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Moon and Shadows by Barbara Hills
- posted by Michael Diamond on 11/17/2015
Moon and Shadows by Barbara Hills
Before even hearing the music on the double album, “Moon and Shadows” by Barbara Hills, its hard not to be impressed by the stunning package it is presented in which includes 15 beautiful photos. Barbara deserves all the credit for this ambitious project on which she played synthesizers and a variety of software packages, acoustic/electric guitar, bass guitar, autoharp, melodica, mandolin, violin, psaltery, recorder, and a mixture of percussion instruments, as well as recording and incorporating lots of other natural and environmental sounds and the occasional vocal. Barbara considers her work to be “painting with sound,” which is only natural considering that she is a visual artist as well.

On the first disc entitled “Moon,” I particularly liked the tonal palate Barbara paints from on a track called “High Pines.” Rich string orchestration is adorned by bright tinkling notes that fall like rain on the treetops. Breathy tones, plucked harp strings, and nature sounds add to the enchantment. Swirling synthesizers and bubbling water create an aquatic ambience on the appropriately titled “Hidden Depths.” From this watery world, we travel to the expansive realms of deep space on “Galaxies,” with its spacious electronic atmosphere.

On the second disc entitled “Shadows,” the mood becomes mysterious as we explore the underworld on a track called “Caverns.” This is more of a soundscape than a melodic piece, and is especially suited for listening with headphones for all its trippy little sound effects. A very different ambiance is heard on “Kingdom of the Swan,” that evokes a more bucolic atmosphere that felt like a pleasant day in the English countryside. One of my favorite tracks was “Snowflakes,” with its sparkling bell tones and percolating sequencer creating a tone poem of a winter wonderland.

With two-dozen tracks, “Moon and Shadows” is certainly a generous offering that covers a lot of diverse musical terrain. And as with any album, especially a double album, there were some songs that appealed to me more than others, but that is to be expected. However, “Moon and Shadows” has something for everybody and illuminates a full spectrum of Barbara’s sound painting talents.


To read a full length feature article on this album, as well as others, please visit: www.michaeldiamondmusic.com
Rating: Very Good
You Are My Home by Michael Whalen
- posted by Michael Diamond on 11/10/2015
You Are My Home by Michael Whalen
To say that Michael Whalen has had, and continues to have, an illustrious career in the music industry would certainly qualify for understatement of the year status. His experiences and achievements are the stuff of dreams for many aspiring artists and composers. To mention them all would take a good deal of this feature article and leave little room to talk about his wonderful new album. But briefly, Michael is a two time Emmy® award-winner and a veteran of more than 750 television and film scores, thousands of commercials and numerous TV themes and corporate identity pieces. His most well known credits include music for "The Oprah Winfrey Show", "Inside Edition", themes & network IDs for HBO, PBS, CBS, Comcast, additional music for the feature film "What the Bleep Do We Know?," short films for Disney, and the theme for "Good Morning America".

While many are familiar with Michael Whalen for his lushly orchestrated soundtracks, on this release it is just 2 hands and 88 keys creating what he calls his “most personal collection of solo piano music to date.” The idea was to focus in on the piano without any other enhancements such as synthesizers, orchestration, etc. on all but one song. Keeping it simple was the modus operandi for the recording, with the spotlight being on Michael’s pure creative expression at the grand piano. In an interview, he shared: ““I wanted to make music that was JUST for me. I wasn’t thinking about what other people would say or even worrying about it being accepted or popular. I believe that the most personal music is the most universal. If that’s the case, this should be my most popular album - ever! (laughs).”

The 11 tracks on the album are diverse and include colors of jazz, blues, and neoclassical, all painted with the brush of melodic romanticism that has characterized much of Michael’s music. Opening with an upbeat track entitled “Ridge Running,” Michael’s extensive experience in working with soundtracks and film is evident, as this composition’s cinematic feel attests to. In this piece as well as others, there is a visual energy to the music that evokes imagery in the mind’s eye of the listener. A very different scene is created in the whimsically titled “Big Ears, Big Nose, Big Heart (a puppy ballad.)” With a name like that I was definitely intrigued to hear the music it described. In contrast to the more serious and adventurous nature of the first track, this one, built on a bluesy progression, is fun, playful, and even a bit cartoonish in a good, “Peanuts” kind of way.

The diversity of the album creates a wonderful sense of not knowing what is around the next corner musically from song to song. This is certainly true with the next piece, “Compared To A Summer’s Day,” a sensitive impressionistic ballad that evoked for me, some of the classic Windham Hill piano recordings. While this is primarily a solo piano album, one composition, “For the Blue Dream of Sky,” does feature accompaniment that adds another dimension and supports the piano so perfectly. It is a powerful and moving piece, which I am glad was included on the album to give the listener a taste of Michael’s masterful skills in orchestration and arranging.

A gentle and touching piece entitled “No Matter How Many Skies Have Fallen,” reflects a seeming dichotomy of being both wistful yet uplifting. On “Silver Shores,” rippling arpeggios create musical waves that sweep us into its currents as it flows through the high and low tides of its various movements. The album draws to a close with the title track, a composition revealing great sentiment and emotional radiance. I believe this piece expresses the essence of what Michael
alluded to when he referred to this as his most personal music ever. There is something ineffable communicated in this song that resonates on a deep level for those with ears to hear.

Being familiar with a sampling of Michael Whalen’s music projects over the years, I find it remarkable and inspiring that one person can be so adept in so many avenues of expression. From opulently orchestrated soaring soundtracks to the most intimate musical portraits and more, Michael brings the wealth of his vast experience in the music world as well as opening the door to share in his innermost feelings. Within its stylistic range, "You Are My Home" contains energy, sensitivity, humor, reflection, and most of all, heart. This is a stunning release from one of the most prolific and accomplished artists I have had the pleasure to listen to and write about.


To read a full-length feature article on this album, as well as others, please visit: www.michaeldiamondmusic.com
Rating: Excellent
Asia Beauty by Ron Korb
- posted by Michael Diamond on 11/10/2015
Asia Beauty by Ron Korb
As the old saying goes: “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” and I suppose that extends to CD’s as well. However, its hard not to be extremely impressed with the first impression flutist Ron Korb’s "Asia Beauty" CD makes with its stunning packaging and 36 page booklet with gorgeous full color photos and liner notes. Before even hearing the music, you are drawn into Ron’s world travels to exotic places and spaces. Fortunately, the music is equally impressive as well.

On “Asia Beauty,” Ron and his extensive collection of flutes from around the world are accompanied by a wide variety of Eastern and Western instruments, played by a fine cast of musicians who have performed or recorded with the likes of Sting, Suzanne Vega, Peter Gabriel, Loreena McKennit, and more. On “The Journey Begins,” Ron writes in the liner notes: “Many of the songs on this album derive their themes from an original story titled “Jade Dragon Flute and the House of The Five Beauties,” which I wrote in a hotel room in Shanghai.” The next 7 songs are like musical chapters in this unfolding story. I want to emphasize that whether it is in his writing or song, storytelling is a strong element in Ron’s creative expression. His music is visually and emotionally evocative, painting exotic soundscapes that draw the listener into their world.

I greatly enjoyed the pleasant pastoral sounds of “Country Life,” with its fusion of 3 different flutes, traditional Asian instruments, two guitars, piano, bass, and percussion. Also along these lines, although certainly not as pastoral is “The Sword of Heaven,” where the drums are much more out front, driving this jazz and rock-influenced fusion. And bringing the vibe down a few notches to put the album to bed is the final track, “Jasmine Lullaby,” which provides the perfect nightcap for this hour and fourteen-minute epic cross-cultural musical journey.

This unique musical blending of East and West is exquisitely composed, arranged, and performed. I highly recommend getting the album in CD form as the artwork, photos, and packaging add another dimension to this masterful multi-media presentation.

To read a full length feature article on this album, as well as others, please visit: www.michaeldiamondmusic.com
Rating: Excellent
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