Sunday, April 24, 2011

CD Review – A Time of Innocence, by Keith Driskill

Keith Driskill is a simple man who lives a simple life with his four children in Spanish Fork, Utah, and that simplicity comes through on his latest album of solo acoustic guitar instrumentals.

The CD contains nine intricately crafted and lyrically beautiful compositions that, as the album title implies, will quietly whisk you away to a kinder, gentler, more peaceful and tranquil state of mind. Driskill’s complex finger-picking style yields sensitive lead lines, dynamic bass rhythms, and soothing arpeggios that slowly and softly work their way into your soul. Before you know it, you’re enveloped in a serene sanctuary of sound.

The recording impresses on a technical level as well. The audio quality is clear and crisp, and the mix is balanced well. The result is pure sonic heaven.

At just about 40 minutes in length, the album is short enough to enjoy several times over, especially if you have a long commute. And this is one of those albums that you won’t tire of listening to endlessly.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, April 9, 2011

CD Review – Music for Commuting, by Ken Elkinson

For years I have been searching for a perfect New Age album (besides Andy Summers’ 1988 guitar-and-synthesizer classic Mysterious Barricades), and I believe I have finally found one in the form of Ken Elkinson’s new release, Music for Commuting.

Music for Commuting is really a series of 6 CDs, most beautifully packaged as a compact and easily portable box set of 3 CDs with two albums each. To paraphrase Elkinson’s description of each two-album set, Disc 1: Monday/Tuesday is dark and edgy, Disc 2: Wednesday/Thursday is more buoyant and based on Elkinson’s love of 1980s synth pop, and Disc 3: Friday/Beyond is spacey and futuristic.

Regardless of these distinctions, the music on all six albums or three discs is really of one accord. Although there are latent guitar and percussion sounds on some tracks, the music is generated entirely with keyboards and synthesizers and sounds exactly like keyboards and synthesizers, and like Mysterious Barricades, the emphasis is on texture and sound, laced with beautiful melodies, tantalizing chord progressions, and ethereal chord washes.

Even with such a single style and sound, each of the 60 tracks in the box set is original and unique, setting it apart from most other instrumental albums that need to mix up styles and genres to maintain interest. This is quite an impressive feat on Elkinson’s part and speaks to his masterful compositional skills.

The music itself functions on several levels. As the title suggests, it’s perfect for commuting. It’s also ideal for meditation and relaxation. It’s intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually satisfying. It’s akin to a religious experience. It would be a great soundtrack for a science fiction or fantasy movie.

Listening to Music for Commuting is like swimming in an ocean of bliss. Its cascading layers of soothing sounds have the effect of mental therapy, like acupuncture for the mind. It is the epitome of pure New Age music and as a result is one of the best in the genre.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, April 1, 2011

CD Review – First Melancholy, Then the Night Stretch, by Rick Cutler

Rick Cutler’s latest collection of piano instrumentals is a moody and evocative affair worthy of the album’s equally atmospheric title and cover.

The 18 tracks contained on the CD are very cinematic in feel, which should come as no surprise since Cutler writes and performs music for film and television. He also served as Gregory Hines’s keyboardist and musical director for 18 years and currently tours as Liza Minnelli’s drummer, and has also worked with scores of other notable artists in between, giving Cutler an edge as a brilliant composer and a seasoned musician.

Cutler is a crafty tunesmith, always drawing you in with captivating hooks, sometimes giving you what you anticipate, and other times taking you in unexpected directions, yet leaving you musically satisfied. The compositions, which include tips of the hat to such classical and jazz influences as Debussy and McCoy Tyner, are subtle and understated and function as a sort of tonic for the psyche.

Interspersed throughout the album are three “Alien Landscapes” that exemplify Cutler’s simultaneously adventurous and eerie sensibilities. With the CD as a whole, Cutler has definitely cultivated an artistically and intellectually stimulating sonic landscape for inner reflection and deep reverie.

--Raj Manoharan