SongPath This is a separate link for just this album
Violist Karen Olson is no stranger to imaginative and creative music vision. Her two previous releases, Covergence and A Hero's Journey (winner of Zone Music Reporter's Best Neo-Classical album award in 2018), each push the boundaries of contemporary classical recordings. However, even with Olson's track record of recordings that push the envelope, SongPath is an artistic triumph of near epic proportions. Her vision for the album is revealed in the CD's liner notes, "[SongPath]…has been the unfolding of my dream to create a musical experience for others beyond what words can describe." The album is the musical "partner," if you will, of Olson's book SoundPath – Using the Power of Sound and Silence for Health, Harmony and Happiness (available from Amazon). Again, quoting from the liner notes, "The music in this CD was created with a prayer that your listening will inspire the experiences described in the book so you can have a SoundPath, beyond words, that will transport you to new places within and without."
Now, after reading the above, you might think the music on the album will follow the "usual" new age soundscape path of relaxing and meditative music, and I certainly thought that as well, that is until I played the first track, "Ever Peace," and then the second, "Why Not?" By the time I got to track 3, "Adventure," (my favorite on the album – more later), I realized that I should have known better than to expect anything "cookie-cutter" from an artist with the imagination and artistic courage of Karen Olson. After playing SongPath all the way through, I was sincerely and deeply impressed with the width, breadth, and depth of not just the styles of music on the album (Olson either wrote or co-wrote all the music) but the 100 percent consummate professionalism of Olson and her guest artists. Of importance to note is that while this is undeniably her album, she is quite unselfish in not always taking center stage, but allowing others, such as pianist/synthesizer artist Carlos Cuevas or Premik Russell Tubbs (soprano sax, flute, ewi) to step up to the plate and share the spotlight!
As a reviewer, the "downside" of an album such as SongPath is that it strains one's ability to adequately describe the music in detail. Instead, one is forced to use broader brushstrokes to paint a verbal picture of the music itself. That said, none of the nine tracks is experimental, avant garde, or inaccessible. Far from it. In fact, this may be Olson's most accessible album (to a wider audience) than her previous two releases, especially Convergence. During the course of the album, you will hear influences ranging from classical, pop, Americana, new age, and more. Occasionally a single track will even shift gears in mid-stream (I apologize for the mixed metaphor, folks).
The opening "Ever Peace" offers up a blend of classical motifs/influence with some additional but distinct Americana shadings at times. The lovely lead off melody on strings is accompanied by piano step-for-step, as well as sax. There is a detectable "sweetness" to the tune, but it's never cloying or overwrought. The next song, "Why Not?" hews much closer to a formal classical influence with only a touch of pop here and there. Olson's playing on this (and every song on which she is prominently featured) is staggeringly brilliant as she is in complete control of every possible technique on the viola. The song is less "cheery" than "Ever Peace," and instead is somewhat contemplative. Next up is the first of three vocal songs, "Adventure," and not only is it my favorite song on the album, but it is one of the most affirming, empowering songs I have ever heard, featuring the fantastic singing of Olivia Meihofer, as well as equally powerful music. The song speaks to overcoming that which seeks to keep us down, with lyrics such as…
Come awake, Face the pain
hear it call you to remain,
Find the pull, cut it loose
Overcome all the abuse
and, break down, break down
Abandon the hate like a
Look in the eyes of the offender
Watch it vanish in the flames
Vow to keep the reign (reins)
Of your Adventure
I actually get chills listening to this song, owing equally to the dramatic tone of the music, the emotive vocals, and the emotional wallop of the lyrics.
Rather than go into a lot of details about the remaining six tracks, I will simply say that they contain the aforementioned variety of influences, e.g. the movie soundtrack feel of "Moving Higher," the quasi-ambient/classical ending song, "Serenity," and, for me, the biggest surprise (and absolute sheer delight) of the vocal track, "New Ways" which features Meihofer on some spoken word vocals alongside a fusion of jazz, funk, and trip-hop – and OMG does this work! It speaks not to just her versatility as a vocalist but also Olson's adventurous side including it on the album.
I hope I have piqued your interest because SongPath is truly a ground-breaking album and each playing will unfurl a new musical sail. Not having read Olson's book, I can't address how well this "handshakes" with it, but even as a wholly standalone recording, SongPath soars to dazzling heights of imaginative composing and highly accomplished performing by all involved. Kudos to Karen Olson for once again pushing that envelope but never alienating the casual listener.