Friday, March 22, 2024

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

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