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Unlike the Stars by Vin Downes
- posted by Steve Sheppard, One World Music on 4/11/2014
Miss this one and you will have missed out on a re
There is a sense of wonder at this time of year, spring brings to the world new growth and a fresh start and in this very essence of new beginnings we come across a new album that fits so perfectly in at this time of year. It’s called Unlike the Stars and it’s by U.S based musicians Vin Downes. The very opening refrains from this magical album fill you with an expectation of what is to come and the track Where I began is the perfect start for us dear constant listener. One must say from the off that the production quality of the album is so very high, but that should not surprise us as it is another in a long line of quality releases from the legendary Will Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont.
Guitarist Downes however excel’s on this album and is joined by Ackerman’s band of merry men throughout this stunning recording and the track Where I Began leads us perfectly with a real energy into the next piece called Riverbend. The finger style guitar has such depth and one can easily imagine walking along the banks of a spring stream, watching the river twist and turn to this piece.
There is sometimes a certain sombreness that is required in music to give you a real feel of emotional intent, it expresses the feelings of the musician and then they hope they touch your heart through that feeling, on Dark Blue Wind, Downe’s touched mine, it is so redolent of the cold harsh winds of life and autumn, this track is one I would love to learn how to play and has such a meaningful soul to it, I could also imagine a lead guitar break coming in towards the end in Gary Moore style, but that’s just my rock background sneaking into what is one heck of an incredible track.
I hear the footfalls out of my window and see children rushing towards a waiting car, a mother wave’s goodbye to her young ones, and this slot so nicely into the track playing in my head now called Departure. Featuring the master himself Will Ackerman and Tony (The Man) Levin on some of the best bass you’re ever likely to hear on a new age music album, this is a track full of intent and purpose.
I like titles to tracks, sometimes they are the canvas for the artist to paint his music on, sometimes they are the inspiration to create great work from, on All We Ever Wanted we have both, it’s a track so well played by Downes it is masterful, the pace and tempo of this piece is sublime and it’s a story to be told in notes as it weaves its narrative into our hearts and minds.
So now dear constant reader we come to what for me is the most important track off the album the title track and Unlike the Stars does not disappoint, in fact this much slower paced piece is a really laid back and chilled composition, one that I like to call a star filled piece if that isn’t over use of metaphors. This is it, this is smooth, this is liquid music and to have the utterly amazing Eugene Friesen on Cello for this piece was a stroke of genius, in fact I would defy you not to like this track it is stunning.
So from the restful and fulfilled title track we move to a more upbeat composition called Skies and Openings, here Downes creates a track that gives space for us dear constant listener to revel in, we can delve deep into this piece and listen to the ambience it manifests and features the ever talented producer Tom Eaton on Piano. This is really a track to lift your spirits and a song that will even make your soul smile.
Now the shortest composition on the album by one mere second is Window, Looking Back, this curiously titles track gives us a whole long road to allow our imagination to travel on, reminds me in parts of Robert Linton’s Throughout the Autumn Light with its repeating structure, but the magical flute of David Watson adds an even more emotive sense of sombreness to this composition, giving us one more look in the window, looking back, as we will never pass this way again.
As the sun begins to set here, there is a definite un-weaving of the day towards the comfort of a warm spring night and I have just gifted you dear constant reader with the title of this next piece, as Vin Downe’s once more creates the narrative within this composition entitled Unweaving. One really feels the journey here and with the plunging bass of Levin, the transportation through this musical dimension is complete.
The curiously entitled What falls Away is next, for some reason I have in my mind’s eye my journey home through the Midwest state of Oklahoma to Will Rogers Airport and home to the UK and freedom. Now those were not great days for me and this piece could easily describe the car journey I had whilst buzzing past many open fields and rusty barb wired fences and then the release of freedom as the plane takes off, yes this is my theme music for those oh so forgettable days, but then thanks to Vin Downes I have as the track states, just let it fall away.
We have all had them, those turning years and within this track Downes has created a superb composition, the inclusion of Watson on flute here was again nothing short of genius and almost creates or gives a semi symphonic feeling to the piece. Turning Years is certainly one track that I will be playing time and time over, it also has a slight Jazz feel to the composition as well and the when you add Levin on bass you have a stunning success, this was one if not my favourite track off the album, for me this was as easy as Sunday morning.
So time for some extras, a solo of Window, looking Back, featuring the skills of Downes in a reprise and a gift of an alternate mix of Turning Years to complete an album of sheer majesty. There is nothing to dislike about this release and as such Vin Downes should be proud of his achievement, with the wizardry of the Imaginary Road Studios and the guest appearances of Ackerman, Eaton, Friesen, Levin and Watson. Vin Downes has created and given to the world, an album that he will remember with fondness for the rest of his life and the fans will love forever, miss this one and you will have missed out on a real gem.
Rating: Excellent
New Horizon by Minstrel Streams
- posted by Steve Sheppard, One World Music on 4/11/2014
Aan album that will cross many boundaries
Another musical journey begins this time with U.S Folk duo Matt and Rebecca Stuart and the release of their brand new album New Horizon, during this review a few familiar names will appear and we will discover a new world of new music on the New Horizons of the Stuarts.
Once more the Imaginary Road Studios of the legendary Will Ackerman bring us dear constant listener, a quality album that is packed full of imaginative and thought provoking music, much like the opening piece called Ancient Mariner, a passion filled composition filled with a nice change of tempo and a smooth passage that combines a floating flute of Rebecca Stuart with the masterful Eugene Friesen on Cello.
Track two really has a familiar feel to it, entitled Come To The Waters, this folk/hymn composition sweeps along with a delicious plunging bass line and some driving piano from Matt Stuart, who also has the delicate ability to play so soft in a later passage, this piece also has a little Celtic sense to it as well, a piece perhaps for all genres?
Now moving sweetly to Dawn Rising we see the guitar and flute playing symbiotically with each other, in a song that is as light as it is daytime. With Matt Stuart on guitar, this composition brings us an extra dimension and the flute of Rebecca is soon coupled by Matt Heaton on Drums, while Friesen’s Cello is always there and as constant as the west wind.
The next piece really resonated with me; it’s called On a Distant Shore, while Matt returns to Piano on this piece, Jill Haley now joins the gang and adds yet more of a wide open spaces feel to a composition that has a wonderful melody to it, the flute and Horn work so well together here and it really gives the whole composition a fuller flavour.
Golden Treasures is a track that starts with a real purpose and definition, but it has a smooth styled composure to it and the bass from Paul Kochanski gives us an almost medieval feel to the piece. This track plays us along nicely and one could almost sit under a Willow tree catching trout from a clear mountain stream whilst listening to it.
As the afternoon here turns into evening, we arrive at the piece called Voices in The Wind, this for me was special, as Matt Stuarts guitar opens what is a deeply emotional composition, it’s coupled with the Native American flute and makes this quite a moving track indeed, this is without doubt my favourite composition from the album and the depth and quality within this piece is really evident and hooks you in with a respectful intent from the off.
The more tradition flute from Rebecca Stuart delivers a quality performance on the title track called of course New Horizon. This is a track filled with the energies of a new beginning, but I found certain warmth within this piece that seem to radiate out like a musical warm blanket around the senses. In fact the longer the track continued I could easily visualize this being the theme music to a show, or some incidental music in a movie, it has that way about it.
On Passage we are treated to a solo piano composition and from the keys of Matt Stuart and we are given an almost intermediary piece to transport us into the second phase of this new release, however do not underestimate this track, it’s a piece that seems to be weaved together from a loom of musical plenty, in fact Passage is a very apt title for this composition.
From the very start of Celestial Rainbow, it almost felt like we have landed back into the early 70’s with Jethro Tull, I am sure I could write a lyric to this track, this feels like a fun piece to play and be a part of and I am almost sure I heard a whoop in there as well. Celestial Rainbow is a toe tapping composition of light hearted happiness and joy.
This is a moment dear constant reader and listener to reflect, the opening guitar on Coming Home to You is like the opening to a John Denver single of years ago, again this is another track with such lyrical promise and I am trying to resists the urge to sing Rocky Mountain High along with it, when Friesen joins with the Cello the whole track is given a depth that creates probably one of the most beautiful compositions from the album.
Now a shift in emphasis is upon us and our global journey moves way out east with the exciting piece Memories of Kyoto, clever changes in pace from the Piano gives this track a real Vangelis feel to it, but the tempo moves continuously forward in a respectful world groove of a composition that is both appealing and invigorating.
Now most people will know I love the Native American flute, combine that with a drum and a soulful acoustic guitar and you get a wonder filled track called Visions for Tomorrow. One can certainly say that this release is a really refreshing injection in the arm of good traditional music, combined with a really clever mix of genres. This composition is an exact example of that complexity, a fine song with some deep and sombre passages, creating a really deep and emotive track.
So dear constant reader and listener, once more the journey is complete and we finish off this sojourn into the world of the Stuarts, better known as Minstrel Streams, with an almost English folk piece called Simple Pleasures and it has to be said that yet again another album from the Imaginary Road studios of Will Ackerman will take the New Age music scene by storm, as this is an album that will cross many boundaries and thus please and entertain many people across the planet, well done to Minstrel Streams for producing this album and having faith that good music, like cream, rises to the top, as I am sure this album will do in the respective charts it appears in.
Rating: Excellent
Open Sky by David Nevue
- posted by Steve Sheppard, One World Music on 4/8/2014
Open Sky is an album full of memories
David Nevue’s brand new release Open Sky is a much needed reflective album, I listen to the refrains of David’s first track entitled Open Sky & rightly so the title is the starting piece of the album. It is a more upbeat composition, but has a gentle & purposeful musical posture to it; simply put this is an example of what is to come from Open Sky, an album that is well constructed & totally enjoyable.
I listen to a piece called The Sound of Sunshine. This is a delightfully warm composition, which has some very stylish playing by Nevue and a clever alteration of tempo within as well.
Nevue enters a more reflective style & this is actually what I like about Open Sky, it eventually morphs into a very deep, reflective album & there are indeed several tracks upon it including this one Dragonflies that really emphasises this entirely.
We move to Butterfly Dance, David Nevue has a wonderful ability to change a mood with a deft hand on the keys & here is a gentle but light track that lifts the soul. To show what I mean by that statement the next piece called For The Beauty of the Earth is an example of his playing style, that is so subtle but defined & this track gives of an air of beauty that describes the wonderment of this wonderful world we live upon entirely, in some parts I almost found this composition majestic.
So as you can see we have a real master of the piano at work here and on this next piece that really comes to the fore even more, with the track Forgotten Places, I found this a very emotional & moving composition. I could easily picture myself on the top of an old time worn ridge, a place that has seen so much history, but now the world has moved on & it has become a forgotten, but shall live in the memories of the single lone tree that stands like a monolith towards the sun.
Undertow was something special; it once more had that edge of darkness about it, so much so that one could not easily define the nature of the emotive style, this was so cleverly played that it could elude to a wave formation or pattern that the artist stands & watches across the ocean, or perhaps a far deeper meaning, one of the undertow of a relationship & the under currents that could be running within it? Whatever, Nevue has once more constructed a piece of true depth & emotional power.
Now we move onto an all time classic & one that takes me back to my junior school days, a very old English tale of a Scarborough Fair, originally sung in the Middle Ages, Nevue gives it a totally new & fresh airing & the style he plays this is both refreshing & respectful.
Now as I sit here & write the cold grey skies of November crawl all around me, their depressing dank skies hang like an old worn out over coat on a street urchin. Thankfully the artist gives me a track to alleviate those early winter blues with Summer Rain a light & sun filled composition that leaks radiant beams of hope out of each note.
Anyone who knows me would know I love a good storm & I have seen them all around the world, as the darkened skies roll in the heaviness begins to creep like a warm blanket over the Earth & rolls of thunder rumble over the mountains, like a distant overture & here Nevue almost gives us a sultry composition in Distant Thunder, a track that has depth & power, but also a track that has a very meaningful posture about it & at the very last part of this song, it like the storm, it leaves you hanging, waiting for more!
Now, having been in a tornado whist in Oklahoma, I have a special experience of that occasion, now if the musician is referring to this amazing phenomenon of weather, he has built a piece of music here that swirls like the spinning wheel blues of a Twister, the very track we listen to right now. This is a fine composition that builds with power and intensity & then like the real thing is just gone!
Once more the musician pays respect to an old ballad, a song that can be traced back to the England of 1600 & in a once more fresh, but respectful re-visitation of The Water Is Wide, he lulls us along with this traditional folk song that has also be sung in 1982 by the one and only Cliff Richard & even performed by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits as well, a real old classic that one.
However, once more all change as we move to one of my favourite tracks from Open Sky & it’s called Dark Afternoon, pretty much what we have here, but the mood in this piece is deep & very dark & this mood filled composition is superbly played and thoroughly emotive on every level, this is indeed dark waters we swim within whilst listening to this piece, a totally creative & brilliant piece.
From the darkness of the afternoon, there is a possibility of a return to a forgotten place perhaps? Echo Canyon, & here once more, the musician really portrays the title superbly through his music & style of playing & one can almost hear the echoes of ancient voices caress the Canyon walls as he plays.
We move on to a far lighter track called Stargazing now, so place Open Sky on your iPod, lay back & watch the star filled skies grow & enjoy a piece of music that is both beautiful, but also very calming, I found that in Stargazing, there was something very laid back but easy about this composition & a perfect place to insert this some within the album as well.
When I listened to Eclipse I thought I must be listening to a soundtrack to a film, this piece certainly has that way about it, I love the approach & structure of Eclipse and its gentle but relentless march across the skies until total darkness gives this composition a real edge & the way it’s played by Nevue gives us dear constant listener & reader a truly wonderful piece of music to revel in many times over, this was another one of my personal favourites from this album.
Finally we leave you with another old classic that I can remember Cat Stevens singing in the early 70’s in Morning Has Broken, also sung in my school assembly. Here Nevue slows down the tempo & creates a fine exit strategy to leave his latest release Open Sky. If you’re a fan of solo Piano, you will not want to miss this album & if you’re new to it, it may well be worth you spending some of your hard earned cash by purchasing a copy.
Open Sky is an album full of memories, filled with a stylish performance & filled with a bountiful supply of most excellent tracks that will not fail to capture your imagination and mood.
Rating: Excellent
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