Saturday, August 7, 2010

CD Review -- The Promise, by Michael Stribling

After the orchestral explorations of Love, Light, and Water, contemporary instrumental keyboardist Michael Stribling returns to form on his fifth album, The Promise. The CD comes after the longest hiatus of any of his previous works – about a year – but the wait was certainly worth it, as it showcases Stribling doing what he does best – composing upbeat and engaging tunes structured with strong, memorable melodies and propelled by bright bursts of piano, energetic bass lines, driving percussion, and solidly timed backbeats.

In fact, the thing that separates Stribling from his peers in the New Age genre is that his songs are infused with a jazzy, pop-oriented sensibility that makes his music easily accessible to more than just the most ardent New Age purists. Sure, there are the introspective and pastoral themes associated with New Age music, but these are balanced by the energetic numbers, resulting in a nice mixture that offers something for everyone while maintaining stylistic and thematic fidelity.

“Bright New Day,” “Daily Living,” “Angular Reasoning,” and “The Promise” are the most kinetic songs on the album, with their catchy hooks and propulsive percussion. “Facing the Great Unknown” strikes a balance between the energetic and the introspective, with a sensitive, subtle melody anchored by soft, jazzy percussion, resulting in a light, casual, easy-listening feel.

“When Love Comes Near,” “Late at Night,” “Distant Shores,” and “Expansion” are among the more thoughtful compositions that soothe the heart and soul with inner peace and calm and transport the mind to higher dimensions of enlightenment and awareness. “Ascending Through Clouds” is ten minutes of pure electronic and spiritual bliss.

The two strongest, most standout tracks are the album opener “Bright New Day” and the title composition “The Promise.” Both grandiose, epic themes, they respectively embody the spirit of starting fresh and anew full of hopes and dreams, and the resolve and determination to keep reaching for those dreams. While “The Promise” isn’t exactly the last track on the album, both of these tunes serve as fitting thematic bookends.

As with his previous albums, Stribling’s Promise ends on a positive note with the expectant and hopeful tunes “At the Last” and “All in Good Time.” These tracks wrap up the CD nicely, anticipating the thrill of the wait for the next time we hear from Stribling.

Ultimately, the best thing about Michael Stribling’s music is its positive outlook. Stribling’s first album was called Songs of Hope and Healing; all of his work can be described as such. This is music that inspires, emboldens, and empowers.

--Raj Manoharan

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