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Second Youth by Lena Natalia
- posted by Candice Michelle on 12/23/2016
Lena Natalia - Second Youth
Chicago-based pianist and composer, Lena Natalia, released one of my favorite piano albums earlier in 2016, titled Rendezvous in Paris. She is back with a follow-up, titled Second Youth, an album comprised of twelve solo piano compositions that, as with her previous two releases, showcases her unique brand of mostly minimal, neoclassical-style craftsmanship. Also, like her prior efforts, Second Youth seems to tell a story throughout its course, with this newest installment alluding to the revisiting of childhood memories, perhaps with a longing to relive that era of one’s life again.

“Spinning Tops” is a two-minute opener which reminds me of a ballet performance introduction, with its graceful and flowing classical flair. In fact, one of the key defining characteristics of Lena’s compositions is their often spinning and twirling-like interlocking patterns, of which are in constant melodious movement. Likewise, her gorgeous melodies often become immediately memorable upon just the first listen or two, boasting a substantively intricate yet inherently simplistic elegance that is largely free of elaborate excesses. “Moving On” follows next, and although representative of some of the brighter, sunnier compositions herein, it still retains an inherent sense of nostalgic reflection that permeates the rest of the album. Continuing with “Prayer for Wisdom”, this solemnly exquisite piece is easily among my favorites, as it conveys a sense of reverence and solitude in a minimally classical fashion. Ensuing next is the slightly more dramatic “Rainstorm”, another favorite which is characterized by rippling higher register notes and starker lower register notes that move along in a galloping manner. The aptly-titled seventh track, “Café Con Leche”, is among the album’s more contemporary sounding pieces, conveying the comforting warmth and subtle sweetness of the beverage it’s named after. Another particular highlight is the tenth track, “Waiting at the Gate”, which possesses a somewhat melancholic feel, as it’s gently carried along by a steadily cascading and wistful melody. Tenderly concluding the album is “Transitions”, a subtly poignant piece which conveys the notion of ‘moving on’, perhaps from one phase of a person’s life to another.

With Lena having resided in Paris for several years – hence the inspiration for her previous two albums, Rendezvous in Paris and Sundays in Paris – it perhaps comes as little surprise that a perfectly understated romantic mystique finds its presence on much of this album as well. I was often reminded of quaint cafes and venues along cobblestone streets, as well as picturesque scenes of solitude both in the cities and countryside. Lena’s music is at once deeply emotive and tenderhearted yet never bombastic or saccharine, thereby perfectly allowing its listener to either dive into the story and engage in the emotions expressed herein, or simply relegate it to aesthetic background listening. A simply brilliant pianist-composer, Lena’s memorably beautiful melodies are in themselves her strongest asset, only further supported by her idiosyncratic compositional techniques. Every bit as lovely as its predecessor, Second Youth is another masterwork from one of my favorite rising stars in the field! ~Candice Michelle (
Rating: Excellent
Inner Rhythm Meditations by Byron Metcalf
- posted by Candice Michelle on 12/19/2016
Byron Metcalf - Inner Rhythm Medititations
Byron Metcalf is a master world percussionist and shamanic practitioner whose musical career spans five decades. On this hour-long excursion, titled Inner Rhythm Meditations, Byron is additionally joined by the two outstanding talents of guitarist and synthesist Erik Wøllo (with whom Byron previously released an album in 2016, titled Earth Luminous) and world flutist Peter Phippen, who has likewise appeared on a number of other outstanding projects. Together this musically brilliant trio weaves a seductive veil of mystery and sacredness throughout the album’s six compositions, which variably incorporate electro-shamanic rhythms, bansuri and shakuhachi flutes, and ambient loops and guitar textures.

“Garden of the Peaceful Warrior” opens the album with warm, enveloping chords and deeply enthralling tribal drumming, as Peter weaves a subtle flute melody in often-suspended notes among the composition’s capaciously lush atmosphere. An earthy, sensual vibe exudes from this piece, as well as throughout the rest of the album, as it seemingly beckons the listener into a trance-like and profoundly tranquil state. The aptly-named “As Clouds Dance” follows next and is perhaps my favorite piece on the album. Here, Erik provides gently soaring and stratospheric elements that perfectly compliment Byron’s warmer and earthier instrumentation to create a soundscape which sounds equal parts organic and electronic. A supremely gorgeous composition that mesmerizingly morphs and progresses throughout, it brings to mind that of watching passing clouds changing shape across the sky, while one’s feet remain firmly planted on the ground to connect with the bare earth beneath them. “Patterns of Awareness” ensues with floating timbres, gently understated flute and deeply resonating percussion at the foreground, as one can hear Erik’s textural ambient guitars in the background. The everflowing and hypnotic synergy of these three key elements continues on the next two tracks, “A Perfect Place” and “The Awakened Heart”, both of which are as equally spellbinding. Closing out the album is the comparatively slower-paced “Presence of Longing”; led by a lulling drum-pulse it provides fifteen minutes of pure restorative bliss.

As a long-time fan of Byron Metcalf’s work, I’m continually impressed by his musical outputs, and Inner Rhythm Meditations represents the epitome of the tribal-ambient style of music that he so frequently visits. In fact, I’m reminded of an equally beautiful album that Byron released with Steve Roach and Mark Seeling in 2004 called Mantram, with its similarly warm, sensual sacredness and seemingly esoteric sense of mystery. Byron’s percussion is simultaneously ecstatic and energetic, yet meditative and peaceful, always producing a visually and soulfully transportative experience. A top-notch album for yoga, ritual and shamanic work, Inner Rhythm Meditations is another masterwork that I will be returning to quite often! ~Candice Michelle (
Rating: Excellent
The Native American Flute As Therapy by Micki Free
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 12/18/2016
A special album
There can be nothing better than originality, there can be nothing better than an album that comes from the heart and soul and is for the betterment of man and woman kind, this healing album by Micki Free is all of the above and much more.
This is a cathartic journey for me too and one that I am happy to walk the trail with an open heart and mind. The entire concept is original, but the inclusion of Waterboys keyboardist Paul Brown was a stroke of sheer genius.
The ten minute opus of magnificence starts the album and is called White Candle Light. The constant positive audio from Free during this recording is part of the magic that is contained within, it pulls us into a world of absolute healing, the piece it’s self is ambience in perfection, and seems to hover around us like the warm cloak of the ancestors on a cold winters day.
The entire planet and its billions of inhabitants could do with listening to this album; perhaps they would drop the fear and embrace the love. Healing Bath is perfection, the natural sounds of running water work with Free’s audio of the nature of water as a positive cleansing energy. As I sit and listen to this on headphones for the first time, one can feel the soothing power of a sensual and calming energy of the Healing Bath. The light percussion and acoustic guitar here worked well with the flute in an almost symbiotic manner.
One of my favourite herbs is Lavender, I used to live near a lavender field back in the UK, and over here in Cyprus it is also abundant. Micki Free describes a Lavender Kiss so beautiful, again using guitar that almost sounds a little like Prince and Purple Rain at times, which of course in a way would be quite apt. The flute is a great narrator and healer and the imagery of miles of beautiful lavender valleys is simply sublime in its artistry, listen also to Brown on Hammond organ, he brings a real sense of wonderment to the composition.
Two things the people of this world need right now are love and positivity and through Native American Flute As Therapy, I believe if embraced, this is possible. The healing journey for me is wrapped in this track, as my last wife died of cancer 4 years ago in 2012 and the first thing we did was to fly out to work with a Native American shaman to help bring about some healing and balance to this situation. The tale tells of a woman with cancer, like my late wife. She would meet the artist after being told by her friends, that Native flute can cure cancer, can it do so? No, I personally do not think so, but it can be a wonderful healing technique and one that can bring peace, balance and love to a sufferer of this most terrible of diseases and if you believe it can help, it will, and if you give up and let go of all that is holding you within fear, then perhaps anything can happen.
Micki Free has faced one of the toughest challenges here and met it head on, with love truth and respect and in doing so produced one of the finest examples of Native American flute music around today.
I can feel the healing I need coming from this release and if we bathe ourselves in Positive Energy, only good can come from this embrace. Free says, and is correct in doing so “Love is the antidote to fear” this starts with gratitude and all lessons that are learned. The beautiful ambience that floats here is like a gentle sonic shower of light and positivity, the spoken audio and harmonic backdrop of musical magic is simply majestic on the entire album, here we also have a sample of healing drumming as well, this sways with the musicians flute in a dance of joy.
As we slide over the half way marker we come across a piece called Feet & Toes, now I am lucky enough to be married to a beautiful woman who, among many things, is a Reflexologist. Free states, “Relax, let go” foot massage or therapy really requires you to do so, and once we are at peace in this calming, soft and soothing session, it will alleviate many physical problems and assist the body to recuperate. Once more the combination of Free and Brown works so well here, in bringing us, the very eager listener and seeker of inner peace, just what we need and when we need it.
One of the many things I liked about this album is the track lengths, we always have plenty of time to enjoy both the spoken word and music that is laid in front of us. This aromatic offering is well over six minutes and called Essential Oils. This has a really delightful melody that seems to draw us in close and personal and opens up our heart and allows our senses to literally smell the Essential Oil that is need by us at that time. Hammond and Flute are always in partnership, but on this track Free really shows his supreme skill and quality as a flautist.
Sometimes I feel like I am living in Eden, I open the windows on a summers evening and smell Neroli and Jasmine, this sensual essence floats into our room and we can enjoy its healing properties. Free employs the use of rain sticks and sounds of thunder to really empathise the point on Jasmine Rain, and the solo flute takes us, dear reader and listener, to a completely different plain of existence.
One of my favourite herbs is sage, working as a Shamanic healer I use sage all the while, working in my meditative practice, I use it to assist my mind to quieten, so that I may let go, and be at one with the moment. This piece of music may well fit the bill to use during these journeys and meditations, the beat of the drum is perfect and the flute works on several levels, as a narrator, but also as a Shaman of sound, a guide to the other realms, as such Sacred Sage the composition is musical bliss.
The penultimate piece is called Heart-Release (Peregrine Lane). The use of the organ here is awe inspiring at creating such a vista of inner thought and musings, these labyrinths of mystery can be traversed by what is a truly a spiritual track beyond many that I have heard before. The flute of Free is outstanding in technique and performance, but if you be still and open up that heart and mind, it will take you on a journey to unconditional love also.
Our very last offering is called, Down By The River. For me, there is nothing more healing than spending time in nature and if one can find a full flowing river, then even better. This is a charming way to finish what in my opinion is a land mark album; also if there are any Neil Young fans out there, this will most certainly appeal to you.
Micki Free has been in the music business for a while now and his musical journey is a tale to be told on its own, and one you can hear all about on his One World Music Radio interview. He has manifested into the world an album of pure beauty and unconditional love, he has brought Brother Paul Brown (Must be the best Hammond performer around) into the fold, and his beloved wife April, who is a cancer suffer, but also a magical and loving flute player, and together, in love, they have created one of the most meaningful healing albums of all time.
I whole heartedly recommend this album to the entire populous of the planet, while that may be slightly over ambitious, the ability of us all to embrace peace, tranquillity and love through music, IS entirely possible. It has helped me heal on my personal journey and with an open heart and mind I hope it helps you too. Native American Flute as Therapy is one of those special albums that I really urge you to make part of your musical collection, and even your healing practise. Releases of this amazingly high quality are very rare, so embrace it, buy it and enjoy it.
Rating: Excellent
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