Sunday, March 27, 2011

CD Review – Throughout the Autumn Light, by Robert Linton

Robert Linton is a man of deep thoughtfulness, and this sensitivity is evident on his latest recording of lyrical guitar instrumentals.

Linton plays finger-style nylon-string guitar on the ten tracks, which exude such tranquil beauty and peaceful solace that they work their way into your soul without you even realizing it. They become part of your being without any conscious effort or mood-setting required, which is the essence of true musical artistry.

While the compositions and the guitar-playing stand on their own, they are beautifully accented on various tracks by Stephen Katz on cello, Tracy Silverman on violin, Jill Haley on English horn, Jeff Oster on flugelhorn, and Jeff Pearce on e-bow guitar. The most affecting of these collaborations for me is “Glistening in the Mist,” with the gentle finger-picked strokes of Linton’s classical guitar and the drawn-out siren-like sustain of Pearce’s e-bow guitar creating a lingering, haunting eloquence. I hope that Linton and Pearce seriously consider recording an album of classical/e-bow guitar duets.

This is a fine guitar album and is highly recommended for guitar enthusiasts as well as anyone seeking a perfect soundtrack for relaxation and solitude.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, March 19, 2011

CD Review – A Moment Between Eternities, by Louis Colaiannia

A Moment Between Eternities by Louis Colaiannia is one of the most original and unusual albums to be released in the last several years. Although it is marketed primarily as a New Age CD, it really features an amalgamation of styles that defies any category – and that’s a good thing.

Colaiannia’s keyboards and synthesizers are backed by a full lineup of musicians on guitars, bass, percussion, and flute, as well as a female vocalist whose angelic voice blends in perfectly with the rest of the instruments. The result is a full, rich, almost orchestral wall of sound.

Although Colaiannia is the composer and bandleader, he rarely if ever dominates or takes a solo, except on the primarily keyboard- or synthesizer-based tracks. For the most part, his instruments blend into the overall sound created by his backing band, creating the impression of a full group rather than a soloist with accompaniment.

Stylistically, the music ranges from jazz, New Age, and fusion to easy listening, with the cherubic vocals giving it the occasional tinge of medieval fantasy. And, on this album at least, Colaiannia doesn’t sound like a typical composer. The arrangement of notes, chords, and scales is far from conventional, sounding almost like English garden music.

As a result, the album is a refreshing change of pace from the usual mold and is well worth a listen.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, March 12, 2011

CD Review – The Shape of Things, by Josh Johnston

If you’re looking for something to take you away, The Shape of Things by Josh Johnston provides a perfect escape. Consisting of gorgeous, arresting, and unobtrusive solo piano pieces, the album draws you into a relaxed and peaceful state of mind from beginning to end.

Much like the artwork on the CD jacket, Johnston’s understated piano playing wafts in like a dense fog, with the light of his beautiful original compositions piercing through the mist. Rather than overwhelm with a full-frontal assault, the music works its way into your psyche like gently rolling thunder and stays there like a persistent but calming rain.

The music is transformative and transports you to such idyllic locales as a lush green countryside, also depicted on the album cover. The chords and melodies roll off the ear as effortlessly as they seem to roll off Johnston’s fingers.

The result is music that is truly cathartic and therapeutic, perfect for solace, healing, and reflection.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, March 6, 2011

CD (Fan) Review – Up Close, by Eric Johnson

The first new studio album in five years from Grammy Award-winning Texas guitar hero Eric Johnson has finally arrived, and it’s quite the trip – and well worth the wait. Like his other CDs a mix of instrumentals and vocal songs mostly penned by him and showcasing his unique virtuosity on the electric guitar, Up Close includes some of the best work that Johnson has ever written and recorded.

The album is dripping with crackling guitars. If a guitar died and went to heaven, this is what heaven would sound like. Johnson is on fire, effortlessly weaving incredible, sparkling solos in and out of both the instrumental and vocal tracks. The vocal songs range from energetic blues and rock numbers to gorgeous, heartfelt ballads. Inspired like never before, Johnson plays and sings with a fervor not present in his previous work. Perhaps Johnson is like a fine vintage wine, improving with age.

I was first introduced to the music of Johnson 21 years ago by an employee at a local cable television station I was interning at during my senior year of high school. That was the year Johnson, then 36 years old, released his breakthrough second album, Ah Via Musicom, which achieved the distinction of having three instrumental songs reach the American Top Ten.

As accomplished and groundbreaking as Ah Via Musicom and its edgier and sonically more expansive 1996 follow-up, Venus Isle, are, Johnson has really poured his living, breathing essence into Up Close. The result is the best guitar-based album of the last several years, and one of the best guitar-based and general music albums of all time.

With Up Close, Johnson is at the top of his game as a guitarist, composer, and singer. He has created a masterwork of soulful jazz/pop/rock fusion that exudes passion, especially through his trademark virtuosic guitar sound. Even with guest vocals by Malford Milligan, Steve Miller, and Johnny Lang, and guitar performances by Jimmie Vaughan, Steve Hennig, and Sonny Landreth, the album is clearly all Eric Johnson up close front and center.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, March 4, 2011

CD Review – Timeless II, by Michael Dulin

Pianist Michael Dulin’s follow-up to his CD Timeless features more covers of classical works, and as the title suggests, both the original pieces themselves and Dulin’s arrangements of them are timeless indeed.

Dulin primarily focuses on the compositions of Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and especially Chopin, whose work dominates the album. Obviously, the tunes are beautiful. These composers are not considered great for nothing. One really can’t go wrong working with such high-class material. The only place to go is up, so artists can only do it one of two ways: either play it straight, or add a unique voice to it.

And Dulin certainly brings his own twist to the pieces. While Dulin’s piano playing itself pretty much sticks to the basics, Dulin embellishes it with orchestral sounds such as violin and cello (nothing new to classical music). However, Dulin really takes it up a notch by augmenting his piano melodies and harmonies with electronic synthesizer tones that add a veneer of eeriness and intrigue to the proceedings, giving the compositions a melancholic, darkly appealing edge.

As a result, Dulin’s treatment of these works takes them into New Age territory, which should make the album appealing to more than just purist fans of strictly classical music.

--Raj Manoharan