Reviews 02-08-2009

Music Reviews 



Endless Blue Sky

by Kevin Kern

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“Endless Blue Sky” is Kevin Kern’s first recording in more than three years and his ninth release to date. One of the most stylistically consistent artists out there, Kern continues his tradition of albums that overflow with warmth and optimism. In such globally troubled times, I find it amazing to hear music of such peace and calm and wonder if Kern is truly such an optimist or if he finds his own refuge in creating music of blissful contentment. (I’ll have to ask him in our upcoming interview!) In any event, sitting down with “Endless Blue Sky” is truly a spa for the mind and soul. In addition to Kern on piano and synthesizers, Dean Magraw appears on guitar, Jill Olson on violin, Rebecca Arons on cello, and Gordon Johnson on acoustic and electric bass. As always, the piano sound is stellar (Kevin Kern is a Steinway Artist) and the music creates a warm, enveloping atmosphere of tranquility. 

“Endless Blue Sky” begins with “Joy of the Journey,” a welcoming musical hug that sets the tone of the album. “Velvet Green” is a gorgeous trio for piano, violin, and cello. The simple melody evokes feelings of laying on one’s back in a beautiful meadow without a care in the world. The title track continues the mood, this time with guitar, piano, and synth strings in the background - undoubtedly a new Kern classic! My favorite track is “Sunset Prayer,” the only piece that hints of anything other than perfection. A piano solo, it conveys a side of Kern we don’t get to hear too often and that I wish we could. I’d love to hear a CD of Kern piano solos, but won’t hold my breath! “Scene In A Dream” is another potential Kern classic - a graceful flow with just a hint of bittersweet. “The Skipping Song” is pure carefree delight set to a catchy melody. My other favorite on this album is “The Glistening Pond.” It begins as a piano solo, adding guitar on the second verse, and then alternating between solo and duet. The sweet, simple melody speaks volumes and paints a tranquil picture. “Always Near” closes the set with an elegant and tender love song that sets the heartstrings fluttering - a gentle “farewell for now.” 

Kevin Kern is truly a master of melody and quiet emotional depth. You won’t find any surprises on “Endless Blue Sky,” but I would imagine that that’s good news for many of Kern’s worldwide fans. Sure to soothe and uplift! This CD will be released on 1/27/09 and will be available from many retail and online outlets.

Reviewed by Kathy Parson's Mainly Piano website reprinted with permission on Ambient Visions


The Healing Piano

by Debbie Fortnum

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“The Healing Piano” is the third installment in Debbie Fortnum’s instrumental trilogy, following “The Beautiful Piano” (2007) and “The Christmas Piano” (2006). Also known as a worship leader, singer, songwriter, and speaker, Fortnum is a multi-talented Canadian artist who brings a message of hope, love, and grace to whatever she does. This highly-produced collection of new arrangements of old hymns and original pieces is very new age in styling with atmospheric sounds and voices layered with the piano and other instruments. The collection also includes two of Fortnum’s original vocals featured as “bonus tracks.” It is interesting how Fortnum has taken some classic hymns, revamped them in a contemporary style, and retitled them (the original titles are in the liner notes for those who are having trouble with “Name That Tune”!). Unlike many hymn collections, this is not a sing-along album, but one to listen to, savor, and get lost in. The powerfully uplifting music will lighten anyone’s burden whether they are religious or not. 

The CD opens with “Forever Friend” (“Our Great Savior”) which blends ambient sound, piano, and wordless vocals to create a warm and inviting beginning. “Ocean Of Mercy” (“It Is Well With My Soul”) starts with the sound of water and becomes piano with background ambient sound - a lovely arrangement. “Journey Through the Pain” is a piece Fortnum composed when she was eleven and enduring her own journey. Dark and passionate, there is always a glimmer of hope - an amazing piece for someone so young. “Visions” is based on “Be Thou My Vision,” a hymn that dates back to the 8th century and that has become incredibly popular the past several years - another wonderful arrangement. I have reviewed a lot of instrumental hymns CDs, and I have always wondered why no one ever recorded “In the Garden,” one of my favorite hymns since childhood. Well, someone finally did, and it was worth the wait! Thanks, Debbie! “Midnight Bells” is the first song composed by Fortnum’s son, Noah, at age 9, and is another remarkable piece. The melody is simple, but very powerful with its dark drama and message of hope. “Amazing Grace” is probably the ultimate classic hymn, and this version begins with bagpipes and becomes a duet with the piano backed by angel voices. “Like An Eagle” is an original piece the was written as a vocal piece and first appeared on Fortnum’s 2006 “To Love and Be Loved” - gorgeous with or without words! The last instrumental track is “The Healing River,” based on “There is a Fountain.” The sound of flowing water makes this beauty even more soothing. I also really like both vocal tracks - Fortnum’s voice is lovely and full of honest emotion that really communicates. 

“The Healing Piano” is a real treat for the ears and the heart. It is widely available from both internet and retail outlets. Recommended!

Reviewed by Kathy Parson's Mainly Piano website reprinted with permission on Ambient Visions


The Crossing

by Shirley Cason

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“The Crossing” is a collection of eleven of Shirley Cason’s most-requested pieces from four of her previous albums. I have always liked Shirley’s music a lot, and this compilation has taken her strongest pieces from the past nine years and exhibits the variety of colors in her music. Much of Cason’s music was borne of personal crises and the loss of loved ones, so there is definitely a melancholy cast to many of these pieces, but they are never bleak or without hope. Cason’s music is instrumental with classical and pop influences, and most of it is lightly orchestrated on keyboards. Cason has placed the music on this CD in chronological order with three tracks each from “Forever In Bloom” (1999), “A Summer Dream” ( 2002), and “Winter Mornings” (2003), and two from her most-recent release, “From My Heart” (2008). If you are new to Shirley Cason’s music, this is a great place to start! If you have her previous recordings, it’s still really nice to have a “best of” collection with favorites all on one disc. 

“The Crossing” begins with “Journey,” the opening track from “Forever In Bloom,” and a piece full of wistful longing. “Seabreeze” has an easy tropical rhythm and a graceful, carefree sway. I absolutely love “Last Walk” from “A Summer Dream.” On the dark, mysterious side, the emotional impact of this piece is incredible. I found myself coming back to it over and over. The rhythms and melody are simple, but they certainly communicate! “I Love You, I Do” is a heartbreaking goodbye to a terminally ill sister, and then “Summer Dream” tells of being with loved ones again in dreams, that in dreams we never die. There is a real warmth and sense of peace that is truly hopeful and healing. “Beauty Of the Earth” from “Winter Mornings” is a gorgeous guitar piece with light orchestration that shimmers with beauty and glows with a deep sense of contentment. “Winter Skies” is more ambient, and sparkles with the chill of winter light dancing on snow - so peaceful! “Icicle Melt” is also very ambient, suggesting the sound of vast open stillness and the percussive sound of ice melting - wonderfully haunting! “Inner Peace With Love” from “From My Heart” warms things back up again with a tender love song that is graceful and soothing. “Peace, For Moments in Life” is a heartfelt guitar piece that brings this collection to a charming, thoughtful close. 

If you enjoy peaceful synth and keyboard music that comes from the heart, “The Crossing” is a great choice! It is available from and Recommended!

Reviewed by Kathy Parson's Mainly Piano website reprinted with permission on Ambient Visions


Rain Bather

by Tobin Mueller

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“Rain Bather” is a fascinating new album from Tobin Mueller, an artist who defies categorization. Under the a broad umbrella of jazz, Tobin’s original music ranges from big band to funk to acid to sensuous ballads. Eight of the thirteen pieces had their origins in Mueller’s Broadway show, “Creature,” which is based on the Frankenstein story. In this new incarnation, the music has taken on a life of its own (so to speak!). The CD features Mueller on B3 organ, electric piano, and synth. His nephew, Chris Mueller, the pianist for the 1990’s run of “Creature,” did much of the arranging and appears on acoustic piano. The musicians on the CD are given plenty of room to solo and improvise, bringing their unique voices to the music. Years in the making, some of the tracks were passed around the internet with players adding their parts; other tracks were recorded in studios. It is not readily apparent which tracks were done in which way - kind of amazing if you think about it! Although downloading music has become part of contemporary life, the packaging of “Rain Bather” makes a strong case for physical CDs. The cover artwork by Alan Perry is a wonderful invitation with its colors, fusion of shapes and forms, and mix of repose and energy. The CD itself is designed to look like a 45 RPM “single,” with vinyl and “grooves” - a wonderful idea fully realized! 

“Rain Bather” opens with “I Wanna Fly,” a high-energy big band-style piece with saxes, brass, organ, piano, and percussion. No, kids, you’re not going to be able to doze off to this one! “Cliff’s Edge” has the same instrumentation, but is more of a funky groove - I like this one a lot! “Must Go Back” steps up the tempo and let’s ‘er rip on organ, piano, bass, and percussion. “Windowshade” is another favorite with Tobin performing most of the instruments in layers - upbeat and funky with a playful sense of fun. “Secret of Life” slows it down to a cool jazz mode with a little acid thrown in for good measure - also a favorite. “Waltzing Night Into Day” is a slow, graceful dance that provides a quiet and reflective interlude. “River Runs Through Me” is another lovely tune on the mellow side and has especially nice solos on piano and sax. “Last Song On Vaudeville” is a big band meets progressive jazz fusion. As the piece nears its final moments, Bill Barner’s clarinet trails off to the sound of a 78 phonograph record scratching its way to the end, underscoring the CD design. 

“Rain Bather” is yet another demonstration of Tobin Mueller’s multi-faceted artistry. For a vibrant musical experience overflowing with life and attitude, check it out! “Rain Bather” is currently available from CD Baby and, and will be widely available in February 2009.

Reviewed by Kathy Parson's Mainly Piano website reprinted with permission on Ambient Visions



by Dan Pound

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Dan Pound continues to churn out albums at a significant rate. The latest of these is Drift which is a welcome foray by the artist into more spacey realms than previously, but the mixture of “natural” instruments such as didgeridoo and singing bowls combined with synths and his chanty vocals is familiar.

Over the album there's an oppressive quality too many of the tracks. Not in a bad way though, it's kind of like seeing the world through a glass darkly or peering beyond the surface to unseen forces. This is true even of the title track “Drift” with its sonorous tones delicately undulating in the same way that the surface of a calm sea is pleasing yet hides mysterious depths. Discreet bell tinkles and restrained throaty chants add further interest to this marvellous opening piece.

What I found most rewarding is Dan's deft construction of sonic elements regardless of how heavy or light the atmosphere is. And when he does resort to rhythms, as on “Canyon Corridor”, they're not obtrusive. One of my favourites is “Liquid Cavern” where various hued and pitched washes resonate and reverb to subconsciously immerse our imagination in a cavernous underwater space.

The most beautiful piece is the longest and closing track “Adrift” which includes a guitar sequence inspired and recorded by Steve Roach. Warm, ever so gently fluttering jewelled drones rise onto the soundscape like a sonic sunrise. This pattern is repeated by various drones rising and falling in slow motion as if they're waves made sluggish by massive gravity. Later in the guitar glides angelically in aching, almost heartrending, tones reminiscent of Jeff Pearce or Pete Kelly.

Drift shows that Dan is able to weave his magic in ambient and spacey mode as well as his trademark rhythmic shamanistic offerings. Yet again he's released another unique work, one that any ambient music listener is highly recommended to get hold of.

Reviewed by Dene Bebbington reprinted from on Ambient Visions

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