by Mark Maxwell Abushady, New York City
Songstress Andrea Randa, in her liner notes, classifies her music as written in “Old Timey music styles.” While some of the offerings are indeed reminiscent of hits of the past, these styles are classics, and no explanation is necessary for what is a nice collection of tuneful songs. Moreover, they are “updated” with lyrics that are often thought provoking, and pertinent to current times. Randa is indeed “rewriting the myths that no longer work for us,” but more on that later.
Beginning with the rousing Hip Hip Hooray, (a song concerning the breakup of a constrictive relationship) Randa smoothly transitions between a rich, warm alto, then soars to the high notes, peppered with style appropriate falsetto and belt. Her vocal prowess is well illustrated on the rangy Old Timey Blues, which finds her nicely backed up by the tight harmonies of singers Terri Hall and Christine Kellar, and complimented by an excellent pedal steel (John Widgren). Stories examines family “legends” – stories that actually mask painful details of family, society, and our relationship to country – which instead substitute more “acceptable” narratives. Examination of a faltering relationship is the business of When Fear Gets Too Big, while He’s Gonna Leave Her shares the heart of a woman hoping her lover will leave his wife. That’s Just Not Me is, again, about a disconnecting relation, yet touches on one of Randa’s ongoing themes of freedoms and liberties (“Homeland is watching, your words and deeds they’re catching at expense of our liberty. Pills for sleeping and weeping so your mind will not be reaping the changes you seek secretly.”).
The offering ends with the rousing Union City Train, a joyous romp toward the “New Age,” the lyrics of which, perhaps, sum up Randa’s philosophy best: “Gossip and dishonor are the mainstream’s melody, though the tune keeps getting louder it’s not serving you or me. They’ve created separation through religions, hate and war, now’s the time to tell ‘em, “We’ll not take it anymore!” Backup musicians include Mark Newman (Guitar, Dobro, Mandolin), Shawn Murray (Drums), Mike Hall (Electric and Upright Bass), with Kirsten Maxwell, John Ambrosini, Abushady, Pete Colombo, and Neil Garvey supplying additional backup vocals. This wellproduced album is bright and melodic with a strong presence.
Pleasant voices, nicely blended, singing thoughtful, “conscious” lyrics is the hallmark of this excellent offering. The trio, He-Bird, She-Bird is Todd Evans (vocals, acoustic steel-string and nylon-string guitars), Terri Hall (vocals), and Christine Kellar – the songwriter of the three (also contributing vocals and acoustic guitar). The songs vary between a country/folk/soft rock sound, with some exciting harmonies (Splendid Thing, Spark), and supplemental instrumentals by Bill Ayasse (violin/ fiddle, mandolin), Bruce Barry (Acoustic upright bass), Dennis Corbett (Banjo), Henry Diaz, Jr. (Electric bass), Skip Krevens (Pedal steel guitar), Nick Lieto (Trumpet), John Lieto (Trombone), John Mangione (Tenor saxophone), Pat Schwarz (vocals), Gary Settoducato (Djembe, drums, congas, bongos, shakers, guiro, clave), Rob Shepard (organ). Gems include Little Muse o’ Mine, Once I Called You Mine, Call it Love, and She Got Married. A very enjoyable offering, and definitely recommended!
Recorded in the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Minnesota, Steven C presents a different kind of “New Age” piano album. Beautifully melodic and thoughtfully arranged, ethereal voices and strings set this offering apart. The space – the cathedral – is clearly a “player” in this recording. There is a presence and grandness to this music, yet at moments, intimacy reigns. Artist and composer Steven C performs on a 9-foot Bosendorfer piano, and his skills are laudable. He plays with sensitivity and a deeply emotive quality (the album is well named!). Steven C’s stated goal for these performances is “. . . to help listeners draw out emotions in a fulfilling and healing way.” The album is a standout, and if New Age Piano and a self-reflective mood call to you, this recording will not disappoint. Highly recommended. (tracks 1, 3, 4, 6, 10, 12)
THE WATERS OF GLACIER
Music for Glacier National Park
There’s something about the sound of an English Horn. Whatever that is, Jill Haley exploits it to great ends on The Waters of Glacier. Heading up a group of talented musicians, she is joined by Tom Eaton (Keyboards, electric guitar and bass), David Cullen (guitar), Dana Cullen (horn) and Michael Manring (bass) in various combinations on various tracks. The style of the album is vaguely reminiscent of the early Paul Winter Consort, sans the animal contributions, and is highly visually evocative. Having listened to other music in this genre, including National Park-inspired offerings by other composers, it can be said that this is a definite standout in its refinement and musicality. Clouds on Agpar Range, the opening selection, is mood altering, and perfectly sets the tone for subsequent tracks. It is followed by Rain On Huckleberry Mountain, which, like the opening number, is accentuated by the sound of Ms. Haley’s lovely handbells. Falling Gold – is this not the (musical interpretation of the) sound that falling aspen leaves make? In the liner notes Ms. Haley speaks of the steady rain and snow, which marked her residency there. Indeed, the album is “saturated” with the water element. An offering exceptional in its category.
Mark Maxwell Abushady is an actor, singer, designer and photographer based in New York City. www.markmaxwellabushady.zenfolio.com