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Leaning Toward Home by Holland Phillips
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 9/11/2018
Another step up the ladder of musical respect
Ask and I will give you an honest answer, yes I am a big fan of Holland Phillips, why? Well in my view he has consistently created quality album after quality album, his musicianship is superb and the feeling one gets from listening to a Holland Phillips album is one packed full of memories and good feelings of those times had, but the energy is always within the music, to help you move on as well.
Holland has done it again and manifested something so memorable and emotive with the release of his latest album Leaning Toward Home, so let’s take a journey now with the artist; we start with the piano lead offering Prelude to a Dance, the gentle string sections and piano create a wistful memory of a piece, one can imagine sitting on a hill, looking out on a nature filled vista, whilst pondering a thought so deep and all changing.
The more moody Before the Epilogue is up next, this manifests for us that continually moving thought of making a change, a musical statement of saying I am not finished yet. The gentle flute here is beautiful and the delicacy of the overall nature of the track is matched perfectly by the backdrop of empowering keyboards which give strength to the overall narrative of the piece.
One of my favourites is Roadside Brew, there was something almost progressive rock about this offering, the guitar at the start is stunning and memory packed; the mix of the organ into this well of genius added a whole new level. Phillips has done it again, he usually has at least one track on the album that makes the hairs on my arms stand to attention, the changing of the chords bring a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye and Roadside Brew is that very offering.
After the emotion falls away into the valley of calm, we are greeted with another sublime arrangement entitled Time Travels. I adored the beautiful flow here, the keyboards of the master musician seem to almost create wave after wave of movement within this clever composition, there is a real hint of original classical music here too, mixed brilliantly with that ever so lush ethic of the contemporary instrumental genre.
We now near the half way marker of the album and come across a piece called A Sip of Potion, this one caught my eye as soon as the album landed on my desktop. The build and progression of the composition is utterly amazing and literally carries the listener along with it with ease. This is another of those Phillip’s master pieces like Roadside Brew, that draw you in with its almost cinematic narrative, one that paints such a wonderful musical picture for us along the way and is of course another favourite of mine.
We now begin to descend into the latter half of the release and as we do so we come across a track called Moving Forward. The piano here is unceasing; its constantly moving onward mantra is glorious and when joined by the keyboards, manifests defiance, a purposeful energy of keeping on moving in that forward direction. The arrangement and its balance are delightful to listen to, and one can truly feel an essence of determination within this offering.
That all important moment is now upon us, it is that very moment when the artist unmasks the title track as we arrive in the musical dimension of Leaning Toward Home. The treat is that we are gifted to another moment of Holland Phillips magic as the artist brings us a really expressive and moving title header, and yet another moment of artistic brilliance to sample. The flute brings a mournful repose to the piece, while the keyboards almost re-create a light 1990’s melodic rock feel.
On Full Circle, the quietness of the start is like arriving at a safe harbour on some distant coastline, Phillip’s ability to perform with such artistic descriptive power is incredible, the composition of the piece, has both a sense of security and warmth about its narrative, as at some stage we all come full circle, and perhaps this arrangement is for us to listen to while we meander upon the lessons we need to learn from the voyage taken.
On Surprising Turns we are gifted an almost sun kissed offering, with an unusual moment of Holland giving us some spoken word audio, this narrative manifests something quite addictive and changes the whole perception of the track. Surprising Turns is one of those compositions you’re going to want to listen to over and again, to gain a full feeling of the arrangement in its entirety.
As we arrive at the doorway of the penultimate track off the album, we can reflect back on what has been an incredible journey of musical bliss, this next offering highlights that statement entirely, it’s called Along the Way. The smoothness of this piece is utterly charming and has that wonderful energy of remembrance and melody mixed sublimely together. This is the albums feel good piece and by the time you have arrived at its conclusion you will undoubtedly feel like I do, refreshed and re-energized and with a smile upon your face.
The very last gift from Holland Phillips to take with us as we wander home is called Bedtime Stories. This is Phillips at his soothing best, creating a composition that will ease the mind and soul and allow the restorative powers of sleep to drift over us, in what is simply the perfect way to end this quite amazing album.
Leaning Toward Home as an album is yet another step up the ladder of musical respect and prowess for the artist, in my opinion this is Phillips best collective work so far. Leaning Toward Home will leave you the listener with a beautiful and satisfied feeling of contentment at its conclusion, its pristine production and absolutely inspiring performances make this an album to really watch out for, and of course completely recommended.
Rating: Excellent
Voyager by Lisa Swerdlow
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 8/28/2018
Go on a Voyage with Lisa
Lisa Swerdlow is back after the chart topping success of Equus Rising, and this new musical child is born with such a sublime sense of melody and charm, it was take you by the hand and lead you to a musical wonderland of solo piano like never before, it is called Voyager.
The opening is probably the most melodic start you could ever wish for and the title track Voyager takes us a journey through time and space with such sublime precision and delicacy, it is a delight to simply be a part of this moment of musical bliss, this is utterly the best start to an album your ever likely to hear.
Swerdlow follows that up with an equally brilliant offering entitled Edge of Tranquillity. I heard this being played yesterday by my partner Chrissie and was stunned at its beautiful presence and flow. Swerdlow has a classy ability to change power and intensity seemingly at will, and is without doubt one of the most listenable pianists around today.
Mindful Moments is next, and as you would expect from the title we have a short time here to ponder the pathways of life’s rich tapestry. This can be done with ease on this most passionate and reflective opus, but one can also enjoy the moments of unbound emotion here too, these emotive energies are so powerful I personally found them awe-inspiring.
One of my favourite times of year now is autumn, it didn’t use to be, how could it be, when living in the dredges of an English grey season, but here in the Mediterranean it is a delight beyond that of gold. Here the artist performs an empowering arrangement that seems to usher out a tiring summer and then embraces the change of the new season. Autumn Speaks to Me is indeed a powerful yet moving offering, which will paint a delightful musical narrative of transformation.
There was a warm and certain smoothness on the piece Sundays in Paris, one that gives you that feeling musically, of waking to a new day and gazing at the sunny Sunday filtered autumn light streaming in through the cracks in the curtains. This track has a slight intensity within it, but one that feels as if it comes from a much loved memory. I can see that during the weeks and months ahead I will be playing this one multiple times.
We now begin the gentle voyage into the latter half of the album and come across an arrangement that is both softly played with a deliberate mindfulness and entitled Gone Too Soon. This is one of these tracks that whilst listening to it, we will each have a story of why we feel the way we do while listening to the offering. This for me is deeply moving and emotional and very imploring, one could easily get lost within the mood filled structure of this expressive composition.
As we move deeper into the labyrinths of this release we also find ourselves in the deep mid-winter and in fact at the Winter Solstice. This would be one of my favourite pieces from the release, not that I have seen any snow for many years, but through the tone and minor notes I could imagine with ease sitting by a window in December, watching the white flakes drift down from the sky and be aware of the memories of this time of year that float with a certain reflective sadness across my mind.
Into the Center is an interesting track; it starts with a little sense of mystery and then very slowly develops into a beautiful reality of ambience, one that you would be more than happy to just roam in musically for ages. There were certain changes in her performance here that I adored, a quietness partnered with a hint of intensity, but all the while, built around a wonderful reality of musical confidence. Without doubt this has to be the most technically brilliant piece off the release.
The penultimate offering off the release is called I Saw You Dancing with the Stars, apart from being one of the most attractive and artistic titles on the album, this also has to be one of the most fluent pieces, this composition has such an abundance of flow and movement within it. There is also a splendid energy of dance within the construction of her performance and arrangement here that truly makes this a really happy and all-embracing composition, one that you simply just don’t want to leave.
Sadly we must part our ways with the artist now, but before we go, we can take a trip with her to California and go on a Yuba River Journey. The impressive techniques employed by Swerdlow on this offering take us on an amazing musical narrative, and one can literally flow with the river all the way. I also believe that this region was also part of the great gold rush era of the 1850’s and one can feel all that and much more within this too; it is the longest composition off the album at just short of seven minutes long as well.
Voyager is the second release by Lisa Swerdlow on the Heart Dance Record label, but in my opinion, easily her best so far. The artist has let her duel talents of performance skill and imagination completely loose here, and it shows with one of the finest solo piano albums this year. This is a powerful release, one that really stands up and demands to be listened too. It’s a release packed wall to wall with some of the most meaningful and colourful tracks around, all bound together by the one thing that Lisa Swerdlow has in obvious abundance, passion.
Rating: Excellent
Voyager by Lisa Swerdlow
- posted by Dyan Garris on 8/22/2018
Lisa Swerdlow - Voyager
“Voyager” is the 2018 album release by composer and New Age solo pianist, Lisa Swerdlow. It’s her 2nd release on the Heart Dance Records label. She is well placed there, as she says, “I hope my music serves as a vehicle for healing the heart.”
Hailing from a musical family, Lisa has a colorful musical history, including playing piano in a rock and roll band in San Francisco in the 1970s, as well as touring with an all-female salsa band. In 2017, she released her debut solo piano album, “Equus Rising.” It was nominated for “Best Solo Piano Album, 2017,” on One World Music Radio.
The album, “Voyager,” is inspired by a story she heard about the NASA twin spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2. These are, surprisingly, still sending imagery back to Earth 40 years later instead of their originally expected 15 years.
Perhaps like a voyage through space might be, or a journey through life, the album, “Voyager,” 12 tracks, is exciting, expressive, and expansive. Each composition on “Voyager” has definitive highs and lows, engaging tempo changes, and all are brimming with verve, vitality, and vivacity. These are like little travel vignettes that speak to directly to the soul.
The “voyage” begins with the title track, “Voyager,” which is pleasantly melodic, tightly composed and played. This is a great song, with its peaks and valleys; passionate crescendos expertly interwoven with quieter moments that give us pause for reflection upon life as a journey.
Following is “Edge of Tranquility.” This is flowing and fervent, starting off quite gently and then masterfully building in its intricacies. Here is where you start to get a really good sense not only of Lisa’s absolutely phenomenal keyboarding skills, but also of her sophisticated art of composition.
“Mindful Moments” is thoughtful and emotive. “Autumn Speaks to Me” is so expertly “transportive” we can almost literally feel ourselves as leaves being tumbled by the breeze.
A few of my personal favorites on “Voyager,” are “Sunday in Paris,” which is deeply beautiful and romantic, and “Gone Too Soon,” which as the title may imply, is soulful, wistful, and nostalgic. “Winter Solstice,” track 7, is deep and luxurious, with a catchy, memorable melody, and is played in both upper and lower registers quite adroitly. Track 8, “Into the Center,” is wide, expansive, and supremely expressive. Lush and abundant, with a dreamy feel, it’s definitely not boring on any level, and showcases her impressive piano playing skills.
Most prodigious is the effervescent, “I Saw You Dancing with the Stars.” This is twinkling and sparkling, overflowing with the rich, expressive emotion we enjoy all through “Voyager,” in every composition. Lisa employs the entire piano keyboard here in an exquisite dance and celebration of life itself. Truly exhilarating, this is solo piano the way a piano is meant to be played.
The album winds up with “Yuba River Journey,” which perfectly captures the crystal clear ambiance of this body of water, known for its pristine swimming holes surrounded by smooth granite rocks.
“Voyager” is a dazzling, ever-changing soundscape that leaves you in breathless amazement. It is a true virtuoso that can paint us such lush and eloquent landscapes with an instrument. So whether from space or from Earth, or some other planet, this album is a “must have” for true solo piano lovers everywhere.

Get “Voyager” at the artist’s official website: or wherever music is sold.

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