Sunday, March 24, 2024


Having grown up (as a teenager) in the late ‘60s, I was introduced to the musical concept of the "supergroup" during the days of Cream, Blind Faith, ELP, West, Bruce, and Lang, among others. It has been both nostalgic and interesting to see that the concept of "supergroup" has emerged during the last decade or so in instrumental music. I suppose some would ask what the difference between a supergroup and a mere collaboration is, to which I admit the delineation may be somewhat thin. However, simply put, when all the artists' names (or a group name) are on the album cover, rather than a single artist and the others are only specified in the credits, that’s one distinction I can point to. Just my two cents.
Whether you agree with my definition or not, there’s no denying that the word "super" can be applied to album from Jeff Oster, Vin Downes, and Tom Eaton, seven conversations (lower case intentional). It's a super recording from some super-talented individuals. However, it sounds unlike most of I've heard from these guys on their previous releases - well, up to a certain point, I guess. Oster's trumpet and flugelhorn have sometimes been this mellow, but Eaton's keyboards have typically been either in an ambient-ish vein (as a solo artist) or on Imaginary Road productions, more…well, not like it is here. And of course, Downes is well-known for being an outstanding acoustic guitar purveyor of somber, reflective, or sometimes warmly introspective soundscapes. I know that I didn’t expect anything like what I heard the first time I played seven conversations!
seven conversations is a smooth, blissed out, and chilled (not chill-out, though) excursion into a world of synthesizer textures, minimalistic piano, bluesy horns, and laid back electric guitar that merge into a whole that somehow, and I don't how, manages to morph into something that is both urban and rural, something intelligent yet soulful. If you watch any commercial TV, you may have seen a Capital One commercial with Samuel L. Jackson which ends with him saying "It's kinda genius." (yeah, I know – technically the last line is "What's in your wallet?").

Those first few minutes of track 1, "hushed," will set the stage for what will follow with the remaining "conversations." Each successive song takes this album's "formula," (for lack of a better word) and maintains continuity while also serving up each of these nuggets with enough diversity that the perfect combination of a unified musical statement is achieved. Now, this is difficult enough for one artist to do. How in the world Oster, Downes, and Eaton managed to be this symbiotic is a feat that few could do.
Even when a song veers slightly from the others, such as "words overheard," with it's percolating synth notes at the outset, as soon as Downes' guitar and Oster's trumpet enter the fray, the musical scene returns to smooth sailing. On "a confession," Oster fills the air with some bluesy notes, while Eaton's piano and Downes' guitar glide underneath. Worth noting is that throughout the album, these three artists exhibit uncommon unselfishness. Everyone gets their time in the spotlight. That said, it's startling how not a single moment of showboating is anywhere to be heard.
I also need to praise the pleasantly cryptic song titles. More than once in reviews, I have referenced the landmark album from Tim Story, Beguiled, as the standard bearer for song titles that give no hint at a song's theme, mood, etc. The same is true here, with the one exception maybe being "hushed," whose title could foreshadow the vibe of the song. Other titles not previously mentioned include "a reckoning," "words overheard," "subliminal," "her wisdom," and the closing 11+ minute "hours slip by. That's how one might approach seven conversations since one could have this amazing album on repeat and have one's day pass in a blissed state of, dare I say it, utterly beautiful relaxation.
In closing, and here's the real kicker, the entire album was recorded in real time. Yeah, that's right. These are all improvisations! I mean…. are you freakin' kidding me? As I wrote earlier…it's kinda genius!
Produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered by Tom Eaton
Jeff Oster: Flugelhorn and trumpet
Vin Downes: Electric guitar
Tom Eaton: Keyboards, loops, programming, and bass

Friday, March 22, 2024


Kevin Keller Music (2024)

Two things Kevin Keller will never be accused of (a) being one-dimensional or (b) being predictable. Over the arc of his career, he has released many critically acclaimed albums covering a variety of genres. One would think he might have exhausted the possibilities, but obviously not. Evensong presents the listener with yet another aspect of his composing and performing persona, and while the music on the recording is a marked departure in some ways, it also reinforces Keller's commitment to creating music that engages the listener on a deeper level.

Evensong sees the prolific composer pushing his envelope in a startling new direction - vocal choral music, which he pairs with piano, EM, and some interesting rhythms. Half of the melodies on the albums were composed by the renowned Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century and four of the album's eight tracks also feature the original plainchant melodies including Latin language lyrics. Now, if that doesn't pique your interest, I’m not sure what would.

To fully appreciate how adventurous (yet accessible) Evensong is, you'll need either good speakers and a quiet room or headphones, because a lot happens within the depths of the mix. I am sure this album could be enjoyed while casually listening, but if you can carve out the time, immerse yourself in it and prepare to be amazed.

Keller works with four vocalists and a three-piece string ensemble. The vocalists display an ethereal quality, and the string artists all play with uncommon artistry. Keller is his usual stellar self, performing on a variety of keyboards and when he uses church organ, it's something truly special.

Evensong is not just a homage to Hildegard of Bingen, it's more that her compositions represent a jumping off point for Keller to expand upon. The liner notes spell out his intent, and rather than sum them up, here they are as written: "Conceptually, Keller takes the Early Christian idea of canonical hours (divisions of the day being marked by music) and interprets it as a microcosm of life and its procession from beginning to end—and beyond. The procession also takes us through the church modes, the scales (based on those of the ancient Greeks) used before major and minor took over in the Baroque period: Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian, Ionian, Dorian, and returning to Phrygian. Each track has a distinct character based on the varying order of half and whole steps in its chosen mode…"

No matter how you define it or describe them, the seven tracks on Evensong unfurl into a wondrous musical canvas, resplendent with a gentle sense of drama, and flowing with a feeling of being overcome with the beauty of it all. That Keller finds a way to tastefully integrate disparate elements, such as the percolating electronic rhythms on "Evensong 3," or the opening salvo of early EM synths on "Evensong 4," is a testament to his original approach to this project. These background keyboards sometimes take center stage, sometimes they are accompanied by the string trio, and sometimes all three aspects (vocals, strings, keyboards) all fuse into something extraordinary. Keller’s unpredictable approach on the album can surprise you, too, e.g., performing mostly solo piano on the plaintive "Evensong 6," achieving a sad but lovely moment.  "Evensong 8" concludes the album in a spacemusic vein with minimal synth accompaniment over gently lilting vocals.

I have lauded Kevin Keller in my reviews of his earlier works, such as the first one I reviewed, Santiago’s Dream, the brilliant in absentia, the day I met myself, and one of his more recent albums, Shimmer. He is one of those artists who always seem to merit superlatives when I review his/her music. What can I say? I’m a sucker for musical brilliance!

All music composed by Kevin Keller except Plainchant on tracks 1, 3, 4, and 7 composed by Hildegard of Bingen
Album produced by Kevin Keller
Recorded by Robert L. Smith and Sam Stein at Reservoir Studios, NYC
Engineer’s Assistant: Deeba Montazeri
Additional engineering by Richard Bozic
Mixed by Kevin Keller at Mariner’s Gate Studio, NYC
Mastered by Chris Frasco in Nashville, TN

Art direction by Kevin Keller
Cover image by Alex Turton
Artist photo by Pavlo Terekhov

All music performed by Kevin Keller except as follows:
Danya Katok: soprano
Elisa Singer Strom: soprano
Katherine Wessinger: soprano
Wendy Baker: soprano
Sarah Zun: violin
Angela Pickett: viola
Laura Metcalf: cello






Coyote Flow Music (2023)

Pianist/keyboardist Timothy Wenzel already had a great knack for composing memorable melodic music going back to his earliest releases. However, I once pointed out in a review back then that using keyboard samples of other instruments, e.g., violin, lessened the overall quality of the compositions. He obviously listened as he started using guest stars on their assorted instruments. The impact has been an substantial improvement, and on his newest release, Immerse, Wenzel has taken yet another step forward as the melodies on this album showcase a depth and maturity and an emotional focus that clearly elevates him to the upper echelon of similar artists.

There is an inherent and palpable melancholy and loneliness to Wenzel’s compositions on Immerse and, in fact, he alluded to this when he sent me notes for the one-sheet I wrote for him: “I often write in winter, when I can walk the countryside alone, especially at night and then return to the warm studio. So being alone is one theme: solitude, time to think and all those things a card-carrying introvert needs for happiness and productivity.” It’s Wenzel’s ability to tap into this deep well-spring of emotion that flows through all twelve of Immerse’s tracks.

Much of the album is mid to slow paced which suits the songs’ melodies perfectly. Something of interest to me is how Wenzel’s music can be quite dramatic without resorting to the loudness of a piece, powerful bombast, or other issues that are used by some other artists to emphasize the “oomph” of a particular song. This quality which he exhibits increases the “play-through” of Immerse, meaning that for most people, they would not need to skip a track in order to not “break the overall mood.” While melodies are most prominent on the album, subtle percussion does come into play on five tracks, and when it is there it fits in perfectly.  Some of this is likely/certainly due to Corin Nelsen’s superb work at the board (he is credited with producing, mixing, and mastering the recording).

The album opener, “The Gale,” features all but one of the guest artists (see details below) contributing and it’s one of the few “faster” songs, driven especially by the violin of Josie Quick and cello of Graham Cullen. Mid-song, Wenzel incorporates a warm but eerie keyboard sound before transitioning to piano. The moodiness of the song is a major component its favor. Choral samples mid-song on the title track are spot on in execution. One of my favorite songs here is “Taliesen” (the name for each of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin and Arizona homes/studios) due to a wonderful piano refrain (heard most prominently at the outset). The album concludes with “Thank You for Your Smile," which is the warmest song on Immerse and offers a sincerely charming evocation to close out things.

I’ve followed Timothy Wenzel from his first release to now and am impressed how, with each successive release, he delves deeper into his muse as well consistently elevating both his performing and composing talent. I have no doubt he will continue to favor us with his music, which is something to be glad about.

All music composed by Timothy Wenzel
Album produced, mixed and mastered by Corin Nelsen (SynchroSonic Productions)
Album recorded by the artists except where noted below* (recorded at SynchorSonic)
Album artwork, design, and photography by Timothy Wenzel

Timothy Wenzel: Piano, keyboards, synthesizers
Josie Quick: Violin*
Tom Carleno: Acoustic guitar
David Cullen: Electric guitar*
Graham Cullen: Cello*
Jill Haley: English horn
Jeff Haynes: Percussion





Ever So
Fallingfoot Records (2023)

If you’ve been a long-time reader of my reviews, you know that one of the highest compliments I can give to an album is to refer to the music as “autumnal” in nature. Autumn is my favorite time of year and one of the things I always look forward to is traveling the rural roads in Minnesota and Wisconsin while listening to a certain kind acoustic music, music that is exemplified on guitarist David Lindsay’s latest release Ever So. As on his previous CDs (two of which I have reviewed), Lindsay excels (emphasis on excels) in crafting soundscapes of gentle introspection, sometimes incorporating melancholic or somber elements, but always retaining a beauty and soulfulness that only the finest practitioners in this particular genre (acoustic guitar instrumental) wield with such beauty and grace. Ever So is the perfect soundtrack to gray skies, red/gold leaves on trees, rolling hills where the corn has been harvested yet the land is not barren or bleak, but suffused with the always somewhat-sad feeling of the earth going to sleep for the winter. Of course, sunny days don’t necessitate avoiding this album, as even sun-dappled clouds can impart of sense of reflection and the recall of pleasant or even sad memories.

Once again, Lindsay makes a pilgrimage to what now appears to be the Mecca for contemporary instrumental artists these days (and has been for more than a few years) Imaginary Road Studios in Windham County, Vermont (a place I’d love to visit someday but, then again, I am not a musician so that’s my bad luck). Will Ackerman gets sole production credit this time (see below for full production credits).

Only three of the eleven tracks are solo guitar (I would’ve preferred one or two more, but that’s just my love affair with solo acoustic guitar talking). Many of the IR usual suspects are on board (see album info below). And, as if it needs stating, every one of them comports themselves tastefully and artistically, but except in a few instances, Lindsay’s guitar dominates the musical landscape, although it’s worth mentioning that the talented Jill Haley appears on four tracks and I never tire of hearing her soulful yet restrained English horn wafting above or alongside Lindsay’s melodies.

Overall, the mood (as mentioned above) is soft, serene tinted with subtle somberness, and generally slow-paced. One exception is the second track, the gently effervescent "Free To Be" which also features the most guests (standout violin work here by Charlie Bisharat – bravo, sir!).  "A Love Song" also slightly ups the tempo to more of a normal walking pace as opposed to a slow stroll, which is what most of the songs here call to mind.

Ever So reinforces my belief, forged from his first release, 2015’s Nightbound, that Lindsay is that rare artist who can do no wrong. It’d be wrong to say he is a budding artist, as he sprang forth years ago. The only issue he may face is keeping his streak of excellent albums alive….nah, who am I kidding? That’s in the bag. This man will never run out of music to enrich our lives.

All songs written by David Lindsay
Album produced by Will Ackerman
Recorded at Imaginary Road Studios, Windham County, Vermont
Engineered and mixed by Bill Esses
Mastering by Tom Eaton at Sound & Substance
Cover photo: David Lindsay, Back cover photo: Janet Creaser
Additional art direction: Right As Rain Productions, Toronto, Canada

David Lindsay: acoustic guitar
Will Ackerman : lead acoustic guitar (first two tracks)
Jill Haley: English Horn
Michael Manring: bass, fretless
Charlie Bisharat: violin
Noah Wilding: voice

REVIEW: KEVIN KENDLE - Norfolk Landscapes

Norfolk Landscapes
Eventide Music (2023)

About two minutes into keyboardist Kevin Kendle’s latest album, Norfolk Landscapes, I was reminded of the scene early in The Fellowship of the Ring. Bilbo hears a knocking at the door and believes it to be someone he doesn’t wish to see, saying "No thank you. We don’t want any more visitors, well-wishers, or distant relations! " to which Gandalf replies, "And what about very old friends?"

I was first introduced to Kevin’s music via a colleague and friend (who could come to join me in launching Wind and Wire, the magazine, in 1997), Neil Leacy. Neil wrote to me about this fantastic new artist in England who was releasing amazing new age music that I just had to hear. Back then, Kevin’s albums were only available directly from him, via international mail! So, I reached out to Kevin, and (after going to a bank where I could exchange dollars to pound notes), I ordered his third and fourth albums, Eventide and First Light. To say I was blown away may be the biggest understatement of my musical life. Kevin and I have stayed in touch over these many years, and I have watched in admiration and delight as his career skyrocketed. Over three decades he has branched out to record in a dizzying assortment of genres and sub-genres, including some highly praised spacemusic recordings (which he preforms live at assorted UK planetariums and venues). But I fondly recall the sub-genre he started out with, i.e., music influenced and inspired by his love of rural nature, sometimes using self-recorded nature sounds and other times just using nature as theme. Besides the two mentioned above, there was Autumn, Flowers, Aerial Vistas, and a few more. So, dear reader, while this is no doubt a “cool story, bro’” bit of trivia, how does it relate to Norfolk Landscapes?

As I wrote above, about two minutes into the first track, "Felbrigg Lake" I felt like Bilbo opening the door and seeing Gandalf once again. Waves of nostalgia washed over me, taking me all the way back to my first time hearing First Light and Eventide, not in an imitative fashion at all, but more like getting reacquainted with a dear friend after a long absence.

I have reviewed so many of Kevin's albums and even at the outset, I was incredibly impressed at not just his wonderful melodies, but more so his technical quality, i.e., his mixing, mastering, and how he got sounds out of his keyboards that, back then, many indie artists were relatively clueless about. I would sometimes mention this failing in my reviews, stating that so-and-so artist needs to finetune her/his keyboard/synth sounds as they tended to weaken the music's impact. Such has never been the case with any of Kevin's dozens of recordings. For an independent artist*, he has few, if any peers, on the sheer sonic quality of the music he makes.

But what makes Norfolk Landscapes so special for us long-time fans is that rural warmth that permeates each of the tracks, almost as if one could close one's eyes and envision those countryside paths that Kevin walks which inspire his music.

The music on Norfolk Landscapes is not, by literal definition, what some would call relaxation music, because the melody always takes centerstage and the mood is frequently but subtly dramatic. In this way, the songs reflect the beauty of nature itself, which can sometimes be subdued but can also induce awe and wonder. Now, Kevin's music is never bombastic, but tracks such as the opening "Felbrigg Lake," and "Holbrigg Reverie" do create and more…well, engaging mood. On the other hand, "The Mill" is a slice of contemplative heaven, with solo flute, guitar, piano, and textural keyboards weaving a lovely soft melody. "Big Sky" hints at one his earlier albums, Aerial Vistas, as well subtly suggesting his more recent spacemusic ventures.

One of the joys of being a "long-in-the-tooth" reviewer is the distinct pleasure of seeing some artists enjoy long and highly acclaimed careers after being there at their start. Kevin Kendle is one such artist and I am thrilled that he continues to take his listeners on musical voyages, whether they be out our back doors or to the edges of the Milky Way.

All music composed, performed, and recorded by Kevin Kendle (except see below)
Produced and mixed by Kevin Kendle at Eventide Studios, Hertfordshire, UK
Mastered by Kevin Kendle at Eventide MediaCraft, Hertfordhsire, UK
Guitar solos on "The Mill," "Holbrigg Reverie," "Sand Patterns," "Saltmarsh Creek," performed and recorded by Ian Cameron Smith in Sydney Australia.
Produced and edited by Kevin Kendle

Album art and liner notes by Kevin Kendle