One thing any casual observer of new age/contemporary instrumental music can state with certainty is that multi-instrumentalist David Arkenstone is both prolific and versatile and he has proven this over four decades of recordings starting with 1987’s Valley in the Clouds. One can merely read some of the dozens of album titles to glean how he is a master of multiple sub-genres, styles, and influences. Whether It’s any of his classic new age releases, his chill-out albums, or his ambient, or his orchestral, or take your pick of others. I went to his Wikipedia discography page (seriously, his discography is so extensive, it gets its own Wikipedia page) and I gave up counting when I got to 70 albums since his debut.
What does all this have to do my review of his newest album (well, until a month or so from now, it seems, LOL), Winterlude? Well, if I am being honest, with his worldwide success and God knows how many accolades from fans and the press alike, my review seems a bit unnecessary. But, after only getting through half of Winterlude, I wanted to sing its praises, as redundant as that might seem.
Truthfully, the Arkenstone album that made me realize his genius (yeah, I went there) was 2002’s Sketches from an American Journey, especially the tracks on which he plays with a full orchestra and the tracks have an overt Aaron Coland sound to them (those songs are “Full Sail” and “The American Journey”). I consider both these tracks would be in the new age/contemporary instrumental music Hall of Fame, if such a thing existed. This ties into my reaction when I first listened to Winterlude, i.e., I was astounded at how Arkenstone, as performer, composer, and arranger (uncredited) navigates these gorgeous “wintery” soundscapes without resorting to any traditional holiday cliches. Only a few artists (that I am aware of) have made non-holiday winter-themed albums (two that come to mind are Kevin Kendle’s Winter and Shirley Cason’s Winter Mornings).
Since only one guest artist is mentioned in the liner notes (cellist Carlyn Kessler), it’s safe to credit everything else to Arkenstone, which brings up yet another one of the artist’s talents, namely his adroitness, skill, and artistry on a vast array of keyboards. You’ll witness it right away on the lovely album opener, “warm lights flicker across the lake,” and yes, the images conjured by the beguiling melody can evoke exactly that image; well, for me it did. Throughout the remaining nine tracks, Arkenstone takes the listener on somber yet beautiful soundscapes, sometimes bordering on melancholy (“the icy brook finds its way”) and other times delicately beautiful (“kisses from the falling snow”). As mentioned above, he also amply displays his versatility, such as the floating ambience/spacemusic-esque “the world sleeps,” or the propulsive drama of “darkening skies.” No matter what colors he paints with, David Arkenstone creates one mini-masterpiece after the other. The best part of Winterlude is that its appeal will not fade after New Year’s Day but last well through, well, winter (and, to be honest, likely be year round for his legion of fans).
Album composed performed and produced by David Arkenstone
Recorded at the Bamboo Room, Arroyo Grande, CA and RUSK Studios, Hollywood, CA
Mixed and mastered by Jill Tengan
Guest artist: Carlyn Kessler on solo cello