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Sanctuary for the Soul by Janice Lacy Project
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 3/30/2017
An album of peace and tranquility
Right before reviewing this album, I heard a track from it being featured on one of our many shows on One World Music Radio, and I must say I was extremely impressed. Now here I sit on a glorious winter morning reviewing the album for the artist.
The beauty to be found within is stunning, as a prime example you need to look no further than the new age classical crossover opener, the very title track itself, which at time borders on the edge of genius and sublime artistry. Sanctuary For The Soul is perfection in ambience and the Cello of Jenness manifests a realm of total peace and tranquillity with utter ease.
Constant reader, you have walked the halls of music and beauty many times with me over the years, but here on this sojourn of radiance you will find glowing gems of outstanding musical quality, like this one called Take Care Of My Heart. Listen very carefully to the amazing delicacy of the piano on this performance, such delicacy can be found right here.
On Everything’s Alright, we have a really positive and upbeat arrangement that will lift your day, no matter how sullen you feel. The piano flows with a sunlit expanse, that sings and fills your heart with love, a real happy and warm creation is to be found in this song of abundance.
Lovers’ Flight has a similar energy and theme to the last offering, and again offers a little more of that, oh so mournful Cello. The narrative of positivity and letting go is evident here and the performance on piano once more raises the spirits to perhaps even fly high in the arms of bliss.
The following piece gives us a slight change in direction, but there always seems to be a gentle hand at this musical helm. The piano and Cello perform so well together, one actually can feel a sense of guidance through the music here, on the tack called Refuge.
I feel a familiar bond with the piece called Sunrise Dance, the melody seems so familiar, however the gentle vocalisations and percussion here, really create a piece of music that will have you waking from your nights slumber, and eager to take on a shiny new day. This is a really happy and positive song to begin your day with, so go for it.
Through The Shadows is a little mournful remembrance of times past, the performance on piano here seems quite complex but very impressive. Creating memories in music is a real skill set, and one that Janice Lacy has in abundance, the theme of this composition may well be the soundtrack of loves labours lost.
Now I’m really lucky where I live in Cyprus, each morning when I wake, I look out on the horizon to see the Shimmering Ocean, and that is exactly what this offering is called, it sparkles and glistens with the same radiance as I see on my morning view.
As we move deeper into the album we come across another track, that through its tones, one can feel a certain recollection of times gone by. The texture of the piano is clever but respectful, one can almost hear and feel the sands of time drifting away in December Goodbye.
There is nothing quite like a little dedication on an album, and the song Jim’s Waltz is just that, a warm and tender composition created with love and played with a gentleness of heart, this is such a sweet and personal offering.
I used to live in an old fishing harbour in the UK, and on a summer evening there would be nothing more delightful than a walk around the sea walls. This short form piece says it all for me, and the flowing tidal style found on piano, may well say it all for the artist too on the sun kissed track Crystal Harbor.
Our journey dear reader has been musically lifting and colourful, and on the piece Full Moon, that can be emphasised even further. The electronic piano adds depth and added layers of musical ambience to enjoy. The melody points the way skywards to that romantic and all enticing, inspiring and empowering Full Moon.
Our penultimate offering is called Prayer, both the Piano and Cello manifests a piece that is aged and memorable. There is a real fluency here that seems steeped in time and the repetitive nature of the melody creates a narrative of deep familiarity.
The last port of call for us on our journey is the laid back and almost smooth jazz style piece called Tell You That I Love You, something I try and do each day with my wife. The confidence in performance on this piece is a pleasure to listen to; it’s a really warm way to leave the album.
Sanctuary For The Soul is a place that I know you will love to go; it’s an oasis of calm in a desert of turmoil. Janice Lacy and her team have brought to the table an album of pleasurable ambience that will bring a little tranquillity, to not only the soul, but the heart and mind too, a thoroughly recommended release.
Rating: Excellent
Life by Michele McLaughlin
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 3/30/2017
Michele has raised her own personal bar
I have been following the musical pathway of Michele McLaughlin ever since the release of her album Breathing In The Moment back in 2012, she has such a beautiful way of storytelling through music and this new release called Life is no exception to that rule, in fact over the years that have passed, that process and has been greatly enhanced.
With the opening piece one can see that this album is another forward step in the musical life path of McLaughlin, and as we go through the project we will wander through a veritable wonderland of classy compositions. The Gift, our gentle opener, is a fine example, it is our gift and this light filled piece glistens in the dark to lighten our way as it ushers us into the gateway of the album.
I was only talking the other week to David Lanz about his track The Approaching Storm and how to create that build up and suspense and manifest that crackling tension, he has done it well on his release and here McLaughlin builds something that may not just be a storm of the weather variety, each and every one of us have to walk through a personal life storm at some stage, and that sense of trepidation and passion can be felt right here on this very emotive arrangement, The Storm.
I have many favourites on this quite breath-taking release and this one is one of them and called At Home. McLaughlin creates for me a warm homely feel whilst watching the world drift past outside, but there is much more within the weave of this track, perhaps this is a little oasis, a musical sanctuary being portrayed here. Once more the artist hits the emotional heart strings with a really delicate and resonating composition.
The title track is up next, a moment to flourish perhaps for the musician? Life is a piece that has a great colour about its construction. I adore the motif in this track, it’s always evolving and recreating itself and the outcome is both confident and grand. There is also a layer of sensitivity about its build too, and here we see the narrative driven style of McLaughlin in full effect, what an incredible and very memorable composition this was.
That reflection continues in a more gentle way now with the song Belonging. There is something very familiar about this track that I cannot at this moment put my finger on, but it is most pleasing. McLaughlin allows this piece to grow naturally and in doing so she has created something quite charming.
Another one of my personal favourites now, with the piece A Deeper Understanding: it’s quite clear that Michele McLaughlin has created with this release something deeply special and this track at the half way juncture emphasises that raising of the musical bar, there is a smooth level of confidence and creativity here that can not only be heard, it can be felt too.
As we now slip into the loving arms of the latter half of the album we come across a real gem called Drifting Through A Dream. I awoke with the craziness of dreams in my head in the early hours today, and this music would have been a perfect soundtrack for that moment. The performance here is sublime, the clever changes and patterns McLaughlin weaves here creates a really mist filled but beautifully layered composition.
One of the darker tracks off the album is Heartbroken: it pulls at the emotions that many of us have gone through. As the artist plays, one can almost feel the memories and emotions flooding forward, in a cinematic rolling style of musical images and then as the credits roll, all that is left is emptiness, until the very last note, if a note had a word, it would be called hope.
I must say I am thoroughly enjoying this journey through Life, the release created for us by Michele McLaughlin, and I hope you are as well dear reader and listener. The narrative continues with a piece called Stronger, which is perfectly placed after the last offering and within the tale told and the performance played, we can indeed feel that confidence about life coming back, as we get Stronger.
The delicacy on this next composition is delightful, it’s called Precious Memories. There is real warmth to the style here that is greatly appreciated. McLaughlin’s performance here is stunning, she manifests a confident and flowing track that has such a powerful, yet restrained arrangement, which changes and alters with a growing sense of personal triumph of a special moment; note both the gentle, yet assured mix in this piece.
Crossroads is a popular theme at the moment, and of course somewhere we all have been at some stage. This is one of those pieces that will sit in your mind and you may even find yourself whistling or humming it. The performance has a little classical mixed in, with an almost movie styled arrangement. The minor nature of the piece, mixed with the driving narrative on notes, is simply brilliant. In my view one of the cleverest and insightful tracks on the album, so now you’re at the Crossroads, which way are you going to go?
I love this title, I have many, and if you’re honest too so do you dear reader, and it’s called Guilty Pleasures, our penultimate track off this quite brilliant album. A simple piece that has a real element of happiness built within it, and also a little sense of guilt too, which seems to play back and forth. The tempo and pace here alternates with a wonderful sense of energy, each moment of construction on this album has been created with such care and attention, that goes for this piece as well.
Our very last port of call is called Give it Time. In life one thing is certain, change, here on this album and with this track McLaughlin confronts that and once more the narrative flows back and forth, almost as if it is questioning itself, then reaffirming the answer. We have to also say that the artist leaves the album with a flourish on this piece, this is one very stylish and empowering way to leave what has been a fantastic journey of musical magic from the hands, heart and mind of Michele McLaughlin.
Life is an ever changing sphere, and on this album, the artist has not only created something deeply moving and special, McLaughlin has re-written the book on musical storytelling and narration and raised her own personal bar higher than ever expected, a truly stunning release that is utterly recommended.
Rating: Excellent
Asha by AO Music
- posted by Candice Michelle on 3/29/2017
AO Music - Asha
AO Music is a world fusion group founded by Richard Gannaway and Jay Oliver, which also includes South African-born singer and solo artist, Miriam Stockley (who co-produced this album with Richard). Perhaps best known as the voice of composer Karl Jenkins’ Adiemus project (whose debut single of the same name released in the mid-1990’s went on to become an international new age/classical-crossover hit), Miriam likewise imbues AO Music with her signature, layered phonetic vocalese that deftly emulates indigenous tribal chants. Titled Asha, after a Hindi word meaning “hope”, the group’s fifth album is “a salute to the world’s youth” intended to convey a global message of unity, peace and love. Richard plays banjo and Irish bouzouki, as well as handles the synths, samples and sound design throughout, even providing his own voice on numerous tracks. Comprised of twelve compositions spanning fifty-four minutes, Asha additionally features guest singers and musicians from various parts of the globe, making for a truly pan-cultural listening experience that masterfully integrates acoustic, ambient and world music styles.

The sun rises on the lively and rhythmic, “Jabulani”, immediately unveiling a colorful world of exhilarating beauty and warmth, as the yodeling voices of Yushu children weave around Miriam Stockely singing in the South African Zulu language. “Love Knows the Way” ensues with Richard and Miriam singing both English lyrics and phonetic vocalese, as Kimba Arem lends Australian didgeridoo throughout. Integrating many ethno-tribal elements, this hazily melodic composition evokes images of driving through the outback, or on a safari, all while taking in the beauty of surrounding nature and wildlife. Following next is the mesmerizing, “The Wildest Dream”, a folksier tune that features Ashwin Srinivasan on Indian flute, as well as Vladiswar Nadishana on jaw harp and Hang-hand pans. Miriam gently sings a simple, soothing melody in English with a couple of lines in Gaelic, as glinting synth sounds mimic twinkling stars over gathering performers around a desert campfire. One of my favorite pieces on the album is “Quixote”, which features Mark Holland on Native American flute in addition to Richard, Miriam and David Leflar on vocals. Impressively showcasing an eclectic integration of complementary elements, I’m somewhat reminded of certain works by Peter Gabriel, a comparison further noted by the song's crooning, earthy vocal style. Following up this outstanding offering is the equally enthralling, “Gael Medley”, which as its name suggests, emphasizes a notably Celtic flair. Here, banjo, flute and Irish bouzouki accompany Miriam’s phonetically beautiful vocalese, collectively painting rural scenery of horses running free in an open field. Picking up the pace a notch towards the latter part, the piece transitions into the spirited rhythm of a traditional Irish step dance. Perhaps the most riveting moment on the album is the captivatingly serene, “Though We Are Here Now”. Featuring Julie Fowlis on vocals, she sings lyrics adapted from a poem taken from the Translations of the Gaelic Society of Inverness in traditional Scottish Gaelic. Jay Oliver provides acoustic piano and string arrangement throughout, while Tim Lorsch lends violin and Neal Merrick Blackwood plays Native American frame drum. Exuding an inexplicable depth in its simplicity, the middle of the piece slips into an ambient suspension with singing birds accompanied by Miriam’s ethereally layered vocals. At this pinnacle moment on the album, an aerial view of earth being restored to its original state of glory and wholeness is seemingly transferred, until gently reverting to the initial acoustic and vocal melody that ultimately culminates in a profoundly touching encounter. The familiar names of award-winning duo Al Jewer and Andy Mitran appear on the next piece, “The Inbound Trail”, with Al lending his signature Native American flute while Andy plays the kalimba and metallic tongue drums throughout. Closing out the album is the more subtly ethno-ambient title track, “Asha”, a piece gently guided by improvisational flute, piano, and Native American frame drum. Here the sun has set upon the earth and every tender creature, as a euphonious tribal chorus provided by Emily Tessmer, Miriam and Richard seemingly lull the world to sleep.

A simply magnificent display of trans-global textures and scintillating soundscapes, listening to Asha makes me want to get away and explore the world numerous times over. For the time being, this album has accompanied me on the road and around town ever since it arrived, always infusing my day with added radiance, joy and warmth. Although refreshingly unique unto its own, AO Music will appeal, especially, to fans of Adiemus, Deep Forest and Afro Celt Sound System, of which I’ve long been among. Stopping at nothing short of tantalizing, Asha is arguably one of the most rewarding world fusion albums to emerge in recent years! ~Candice Michelle (Journeyscapesradio.com)
Rating: Excellent
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