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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
Music Uniquely Yours Vol. 1 by Renascence
- posted by Candice Michelle on 3/29/2017
Renascence - Music Uniquely Yours Vol. 1
Renascence is the recording alias of Tony Clark, a Texas-based multi-instrumentalist with over thirty years of experience in musical composition. On his first volume of Music Uniquely Yours, Tony explores electronic musical terrain of the ambient-chill variety, often infusing his passages with both Balearic and new age overtones. Comprised of nine compositions spanning thirty-seven minutes, the first seven tracks on the album include women’s names in their titles and draw upon themes devoted to relaxation.

An atmospheric haze descends upon the opening track, “Florence’s Fields”, which is supported by a bass-laden, downtempo groove comprised of fluttering clicks and taps. Soulful female vocals enter the piece at approximately the midway point, before slipping into a subtle pause of classical guitar evocative of the Mediterranean. “Alison’s Quite Place” follows next with ethereal vocal washes, as intricately minimal textures weave in and out of buzzing tones and gurgling effects throughout. Employing an ambient free-form style that characterizes much of the album, environmental nature sounds highlighting singing birds are additionally brought into the fold. The next piece, “Seraya’s Dream”, exudes a dreamily nocturnal essence, as velvety tonal fluctuations encompass metallically hollow timbres. “Kelly’s Rest” follows with crashing waves, suspended strings and the toll of a singing bowl. Evoking the captivating beauty of a sun rising upon the ocean’s horizon at dawn, sparse piano notes fall like droplets upon a swooshing backdrop augmented by subtle chord progressions. “NeuroLounge” is one of two bonus tracks on the album, as well as one of my favorite compositions herein. Imbued with a sensual chill-out vibe, it’s sultry dance groove underscores chic effects with processed vocal snippets, effectively recalling a late-night lounge or an after-hours venue. Concluding the album is the subsequent bonus track, “Akkadian”, which aptly winds things down again via flowing rainsticks, organic textures and breathy vocal intonations.

Deeply immersive and uninhibited, Music Uniquely Yours Vol. 1 simultaneously allows the listener to remain firmly grounded with their head drifting in the clouds. Inspired by the leisurely, recreational side of life, the album paints beautifully vivid and tranquil images of seaside sunsets and quaint cafés along the coast. Refreshingly carefree and calming to the senses, I highly look forward to a subsequent volume of music that’s uniquely yours – and mine! ~Candice Michelle (Journeyscapesradio.com)
Rating: Excellent
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