Sunday, February 26, 2012

CD Review – Solitary Treasures, by Darlene Koldenhoven

Darlene Koldenhoven’s latest album not only serves as a wonderful showcase for the Grammy Award-winning singer’s impressive five-octave vocal range, but also provides a great mix of classical and pop standards and tunes that will appeal to most musical tastes.

The CD offers Koldenhoven’s interpretations of everything from “Nessun Dorma” and “Lo Specchio” to “Kiss from a Rose” and a suite from the Twilight movies. The result is an absorbing and exhilarating listening experience that never lets up from beginning to end.

Koldenhoven, who has lent her vocal talents to albums by several superstars and performed as a featured soloist on Yanni’s globally popular PBS Acropolis special, has an incredible voice that charms, enraptures, and takes the breath away. Rarely have I been so captivated by a singer throughout an entire album.

A great deal of the CD’s effectiveness owes to the rich, lush orchestration and instrumentation of the music. Koldenhoven also produces and sequences many of the tracks in addition to masterfully playing piano and is backed by both a solid rock rhythm section and a symphony. This gives the album the feel of classic records from the 1950s and 1960s, but with a modern sensibility.

Song highlights include “Kiss from a Rose,” which is fairly faithful to Seal’s original hit single but features a trippy version of the bridge with both a children’s and an adult choir; a Twilight medley that is creepily romantic (although it has no lyrics, Koldenhoven’s vocal affectations are appropriately haunting); “Ay Carino” (I don’t understand a word of it, but Koldenhoven’s sultry Spanish vocalization thoroughly entices me); the piano-based instrumental “Lucid See”; and “The Prayer” from The Quest for Camelot.

Favorites notwithstanding, every song on this CD is a stunner, thanks to Koldenhoven’s golden voice, the impeccable musicianship, the high technical quality of the recordings, and the pedigree of many of the tunes. No matter your musical taste, this is really a winner.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, February 19, 2012

CD Review – Peaceful Journey: Music for Relaxation and Wellbeing, by Tron Syversen

Nordic composer and musician Tron Syversen sets the soul at ease with this soothing collection of music that, as the subtitle says, provides relaxation and wellbeing.

Syversen creates beautiful melodies and sonic textures with his piano and synthesizers, augmented by other musicians on acoustic guitar, English horn, violin, and cello. Singer Elin Lokken adds a touch of heaven with her angelic and reassuring wordless vocals. The result is musical paradise.

Although Syversen hails from and is based in Scandinavia and sometimes records in Italy, this album has a Greek/Mediterranean feel, giving it a sense of romantic escapism and making it the perfect mental getaway.

Fans of Vangelis and Yanni will enjoy this equally worthy recording.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, February 12, 2012

CD Review – Time Rider, by Uwe Gronau

German composer and musician Uwe Gronau’s latest album is a jazz/new age/art rock tour de force with a mix of instrumental and vocal tracks that sound like a cross between Jan Hammer and Genesis.

Gronau uses his keyboards and synthesizers to create mesmerizing melodies and textures, stinging guitar lines, and dynamic bass rhythms, and he and his co-producer Clemens Paskert keep time with standard and syncopated backbeats through the use of propulsive and kinetic drum programs, in addition to percussion by Andy Kohlmann.

American musician Martin Brom adds crazy-awesome guitar to “Far in the East,” and “Interlude” is driven by German guitarist Wolfgang Demming’s powerful fusion crunch. By the way, these two six-string slingers need to release their own solo albums. They’re that good.

Gronau’s vocals sound somewhat like a combination of Men in Hats, Modern English, Pet Shop Boys, and Andy Summers (from his XYZ days) – not what typically passes for popular singing, but perfectly suited to the quirkiness of the songs. The vocal tracks are not really about singing, but about story, character, and atmosphere, and Gronau’s subliminal, psychedelic vocalization brings out those elements in the music and lyrics, the latter of which were penned by Michael Hoeing and Ursula Goldstein. Gronau does add zest to the songs by recruiting the soulful accompanying and backing vocals of Angelique Damschen.

As the title (and the artwork, which inexplicably features the Enterprise E from the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies) suggests, the album is quite the trip through time and space, and it’s a trip well worth taking.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, February 5, 2012

CD Review – A New Horizon, by Jose Luis Serrano Esteban

Jose Luis Serrano Esteban shares his last name with another well-known and accomplished guitarist, but that’s where the similarity ends. Jose’s second album reveals him to be an amazing and soulful fusion guitarist of solid technical prowess and melodic brilliance.

The CD is a stunning showcase of beautiful compositions and impeccable musicianship, layered richly with Jose’s nylon-, steel-, and 12-string acoustic guitars, electric guitars, basses, keyboards, and percussion, as well as contributions from others on clarinet, flute, violin, 12-string acoustic guitar, and bass.

Jose has the killer tone and technique of Eric Johnson and the creativity and progressive edge of Andy Summers while still forging his own unique voice, putting him squarely in the echelon of those two heralded fusion guitarists as well as other similar six-stringers.

The pop and rock acts that have emerged in the last couple of decades (with the exception of John Mayer, who is legitimately talented on the instrument) sorely lack the level of guitar mastery displayed on this CD. I honestly thought that Eric Johnson was one of the last true guitar heroes. I have been proven wrong. We need more guitarists like Jose Luis Serrano Esteban.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, February 4, 2012

CD Review – Bindu, by Michael Brant DeMaria

On his latest album, Ph.D. psychologist and musical therapist Michael Brant DeMaria sets out on a sonic exploration of the inner depths of human consciousness and existence.

He explains in the liner notes that the title of the CD is a Sanskrit word that can refer to a moment of creation or awakening, and the musical motif he has constructed is certainly in keeping with that theme.

DeMaria builds layers of sound including flutes, keyboards, and synthesizers, creating a somber, almost ominous mood that fosters deep inner reflection. These serious, intricate textures gradually build to a crescendo, resulting in moments that seem to be the musical equivalent of liberating self-realization. This gives the music the feel of the dark before the dawn.

The album’s moody lyricism engenders a foreboding sense of anticipation that finds cathartic release in the CD’s bright moments, making it ideal for meditation, reflection, and introspection.

--Raj Manoharan