Saturday, August 7, 2010

CD Review -- Reflections on Still Water, by Acoustic Ocean

On their second CD as Acoustic Ocean, the former folk duo of Peggy Morgan and Bette Phelan provide lyrical, instrumental musings that sound like what the title of their new album suggests – “reflections on still water.” Acoustic Ocean is an apt name for the duo as well, as their music feels like an ocean of acoustic beauty that washes over you.

Morgan’s Celtic harp and Phelan’s acoustic guitar come together to create some of the most beautiful, exquisite music ever recorded. The harp and acoustic guitar are embellished by Morgan and Phelan’s harmonious vocal accents, as well as fretless bass, keyboards, electric guitar, mandolin, hammered dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, pennywhistle, and Uillean pipes played by Phelan. The duo are also joined on various tracks by Kay Aldrich on cello and Anne Berliner on flute.

The compositions are very melodic, owing to Morgan and Phelan’s twenty years of experience as recording and touring folk singer-songwriters. The songs also have a very dreamy, fairytale-like feel to them, perhaps inspired by the composer-performers’ Hawaiian environs. While listening to the music, I couldn’t help thinking of elves and dwarves and Hobbits and the like. The music has that transcendent and transformative power to transport you to Middle Earth and other mystical dimensions that conjure the beauty and majesty of the air, land, and sea.

As someone who is not a harp aficionado or enthusiast, I was impressed with Morgan’s harp playing. Hers is not the typical plucking of rapturous, angelic harp chords typically associated with the instrument. Rather, she plays with such note-specific lead virtuosity that I could not think of any musical genre which the harp could not be applied to. Morgan’s unique harp style is well complemented by the fluidity of Phelan’s fine, solid six-string dexterity. In fact, Morgan’s harp and Phelan’s guitar blend together so seamlessly on several tracks that it almost became impossible for me to discern one from the other, until I realized that this is not the point of the music. This is evidence of the duo’s strong and inseparable musical bond. They truly are a tight unit with genuine musical chemistry.

Reflections on Still Water by Acoustic Ocean is one of the best New Age CDs available and one of the best albums regardless of genre. This is highly recommended not just for fans of New Age and harp and guitar, but also for anyone who likes brilliant, beautiful music.

--Raj Manoharan

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