Friday, April 17, 2015

REVIEW: The Candlelight Guitarist - Sleepytime Special: The Lullaby Train to Dreamland

Sleepytime Special – The Lullaby Train to Dreamland
Geofonica Records (2011)

Throughout his recording career, Brad Powell (The Candlelight Guitarist) has shown that he likes to stretch his boundaries, having released albums of soft instrumental music with nature sounds (such as his debut), a Bob Denver tribute album (Golden Eagle) and a blending of jazz, acoustic, and neo-classical (Sunflower Serenity). Now, he turns his performing and composing talents to yet another new theatre - lullabies. As I would expect, he has succeeded as this is a fantastic CD, perhaps his best yet.

Many artists put the word "lullaby" in their album titles, but this may be the first one I have ever reviewed where the title is so well-earned. Not only is the music on this excellent album perfect for helping infants and children fall sleep, but the majority of the songs actually are lullabies: "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," "Rock-A-Bye Baby," "Brahms' Lullaby," and many others. In fact, even those whose titles may not ring a bell will be instantly recognizable when you hear the melody itself.

One caveat, though—if you decide to buy this recording (as you should) to help your young 'uns fall asleep, be sure to buy an extra copy because, trust me, you will want one to play for yourself. This is one of Kathryn's and my favorite "cooking dinner" albums, one that we have enjoyed time and time again. This is due to both the treasured melodies of the many fine songs, but more importantly, the superb arrangements by Powell and the equally sublime performances by himself (on guitar) as well a host of guest stars on piano, violin, flugelhorn, clarinet, percussion, string bass, and tuba (yes, tuba).

Three of the songs on the album are originals by Powell: "All Aboard the Sleepytime Special" (which opens the album in a slightly uptempo but still gentle vein, befitting its placement as the first track), "Hush Little Tuba (Instrumental Fantasy)" (on which Powell once again interjects some classical elements—love the Mozart riff!), and "Ann and Andy's Ragtime Lullaby" (which also has a little spark of energy to it, but again, it's restrained). All the others are timeless classics and will wash over the listener (i.e. if, like me, is old enough to recall them) with warm waves of loving nostalgia.

There's way too much great stuff on this disc to highlight every track. "Brahm's Lullaby" is sweet and tender while "Rock-a-Bye Baby" has that gently rolling fluid feel to it that musically conveys the titular rocking. "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" features a delightful bell tone keyboard alongside Powell's guitar and "All the Pretty Horses" uses flugelhorn to great effect, imparting a pleasant etherealness to the song. "Hush Little Tuba" lets the tuba carry the main melody of "Hush Little Baby" and then evolves into the aforementioned series of classical piece interludes (something Powell has done before on previous albums). "Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Rai (That's an Irish Lullaby)" carries just a hint of Irish folk influence, as does Powell's laid-back rendition of "Oh, Sleepy Boy (Danny Boy)." The last two tracks are the classic "Frére Jacques (Are You Sleeping)" followed by an unexpectedly and thoroughly delightful "Beautiful Dreamer," that seems to float out of the speakers on feathery wings, featuring some of Powell's most nuanced fingering work and spot on string accompaniment. Honestly, if your child/children are still asleep by this point, no music in the world is going to help them hit the hay.

Every Candlelight Guitarist album I have reviewed (he has two more recent ones I haven't heard yet) has proven to be a delight. Whether he is playing as a solo artist or with talented accompanists, performing his own originals or his great arrangements of others' works, he always brings heart, soul, and tons of artistic virtuosity to the recording. Sleepytime Special will calm the busy mind of your young children as well as soothe your own troubled spirit. There's nothing wrong with wanting to feel like a kid again and this wonderful album will take you back if you have the inclination to make the trip. My highest, wholly unqualified, recommendation.

The album is available CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, and Rhapsody.

Monday, March 23, 2015

REVIEW: David Arkenstone & Charlee Brooks - Inamorata


Let's get one thing clear right away: Charlee Brooks has an amazingly beautiful voice. She could probably read Facebook status updates and make it sound gorgeous (and that would be quite the accomplishment). Inamorata is a fitting arena for displaying her crystal clear tone, her impressive range, her pipes, and more than anything else, her emotionally rich way with English lyrics. Paired as she is here with both originals and covers, backed by consummate musicians under the leadership of one of the true legends in New Age music, David Arkenstone, and her singing soars to new heights of magnificence. Yeah, a bit hyperbolic, but when she gets into the meat of a song such as "Did I Make the Most of Loving You?" I get serious chills.

I am not always a fan of an operatic style of singing, and I wouldn't describe Brooks' vocals that way, although I can imagine some will hear them as such. I think her vocal motif is more along the lines of the classic pop singers through the years who are/were accompanied by orchestras. She never reaches for bombast, even when she was going full tilt on high notes. It's a rare gift to be able to sing the way she does and performing these types of songs and not come off as melodramatic or schmaltzy, yet she pulls it off in grand fashion.

Now, when addressing David Arkenstone's role in this wonderful album, one cannot overstate his talent on guitar and piano/keyboards, but that is not the most important element he brings to the party. His arrangements are fantastic (much like they were on my favorite album of his, Sketches from an American Journey). The strings are never overblown, instead always serving as the perfect complement to Brooks' singing. Each of the original's melodies are beautifully constructed and I never heard anything that I would characterize as a musical cliché or overwrought.

Moving on to the music itself, it needs to be stated that Inamorata is not at all a "new age vocal" album, a la Enya, so if you are a long time fan of Arkentsone's work on Narada and some of his later discs, you may find yourself scratching your head. This is "classic" orchestral pop music, but you need to understand what I refer to as "pop" is not lightweight "pop/rock" but the kind of music that great "pop" singers have performed through the years starting in the '40s and '50s (or, maybe a better example would be to compare it to movie musicals or Broadway show tunes). My problem with the latter comparison is that I think this is better than a lot of recent show tunes in that it avoids being overly theatrical, i.e. it achieves a "big" sound without sacrificing, for lack of a better term, intimacy. I think this must be due to Brooks' voice and how it was recorded. And please, let's not compare Brooks to Celine Dion (no offense to the latter meant). While the back of the album reads "Music Style: Easy Listening" (and perhaps for some folks, it is), that may chase some of you away (your loss, trust me), I cringe at giving it that label. So, we're left with referring to it as "orchestral cinematic pop vocal," which may be a mouthful but at least it does the music and singing justice from my perspective.

I'm no lyricist so I can't "review" the songs' words (only two tracks are instrumentals), but for whatever it's worth, I think they (i.e. the originals) are well written and, surprisingly (for pop music), lacking in triteness. It should be obvious that the "theme" of the album is love and romance (the album title means "…a person's female lover…a woman with whom one is in love") and the songs capture the most powerful emotion in a variety of ways. The covers are all well done, especially Brooks' version of the theme from Downton Abbey, titled "Did I Make The Most Of Loving You?" which also features one of the album's best orchestral scores and arrangements by Arkenstone. One of the two instrumentals is the theme to Game of Thrones so you know I am down with that (it's one of my favorite TV shows of all time). Of the originals, I don't know that I can single out a favorite, as that would take many playings to whittle it down.

Stunningly well-produced, flawlessly engineered and mixed, and featuring superb orchestral performances and arrangements, as well as spotlighting one of the finest female vocalists in the current genre of pop music—well, what more could you want in an album? Inamorata may not appeal to hardcore Arkenstone fans, since it lacks the fantasy mysticism of the recent Arkenstone-Brooks collaboration Lovéren, and it bears little resemblance to his instrumental discography (or at least his earlier works), but I imagine that was the intent. Inamorata is an album that allows one to fully appreciate Brooks' magnificent voice as well as Arkenstone's many talents for arranging and performing. I can't think of a better gift for a paramour than this ode to romantic love.

 Inamorata is available for purchase at Amazon, iTunes, or directly from the label here.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Issue 10 of Wind and Wire now available for viewing online

Click here
to view Issue 10 of Wind and Wire, which was originally published in March/April of 1999. This was a notable issue for its interviews with Vidna Obmana (Dirk Serries), Deborah Martin and Steve Gordon (a cross-label collaboration between Spotted Peccary and Sequoia Records) and most importantly, staff member Judy Markworth snagged an interview with Narada Records founder Wesley Van Linda. Read and Enjoy and leave your comments if you feel inclined to do so.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Issue 9 of Wind and Wire available for viewing

Click here to read Issue 9 of Wind and Wire, the magazine, originally published in November/December of 1998.

NOTABLE IN THIS ISSUE: Phil Derby joined our reviewing stable and made an immediate impact with his well-written and knowledgeable critiques of EM and ambient music. The value of his contributions in the latter stages of the magazine cannot be overstated and I was pleased when, after Wind and Wire ceased publication the next year, Phil started his own own periodical, Electroambient Space (which eventually went online after being a hard copy zine for awhile and existed until August of Phil's insightful reviews here).

Also, Kathy Parsons (her website, Mainly Piano) conducted a fascinating interview with New Age music pioneer Ray Lynch. I believe it was one of the last ones he gave before he more or less disappeared from the active music scene (his last release, Nothing Above My Shoulders But The Evening, was released in 1993).

This issue saw the review section become even more professional looking with more album covers and the move to a more compact font and layout.

I hope you enjoy the issue. Leave comments if so moved - always appreciated.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

REVIEW: CHRIS NOLE - Songs of the Wide Horizon (repost)

The following review originally ran in Wind and Wire, the webzine, in 2004. It is being reposted here as a courtesy to the artist.

Songs of the Wide Horizon
Moulin D'or Recordings (2003)
I am in love with this album! It reminds me of the very best work from pianist Wayne Gratz (on what I consider his best releases, Blue Ridge and A Gift of the Sea). Seldom do I hear piano (both solo and ensemble) that captures a vision and feeling so perfectly. About two minutes into the opening track, "To The Horizon," when Nole brings in the rhythmic accompaniment, it's easy to imagine yourself cruising down the long stretch of highway pictured on the album cover. The piano has a rolling sound to it as the drum kit pounds out a perfectly-paced midtempo rhythm. Music this fine just makes the miles fly by - I should know because I play a lot of this kind of music on road trips. It's not new age, it's not adult contemporary and it's not smooth jazz. It's that particular hybrid that takes the best from each genre and produces a hybrid filled with true feeling, accessible music, and polished production.

While assisted by a few other players on various guitars on selected tracks, most of what you'll hear on this CD is all Chris Nole. This is someone who really knows his way around the production of ensemble instrumental music. Engineering is textbook; you could easily think this CD came from a big house, such as Narada or Windham Hill (except that Nole's music is tons better than what comes from those labels these days). I sure wish FM radio would play music like this; it would make riving, even in rush hour, so much more enjoyable.
And that's where Songs of the Wide Horizon excels, i.e. it's ideal driving music, provided you prefer acoustic instruments (primarily piano) where the electronic keyboards are used to embellish or as sampled versions of the real thing. From the jaunty Irish-inflected "Far and Wide" with its jig-like rhythms, sampled accordion, and rolling piano chords, to the gentle melancholy of "First Rain" (solo piano with a hint of synth textures), to the wistful and sadly romantic "Miles to Go" (graced by spot-on assorted synth strings, including a great solo cello line) and ending with the perfect closing track, "Homeward" (which uses Copland-like strings to color the piano melody with nostalgia and genuine warmth), the album is a nearly perfect execution of music that is "mainstream" without sounding the least bit trite, commercial, overblown or false. I could probably leave this in a car's CD player all day long if I was driving cross-country.

Songs of the Wide Horizon easily earns my highest recommendation. Grab this one before fall arrives, because when the leaves turn red and gold, the skies is that comforting blend of sun and clouds, and the breeze carries a hint of frost, you're going to want it when you set off in search of that perfect two-lane highway running all the way to the setting sun. Can't you just feel it in your bloodstream? I sure can!
The album can be purchased (CD or download) at CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, or directly from the artist at his website.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Issue 8 of Wind and Wire is now available for viewing online

Click here to read issue 8 of the magazine Wind and Wire which was published in September.October of 1998.

This issue was both a highwater mark for the number of reviews published (57 music and 2 book reviews) as well as featuring a sorely needed facelift of the review section itself which finally divided the reviews into genre classification. I had to basically eliminate CD covers in order to accommodate more reviews and it kinda shows since the lackluster visual appeal stands out. But on the other hand, my readers told me they were much more interested in content.

The lowlight of this issue (and actually of the entire run of 12 issues) was a single page article that I wrote. By now, I had acquired a reputation for being an egomaniac among some folks in the business via how I ran the magazine and my discourse on discussion boards/forums in the 'net. I decided to poke fun at myself while also making the magazine more personal. I wrote my one page bio in order to satirize the notion that I thought I was all that (the title was "The Man Who Would Be King"), but I also intended to put all my staff members, one-by-one, under the microscope in an issue to help our readers (who by now were almost literally worldwide) connect on a personal level with us. After all, there was life after music, right? Sadly, this idea bombed to such an extant that one of my writers blew his top and quit post haste when he saw the issue. Nobody on the staff was keen on the idea (yeah, I should've run it by them, in hindsight) so I abandoned the "folksy" approach and wrote next issue's editorial about it. I wouldn't write anything personal until the second to last issue editorial, which coincidentally (or maybe paradoxically) was much more personal and yet elicited the most positive response of anything ever run in the magazine (you'll just have to wait for that one).

Enjoy the issue and leave any comments you wish to make, PLEASE!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Wind and Wire issue 7 is online and available to view

Click here to view and read issue 7 of Wind and Wire, originally published in July/August of 1998.

This was our "first anniversary" issue and has the most in-depth interviews we had published up to that, all of which were with major artists. First up is a lengthy talk by yours truly with premier spacemusic artist Jonn Serrie. Judy Markworth has an insightful chat with electronic music pioneer Larry Fast, aka Synergy. Finally, I have a heart-to-heart with two artists who were (and still are) among my very favorites, Eric Tingstad and Nancy Rumbel. They proved quite the opposite duo, Eric being mostly serious and Nancy being the amiable cut-up, although both were charming and engaging.

Judy also stepped up and wrote a smashing editorial titled "What's Wrong With Commercial Success?" due mostly to how Yanni was getting bashed at the time because he had hit it big. Funny how now that this whole concern seems almost quaint. At the time, it was the source of endless Internet discussion groups rants and arguments (ah, the good old days of

I wrote a lengthy reflective piece on the magazine turning one year old and Kathy Parsons did a short review of a Robin Spielberg live concert. Finally, the magazine featured 46 reviews, covering a very broad range of genres to say the least. All in all, a fitting way to celebrate one year of publication.

Nest issue featured an all new look to the review section and also contained what would prove to be the single most controversial article to run in the history of the magazine, to the point that one reviewer quit when it ran, expressing his disgust with my decision to run it. I ended up having to apologize in the issue after that. More on that when it is uploaded (soon).

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wind and Wire Issue 6 now avialble for viewing online

Click here to read issue 6 of Wind and Wire, which was published in March/April of 1998.

If you have read the other issues, you may see a slight improvement in image quality on this PDF than previous ones, as I tweaked the controls on the scanner a bit. Hopefully, this will look a little better.

Of note in this issue is the results of our reader survey (I got a much better than normal response, especially since this was a MAIL survey which had to be mailed to me at the sender's expense). Something like 40 percent of our readers responded (the national average for a survey like this is between 5 and 10 percent, or it was the time this survey was taken).

Only two interviews in this issue. One is with the late Laurie Z, who passed more than a few years ago, I believe. The other is with guitarist/keyboardist Chris Spheeris.

I added another reviewer to the fold in this issue, Lynda Williams, who prided herself on being the #1 Billy McLaughlin fan in the country. He was an acoustic guitarist who lived/lives here in the Twin Cities and recorded a number of albums on the Narada label.

Inexplicably, the reviews are listed in any logical order in the review section, e.g. by genre or by artist, but instead by album title! Why I did it that way is just one of those mysteries that, at the time, made sense to beleaguered me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Issue 5 of Wind and Wire, the magazine, is now online

Click here to view issue 5, which was published in January/February of 1998.

In this issue, the staff pick their personal choices for best recordings of 1997. In addition, the second part of Stu Daniels' interview with Steve Roach runs here, as well as Kathy Parson's great interview with Suzanne Ciani, and Neil Leacy's chat with David Hughes.

The smear down the middle of page 9 is not due to the scan. That was done by the printers and they apologized to me profusely about it when I picked up the issue from them.

Read the editorial which listed my "competitors" at the time, i.e. other fanzines covering these genres of music. Asterism departed long ago, but Peter Thelen's excellent Exposé magazine is still going strong, but I believe most of what they publish is web-based, since the last hard copy issue appears to have been published in April 2013. Anyway, seriously, check it out because Peter always had (and I imagine still has) some of the best reviewers around and while their emphasis was prog rock, they covered a lot of EM and ambient too (or at least they did they were publishing the magazine). I devoured every issue when it arrived on my doorstep (and their issues were monstrous, sometimes 80 or so pages or so, if I remember right).

Click here to visit the Exposé website.

Thanks for dropping by, folks!


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Wind and Wire issue 4 is now online and ready for viewing

Click here to view issue 4 which was published November/December of 1997.

Controversy reared its ugly head with this issue in two ways. The first controversy was centered round the Steve Roach interview. I did not interview Steve, instead the interview was done by Stu Daniels, owner of Dark Star Books and Music in Milwaukee (I got to know Stu way before Wind and Wire as I was customer in his store whenever I went back to Milwaukee). I was in a hurry to get this issue to print (I was perpetually late with publishing issues as you will read about in upcoming issue editorials) and forgot to put any kind of intro to Stu's interview (in my defense, Stu didn't provide one either). So, the interview starts out with the first question without any prelude, which is pretty damn awkward. Steve understandably was upset and I heard about it from Stu. As a result, when part 2 of the interview ran next issue, I did my best to smooth things over.

The bigger controversy erupted from my editorial when I took a few people in the business to task for their stances on two concerns. Dudley Evenson of Soundings of the Planet never had any objection to what I wrote about what she said (and to this day has never mentioned it to me), but the late Paul Scott (who was head of New World Music's US operations and was married to the late new age music promoter and critic, PJ Birosik) DID object to my quoting him and criticizing his views. It became a big deal with threatened legal action (I was falsely accused of copyright infringement). However, one letter from my lawyer and it was put to rest. Phew!

For ambient fans, and for me personally, the saddest part of revisiting this issue is my interview with the late Barry Craig who recorded as A Produce, and who died suddenly in September of 2011. Barry and I had MANY phone conversations during the early days of Wind and Wire and he was a constant source to me of encouragement and support. One thing in particular stays with me to this day. I was discouraged at the lack of subscribers I had and how things didn't seem to be going well (around issue 3) and Barry told me "Just hang in there...lots of people need to see consistency in your efforts, just as they do with musicians. Anyone can put out 1 or 2 good albums, but as you build a discography, people start to take you seriously. So, just keep publishing and maintaining the same quality you have so far and it will take hold and people will start to notice and pay attention." His words bolstered me and I charged ahead for 2 more years, until the money ran out. Barry and I didn't stay much in touch in latter years before his passing and certainly wish we had. The world is a lesser place without him in it.