Sunday, September 24, 2023

REVIEW: LIS ADDISON - Songs from the Mara

Songs from the Mara

On some of Lis Addison’s previous album reviews, I often extolled the amazing vocal talent she possesses. For example, in 2010, I reviewed her album The Grace of the Green Leaf and wrote “The more I listened to Lis Addison's The Grace of the Green Leaf, the more I couldn't decide what I was more impressed with - her wonderfully sensual vocals or her amazing talent on beats and keyboards, and in 2013 I reviewed Crown In The Sky of which I opined “Crown In The Sky once again features Addison's sultry and earthy vocals…” In fact, as a testament to her vocal talents, Lis won Best Vocal Album in 2010 from Zone Music Reporter for The Grace of the Green Leaf. An award she well deserved in my opinion.

Because of the past emphasis on her beautiful voice and the accolades it brought her, I was surprised that on her newest album, Songs from the Mara, Addison’s vocals actually takes a back seat to her 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 Mara and 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.