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Encantado by Jim Stubblefield
- posted by Gena on 11/23/2015

Jim Stubblefield is known as one of the finest Latin-style acoustic guitarists around, especially when he is touring with or recording with the band Incendio, which he co-founded. But besides his eight albums with that group, he also has six excellent solo recordings, the newest being Encantado, named after the legendary Amazonian boto encantado pink dolphins (they are real, but the myths surrounding them are incredible). When Stubblefield does a solo project, it gives him a chance to stretch out even further than the high-flying Incendio do. This new album is a perfect example because, even though there is Latin-style nylon-string guitar throughout, Stubblefield also plays some acoustic steel-string and, even more impressive, soars on electric in a few places.

In addition to his stellar guitar-playing and melodic song-writing, Stubblefield is an excellent arranger and producer, and is smart enough to surround himself with top-flight musicians. These include violist Novi Novog (who has hundreds of amazing credits, but will always be known for turning The Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water” hit into solid gold), bassist Randy Tico (one of the best Latin-style bassists in music, just ask Strunz & Farah), and percussionist/drummer Ramon Yslas (a much in demand session mainstay in world, jazz and pop music). On a couple of pieces the singer Moksha Sommer (from the group HuDost) adds some tasteful wordless vocalizations.

Since fans have swarmed to Stubblefield because of Latin-stylizations over the years, he gives listeners plenty of that (“Puesta del Sol” is right in the pocket). But he also pushes out that envelope to include hints and flavors of Arabic (“Beyond the Horizon”), Celtic (“Highland Dreams”), Middle Eastern (“Odyssey of Fire”), progressive-rock (the nine-minute “Phrygian Suite, Op. 1”), and neo-classical (“Terra e Sole”).

Perhaps this recording signals the dawn of a new era of Latin-style guitar where it co-mingles with a variety of other instruments and styles, but always retaining its warmth, passion and wonderful rhythmic-melodic yin-yang bonding. And Jim Stubblefield proves here he is just the musician to make this happen as he spreads quality entertainment each step of the way.
Rating: Excellent
Mystical Morning by Uwe Gronau
- posted by Gena on 11/23/2015

Uwe Gronau (pronounced ooo-vuh grow-now) is a master of many musical styles with numerous eclectic recordings (primarily as an instrumentalist). His musical enthusiasm and boundless creativity cannot be contained. Primarily a keyboardist, he plays solo piano on some tunes, on others synthesizer or organ, and often he mixes together several keyboards, at times with guitars, bass, percussion, drums or other sounds. His music ranges from new age to progressive-rock, from avant-garde to extremely melodic music with pop sensibilities. He only performs and records original music.

This German keyboardist explores all that and more on his Mystical Morning album which he says is “positive, celebratory music that is like sunshine pouring onto a new day.” He specially has a ball playing his Hammond B-3 organ, most noteworthy on his tribute to Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (“Letter to Emerson”), a fast-paced piece bubbling with energy. That organ shows up several other places including the most prog-rock tune, “Over the Bridge,” which has a full-bodied arrangement featuring lots of varied sounds including synth, acoustic guitar and horns. These pieces are balanced with some softer piano-dominated numbers including two versions of the piano and acoustic-guitar “Shy” (one with drums and one without). In fact about half of the 15 tunes are rocking (with drums or forceful percussion) and the other half are fairly soft which keeps it interesting. Gronau has always been known for making music that keeps the listener guessing and fascinated as to where he will head next. He somehow captures the spirit of the great rock albums of the Seventies and Eighties, but with modern sound exploration that is fresh and invigorating. This recording is absolutely worth checking out and taking a chance on.
Rating: Excellent
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:
Rating: Very Good
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