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Binkelman's Corner by Bill Binkelman
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Portals To Heaven
By Ken Wood
Label: Self Released
Portals To Heaven tracks
1. Move of the Spirit
2. In the Secret Place
3. With My Beloved
4. The Peaceful Shore
5. Eternity
6. I See Jesus
 
Portals To Heaven
I don't know if there is anything more maddening for a reviewer than when an album lands in our laps with very little information about it (including Internet searches), yet the recording is so beautiful we want to shout its praises from the highest heights. At least that's how I feel when I listen to Ken Wood's Portals to Heaven. My goodness, this is a stunningly beautiful recording–so lovely and so brimming with warm, rich, melodies that I truly don't know how I can do it justice with mere words. That's not hyperbole as much as it is the limitations of language in describing the chills that run up and down my spine when Wood's Irish whistles, accompanied by superb orchestrations, pour forth from my stereo.

Obviously, with Irish whistle at the forefront, the Celtic influence of this music is pronounced. The short (roughly 33 minutes long) CD overflows with musical evocations of the Emerald Isle, although the actual inspiration for Wood's music is religious. He describes the music on Portals to Heaven as "soaking music," a term I was completely ignorant of until I turned to the Internet. From the website The Secret Place, I gleaned the following definition: "The purpose of soaking music is setting aside of oneself to focus and meditate on God for renewal of strength and peace. It is an aid in seeking God. It is about spending quality time with God without having a program to maintain. It is a time to focus on a relationship with the Lord where lives are truly changed."

As an agnostic and a reviewer, I am sometimes placed in the ticklish position of evaluating overtly religious or religiously-inspired music. I try to approach it from a purely musical perspective, without outright dismissing the artist's spiritual intent. What I can opine, when it comes to Ken Wood's Portals to Heaven, is that unless you are someone who rejects music with a religious connection solely out of hand and without regard to the music's quality, you need to give this album a listen, particularly if you are a fan of neo-Celtic recordings, most notably Bill Douglas' earlier works (especially Circle of Moons to which this CD most certainly favorably compares). I also flash on some of the main musical themes present in Howard Shore's soundtrack to The Fellowship of the Ring.

My sole complaint, if you will, goes back to the opening paragraph and the lack of info in the liner notes as to who to credit for the stunningly beautiful orchestrations (which I assume are sampled). Not to minimize Wood's considerable talent on the assorted whistles he plays, but these orchestrations are truly sumptuous, enveloping the listener in palpable warmth and comfort. However, this critique doesn't even qualify as a "nit." It's probably only an issue for me as a reviewer so I can award credit to the person responsible (it may be co-mixer Clay Withrow or, for all I know, Wood himself).

In the end, whatever your religious beliefs are, if you enjoy Celtic music that lifts your spirit up while it also soothes your jangled nerves, you owe it to yourself to listen to Portals to Heaven. The CD features some of the most sublime Celtic fusion music I've heard in many years. Could it be that the greatest gift God gave to humanity was music since it may well be the one element which unites people of all cultures, all religions, and all beliefs? If only it could be that simple, huh?
Rating: Excellent   Excellent
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 10/29/2010
 
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