings and a powerful pulse that evolve into a sweet interlude that returns to a variation on the original theme, adding haunting, passionate vocals - one of my favorites! “Better Angels” is an evocative piano solo that relies on deep emotion rather than fancy finger-work to convey its message. The title track begins as a duet that mixes a sparkling keyboard with silky-smooth strings - very beautiful. “Faith” is another favorite. It begins as a soulful duet for oboe and piano and easily transitions into a chamber work by adding violin, cello, acoustic bass and flute. Themes are alternately serene and more energetic, building intensity all the way to the end. From there, we go to a sweet and tender piano solo called “So Much To Say.” To show he still hasn’t run out of new directions to take his listeners, “A Quiet Spark” is a gently ambient piano solo that comes directly from the heart. “The Dreamer” is atmospheric and hypnotic with a single low tone that runs through the whole piece along with keyboard and strings that cast a peaceful, magical spell. The last track is another surprise called “Chorale,” which pretty much says it all. Joy Askew overdubbed multiple vocal tracks, singing soprano, alto, and tenor parts and bringing the album to a close with an elegant wordless hymn.

Despite the varied styles of music on this album, it holds together really well and takes the listener on an aural journey. "Inner Circle" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons


]]> Thu, 8 May 2014 23:37:51 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Out of Nothing
Matteo Palmer
2013 / Matteo Palmer Music
50 minutes

"Out of Nothing" is the debut album by guitarist Matteo Palmer. Recorded when he was just seventeen, Palmer impresses with a remarkably mature artistry that is all about the beauty of the music and the sound of his steel string guitar rather than showing off how well he plays (and he plays really well!). Mentored by the legendary Will Ackerman for the past few  years, Palmer recorded the album at Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios. Co-produced by Palmer, Ackerman and Tom Eaton,  eight of the eleven original pieces are solo guitar; bassist Tony Levin added his talents on three. Most of the music is relaxing and soothing, in the spirit of Windham Hill luminaries such as Ackerman, Michael Hedges, and Alex de Grassi. A few tracks have a higher energy level, but this is music that works well either in the background or while listening with careful attention. If this is just the beginning of Matteo Palmer’s musical career, we are all in for a very special treat!

"Out of Nothing"  begins with “Journey of the Wandering Minstrel,” a piece with a slightly mysterious edge. This piece includes a percussive effect accomplished by Palmer slapping the body of the guitar in perfect synch with his strumming. A multi-movement composition, it’s an intriguing beginning to the album! “Autumn” beautifully conveys the stillness of the dwindling days of summer as trees take on new, vibrant colors and days grow shorter - so peaceful! This piece was included in the 2013 compilation album, "The Best of Reviews New Age: The Guitar.“ Escaping Reality” steps up the intensity and energy level a bit. “Ex Nihilo” is the Latin phrase for “Out of Nothing,” making this the title track (sort of!). Very quiet and contemplative, it seems to express a tranquil mood and a sense of wonder. On “Ribbon Candy,” Palmer again employs percussive effects to accompany the happy innocence and easy-going folk rhythm of the song. And speaking of happy innocence, just the title “Happy Pancakes” inspires smiles and lighthearted images while this wonderful little piece effortlessly erases any troubles - even if it’s just for a few minutes. Love it!!! “Family Portrait” returns to a more gently reflective style that comes from the heart and expresses deep emotion. “Sleepy Dog” closes the album with a sweetly warm and cozy lullaby for a beloved canine. 

If you love solo acoustic guitar, "Out of Nothing" is a must-have! Matteo Palmer is a young star on the rise, and this album clearly indicates that he has a very special gift to share with the world. The album is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!


Kathy Parsons


]]> Tue, 6 May 2014 00:35:38 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Peter Kater & R. Carlos Nakai
2014 / Mysterium Music

Although they have recorded at least eleven albums together over the past twenty or so years, "Ritual" is the first release in more than a decade from pianist/composer Peter Kater and Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai. On several of the seven tracks, the duo is joined by legendary reedsman Paul McCandless, cellist Jaques Morelenbaum, and/or vocalist Trisha Bowden. All of the music on the album was improvised and Kater states in the liner notes that “It is an offering and invitation for us all to meet in this place of pure beingness that transcends time, duality and concept. It is an expression of the totality and gift of each moment and the awareness that the experience of this journey is its own reward.” I have always found it fascinating that Native American flutes can work so beautifully with an instrument as different as the piano. Of course, both artists are beyond being masters of their respective instruments and are very much in synch creatively, but I still find it amazing that the much simpler flutes can hold their own with the very complex grand piano. This music is a coming-together of musical cultures that share and celebrate their differences as well as their similarities and unite as one. I have always given Peter Kater a ton of credit for being so open to such a wide range of musical expression, and even after fifty-plus recordings, he is still going strong! R. Carlos Nakai also does quite a bit of chanting on the album and there is a translation of his chant in the liner notes.

"Ritual" begins with “Meeting At Twilight,” a beautiful trio for piano, Native American flute, and oboe. Beginning with a brief flute solo, Kater then enters with a dark rhythmic pattern in the bass of the piano. McCandless’ English horn plays a gorgeous counterpart to the flute in a piece that is sometimes mysterious and sometimes more lively and upbeat - a great opening that sets the tone for the album as a whole. “Standing As One” starts out with a mournful cello and piano duet - very smooth and haunting. Once the flute and Bowden’s lovely voice have made the ensemble a quartet, the piece becomes an emotional powerhouse. “Invoking the Elements” returns to the trio of Kater/Nakai/McCandless and is impossible to classify into a specific genre because jazz and blues add subtle flavors to make this a tasty stylistic stew, if you will. I really love this one - fairly soft-spoken and subtle, but so expressive! “Space Within” is a 12 1/2-minute improvisation that is smooth and gentle and includes Nakai’s poetic chanting. “Dream Dances” is another lengthy improv that this time includes the whole group. At a bit over eleven minutes, the piece has plenty of time to evolve and move in a variety of directions, bringing the album to a satisfying close.

Longtime fans of the Kater/Nakai collaborations will be very happy with this new installment. Newcomers will find this a great place to start. "Ritual" is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Check it out!

Kathy Parsons

4/29/14]]> Tue, 29 Apr 2014 21:42:29 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Ralph Zurmuhle
2014 / Ralph Zurmuhle

Since I listen to so many piano recordings, I have a lot of favorite pianist/composers, but if I had to give a short list of my top ten favorites, Ralph Zurmuhle would certainly be on that list. The Swiss-born composer has the most expressive, magical touch on the piano keys and creates music that is equally expressive and magical. Reflections is Zurmuhle’s fifth album to date, following his 2011 eQuinox. Zurmuhle has been composing film music for about twenty years, and his music can say so much with a minimum number of notes. Subtle yet very passionate, Ralph Zurmuhle simply takes musical artistry to its highest level. When composing, he combines the fluidity and freedom of improvisation with refinement and development, giving his music the best of both. Most of the music on Reflections is on the slow, introspective side, but when a piece requires a faster touch or more dramatic expression, it’s there. A one-word evaluation of this album would be “WOW!!!”

Reflections begins with “La Plana,” a nine-minute exploration that slowly and gracefully tells a story of great beauty and peace - a true reflection. This album is dedicated to Zurmuhle’s father and the second track is a loving tribute called “My Father’s Eyes.” Zurmuhle paints a musical portrait of a man with a sparkle in his eyes, a light-hearted good humor, and a zest for life (my own interpretation, of course!). “Deep Waters” is amazing. Clocking in at a bit over ten minutes, it tells a vivid story of vastness, dark mystery, perhaps an element of danger, and many other moods and motions of the ocean. A jazzy section could be light dancing on the water or lively sea life or maybe just the movement of the ocean current. The last couple of minutes become much more peaceful and calming - beautiful! “The Oracle” has a very Middle Eastern flavor that is both dark and intense. Zurmuhle’s incredible technique and mastery of the piano is especially apparent in this piece - what control and expression! “Chimes For Tsuyo (Hibakusha, Nagasaki)” has a mournful and tragic tone that continues to haunt long after the piece is over. “Under the Old Oak Tree” is a blissful daydream set to music. Warm, soothing, and very relaxing, it’s a gentle massage for the mind. The 12 1/2 minute “Dreamesque” is my favorite track. A repeated rhythmic pattern gives the piece a hypnotic pulse while the other hand is fluid and unpredictable - sometimes melodic, sometimes ethereal, sometimes barely a whisper. Breathtaking!

If you are new to Ralph Zurmuhle’s music, Reflections is a great place to start! Sure to be one of my Favorites for 2014, it is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. I give it my highest recommendation. Again, WOW!!!

Kathy Parsons

4/22/14]]> Sun, 27 Apr 2014 22:18:56 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Nathan Speir
2012 / Nathan Speir
51 minutes

"A Day of Poetry" is pianist/composer Nathan Speir’s sixth album, but a first for me. Also a visual artist, Speir’s music tends toward darker tones and shadings, and is most often on the ambient side. Some of the nine pieces are solo piano and others are piano accompanied by synth strings; three are two-piano duets with the parts recorded separately and mixed together. My ears aren’t often fooled by electronic instruments, but Speir did an excellent job of making these instruments sound like the real thing - including the piano itself. Although the music is on the darker side, it is not at all mournful or despairing. It is introspective, reflective and heartfelt, allowing us to get a glimpse into the artist’s expressive soul. Speir began playing the piano at the age of eight and wrote his first piece at twelve. He went on to earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Music Theory and Composition in 2004 from Palm Beach Atlantic University. Previous recordings have included solo piano, electronic with piano, and an ambient Christmas album. "A Day of Poetry" is an exceptional listening experience - either with full attention or in the background. Fans of ambient piano and chamber music would do well to check this one out!

The soft and dreamy two-piano duet “Morning Duo” begins the album gently and with a cozy warmth. “A Little Sanctuary” introduces cello and violin with the piano, creating a peaceful ambiance that is soothing and restful. As the title suggests, “A Stream of Thought” flows where it will, unrestricted and undefined. That isn’t to say that the music rambles or makes no sense - in Speir’s very capable hands (and mind), it’s a very beautiful and fascinating piece. “Photopositive” is another of the piano duets and has a somewhat livelier rhythm on one piano while the second part is much more spare and free-form - a favorite. “Shades of Hue” is a gorgeous ambient chamber piece for piano, cello, and violin. With a full palette of rich but muted sonic colors, it expresses a wide range of emotions that easily flow from one to another. I love “Mysterious Perspectives,” another ambient chamber piece that this time stays very dark for its almost nine-minute duration. Piano and cello create feelings of suspense and intrigue without danger or fear - extremely effective! “Legend of the Pelican” is another favorite. Graceful and almost melodic, piano and strings tell a story without words that is compelling and from the heart.

"A Day of Poetry" is a very beautiful and evocative album, and I look forward to hearing more of Nathan Speir’s music! It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

4/27/14]]> Sun, 27 Apr 2014 22:11:44 +0000
<![CDATA[ Studio Quality & Features In a Compact Package]]> The PreSonus Eris E4.5 2-Way Powered Studio Monitors are high quality speakers that reproduce excellent linear response across the sound spectrum. They are intended more for an audio enthusiast who wants to hear minute detail for sound editing applications, but they double as high quality speakers as well. While these monitors don't exhibit the overt bass many consumers are used to, it is satisfyingly tight, clean and punchy. You can always attach a subwoofer if so desired. They pack plenty of power though, and will fill most rooms with clean, glorious sound.

While I'm not a sound editor, I do appreciate quality speakers. For the price and size, the Eris E4.5s provide some of the most well-rounded audio I've ever hear. I have mine connected to an iMac and I don't think I've ever heard my music sound so clear without using quality headphones. Turn around the primary speaker and you are given a plethora of options for fine-tuning the audio and connecting the monitors to other external devices. I attached mine to a subwoofer from another set of speakers, and am now able to achieve excellent, modifiable low-frequency bass response in addition to what I'm already hearing. The babies of the Eris studio monitor line, the E4.5s are still larger than many computer speakers, so keep in mind that they can take up a bit of your desktop real estate. Compared to my small JBL Creature speakers, they are positively enormous. They dwarf my Logitech Z553s too. They are somewhat plain, yet the molded cases, black finish and blue grills are still attractive and modern looking. On the primary speaker, both are easily powered on or off with the flip of a switch, and a headphone jack is also at the ready.

Be sure to check out the Eris introductory video on the PreSonus website. While the E4.5s may be overkill for your average consumer, I couldn't be happier with them. They reproduce the full spectrum of sound with a clarity and presence that still surprises me. Well produced albums are a joy to listen to on them. Interestingly, you can even hear the flaws in less-well produced music. On several classical albums I was able to make out for the first time the fingering on instruments and in-taken breaths for the wind instruments. But that is what makes them exceptional studio monitors and not just your average speakers. Also, pump up the volume, and it seems like they go all the way to 11!

~ Kort]]> Wed, 23 Apr 2014 19:40:36 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Emergence
Lawrence Blatt
2014 / LMB Music
44 minutes

"Emergence" is guitarist Lawrence Blatt’s fourth album of original music. Produced by Will Ackerman, the album is comprised of three guitar solos and nine ensemble pieces that feature stellar musicians often found on Ackerman productions, including Charlie Bisharat (violin), Eugene Friesen (cello), Lila Sklar (violin and viola), and Jill Haley (English horn). All twelve pieces are exceptional even without knowing how the music was created, but a bit of knowledge about Blatt’s inspiration and composing process brings an even greater appreciation for the beauty of the music. The scientific concept of “emergence” states that diverse patterns can be derived from simple rules, often leading to unexpected results. Intrigued by the biological applications of “emergence,” Blatt utilized some of the basic principles to create the music for this album. He wrote the basic guitar part for each piece by strictly adhering to musical rules of chord progression and scale theory. No written parts were given to the other musicians. Instead, Blatt instructed them on the “allowable” movement based on musical theory and practice. Despite those restrictions, the music is fluid, accessible, and often very emotional. Blatt has combined science, math, and music on his previous recordings, so it is only mildly surprising to learn that he has a PhD in science. Classically-trained on violin for about ten years, Blatt started learning the guitar at the age of twelve and became part of the Indiana folk scene while continuing his classical studies. With such a varied background, it is no wonder that Blatt brings such a wealth of experience to his music, which is (happily) very difficult to classify. I love Blatt’s three earlier recordings, but think "Emergence" is his best album yet. 

"Emergence" begins with “A Promise in the Woods,” a lovely guitar solo. The title track is a gorgeous duet with Charlie Bisharat that allows both artists to really shine by demonstrating their heartfelt artistry rather than flashy technique. “Gare Du Nord” is a stately chamber quartet with Blatt (guitar), Sklar (violin and viola), Friesen (cello), and Sam Bevan on double bass - elegant but very warm and accessible. The gently blissful “Walking Among Tulips” features Blatt, Friesen, Haley, and Richard “Gus” Sebring (French horn) - again very classical. “Passing Up Bridges” reveals Blatt’s folk roots and features him playing guitar, bass, accordion, and mandolin. Sklar joins him on violin and the late Jim Rothermel played a joyful and buoyant penny whistle. This beautiful piece would be perfect behind photos or a film about America’s heartland. “The Place Where Monarchs Go” is another stellar duet with Bisharat. This time, Blatt’s baritone guitar has a grounding influence while Bisharat’s violin sends the music floating into the clouds - love it! “Poloyne” is my favorite track. A duet with Sklar (violin), it begins as a dark violin solo with a Middle Eastern flavor. Blatt’s expressive guitar is more rhythmic while tinged with mystery, and the piece is sometimes heartbreakingly mournful. The graceful and evocative “Where the Pines Once Stood” is a duet for guitar and French horn. “Illuminations” is a spare and dreamy guitar solo. “Green Corn” closes the set with an unusual trio - baritone guitar, violin (Bisharat), and French horn - again evoking peaceful images of wide open spaces and breezes gently blowing through fields - a sweetly upbeat close to an outstanding album.

Lawrence Blatt has created another masterpiece with "Emergence"! It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!!

Kathy Parsons


]]> Sat, 19 Apr 2014 23:23:50 +0000
<![CDATA[ Craftsman by Bob Ardern (From]]> Bob Ardern
2014 / Bob Ardern
61 minutes

"Craftsman" is the fourth release from Canadian guitarist/composer Bob Ardern and is an impressive follow-up to his 2012 album, "Wires Rosewood and Roots." Ardern’s finger-picking guitar style is warm and accessible and three of the twelve tracks are solo guitar. The title refers to Ardern’s current career as a crafter of music as well as to his previous occupation as a cabinetmaker. Ardern started his musical career playing folk music, and that influence can be heard in his new music as well - even without lyrics or voices. Additional instrumentation includes percussion, pipe organ, bodhran, glockenspiel, bass, cello, piano, bells, and synth pad (plus a few others). This album is excellent for listening with full concentration and also slips easily into the background, creating a very cheerful and light ambiance. It is music that makes you feel good whether it is full blast in the car or a gentle backdrop while you work or enjoy a meal. The recording quality is crystal-clear, creating the illusion that Ardern is playing a private concert just for you.

"Craftsman" begins with “Tiddlywinks,” an upbeat and playful confection that will get your toes tapping and put a smile on your face - love it! “Pipe Dream” is a bit more relaxed and dreamy. Mostly a guitar solo for the first minutes, pipe organ and bodhran are added to the last stanza and give the piece a very different flavor - yum! “Capo Breton Lullaby” is a beautiful and very gentle guitar solo that feels like a soothing neck rub for the mind. “Schrodinger’s Cat,” a very folky-feeling song-without-words, has a lighthearted innocence that is absolutely infectious. David Findlay adds accents on the glockenspiel, making the piece sparkle. “Nova Scotia New Age Blues” includes cello and percussion and combines a lively spirit with a laid-back attitude. I love “Back to Basics,” and not just because Dave Findlay appears on piano on this one. It’s a great ensemble piece that keeps it simple and fun - another smile-inducer! The gracefully-flowing “Still Waiting” is a heart-felt guitar solo that emphasizes the beauty of simplicity. “Winding Down,” an eight-minute track that includes synth pad and bells, creates a peaceful and ethereal atmosphere while it soothes and relaxes - very elegant yet very accessible. The last two tracks are different versions of “Paso Doble” - one as an ensemble and the other is a bonus solo guitar version. The ensemble arrangement  includes percussion, synth pad, bass, and trumpet. It starts out quietly, with an air of mystery, picking up a spirited energy and rhythm as it evolves. I really like both versions!

"Craftsman" is an excellent guitar album from start to finish! It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

4/17/14]]> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:40:56 +0000
<![CDATA[ Infinite Beauty by Donovan Johnson (From]]> Donovan Johnson
2014 / The Boxhouse Music Company
58 minutes

"Infinite Beauty" is pianist/composer Donovan Johnson’s fifth release to date. Most of Johnson’s earlier recordings are piano and keyboard mixes, but this one is all solo piano and I think it’s his strongest work yet. Classically-trained from a very early age, Johnson is an exceptionally versatile performer who is comfortable playing a wide range of music genres and styles that include new age, pop and country, jazz, hymns, ragtime and improvisation. "Infinite Beauty" was often inspired by and is dedicated to Johnson’s  young son, Leif, and is a reflection on the many life changes that have occurred in Johnson’s life over the past couple of years. Some of the fifteen original pieces are bright and upbeat while others are more thoughtful, introspective and even melancholy. It’s a beautiful collection and a very personal one. I was fortunate to be able to see Johnson play several of these pieces live recently, and very highly recommend his concert appearances.

"Infinite Beauty" begins with the title track, a buoyant, swirling piece that dances for joy all over the piano keyboard and immediately lets listeners know that Donovan Johnson really knows what he’s doing! There are gospel and country touches added here and there, making this a very dynamic opening. “Fortitude” is much more somber and almost hymn-like. The strong, lyrical melody tells its story without words, communicating from one heart to another. This is one of several favorites! “Infinite Life” feels free and spontaneous - quiet reflection at the piano. “The Drive” is a bit jazzier and in constant rhythmic motion - also very free and spontaneous with a powerful bass line. “Morning Coffee With Grandma” has a gentle, loving, moment-from-life feeling that conveys a wistful, dreamy mood - peaceful and contented. “Green Pastures, Still Waters” returns to a slow gospel style that Johnson does so well - I really like this one, too!  “Forsaken Hour” goes very deep and very dark - my favorite track on the album. This one feels like it could have been composed late at night, looking within and letting the music flow freely. Gorgeous! “Redemption” is much lighter and more upbeat. “Nightfall,” a peaceful nocturne, could also serve as a beautiful lullaby. “Infinite Birth” rejoices with passion and love. “Midwestern Hoedown” is a happy surprise with a strong, rhythmic bass under a joyful and lively melody. “Epiphany” ends the album with a dynamic meditation that ranges from dark and reflective to bright and optimistic. Jazz, blues, and a variety of other stylings make this an impressive closing piece.

Strongly recommended, "Infinite Beauty" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby.
Check it out!

Kathy Parsons

4/13/14]]> Sun, 13 Apr 2014 20:45:01 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Greg Maroney
2014 / Hen House Records
53 minutes

"Coming Home" is the twelfth album from pianist/composer Greg Maroney, one of my all-time favorite artists. Maroney released his first album, "Songs of the Water Rose," in 1997, and although that is a great album, his artistry has grown and matured over the years. Equally comfortable composing a tender love song or a turbulent piece about a wild and dramatic storm, Maroney’s albums are truly a glimpse into his life, world and heart. A trauma nurse as well as the owner of a small farm in rural Pennsylvania with his beloved wife, Linda, Maroney has a wide variety of inspirations to draw from and expresses them vividly and beautifully. "Coming Home" is a collection of fifteen piano solos, all of which are original except Maroney’s gorgeous arrangement of “Shenandoah.” As usual, there is a colorful variety of moods, from sweetly romantic to  sadly reflective to playful and energetic. "Coming Home" is very likely to be on my list of Favorites for the year!

"Coming Home" begins with “Gentle Dawn,” a classically-styled piece that is as soft and dreamy as daybreak - welcoming and optimistic. “The Heart is Enough” overflows with feelings of contentment and peace. The freedom and spontaneity of the music suggests that this one might be improvised - beautiful! “After the Storm” is one of my favorites. Graceful, dramatic, and darkly powerful, I can’t wait for the sheet music for this one! The title track is a gentle ballad that expresses anticipation as well as a deep happiness. “Dreams” is another favorite with its day-dream blissfulness and passionate flow. Maroney uses his impressive playing chops to full effect on this one! Love it!!! “Spinning” playfully dances around the piano keyboard, fast and fun! I also love the deeply emotional and expressive “When It’s Gone.” Sometimes quiet and reflective and sometimes stronger and more complex, it says so much. “Honeysuckle” returns to simplicity and an appreciation for the small things in life. “Linda’s Smile” is a tender love song that will touch even the most jaded heart - another favorite. “The Cat and the Cricket” is in a similar style to Maroney’s earlier “Dancing Dogs” and “The Chicken Chase” - high energy and fun, and again thoroughly enjoying one of life’s simpler moments. The wistful melody of “Shenandoah” has made it one of my favorite American folk songs for most of my life, and Maroney’s heartfelt arrangement is one of the best I’ve ever heard. A beautiful ending to a fantastic album!

Longtime fans of Greg Maroney’s music will love "Coming Home"! If you are new to his music, this is a great place to start. It is currently available from, CD Baby, and iTunes. Coming soon to Amazon. I give "Coming Home" my highest recommendation.

Kathy Parsons

4/5/14]]> Sat, 5 Apr 2014 22:19:59 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Passionata
Denise Young
2014 / Dancing Horses Music
41 minutes

"Passionata" is pianist/composer Denise Young’s third album and the first since her highly-acclaimed 2007 release, "Something You Dream Of....," which was nominated for  Best Instrumental Piano Album of The Year. Produced by Will Ackerman and recorded at his Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, this album is a combination of six piano solos and five ensemble pieces that feature cellist Eugene Friesen, Noah Wilding’s wordless vocals, Tom Eaton on bass, and Jeff Haynes on percussion. Passionata reflects Young’s love of classical music, but her stylings are fresh and contemporary - and exceptionally beautiful. A piano teacher and music therapist who started playing the piano at a very early age, Young’s touch is silky-smooth and her compositions are heartfelt and evocative. In the liner notes, Young states: “The music on "Passionata" embraces the love and passion that can be discovered and rediscovered in each of us - not unlike trees that lose their leaves in the fall only to grow new ones in the warmth of spring.” Elegant and graceful yet very approachable and accessible, I expect "Passionata" to be one of my favorite albums of the year. 

"Passionata" begins with the title track, a haunting piano solo that expresses deep longing as well as anticipation and joy - what a stirring piece! “Above the Clouds” starts out as a piano solo and evolves into a flowing, magical duet for piano and cello. “Starlight Melody” opens with a quiet, very peaceful piano solo that gradually introduces cello, bass, and very light percussion - breathtaking! “There” is a piano quintet for all five musicians, including the ethereal vocals of Noah Wilding - a very recognizable component of many of Ackerman’s productions. “Cobblestones in the Rain” is my favorite of the piano solos. The rolling minor-chord arpeggios on the left hand lay an almost mournful base for the achingly beautiful melody. “Awakened” is a lighter trio for piano, cello and gentle percussion - dreamy and uplifting. “Desire” is a smoldering piano solo with some interesting percussion effects here and there. “Figure 8” has the grace of a slow dance or even a figure skating performance - a melancholy and very moving piano solo. “Secrets” closes the album with a bit more animation - something shared with only the closest of friends. It’s a fascinating piece that ends unresolved, with the final notes left hanging as they fade away.

"Passionata" was worth the seven-year wait between albums and Denise Young is likely on her way to more major award nominations. Great stuff! Available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby, "Passionata" is very highly recommended!


Kathy Parsons


]]> Wed, 2 Apr 2014 21:18:31 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Louis Landon
2014 / Landon Creative, Inc.

"Healing Piano of Sedona" is pianist/composer Louis Landon’s fifteenth release and is a bit different from his previous albums in that this is music intended for massage, yoga and relaxation. While Landon has been involved in the so-called new age piano genre for close to ten years, he is an incredibly versatile artist with a strong background in jazz and improvisation. A life-long professional musician, Landon recently relocated from New York to Sedona, AZ and part of that move included starting Healing Piano of Sedona which offers “mentoring, music and sound vibrations that are personalized to assist you in your soul’s journey.” I don’t know how much of the music on this album is improvised, but all twelve tracks are serene, smooth, and very free. Much of Landon’s other music contains rather dense chords and the complex rhythms found in jazz, but this one is more like a gently flowing stream that moves at its own pace without being hurried or encumbered in any way. I’ve been listening to it in my car as well as in my office, and it’s amazing how peaceful and contented it can make you feel whether it is in the background or you’re listening with more focus. All of the pieces are about five minutes in length, which gives them plenty of time to evolve, develop and work their magic.

"Healing Piano" of Sedona begins with “Breath,” a quietly understated piece that invites you to let go of your cares and give in to the soothing power of the music. “Sands of Time” is more melodic and lightly rhythmic. “Child Pose” has an innocent, playful attitude, with much of it played in the upper registers of the piano. “Harp Goddess” has more of the complicated chord patterns I would expect from Landon, but the delivery is silky-smooth. Although the two pieces are quite different from each other, both “Dream Weaver” and “Water Wheel” are driven by repetitive left hand patterns and very freely expressive right hands - both are very delicate and beautiful. “Perseverance” seems a bit more structured, although this is relative. It is one of my favorite tracks. “Garden of Eden” is heavenly - warm, peaceful, and blissful. Landon’s piano touch on this piece is amazing! “Soaring” is my favorite of the twelve and vaguely resembles Landon’s “Icicles” - one of my favorite Landon pieces ever! I hope this one becomes sheet music soon! “Shangri-La” brings the album to a serene and peaceful close with a little bit of paradise. Very free in both form and mood, it will end your one-hour session feeling refreshed, relaxed, and ready to tell the world that you are “excellent and better all the time!”

Louis Landon has had a longtime mission to to create a more loving and peaceful world by writing, recording and performing music from the heart and "Healing Piano of Sedona" will certainly take him even closer to his goal. It is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons

3/30/14]]> Mon, 31 Mar 2014 00:52:24 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Minstrel Streams
2014 / Minstrel Streams
48 minutes

Are you looking for some sweetly uplifting instrumental music that harkens back to a more innocent time? "New Horizon" by Minstrel Streams might be exactly what you seek. This is the fourth release from Minstrel Streams, a husband and wife duo made up of Matt Stuart on the Steinway grand piano and acoustic guitar and Rebecca Stuart on a variety of flutes. Recorded at Will Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios, New Horizon includes the musical talents of Eugene Friesen on cello, Jill Haley on English horn, vocals by Noah Wilding, and others. All thirteen of the tracks are original compositions by Minstrel Streams and convey a sense of simplicity and warmth. While the melodies are gentle and uncomplicated, the performances are heartfelt and beautifully done.

"New Horizon" begins with “Ancient Mariner,” one of the more energetic pieces on the album. Cello, voice, and piano evoke a mysterious feeling that the flute dispels as it enters and creates a more optimistic atmosphere. This is one of my favorites. “Come To the Waters” has a more flowing style and again features the beauty of Friesen’s cello along with piano and flute. “Dawn Rising” is another favorite. Flute, guitar and cello make a delightfully earthy trio that is both peaceful and evocative. I also really like the haunting “Voices of the Wind,” a duet for guitar and Native American flute - very simple but emotionally very rich. “Passages” is the only piano solo on the album - a nice interlude between the ensemble pieces. “Celestial’s Rainbow” is a spirited flute and guitar piece that includes simple percussion and playful cheering in the background. Overflowing with love and longing, “Coming Home to You” is a sweet ballad and another favorite. The heart-tugging flute melody and gentle guitar rhythms in “Visions For Tomorrow” make this another stand-out that would be perfect for the closing credits of a movie. “Simple Pleasures” ends this lovely album with a light-hearted ensemble piece that includes most of the musicians who appeared on other tracks - charming and very satisfying.

"New Horizon" is the perfect antidote for the stresses and bad news we are bombarded with every day. Minstrel Streams endeavors to express the wonder and beauty of life and do an excellent job of it! "New Horizon" is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

3/29/14]]> Sun, 30 Mar 2014 00:23:04 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Carter Schade
2013 / Carter Schade
42 minutes

Carter Schade was all of twelve years old when he recorded his debut album, "Still." I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from someone so young and debated how to review his work next to the recordings of more mature and experienced artists. Those thoughts never needed to enter my mind because this is the music of a mature artist already! No wonder they are calling him a prodigy. Seven of the ten solo piano tracks on the album are original compositions and the other three are original arrangements. Schade started piano lessons at the age of six and wrote his first piece at eight. The New England native is currently working on his second album, due to be released later this year. "Still" is an exceptionally impressive first effort, and I can’t wait to follow this young man’s musical career!

The title track opens the album with a piece that is expressive beyond the emotional capabilities of most boys his age. May Carter Schade never lose this beautiful flowing quality that seems to come from the depths of his soul! “Bridges” has a graceful, lyrical lilt that is soothing and uplifting. “Hope” was inspired by “It Is Well With My Soul.” The very recognizable melody drifts in and out of Schade’s original themes, making this a beautiful and very personal interpretation of a time-honored hymn. I really like the dramatic contrasts in “Again,” which begins gently and thoughtfully, gradually building to a more powerful climax and returning to the quieter first theme, slowly re-gathering its previousenergy (but not as much as the first time) - a very intriguing piece! “A Twilight Star” contains threads of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” but is mostly a poignant and peaceful original played with confidence and conviction. “The Water Is Wide” seems to be appearing everywhere these days, but its lovely, heartfelt melody is a favorite for many. Carter’s arrangement is somewhat livelier than many versions I’ve heard but preserves the compelling quality of the melody. “After the Rain” is my favorite of the ten pieces. It begins with a very spare theme that gradually builds in complexity as well as energy and drama, peaks, and then slowly winds down - very descriptive and effective! As its title implies, “Days Gone By” is reflective and nostalgic as it recounts a variety of experiences and moods and brings this outstanding first album to a satisfying close.

Bravo, Carter Schade! You are off to an amazing start! "Still" is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Both thumbs up!

Kathy Parsons

3/28/14]]> Fri, 28 Mar 2014 22:45:26 +0000
<![CDATA[ Imagination by Joe Yamada]]> Joe Yamada
2014 / Joe Yamada Music
51 minutes

"Imagination" is the second full-length solo piano release from pianist/composer Joe Yamada following his 2004 CD "Heartfelt." The thirteen original pieces are relaxed and soothing, romantic and from the heart. Recorded at Piano Haven Studio in Sedona, AZ on Joe Bongiorno's Shigeru Kawai SK7L grand piano, the sound is warm, clear and very beautiful. A self-taught musician who doesn't read music, Yamada's playing is expressive and colorful without being flashy. The "flash" is in the sincerity of the music and how it communicates from one soul to the next.

"Imagination" begins with the light and breezy "Straight To the Heart." Lively and carefree, it's a great opening! Being from the Seattle area, Yamada knows all about the different kinds of rain! "Spring Rain" is gentle and soothing - a refreshing shower rather than a downpour. Played with a feather-light touch, this is a favorite. "Forever Love" is one of the longer tracks (6.25 minutes) and expresses tender love and devotion. The title track is based on a flowing broken chord pattern that is sometimes in the foreground and sometimes in the background. I love the middle section as it becomes more dramatic, with dark accents in the deep bass of the piano. The slow and graceful "Beneath the Stars" expresses a sense of wonder but is also very peaceful and contented - another favorite. "The Storm" picks up the tempo, dancing and swirling around the piano keyboard as it tells its tale of wind and rain. The "eye" of the storm in the middle of the piece becomes calmer as the storm gradually gathers strength and rebuilds its energy to a climax and then fades out - a great piece! (Sheet music???) I'm so glad "Forgotten Melody" was remembered, as this is a real beauty! Very gentle and free, it has an almost conversational style that works really well, conveying a blissful kind of calm. The title for "Left All Alone" is a play on words since the whole piece is played with the left hand! I wouldn't have guessed it was a one-handed performance! "A New Road" expresses the excitement and anticipation of change and going in a new direction. "Baby Boy" brings this beautiful album to a close with the joy and wonder of new life - also a favorite.

Hopefully it won't be so long between albums next time, but Joe Yamada has given us much to enjoy and savor with "Imagination." It is available for download on, Amazon, and iTunes. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

3/14/14]]> Wed, 19 Mar 2014 16:49:58 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Ann Sweeten
2014 / Orange Band Records
56 minutes

"Tapestries of Time" is the tenth release from pianist/composer Ann Sweeten. Co-produced with Will Ackerman and recorded at his Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, this beautiful collection of eleven original compositions features Sweeten on the Steinway B grand piano with several additional musicians adding their own artistic touches. In the liner notes, Sweeten states “The pieces on this album have to do with time in some concept or other. There may be a direct reference, a captured moment, an isolated experience or inspiration drawn from a particular event, the idea of infinity and limitless possibility.” Sweeten has a delicate touch that perfectly expresses the grace and elegance of her music. Although all of the pieces on this album are distinctive from each other, I have found this music to be a wonderful accompaniment to working - and it helped to keep me from tearing my hair out while doing my taxes! It’s the sort of music that is complex enough to listen to many times with full attention yet settles easily into the background while creating an ambiance of peaceful calm. Classically-trained from an early age, Sweeten brings a wealth of experience to her music with her background as a dancer, singer, poet and actress as well as a pianist.

"Tapestries of Time" begins with “Afterglow,” a gorgeous opening that includes Eugene Friesen on cello and Akane Setiawan on English horn. Tranquility permeates this piece so thoroughly that it can instantly soothe and relax, letting the listener know from the first notes that this is no ordinary piano album. “CAVU” (an aviation term for “Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited”) is dedicated to Sweeten’s father. Andrew Eng joins Sweeten on violin, adding washes of sound that are sometimes soft pastels and sometimes more vibrant and shimmering. “Hypnotique,” a graceful and dreamy solo piano waltz, is one of my favorites. “Ventanas Al Mar” (“Windows To the Sea”) is a shimmering piece inspired by a small hotel in Mexico and features Ackerman on acoustic guitar. “Of Clouds and Dreams” starts out as a piano solo but includes the haunting voice of Noah Wilding as well as Jeff Oster on flugelhorn. “Send Me An Angel” was written for and is dedicated to all laboratory animals from the past and present and was composed from their perspective. Friesen returns to add his poignant cello to this heartbreaking piece that obviously comes from a very deep place in Sweeten’s heart. “The Great Divide” was inspired by a poem she wrote many years ago that refers to the line between childhood and adulthood and suggests that the two are really not so far apart when someone is “careful to keep alive the magical light of one’s inner child!” “Hourglass” is the other wonderful, serene piano solo. “Riversong” brings the album to a peaceful close with a piece that includes Setiawan on both English horn and oboe. If you still feel any tension anywhere in your body at this point, you simply haven’t been paying attention!

"Tapestries of Time" is the perfect album for relaxing and putting the stresses of the day into their proper perspective. It is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

3/18/14]]> Wed, 19 Mar 2014 16:39:59 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Gary Girouard
2014 / Galileo Music
53 minutes

Two years in the making, the fifth installment of Gary Girouard’s award-winning "The Naked Piano" series is here! Subtitled "Elements," it is a musical expression of “things that are in this world, but not of this world” and seeks to inspire listeners to “observe and enjoy the wonders and blessings surrounding each and every one of us” (quoted from the CD’s liner notes). Recorded on Piano Haven’s wonderful Shigeru Kawai grand piano, the music expresses a stirring combination of moods ranging from light and joyous to darker and more turbulent, using a palette of brilliant tonal colors. Girouard is one of the more accomplished pianists in this genre with impressive playing chops made even more impressive by the heart and soul he puts into his music. An exceptional recording in every way, I would expect "Elements" to be one of my Favorites for the year.

"Elements" begins with “Water,” which, for the first time in the Naked Piano series, contains a sound other than the piano - the sound of running water, which fades out as the piano enters. The flowing left hand and gently percussive right create a beautiful portrait of a stream or river running its course, sometimes slow and leisurely and sometimes strong and dramatic. Is there an unseen force in this life more powerful than “Love”? Girouard’s musical take is graceful, lyrical, and overflowing with heartfelt emotion. “Miracles” begins quietly and simply, gradually building as it stands in awe of life itself. “Footprints” is a bit darker than some of the other pieces, pondering history and those who have gone before us - a favorite. I also really like the dramatic “Time.” Sometimes lightly flowing and sometimes heavier and scary, it’s a great concept piece! You can almost feel an icy chill blow off “Winter’s Wonder” as it describes the sparkling beauty of a winter scene. At the other end of the spectrum is the lazy contentment of “Sunshine” as it warms the skin and soothes the body. “Enchanted Forest” is pure musical magic - a fairy tale without words that makes it easy to visualize iridescent fairy wings flickering in the darkened woods and elves hiding under mushrooms. “Cosmic Journey” expresses the freedom of improvisation while a simple melody line weaves in and out, sometimes gently, sometimes with gusto. “Awakening” speaks its message without a need for words, bringing this excellent album to a peaceful close.

Gary Girouard’s music is a very special listening experience - especially when you hear it with an open heart. His previous release, "The Naked Piano: Light & Dark" was awarded the 2012 “Album of the Year” by Whisperings Solo Piano Radio, and although I love that album, this one could be even better. "Elements" is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons

3/3/14]]> Tue, 4 Mar 2014 01:48:07 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Dreams From Afar
Michael Logozar
2014 / Michael Logozar
43 minutes

"Dreams From Afar" is the fourth album from pianist/composer Michael Logozar and, as much as I love his first three, this could be my favorite. Logozar had planned to release an album of folk songs this year, but was seemingly diverted the end of 2013 when he accepted the challenge to write, record and share seven songs in seven days. “Because of the time crunch involved I was able to release my inhibitions about writing music that is too simple and what resulted was a bunch of very melodic/accessible songs. I found they fit very well with the couple of folk songs I already had been starting to work with so I decided to combine the two projects into one album.” Two of the three folk songs are not commonly heard, making it difficult to tell which songs are new and which are older. This is in part because Logozar imagined how he would write if he was collaborating with the actual composers. To finish up the selection of twelve songs for the album, Logozar quickly wrote two more songs for a total of nine originals and three arrangements. There is a very nice emotional balance to the album in that some of the songs are bittersweet and full of longing while others are lighter and more playful. Even the cover artwork for this album is outstanding, making it a winner all the way around!

“Carousel” opens the album and is the first of Logozar’s “7 in 7.” Buoyant and in constant motion, it is a joyous beginning! “Firefly Dance” is one of my favorites. Light and energetic, it alternates between a lively minor key and a more graceful major. “Your Smile” is a very sweet and tender waltz that warms the heart. “Musette” is my favorite track. It comes from an old French folk song (not the Bach piano piece most students learn at some point) called “Sing to Me, Sweet Musetta.” Darkly poignant and haunting, it’s a real beauty! “The Water is Wide” has become extremely popular over the past ten or fifteen years, but Logozar has succeeded in making it his own. “The Skipping Path” is pure light-hearted fun. The very spare and crystalline “Snow Angel” tells its story with a graceful chill. Another favorite is the emotionally stirring “The Long Night.” Its reflective melody and  somber mood are both compelling and gorgeous! “From Afar” is the third folk song and originally comes from Lithuania (“From Afar Returns My Well-Beloved”). Overflowing with deep sadness and loss, it’s impossible to not be touched by the simple, heartfelt beauty of this piece - I can’t wait for the sheet music! “Homeland Song” closes the album with an upbeat original that Logozar wrote as if he was composing a folk song. Joyous and strongly melodic, it’s a strong ending to an outstanding album!

"Dreams From Afar" is likely to be one of my Favorite Albums of the year! It is available for download now from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby, and will be available on CD on March 20th, 2014. Very highly recommended!


Kathy Parsons


]]> Sun, 2 Mar 2014 01:14:23 +0000
<![CDATA[ Top-Notch New Age Music From Synthesist Timothy Wenzel]]> River Serene (his third CD), he creates dreamy, ethereal, but still melodic swirls-of-sound...just great new age stuff.
A couple of tracks make you hear what the title implies.  “Rain Coming Down” does capture the sound and feeling of rain (without sticking a microphone outside during a thunder shower).  “The Night Train” encapsulates the sound and feeling of riding on a train (the rhythm of the tracks and the rolling along).  “First Dance” waltzes along with that effervescent feel of when the guy gets his nerve up to ask the girl to dance and she says yes and they start to fall in love on the dance floor.  “A Twilight Pause” is a bit more nebulous, but somehow still seems to mimic that quiet, special moment at dusk when the day falls away to night and you often ponder either those little questions such as “How did the day go” or the big ones such as “Is my life on the right path?”  This music is excellent for pondering or simply relaxing to.  That is the great thing about new age music, and one reason it has hung around so long.  It is the perfect backdrop for so many activities (dining, making love, exercising, reading, couch potatoing, whatever), not so very intrusive, but interesting enough if you choose to listen or dissect.  And if you need a new CD for some of these activities, consider this one by keyboardist Timothy Wenzel.  Top-notch all the way.]]> Wed, 26 Feb 2014 15:09:40 +0000
<![CDATA[ Set Up Your Sleeptime With Perfect Music From Dan Chadburn]]> DAN CHADBURN
The title of this recording is Nocturnes and it has a double meaning.  Pianist Dan Chadburn was trained as a classical musician and this music has certain classical (or at least modern classical elements).  In the music world the word “nocturne” is most-often used in the clasical genre and technically refers to a composition that is inspired by or evocative of the night (Chopin wrote 21 of them).  But most of us occasionally use the word “nocturnal” when simply referring to nighttime activities.  So Chadburn says he wrote these pieces at night and that they started reflecting all those feelings and activities that come with the night.
He says in his bio, “Night is an interesting time when we might ponder our mortality, or take a hard look at our lives, or count up the good times, or fall asleep and explore our subconscious in our dreams.  This music can serve as a soundtrack for any of those late-night musings.”
One listen and you will probably agree.  The music has sort of a melancholy, pensive, reflective air about it.
The first two pieces -- “Twilight” and the best tune, “Anne’s Lullaby” -- are solo piano.  Two tohers -- “The Road” and the very pretty “Sunrise” -- are almost solo piano, but include very faint synth strings.  The other eight compositions feature some piano, but also a lot of English horn, viola, violin and French horn in the forefront carrying a lot of the melodic load.
The music is really lovely, whether you get into the “night aspects” behind it or not.  But it would seem to be ideal music to put on just as you are about ready to drift off.  It should set up your sleep, and dreams, quite nicely.]]> Wed, 26 Feb 2014 15:02:39 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Jim Gabriel
2013 / Jim Gabriel
49 minutes

"Sojourn" is the stellar debut by pianist/composer Jim Gabriel. Produced by Will Ackerman at his Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont, the album is made up of four piano solos and seven duets/ensemble pieces that feature Eugene Friesen on cello (5), Charlie Bisharat on violin (2), Tony Levin on bass (3), Will Ackerman on percussion (1), and Jeff Pearce on Chapman Stick (1). The music is a fascinating combination of structured, melodic pieces and improvisations that are more ethereal and ambient. Two of the eleven tracks are covers that Gabriel has made his own.

Jim Gabriel started playing the piano at the age of eight and continued his education all over the world, including working on a doctorate in Organ Performance from University of Washington before moving to Paris to study improvisation. Gabriel is the Choral Director at Cranbook Schools in Michigan, where he also teaches. His vast musical experience shines through in his original compositions as well as his playing, both of which are elegant and soulful. "Sojourn" is an extraordinary album and sure to be one of my favorites of 2014.

"Sojourn" begins with “South Bend, Indiana 1989,” a tender and delicate piano solo that sets the tone of the album. Very open and free, it’s a quietly bittersweet reflection on something from the past. “Chaccone” is an incredible duet for piano and cello. Built around a repeated bass pattern, the first half of the piece is just piano. As the cello enters, the music really takes flight. The last movement becomes very serene and gently drifts off at the end. “Spring Reverie,” also a duet for piano and cello, begins softly and builds slowly. The middle section becomes passionate and then gradually calms and fades out. The title track is a quartet featuring Gabriel, Ackerman, Friesen, and Pearce - definitely a favorite! Haunting and full of longing yet freely expressive, it’s a breath-taking piece! “Closest Night” returns to solo piano: open, free, and from the depths of the soul. Much of this piece is played in the lower registers of the piano, creating images of darkness and stillness. “Dayspring” takes us in a different direction altogether. Light and carefree, Charlie Bisharat’s violin takes us soaring through fluffy white clouds as Gabriel’s piano dances and swirls with joyous abandon. “Retrospection” is another favorite. A very subtle piano solo, the damper pedal holds many of the tones, creating an incredibly atmospheric, floating feeling that is both dreamy and suggestive of the passage of time - an amazing effect that is whole lot more difficult than one might expect, as excessive use of the pedal can turn the music to mud in no time. “Lost Chances” brings Bisharat back and adds Levin on bass for a poignant, nearly heartbreaking reflection on what might have been - love it! The two cover songs are “Your Hand in Mine” and “To the Sky,” and both are gorgeous. “Hopes Forgotten” is a passionate and deeply moving trio for piano, cello and bass.

My one-word review of "Sojourn" and Jim Gabriel’s music would be “Wow!!!” Be sure to check it out for yourself. It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby, and I give it my highest recommendation.

Kathy Parsons

]]> Mon, 24 Feb 2014 20:24:11 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Harrison Edwards
2013 / Arturim Records
46 minutes

"The Undiscovered Horizon" is the fourth release from Harrison Edwards. An eclectic assortment of musical styles and instruments, the twelve original tracks take the listener on an aural tour of places and cultures from around the world. Using keyboards, digital pianos, sound modules, and “soft-synths,” Edwards has a full range of instruments and effects at his fingertips, painting colorful images with sound and telling stories without words. His music is often powerful and dynamic like a film soundtrack, ranging from stately and symphonic to Techno-Dance with elements of solo piano, light jazz, and classical genres added to the mix .

"The Undiscovered Horizon" begins with “Kilimanjaro,” an East-meets-West fusion of traditional Asian musical instruments and motifs with high-powered electronic wizardry. Sometimes majestic and sometimes lighter and more playful, it’s a very impressive opening! I assume that “Usambara” refers to the mountain range in Tanzania, and the symphonic sweep of this piece is a fitting homage to scenes of breath-taking beauty and grandeur. The title track features piano, acoustic guitar, strings, voices, and other orchestral instruments, starting out simply and building as the piece evolves. “Arctic Passage” is much lighter and more fanciful, dancing on the keyboard as the chilling  winds blow in the background. “Eye of the Storm” cranks up the energy to a frenetic level - dark and ominous but also very exciting! “Peaceful Earth” alternates from ambient to more rhythmic, staying gentle and serene throughout. “A Walk Among the Trees” is composed in a very stately classical style that is also very visual. A full string section gives this piece a graceful lilt. “Flight of Fancy” is the Techno/Dance piece, a fun and agitated gem that lasts a little more than a minute and feels like when I’ve had a cup of very strong coffee. Wheeee! “A Prelude & Spanish Dance” is quite different from the other tracks. The prelude incorporates trumpets, drums, strings and percussion in a classical style, and the livelier Spanish dance is mostly guitars and hand percussion. The vibrant closing track, “The Setting Sun,” is more ambient than melodic with an infectious rhythm and a light-hearted spirit.

"The Undiscovered Horizon" is a fascinating listening experience that is sure to put Harrison Edwards back on the charts. It is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

2/19/14]]> Thu, 20 Feb 2014 01:45:17 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Storybook Love: A Pianist Perspective
Laura McMillan
2014 / Perhaps Piano Records
56 minutes

"Storybook Love" is Laura McMillan’s third solo piano release following "Without Words" (2009) and"Linger Longer" (2012). One World Music named "Linger Longer" “Album of the Year” by and McMillan was awarded “Artist of the Year” for 2012. Describing the origins of her new album, McMillan says, “It’s a dream we all have, male and female.... Whether you are in love right now or in the middle of the search, I hope this music can serve as a backdrop of joy and excitement.” 

A prominent piano teacher in the Portland, Oregon area, McMillan has been playing classical music all of her life and has been especially influenced by the music of Chopin. In her original compositions, she blends traditional classical piano elements and a strong appreciation for Broadway music with new age and neo-classical motifs to create her own sound. Sometimes cool and soothing and other times more fiery and energetic, McMillan’s albums provide a variety of moods and styles bound together by a common theme. “Each track on the album Storybook Love is meant to spotlight one of the many moments of love -- dreaming about it, looking for it, finding it and living happily ever after.”

"Storybook Love" begins with “The Way It Goes,” a piece comprised of several themes that alternate between sweetly dreamy and a high-energy happy dance. “For Our Children” is very soft and gentle and seems to be a tribute to the innocence of childhood itself. “Playground Memories” is light and playful, building to a much bigger, more dynamic theme, and then alternating themes. The graceful “Hard To Say Goodbye” is a poignant ballad that expresses the pain of having to let go - a favorite. “Porch Swing” has the lazy pace of a summer evening spent enjoying the magic of just being together. Very slow and expressive, I really like this one, too. “Transitions” is all about changes and the music reflects on the ups and downs of relationships by varying rhythms, moods, and dynamics - an especially effective piece. “What Might Have Been” conveys the hurt and disappointment of a relationship that falls apart. “Lavender Roses” is as soft and delicate as the title implies - very graceful. The album ends with the title track - my favorite of the fourteen. Expressing the deepest and most powerful kind of love, the simple but poignant melody touches and warms the heart. There is a “official” video with this piece on YouTube and McMillan’s website that adds even more meaning to the song.

Need a romantic lift? "Storybook Love" could be exactly what you’re looking for! It is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons


]]> Wed, 19 Feb 2014 01:34:11 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Robin Meloy Goldsby
2013 / Bass Lion Music
45 minutes

"Magnolia" is a stunning solo piano collection by one of my very favorite artists, Robin Meloy Goldsby. The twelve tracks are a combination of seven original compositions and five covers. The original pieces include collaborations with Goldsby’s son and husband and three penned on her own. Also a prolific writer, Goldsby has a compelling way of expressing herself with and without words, but I think she lets us closest to her heart through her music. Her graceful, effortless touch brings images and colors to mind that only someone with a lifetime of experience can evoke. The sound of the Steinway on this recording is warm and flawless. Even the cover artwork of a single pink magnolia blossom is gorgeous.

"Magnolia" begins with “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri, a beautiful love song played with great tenderness and longing. “Polskie Drogi” is an elegant and bittersweet  piece written by Polish composer Andrzej Kurylewicz - love it! My favorite track on the album is “Mirage,” a piece co-composed with Robin’s son, Curtis. A combination of flowing broken chords and a passionate melody make this one a real stand-out both musically and emotionally. What a talented and gifted family! “Magnolia” is a lovely RMG original - graceful and evocative. “Lerbach Sunday Morning” refers to the castle where Goldsby plays regularly, and her musical tribute is light-hearted and free-spirited. “She Walks With Me” is incredibly touching and poignant - obviously composed in honor of someone very special - another favorite. “Blackbird” is a true Beatles classic, and Goldsby’s solo piano arrangement is personal yet true to the original. “Passage” was co-written with Peter Fessler and has the kind of strong melody that suggests that the song probably has lyrics yet is perfect as an instrumental. Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” has been a hit for several artists, but Goldsby makes it her own. “Seventh Sun” was co-written with Robin’s husband, John, who also produced the album. Light and swirling, it’s an upbeat gem that incorporates jazz touches and hints of a stage musical. Goldsby closes the album with the sweet and affecting Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World,” again making it her own and ending with a gentle sigh.

Robin Meloy Goldsby again proves why she is such a beloved and respected pianist with "Magnolia." It is available from Amazon and iTunes. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons

2/9/14]]> Mon, 10 Feb 2014 02:14:18 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Amy Janelle
2014 / Live Your Dream Music
46 minutes

"A New Direction" is the second release from pianist/composer/vocalist Amy Janelle,  following her 2010 debut, "Shining True." Since that first recording, Amy moved from the wet and chilly Pacific Northwest to warm and dry Sedona, AZ - a new direction, indeed, and a testament to the philosophy of “living your dream.” "Shining True" includes three vocal pieces, but this time there is just one, the closing track. The other ten are original piano solos that tell stories without words about the past three years of Amy’s life. Also a licensed massage therapist, Amy obviously loves to relax people and help them feel better with her positive energy, and her music certainly succeeds in reaching those goals. One of the things I really like about this album is Amy’s frequent use of the deep bass of the Shigeru Kawai SK7 grand piano at Piano Haven Studio - such a dark, rich sound!

"A New Direction" begins with the title track, a warm and blissful piece with a gently percussive right hand and flowing left. Amy is obviously feeling very good about her new direction!  “Peaks of Red” is a somewhat more dramatic yet still peaceful favorite. The  repetitive left hand sets a calming rhythm while the right tells a colorful story, occasionally crossing over into the deep bass of the piano to great effect! “Seasons of Darkness” goes to a much sadder and more painful place - wrenching yet absolutely gorgeous in its honesty and emotional expression. From the darker depths, we go to the light and languid “The Sun Dance.” Life is good again! “Sweet Surprise” is poignant, expressing the heartfelt emotions felt from something unexpected and especially meaningful. “Behind the Moonlight” is my favorite piece on the album. The rolling broken chords on the left hand create a hypnotic rhythm while the right hand sparkles in the upper registers of the piano, crossing into the deep bass for just the right amount of drama and contrast. I enjoyed listening to this piece so much while driving to and from the SF Bay Area a couple of weeks ago that I kept hitting the “repeat” button on my CD player - over and over. I’m really looking forward to the sheet music for this one! “New Life” is tender and full of wonder. “You Are Beautiful” is the closing vocal piece - a sweet love song to end the album with a smile and a wistful sigh.

Amy Janelle has created a second beautiful piano album that serves as a massage for the mind and soul. "A New Direction" is available from, Amazon and iTunes. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

2/9/14]]> Sun, 9 Feb 2014 23:50:59 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Mike McCarthy
2014 / Michael McCarthy
66 minutes

"Gently Sleeps: A Calming Tribute To The Beatles" is the second release from pianist/composer/arranger Mike McCarthy, following his 2012 debut, This Piano. It’s hard to believe that The Beatles made their US arrival fifty years ago this month, and who would have thought that the music that caused so many girls to swoon and scream would continue to be so popular this far into the future and beyond? McCarthy’s collection of thirteen solo piano arrangements includes “B” sides, tracks that are more meaningful, and a few chart toppers. I have to admit that there are several songs that I don’t recognize or remember, making this a truly interesting and engaging bit of musical history as well as a beautiful album to listen to. McCarthy took several of the songs and slowed them down to showcase a different depth and a more minimalistic attitude. Recording with an electronic piano allowed him to add reverb and atmospheric sounds to some of the songs to give them a more “open,” floating feeling.

"Gently Sleeps" begins with “Thank You Girl,” which was originally recorded in 1963 as the B side of “From Me To You.” McCarthy’s arrangement is dreamy and ethereal - much slower than the original. “I’ll Get You” is a tender yet very passionate love song with a simple melody and sparse accompaniment - a very effect arrangement and performance. “P.S. I Love You” is one of the better-known songs and McCarthy plays it with the same depth of emotion that melted our hearts back then - definitely a favorite! I also really like his version of “If I Needed Someone,” the only song written by George Harrison that was sung during any of The Beatles’ tours. Slow, haunting, and kind of sad, it’s a great arrangement. “The Night Before” is another favorite. Spare, dark, and emotional, the reverb on this song is especially effective. McCarthy uses atmospheric keyboard sounds to good effect behind the plaintive and heartfelt melody of “We Can Work It Out,” my favorite of the thirteen tracks. “Blackbird” is a true classic and covered by many artists, but McCarthy still makes it his own with ethereal sounds behind the piano’s strong melody and soulful expression. “Goodnight” is the last track on The Beatles 1968 "The White Album," and John Lennon composed the song for his son, Julian. It’s a beautiful closing to Gently Sleeps, and ends the album with a peaceful sigh.

If you’re looking for some calming music to unwind with (and who isn’t?), "Gently Sleeps" could be just the ticket. It is available for download from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Relax and enjoy!

Kathy Parsons

2/8/14]]> Sun, 9 Feb 2014 01:17:15 +0000
<![CDATA[ From]]> Winter
Stan Berger
2013 / Stan Berger Music
48 minutes

"Winter" is the second release from pianist/composer Stan Berger, following his 2010 smooth jazz debut,"Kool Shoes." A longtime studio musician, composer, musical director and former pianist for Barry White, Berger earned a doctorate in composition from Claremont Graduate University. Coupled with a background in classical music and jazz, Berger brings a wealth of experience to his original compositions, which are rich, elegant and very beautiful. Within a few of the thirteen tracks are hints of Christmas themes, but this isn’t a holiday album and will be a lovely addition to anyone’s year-round music collection. Most of the pieces are solo piano, but a few have keyboard string accompaniment. 

"Winter" begins with the title track, a very poignant and graceful beauty that sets the tone of the album - love it! “Winter Rose” is much lighter and more carefree while “The Angels Sing” has a lyrical classical style. “Snow Dream” is a gorgeous piece for piano and strings - wistful and dreamy. “Morning Star” is a bright and lively dance that celebrates the approach of a new day with a swirling melody that should put a smile on anyone’s face! “Joy” is a wonderful minor-key homage to “Carol of the Bells.” Lively and in constant motion, the dark and haunting variations on the melody make this my favorite track. “Forever” is an unabashedly romantic love song. The piano is sweet and tender, surrounded with smooth string washes that evoke a gentle sigh. I also really like “Cherry Blossom.” The right hand seems to dance all over the piano keyboard while the more repetitive left hand keeps the piece grounded and rhythmic. Melancholy but not despairing, this is a very impressive and deeply emotional piece! “Winter Storm” has a different kind of intensity that is somewhat ominous and mysterious yet very soulful and hypnotic - another favorite! “Northern Lights” joyfully sparkles and swirls all over the piano keys, leaving the listener a little breathless! “When Love Remains” brings this excellent album to close with a passionate piano solo that goes right to the heart. 

Stan Berger has created an exceptional album with "Winter," and I hope there will be many more releases to come! The album is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons


]]> Thu, 6 Feb 2014 20:26:49 +0000
<![CDATA[ A dark, sexy, haunting & spiritual other words it is a Depeche Mode album]]>
Before my review I have a disclaimer, I have been a Depeche Mode fan for 20 years. I just saw them this past September for the sixth time, amazing show. I own all their albums, singles, many bootlegs, DVDs, quite a few shirts and framed posters in my house. Depeche Mode (along with U2) has been the soundtrack to my life, as corny as that may sound. So my review might be seen as biased or just following the band on blind faith.

There are a group of Depeche Mode fans who still long for the return of Alan Wilder who left the band in 1995. I for one was sick to my core when he left the group. Nevertheless, I feel that the albums released since Wilder's departure have been really great collections of work. I am well aware of the contributions that Wilder gave the group. Notwithstanding, anyone who is familiar with Depeche Mode's history should be happy the band is still making music. And if they aren't pleased with the music, I am not sure why after 20 years these individuals keep buying "Alan free DM albums".

I wonder if Wilder stayed with the group if this type of music progression might not have happened anyway. Wilder's latest Recoil album had a great deal of blues fussed in the music. In contrast, in the wake of Wilder's departure the band has actually recorded more tracks pure album and Dave Gahan has become more involved in the production of songs. The Alan Wilder debate is just about as heated as the debate of George Lucas and the original Star Wars trilogy. I embrace the notion my words are not going to change many minds, but I feel it would give more credit to my review to note my position.

As for Delta Machine sounding like "Violator" and "Songs of Faith & Devotion", I really don't know if I agree with that statement. Every Depeche album, even the ones with Wilder, is its own musical journey. I see very little overlap sonically in their albums, other than I can tell it is a Depeche Mode album. Nevertheless, if I really had to dig deep I would say the blues influence and some of the lyrics might mirror SOFAD. As for some of the electronics, synths and pace I can see a little bit of "Violator" and even a bit of "Ultra". However, if anyone is hoping for Violator II and/or SOFAD "The Sequel" I believe they will be let down.

"Delta Machine" as a whole is a dark, sexy, haunting and spiritual other words it is a Depeche Mode album. I think "Heaven" is an amazing track and it didn't bother me at all as a first single. "Soothe My Soul" is a classic DM tune and I look forward to seeing it live later this year. Actually there really isn't any song on this record I dislike; some tracks pop out more than others, but none of the music on this record is poor. I also highly recommend getting the deluxe edition of this album, the bonus tracks are amazing. It is pretty shocking they weren't on the proper release. Then again "Ghost" was just a bonus track from "Sounds of the Universe" and I feel it was one of the strongest songs they recorded for that album.

I must also say that Dave Gahan's writing abilities have continued to bloom. I would say his two solo albums and working with Soulsavers last year has really paid off. "Should Be Higher" I feel is one of the highlights on this album, which again was penned by Gahan as was another favorite "Happens All the Time". I will take this moment to say that Gahan's voice is absolutely fantastic. He really has done different things with his vocals on this record and I love it. He truly is an underrated front man.

As for the packaging of the deluxe album, I am not thrilled about how the CDs are stored. They are packaged in a way where they are prone for scratches. The lyrics and photographs of the band are always welcomed. I really love this album and I think it will mature nicely in their catalogue. Again, I don't view it as sequel to "Violator" or "Songs of Faith & Devotion". I also didn't sit and pick apart the production and long for Alan Wilder while I listened to it. I take it for what it is, a Depeche Mode album from a group of men who have evolved, grown, matured and are in a different place than they were 20 years ago. I would certainly take any song off this record over that Top 40 non-sense. I really hope these guys keep making music. They are legends and if you have a chance to see them live go for it, while you still can.]]> Tue, 4 Feb 2014 22:39:38 +0000