Saturday, August 7, 2010

CD Review -- Love, Light, and Water, by Michael Stribling

On his fourth CD, Love, Light, and Water, contemporary instrumental keyboardist Michael Stribling offers a refreshing change of pace from the dynamic and propulsive intensity of his previous, percussion-heavy albums. This time, Stribling’s muse provides a mystical revelation of peace, solemnity, and mystery, resulting in a musical journey that fuses the boundaries of New Age and neoclassical music.

The album opens with the velvety, spacey synthesizer chords of “First Adventures,” a brief introduction that revives the sonic majesty of “Procession of the Avatars,” the opening track from Stribling’s previous venture. Stribling follows that up with the quirky, quizzical reverie of “Dream Frontiers,” before segueing into the symphonic sweep of “New Love.”

In fact, “New Love” is indicative of the most striking aspect of Love, Light, and Water – its orchestral feel. Although Stribling created every single note and sound with keyboards and synthesizers, many of the songs sound as if they were recorded by a full orchestra. Compositions such as “New Love” and “Bright Silence, Quiet Light” simulate lush orchestral strings laden with graceful horn/flute melodies, while touches of classical guitar can be heard on various tracks as well.

“First Adventures,” “Pleasant Journeys” (with its beautiful understated tablas), “Before the Dawn,” “Sunrise,” “Behind Every Cloud,” “Prairie Rain,” “Afterglow,” “River Canyon,” and “Dancing on the Water” feature Stribling’s classic New Age keyboard and synthesizer sounds, but they never sound electronic.

Stribling’s inward musical journey winds down with “Quiet Conversation,” which is exactly that – an intimate exchange between Stribling’s piano and synthesizer, and “At the Gates,” a calm and hopeful anticipation of things to come.

While the music overall is quiet, it is far from simple. It is full of intricate harmonies and patterns found in serious, disciplined classical music and sophisticated popular music such as that by The Police and Genesis. Also, every song title accurately conveys the feel of the given track. The lasting impression is one of music that, while generated electronically, is far from the tinny and metallic timbres of many of Stribling’s peers and is, in fact, simply beautiful music.

--Raj Manoharan

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