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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 (
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 (
Rating: Excellent
Greatest Hits Vol. 2 by Steven Vitali
- posted by Candice Michelle on 3/24/2017
Steven Vitali - Greatest Hits Vol. 2
Greatest Hits Vol. 2 is a collection of sixteen pieces culled from a three-decade span of works by California-based composer/musician Steven Vitali. His music first debuted on Canadian airwaves in 1988 with a song called “Eternity”, which was eventually followed up with his debut album, Come Dream With Me, released in 1989. Totaling sixty-seven minutes in length, Greatest Hits Vol. 2 weaves new age, neoclassical and contemporary instrumental styles of music that variably range from boldly cinematic to quietly contemplative, as environmental nature sounds along with touches of world music are additionally sprinkled throughout.

Introducing the album is a piece from Vitali’s 2006 release, Quiet Moments, titled “Tranquil Thoughts”, which opens with breezy intonations of Japanese flute amidst the sound of ocean waves gently rolling in. A soothing piano melody ensues, as Vitali’s fingertips climb softly up and down the keys, effectively invoking an atmosphere of calm and serenity. Following next is “Andrew’s Song”, taken from the album, Invitation to Dream. Boasting a sweeping and tender arrangement, the piece initially begins with a solo keyboard melody, as more symphonic and rhythmic elements are brought into the fold. Track numbers four and five include a pair of notable pieces also culled from Quiet Moments. The first of these, “The Winds of Time”, begins with the churning of the ocean’s tides, as an introductory harp recalls that of a stage curtain being pulled back on a dance performance or play. Melodic piano and strings provide gentle accompaniment throughout, as the distant call of seagulls seemingly drift in and out of rising mists from the sea. Descending wind gusts accompanied by the sounds of thunder and rainstorm quietly introduce “Heaven’s Harp”, eventually giving way to a more classically-infused melody of delicate harp and strings. The album seemingly reaches its zenith midway through with the eighth track, “A Sign of the Dragon”, a particularly lovely composition taken from the 2013 release, Language of the Soul. Proceeding with a flash of tinkling chimes, images are recalled of the mythical Far East. Imbued with a somewhat formidable yet whimsically magical essence, added cinematic and rhythmic elements lend a Yin-Yang balance of both delicate beauty and striking power. It’s easily my favorite piece on the album, even bearing some reminiscence to the fantasy-themed music of Medwyn Goodall. “Everything Happens for a Reason” is another highlight likewise taken from Language of the Soul, as well as perhaps the album’s most emotive composition. Illuminated by sparkling key strokes throughout, a symphonic arrangement of string and brass instruments are laid over of a steady, moderately-paced rhythm. Eventually pausing for a bridge of subtle ethnic chant, this wonderful number ultimately culminates with an essence of existential wonder and forging ahead in life. Concluding the album with a lively mood of festivity is another piece lifted from Quiet Moments, titled “On the Mountain”. Here, cinematic strings and choral textures are guided by a waltzing rhythm that leads right though the entrance of a grand palace of celebration.

Lightly touching upon influential works of composers such as Hans Zimmer, Vangelis and Yanni, this rewarding collection of songs range from sweepingly cinematic to quietly contemplative. Likewise characterized by romantic overtones of classical elegance throughout its course, Greatest Hits Vol. 2 offers a definitive, well-rounded introduction to the music of Steven Vitali, no less providing new listeners with an excellent place to start! ~Candice Michelle (
Rating: Very Good +
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