Sunday, November 28, 2010

CD Review – Forget Me Not, Blue by Evan Wish

Evan Wish is a sensitive soul who wears his heart on his sleeve, and that thoughtful sensibility comes through in his gorgeous compositions and his skillful mastery of the piano as evidenced on his latest release.

Wish is deeply concerned about the human condition: how we treat our planet, how we treat each other. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the song “What Will Man’s Legacy Be,” which features a beautiful melody accompanied by readings of the great sayings of many of the world’s prominent historical progressive leaders, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The musical subject matter is not limited to political and social issues but also finds inspiration from family and past loves. “Tara” is dedicated to Wish’s daughter and conveys the love and pride he has for her. The title track, “Forget Me Not, Blue,” exudes eternal longing.

A three-piece string ensemble adds drama, emotion, and urgency to the proceedings without overwhelming the subtlety of Wish’s musical message.

As a whole, the album is pensive, introspective, and intensely personal. It is a musical meditation, a prayer for peace. In his own quiet, small way, Evan Wish has created a legacy of hope and value.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, November 20, 2010

CD Review – Beauty and Fire, by Tomas Michaud

This has been a great year for independent instrumental guitar releases, and the latest album by Tomas Michaud is no exception. Just like its title, Michaud’s CD is full of beauty and fire, but also passion, vigor, romance, and verve.

Michaud plays flamenco guitars, but this is by no means strictly flamenco guitar music. Even I sometimes forget that flamenco doesn’t just refer to a style of music, but a kind of guitar as well – namely, a Spanish, or nylon-string, guitar. And Michaud pushes the boundaries and exceeds the expectations of what a nylon-string guitar can be used for.

Sure, there are some latent flamenco rhythms deep in the background of some of the songs, but the compositions are much more than that. The tunes comprise a variety of musical genres and cultures, from New Age, jazz, and fusion to Latin, Asian, and Middle Eastern. The common thread that holds these wide-ranging sounds together is the beautiful, thoughtful, and intelligent lead- and rhythm-guitar playing of Michaud, who is backed by a solid band of musicians on bass, keyboards, percussion, and other instruments.

Two tunes in particular exemplify the cosmopolitan scope of Michaud’s writing. “Beauty and Fire” opens the album with an eclectic mix of East and West as a familiar Arabian melody ventures into Indian musical territory complete with tablas and sitars, all filtered through romantic jazz balladry. The smoldering, tempo-shifting “Night into Day (After the Storm)” starts off as a playful, jazzy exercise that shifts gears into a slow, hook-laden groove and back again, simulating the transition of the title and accompanied by the low rumblings of gentle thunder.

With its combination of nylon-string guitar, world music, and other exotic sounds, Beauty and Fire is a globetrotting feast for the ears.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CD Review – Gaia, by Dr. Michael Brant DeMaria

Gaia is psychologist, author, lecturer, and musician Dr. Michael Brant DeMaria’s ode to the planet we all call home, and as such, it plays like a sonic travelogue to many of the world’s ancient cultures.

The CD is truly an authentic representation of world music, with each track rooted deeply in the musical traditions of a particular nation, such as Japan, China, and the ancient Americas. As a result, the compositions are as exotic as the lands from which they draw their inspiration.

DeMaria uses his Native American flutes, keyboards, synthesizers, and other modern and ancient instruments to great effect, creating ethereal, nocturnal, and mystical textures of sound. He also performs tribal and primal chants with the use of reverberated vocals that are soothing, spiritual, and psychologically penetrating. This is music to meditate to.

Although DeMaria lives in Pensacola, Florida, the overall feel of the album made me think of the desert sun and the moonlit skies of the Midwest. It just has that New Age aura indicative of that region. And yet it is useful in a variety of settings: as calming and therapeutic music while driving or doing housework or just relaxing and meditating.

If you want to be transported to another time, place, and dimension, this CD is the perfect conduit. It sets the mood for you to become one with the universe, nature, and Earth itself.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, November 1, 2010

CD Review – The Grace of the Green Leaf, by Lis Addison

It may be fall, but the “grace of the green leaf” endures on Lis Addison’s latest collection of – as the subtitle puts it – “body chants and grooves.”

And groove the CD does. The album is full of driving, propulsive rhythms composed and performed by Addison on her keyboards and synthesizers. She creates graceful, soaring melodies accentuated by ethereal, otherworldly textures and dynamic bass lines.

The percussion is also spot-on. The percussion really shines on the second track, where it sounds like clapping or tap dancing, or perhaps a combination of both. Together with Addison’s keyboards and powerful vocals, it results in perhaps the most exhilarating and exuberant cut on the album.

Addison’s vocals are the most amazing thing about the CD. She doesn’t sing lyrics. Rather, she chants. However, this is not chanting in the typical sense, such as Gregorian chants or transcendental meditation. It’s actually more like singing chants. And although she is not singing actual words, she emerges as one of the most powerful female vocalists. Addison easily could have been a formidable female rock vocalist on the order of Stevie Nicks or the Wilson sisters of Heart. Addison uses her brilliantly multi-tracked vocals like an instrument, one that is so versatile in its timbre that it can sound like anything from a horn or an electric guitar to African tribal chants.

In fact, the juxtaposition of Addison’s singing chants and electronic grooves gives the album a tribal and primal yet high-tech and futuristic feel. It’s a winning combination that makes the CD stand out as the rare and uniquely exotic soundscape that it is.

--Raj Manoharan