Sunday, September 24, 2023

REVIEW: LIS ADDISON - Songs from the Mara

Songs from the Mara

On her latest release, Songs from the Mara, Lis Addisons stunningly beautiful voice takes a back seat to her equally astonishing talent for creating soothing keyboard and electronic soundscapes which she then melds with expertly recorded (by her) African nature and environmental sounds. The result is a truly immersive listening experience, the perfect blending of music and natural sounds that is almost certain to transport the listener to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. On her way to Kitui, Kenya to plant trees with her Singing Tree Institute non-profit, Lis stopped at the Maasai Mara. In both places she recorded the sounds of nature that serenaded her. These sounds inspired "Songs from the Maraand were incorporated into the music.

The album opener,
Sunrise on the Mara,begins with a serenade of songbirds greeting the new day while a warm, flowing piano melody joins in as well as assorted keyboard textures and embellishments just gorgeous. A gentle bell tone rhythm comes into play along with Addisons wordless vocals adding another level of beauty. Next up, Sunset on the Mara,has singing bowls accompanying birdsong and running water along with a repeating harp-like melody and Addisons vocals (again wordless). As the song develops, more layers of keyboards and some shaker percussions are folded in. The haunting serenity of the song fills the air like softly scented incense. By this point, one cant help but be impressed with all the assorted musical elements that Addison is utilizing to craft such wondrous soundscapes, not to mention the deftness with which she mixes in nature and environmental sounds. I had forgotten (from previous reviews of her music I had written) how talented she was at the dizzying assortment of keyboard sounds she has available at her home studio.

"Kitui Rain” features a slight bubbly effervescent mood via an ambient-esque synthesizer lead melody as well as a plaintive secondary orchestral string melody that develops later in the track, accompanied by bell tones. As the track ends, crickets and frogs join in to bring the song to a blissful conclusion. While I frequently concentrated my praise on Addisons vocals on her earlier releases, on Songs from the Mara she allows her proficiency on keyboards and composing to come to the forefront. In fact, with those talents on prominent display, Lis Addison deserves a place among the best in the electronic keyboard genres of New Age and ambient music.

Two more fantastic songs (
Elephants on the Mara,and Lioness and Three Cubs) lead into the concluding number, the 10-minute Dream of the Marawhich takes the listener into even deeper ambient and, appropriately, dreamy territory. The sounds of flowing water and other nature elements waft over layers of lush keyboards, joined later by vibrant birdsong, and a tamboura drone joins in with the other sounds. A chorus of frogs (a rather large chorus it sounds like!) contributes their voicesto the mix. Later, a percolating acoustic percussion beat emerges, injecting the sonic proceedings with a heartbeat like pulse. As the song winds down, some crickets decide to get in on the fun as well. All this time, the underlying ambient music soundscape flows uninterrupted, slowly fading amongst the reverberations from a singing bowl.

What can I say other than I am ultra-impressed with Songs from the Mara. Lis Addison has outdone herself, which is a bold statement based on her previous work. My praise for the album is in no way a diminishing statement about her usual fantastic singing and vocals, but instead, Songs from the Mara
clearly shows how broad and deep her many musical talents are. This is as essential an album as I have heard in years.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

REVIEW: DAN KENNEDY - An Enchated Noel

An Enchanted Noel

Dan Kennedy’s solo piano holiday collection An Enchanted Noël is just the ticket for family gatherings, as it accentuates both the joy, fun, and celebratory nature of Christmas, as well as it’s more spiritual element. Some of the twelve selections (ten traditional carols and two originals) tone things down, while others are on the festive end of the scale.

“Angels We Have Heard On High,” which opens the album, illustrates my point. An at-times rousing rendition of the carol, Kennedy also injects some mild jazziness at times, which replaces the usual heavier gravitas of the song with some (much-needed, in my opinion), well, fun! “In the Bleak Midwinter,” however, gets the appropriate level of flowing somberness, and here Kennedy shows off his control of nuance and gentleness of tone/mood. It’s a terrific arrangement. “Carol of the Bells,” which I have heard on too many to count versions, marries both dark and light, the arrangement injecting some unexpected twists and turns, which add depth and a more pronounced feeling of emotion. His first of two originals follows. “For Those Not Here,” and, as might be inferred by its title, it’s a subdued piece that nonetheless has an air of peace and, later in the song, even hopefulness. For me, it fits in nicely with the abundance of holiday classics. One of favorite tracks, Kennedy’s take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” evokes a gentle nostalgia, and again, he displays uncommon deftness on the ivories.

In the middle of the album sits a 6+ minute medley of traditional carols, and Kennedy handles the transitions between each one with ease, as if the individual selections were meant to be strung together (like Christmas tree lights!). Later, “Sussex Carol” gets a subtle jump-boogie treatment and, yes, it works and works marvelously (to my ears at least). After one more carol and the second original, Kennedy closes with a perfect ending, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” His arrangement is restrained, but still sincerely evocative of the beauty of the season (both internally and externally).  To be honest, you can’t go wrong with that Christmas-time staple, and Kennedy does justice to it, and then some.

One of the hallmarks of a great album, holiday or otherwise, is that as the last songs ends, the listener wishes there were more still to come. That’s how I felt at the end of An Enchanted Noël. Highly recommended, so download and/or stream it tonight and tomorrow.

All music performed by Dan Kennedy
All songs traditional/public domain except “For Those Not Here” and “Of Snow and Stars.”
Album produced by Dan Kennedy
Mixing and Mastering by Bill Aheam.
Recorded at Tapeworks, Hartford, CT



Thursday, December 22, 2022