Sunday, August 15, 2010

CD Review – Paradise Lost, by Michael Stribling

For his sixth album, the always reliable keyboard master Michael Stribling delivers a sonic magnum opus that solemnly commemorates the legacy of the American continent’s first residents and their fateful encounter with newcomers from across the sea.

As befitting the artist’s inspiration for this set, the material is epic, grandiose, vibrant, and, most important, reverential. The music beautifully expresses Stribling’s affinity for the original Native Americans. The CD has the feel of a soundtrack, providing accompaniment to the storied events in this land’s history that became the focus of Stribling’s muse for this project.

The drama unfolds with the sweeping opening themes of “Prairie Dawn” and “Guardian of the Plains,” which convey the expansive majesty of the New World as it must have been under the watchful and respectful care of its indigenous gatekeepers. The sentimental melodies and lyrical textures of “Forest Heart” and “Eagle Above, River Below” further elaborate on the beauty and tranquility of the thriving ecosystem. The propulsive rhythms of “Hunting Party” express the vibrancy of Native American life.

The plot thickens as the Native Americans sense the dark, ominous clouds of an “Approaching Storm” that finally arrives as the white European settlers embark on their proud and determined “March of Destiny,” which features elements of the mighty “Procession of the Avatars” from Stribling’s third album, Another Day in Paradise.

The action culminates in the dynamism of “Vision Quest” and “Paradise Lost,” after which Stribling reflects on all that has transpired with the solemn “Lament for the Land” and the reverential “Hymn for the Fallen.” The proceedings end on a positive note of hope with “Return to the Spirit World.”

Although Stribling has created a formidable musical tapestry with a specific context in mind, the music is so strong that it stands on its own. In fact, the compositions come across as love songs to nature. The album would be a perfect soundtrack for a trip to Yellowstone or Yosemite, or any national park or local nature preserve. This in itself is a fitting tribute to the legacy of the Native Americans, who so revered nature.

All discussions of history, context, and themes aside, the album is a strong reminder of Stribling’s compositional brilliance and musical prowess. Stribling is equally adept at creating bold themes (“Prairie Dawn,” “Guardian of the Plains”), pastoral reflections (“Lament for the Land,” “Hymn for the Fallen,” “Return to the Spirit World”), and groove-laden jazz-rock fusion complete with thumping bass lines and propulsive backbeats (“Hunting Party,” “Vision Quest,” “Paradise Lost”) – all anchored by Stribling’s unmistakable signature sound and conceived in Stribling’s mind and channeled through his fingers on keyboards and synthesizers. Paradise Lost, like its exceptional artist, is an absolute winner.

--Raj Manoharan

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