Reviews 10-07-2007

Music Reviews 



The Open Door

by Michael Straugh

Visit Michael's  website

“The Open Door” is Michael Straugh’s third release of original piano solos, and I’m happy to say that this album was recorded on a Petrof grand piano rather than an electronic instrument. What a difference! Without the too-bright metallic sound of the earlier instruments, it is much easier to hear the music as Straugh intended - much warmer and more expressive. It is interesting to note that in addition to composing and playing all of the music, Straugh created the cover art and wrote the poem in the liner notes that explains the album title. Combining classical and contemporary elements with his own personal vision, Straugh is carving out his own niche within the new age music movement with music that is both strong and soothing.

“The Open Door” begins with “Hand in Hand,” a love song full of contentment and hope. Gentle and lyrical, there is a sense of strength and of moving forward. “Halo” is innocent and light. “Cascades II” is quietly majestic - graceful yet commanding. “Winelight” is slightly more upbeat, but is very easy-going, relaxed, and quite beautiful. The melody for “Back Where You Belong” is strong enough to support lyrics, and seems to be giving advice and telling a story as well as warmly welcoming someone back. “Coming Home” is my favorite track. A sense of urgency and anticipation propels the piece forward and seems to say “I can’t wait to get there.” Lovely! The title track is a bit more abstract, as is the poem that accompanies it. The poem is full of paradox and contradiction, and the piece is somewhat darker and more improvised than the other ten tracks, searching and looking for answers. I like this one a lot, too. “Faerie” is a six-movement, twelve minute fairy tale set to music. The titled movements are “Prelude: The Dance of the Faerie,” “The Forbidden Kiss,” “The Court War and the Potion,” and “The Dance of the Faerie;” there is also a “Prologue” and an “Epilogue.” Full of color and drama, this is quite an interesting suite.

“The Open Door” is by far Michael Straugh’s best CD to date. It is available from For more information about Michael Straugh and his music, visit his site at


Reviewed by Kathy Parsons reprinted from Mainly Piano on Ambient Visions



Anno Domini

by Deborah Martin &
J. Arif Verner

Visit Deborah's  website
Visit J. Arif Verner's website


Two artists of renown on the Spotted Peccary label have come together to create Anno Domini - an ambient work with religious overtones and gothic undertones. It's an atmospheric work with a capital A. Rather than being devotional along the lines of, say, Paul Avgerinos's albums this explores from a spiritual angle the light and dark inherent in all of us.

Most haunting of all on the album is the opening track “Kyrie”. This is a modern version of the Christian prayer put to music – incidentally, Ian Boddy's track “Aurora” on the album of the same name is based on a 16th century Kyrie. Washes and windy sounds waft around male and female ethereal vocals that move gracefully across the soundfield. The aural effect is one of cavernous space, as though the voices are setback in a large church with echoey acoustics. Then the voices come to the foreground, and along with the music become more resonant and intense.

The music treads a line veering between light and dark. Imagine the gloomy ambience of a dimly lit church or cathedral where one's reactive mood depends on beliefs and inner life. The first four tracks feel monastic with lots of washes, subtle drones, and graceful effects like gentling tinkling glissandoes and bell tones. For the last few tracks it's as though we emerge from the inside of a building into the semi-light aspect of cloisters. In “Dona Nobis Pacem” there's even rhythm and percussion played in a manner that evokes impressions of the mediaeval world. It builds to a climax with crashing cymbals, horn like melodic fanfares, and a male voice singing difficult to discern vocals.

Kudos to Martin and Verner for Anno Domini. Without knowing the provenance of this work it'd be easy to conclude that it's the work of one person, such is the way their contributions fit together seamlessly. This is a satisfying work from an artistic and sonic perspective, even if enjoyment isn't the right word to describe one's appreciation.

Reviewed by Dene Bebbington reprinted from on Ambient Visions



Kindred Spirits

by Create

Visit Create's website


Create is the musician Steve Humphries. His fourth album Kindred Spirits comprises two live tracks (recorded in 2005) and one recorded in the studio which was originally intended as intro music for one of the live performances. He uses hardware and software synths to create music often rooted in the Berlin School genre while not being just a Tangerine Dream soundalike.

The longest track (by far) is the slow burner “Kindred Spirits” which begins the album. Layers of drones -- some deep, some metallic and shiny -- swirl around each other while periodically Jarre-esque spacey ripples shoot past. Soon a plodding electronic rhythm like a slowed down sequence line starts the move into Berlin School territory. Tangerine Dream-esque space flute effects also come in now and again adding to the otherworldly atmosphere. All this then morphs into a faintly melodic sequencing passage before fading into an extended denouement.

A change of style occurs in the next piece “Biospherical Remixed Energy”. A modern feel underlies this piece as spooky synth lines and vocal effects briefly alternate before a simplistic rhythm starts up. The rhythmic aspects then mutate to become more insistent and are accompanied by melodic elements - some subtle, others harshly flashing across the foreground. At first I wasn't keen on this piece but somehow it's grown on me, especially the second half which is kind of hypnotic.

Last, but shortest if not least, is “Secret Place”. Swirling washes humming like a swarm of insects make a backdrop for an almost gothic style melody and periodic thrumming bleeps. This track celebrates the external peace but perhaps inner turmoil which makes a hideaway so valuable.

Typically I'm ambivalent about Berlin School music since it's not one of my favourite genres because it attracts of lot of artists who mainly tread old ground. Kindred Spirits hasn't done anything to change my perception, but as music in this genre goes it's quite good and has some worthy passages.

Reviewed by Dene Bebbington reprinted from on Ambient Visions