Friday, May 10, 2019

REVIEW: JULIET LYONS - The Light Within - Songs for Yoga, Healing & Inner Peace

There is a baseball expression (at least here in Minnesota) when a player hits a home run,  it's "Touch 'em all!" This, of course, refers to the player "touching" all the bases as he makes his journey to home plate. On her album The Light Within, Juliet Lyons "touches 'em all" in two significant ways. One is that this album is most assuredly a home run in the genre of new age  vocal music, and two, she also "touches 'em all" when it comes to approaching this genre in a multi-phasic musical approach. The ten tracks explore a variety of styles, influences, and classifications. The overarching message of these songs is best described by the album's subtitle, "Songs for Yoga, Healing, & Inner Peace." The unifying aspect of the album as it crisscrosses musical styles is Lyons' beautiful, expressive, and soulful voice, which makes this recording such a joy to hear time and time again (I think I have played it at least ten times so far, and each time I hear something new).

In the first paragraph I referred to The Light Within as being in the new age vocal genre, but there is a smattering of chant as well. However, most of the lyrics are sung in English, so don't be put off by this trace element if you normally do not like kirtan/Sanskrit chanting. Also, while some chant/Indian musical influences are present as represented by the presence of certain instruments, e.g. santoor, sitar, and tabla, there is more of a new age sound to the music. Guitars, keyboards, cello, bass, piano, and flute all lend a more contemporary/Western aspect to instrumentation.

Joining Lyons on the album are some prominent guests, including Ron Korb (flute), Ricky Kej (keyboards and programming) and David Vito Gregoli (programming, sitar, bass, guitars). This is not to discount the other seven guests, all of whom perform their roles admirably. Most of the guest artists only appear on one track each, with the exception of guitarist Allen DeSomer who appears on six songs. Production and mixing credits are spread among the artist, Shahead Mostafafar, Todd Boston, Kej, Vanil Vegas, CK Barlow, Scott Horton, and Gregoli. Mastering by Reuben Cohen at Lurssen Mastering is textbook. Lyons' voice sounds heavenly throughout the album, and each of the instrumentalists' contributions are treated equally as strong.

While the album's subtitle may convey to you that this is a laid back recording, some of the songs do kick it up a notch, so those would be better suited to "active" yoga, at least to my ears. The opening track, "Lokah Samastah," is uptempo, even celebratory, and also comes the closest to being more chant than new age, as it mixes mantras with English lyrics. Santoor and tabla lend a decidedly Indian feel to the track while its upbeat "pop" sensibilities swing it into Western music territory. The intermixing is seamless and delightful. Next up, "Om Shanti" dials the pace back to midtempo, but again, there is a discernible blending of Eastern and Western influences. The beats here are not performed by hand percussion but instead are programmed, so one could also identify this as a chill-fusion tune.

There are also some mellow selections on the album. "Eternal Now" has a slow tempo rhythm and Lyons' voice swirls and flits above Korb's flute and DeSomer's guitar. "Dawning Equilibrium," an instrumental, crosses into over spacier new age stylings with layers of keyboards and a plaintive piano in the lead. What might surprise you (as it did me) was the occasional foray into more overt chill-out ("Calm" features a nice slow-tempo beat and Lyons' sings the lyrics with sensual breathiness, and "Heal You" sparkles with a subtle, bouncy effervescence and here Lyons' voice is captivating and enchanting).

The Light Within is about as perfect a mixture of gorgeous vocals, delightful musical compositions, sterling performances, and superb production/engineering as you're likely to hear this year (and probably for a few years to come). It stands toe to toe with albums from the likes of Enya and 2002's later releases as well as similar artists. While there are elements of chant present, they are relatively sparse (with two songs mentioned earlier being the exceptions). The album is more closely aligned with the new age vocal genre (and one could also throw in references to both folk and pop for good measure). It's a truly special recording in every way.

The Light Within is available at Amazon, CDBaby, iTunes, and Spotify


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