Sunday, January 25, 2015

CD Review – Arctic Sunrise, by Kerani

Inspired by various historic ice-laden expeditions, Kerani’s latest album is an epic musical journey that evokes visceral cinematic imagery, resulting in the feel and scope of a major motion picture soundtrack.

Kerani uses piano and synthesizers to create bold and grandiose themes that encompass the range of human endeavor, from vision and courage to determination and endurance. Contributing to the fullness and richness of Kerani’s “score” is the solid work of Joep Willems on cello, Wilfred Sassen on violin, Jan Mertens on flute, Lars Wachelder on horns, and Romain Van Beek on guitar.

This is a stirring and riveting album, a fitting testament to the triumph of the human spirit that will have listeners feeling as emboldened as the adventurous pioneers who inspired it.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, January 18, 2015

CD Review – Life Under Stars, by Carl Weingarten

This is simply one of the best guitar-led jazz/new age fusion albums ever recorded and released.

Carl Weingarten uses electric, acoustic, and slide guitars, dobro, and keyboards to weave a rich musical mosaic whose intricate threads also include bass (Michael Manring, Billie Duffey), keyboards (Kit Walker, Troy Arnett), flute (Barbara Else), trumpet and flugelhorn (Jeff Oster), electric and acoustic guitars (Pat Duffey), pedal steel (Robert M. Powell), drums and percussion (Celso Alberti, Brian Knave), and vocals (Lucy Allen, Tate Bissinger).

Weingarten traverses the sonic range of his instruments, yielding a masterwork in which the sounds are just as important as the music, without sacrificing the latter. The irresistibly catchy tunes are instantly memorable, such that they continue to resonate even after just one listen.

In terms of both guitar artistry and overall band musicianship, this album puts Carl Weingarten right up there with Andy Summers and Paul Speer.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, January 11, 2015

CD Review – Ritual, by Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai

When keyboardist Peter Kater and Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai bring their talents together, magic happens, the kind that results in a Grammy nomination for Best New Age Album.

The record features seven mystical originals composed by the two artists. Adding layers of nuance to the proceedings are Paul McCandless of Oregon fame on oboe and saxophone, Trisha Bowden on vocals, and Jaques Morelenbaum on cello.

The unique sounds created by Kater and Nakai and their guests result in a listening experience unlike any other.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy Birthday, Andy Summers!

On Wednesday, December 31, 2014, Andy Summers – my favorite guitarist and musician of all time – turns 72 years old.

I first became acquainted with the music of Summers in 1983 at the age of 10 in a Catholic elementary school classroom when I heard a hypnotic and futuristic-sounding pop/rock song emanating from the radio of Candy, my substitute teacher. When I asked what the song was and who recorded it, I was promptly informed that it was “Spirits in the Material World” by The Police. I was instantly hooked, so much so that that Christmas, my parents got me a vinyl copy of Synchronicity, The Police’s fifth and final studio album and one of the biggest hits of the year. The Police have since remained my favorite rock band of all time.

Summers was the guitarist for the mega-popular group, who were active in the late 1970s and early 1980s and reunited for a 30th anniversary tour in 2007 and 2008. Being a good decade older than his bandmates Sting and Stewart Copeland, Summers began his professional recording career in the early 1960s, playing for Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band (which later became the psychedelic but short-lived Dantalian’s Chariot), Eric Burdon’s New Animals, and Soft Machine. After formally studying guitar at Northridge University in California from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Summers returned to England and plied his trade as a session guitarist for Joan Armatrading, Neil Sedaka, Kevin Coyne, and Deep Purple’s Jon Lord before achieving monumental success and international stardom with The Police.

After the dissolution of The Police in the early 1980s, Summers scored some Hollywood films (Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Weekend at Bernie’s) and recorded one rock vocal album before establishing himself as an acclaimed and accomplished contemporary instrumental guitarist across a variety of styles, including jazz, fusion, New Age, and world music.

I was privileged to interview Summers by telephone in Fall 2000 for the January 2001 issue of DirecTV: The Guide. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Summers posted a notice of the interview in the news section of his Web site. Later, I met Summers in person during his book tour in Fall 2006, just a few months before The Police reunited for a 30th anniversary reunion tour, which I was fortunate to attend twice in August of 2007 and 2008.

For a good overview of Summers’ solo work, I highly recommend the following albums: Mysterious Barricades, A Windham Hill Retrospective, Synaesthesia, and The X Tracks. My personal favorite Summers albums are Mysterious Barricades, The Golden Wire, World Gone Strange, Synaesthesia, Fundamental (with Fernanda Takai), and Circus Hero (with his rock band Circa Zero).

--Raj Manoharan

Happy Birthday, Michael Nesmith!

On Tuesday, December 30, 2014, Michael Nesmith of The Monkees (the one with the green wool hat) turns 72 years old.

Of all of The Monkees, Nesmith has had the most prolific and successful solo career. He pioneered the country-rock music format in the early to mid-1970s, founded the music and video label Pacific Arts, and basically created the concept of MTV. In addition to producing films and music videos, Nesmith also won the very first Grammy Award for Best Home Video for Elephant Parts, which later led to NBC’s short-lived Television Parts. In an interesting side note, Nesmith’s mother invented liquid paper and sold it to Gillette for a substantial fortune, which Nesmith inherited.

For a good overview of Nesmith’s solo music career, I recommend The Older Stuff, The Newer Stuff, Tropical Campfire’s, Live at the Britt Festival, Rays, and Movies of the Mind.

More information about Nesmith is available on his Web site at

The following are links to my reviews of Nesmith's 2013 live tour and the subsequent live CD.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

CD Review – Craftsman, by Bob Ardern

Bob Ardern is a craftsman, alright, showcasing his craftsmanship as a spot-on composer and performer of sprightly acoustic guitar instrumentals.

The original tunes reflect Ardern's inherent rustic folksiness, which is given a pop lilt thanks to the contributions of class act musicians who are artists in their own right.

Ardern's accompanists include Kev Corbett on bass, bodhran, and percussion; David Findlay on bass, bells, bodhran, celeste, glockenspiel, hi hat, piano, pipe organ, synthesizer pads, and trumpet; and Alyssa Wright on cello.

If you're looking for acoustic guitar music with a pulse, this certainly fits the bill.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, December 7, 2014

CD Review – New Horizon, by Minstrel Streams

The acoustic guitar and piano of Matt Stuart and flutes of Rebecca Stuart come together to form lyrical, melodic music that is fit for fairy tales (that's a good thing).

The songs all have a fanciful storybook quality to them. Just like the name of the band suggests, this is minstrel music with a modern twist.

Giving a contemporary bent to the duo's olde time sound are the talents of Eugene Friesen on cello, Jill Haley on English horn, Paul Kochanski on string bass, Matt Heaton on bodhran drum, Noah Wilding on vocals, and Tom Eaton on percussion and accordion.

If you're inclined toward modern Renaissance fare, this is worth your time and consideration.

--Raj Manoharan