Review of the Album “Sky Before A Storm” by Gareth

October 30, 2015 by Admin

imageGareth (Laffely) is an exceptionally talented 17 year old award winning Native American Flute player, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and record producer from Gallatin, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. He is a four-time Indian Summer Music Award nominee, and a two-time Native American Music Awards (NAMMY) nominee. In 2014 he received the NAMMY Rising Star Award, only the third such award ever given in the 15 year history of the NAMMYS.

April Stillwell, of Gallatin News, writes “Music was in his bones from the moment he could walk.” At age four, Gareth learned to play the drums, and at age five, he began composing on the piano. At eleven, he composed his first song, “Shiloh,” which was later recorded by the Nashville Suzuki Players and received national radio play in the U.S. At age twelve, he became one of the youngest members of BMI, the largest music rights organization in the U.S. At seventeen, he remains the youngest member of The Recording Academy’s Nashville Chapter.

Rick Moore of Music News Nashville has said of Gareth, “He’s a rare talent, and he’s still just a kid. Compared to a lot that’s going on in Nashville these days, he puts the ‘music’ in Music City.”

Gareth’s deep interest in his Native American heritage (he is Mi’kmaq and Cree) intersected with his musical talent when, at thirteen, he began teaching himself to play the Native American Flute. Without any formal training, he found the freedom to experiment with the instrument in a way that would provide him with his signature sound – a mix of traditional Native American Flute sounds and more “modern” instrumental sounds and rhythms which, according to Chicago music critic, William Kelly Milionis, “combines the spiritual and healing influences of the Native American Flute with the edge of Ian Anderson.”

In July 2013, Gareth released his debut album, “The Journey,” with the help of Grammy nominated songwriter and Dove Award producer, Robert White Johnson (Celine Dion, the Beach Boys, Lynyrd Skynyrd) and an outstanding team of Nashville studio artists, including Dave Cleveland (Guitar), Mike Noble (Guitar), Jason Webb (Piano), Jeff Roach (Piano), Craig Nelson (Bass), Scott Williamson (Drums), Steve Brewster (Drums), Thornton Cline (cello), Susan Oliver – who also happens to be Gareth’s mother (Background Vocals), and GRAMMY Award winner Gary Dales (engineer). The album was very successful.

In her review, April Stillwater wrote, “Distinguished and polished, Gareth illustrates a deep soul in his music. Incorporating an ancient instrument (Native American Flute), with a mix of pop and light rock, Gareth’s style is one that has yet to be done.”

imageRecently, Gareth wrote and recorded the song “This Time” to be used as the anthem for the “anti-bullying” campaign that he brings to K-12 schools. He combines the message of the song with a challenge for students to get involved with causes that help make their communities a better place. Native American WWKB/ESPN radio host, John Kane commented that, “The challenges of our youth are particularly troubling and having them addressed by young artists like Gareth is exactly what Native people need.” Gareth fully supports his own call for community involvement by volunteering his time and musical talents at a local hospice facility.

In fact, his mother, Susan Oliver, relates a story that best exemplifies the heart and spirit behind all of Gareth’s music and the profound effect it can have on others.

“A 17-year-old prodigy with a Native American Flute walks into a hospital room, not knowing what he will find. There a hospice patient lies unresponsive; the sheets are pulled up around his face, framing the bandage that marks his brain cancer. The teen begins to play, quietly and soulfully. When the song ends, the patient opens his eyes and with great difficulty whispers one word: “More.” A nurse who has entered the room unseen breaks into tears as she watches the patient’s birdlike hands emerge from the beneath the sheets, struggling to clap. “He has never responded to anyone before,” she tells the teen later, in the hall.”

For his most recent album, “Sky Before A Storm,” Gareth again works with a strong supporting cast, including Robert White Johnson, as well as GRAMMY Award-winning engineer, Gary Dales, and GRAMMY Award-winning, three-time Latin GRAMMY Award-winning, and TEC Award-winning mastering engineer Adam Ayan (Vince Gill, Juan Luis Guerra, Paul McCartney, Katy Perry, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, the Rolling Stones, Kelly Clarkson, Keith Urban). The album also features a special guest performance by GRAMMY Award-winning Pianist/Composer Laura Sullivan.

In general, “Sky Before A Storm” offers creative, distinctive, innovative, emotional, complex, and compelling Native American Flute centered music, with balanced, sophisticated, and well-crafted accompaniment. The tracks also vary substantially in tempo, style, and so this would certainly be an album that should hold your interest.

The first track, “Regen’s Song,” was composed to pay tribute to Regen Morris, a 12-year-old who lost his battle with brain cancer on Christmas morning in 2013. After learning that the family had used Gareth’s song “Move On” as a background for a memorial they put together using Regen’s pictures, Gareth felt compelled to write a song for Regen – to pay tribute to his memory. “I wanted to give Regen a song of his own,” explains Gareth. “…a song that would deeply touch people and convey hope and eternal peace. I was immediately struck with the melody, as if it was meant to be.”

“Regen’s Song” is a slow, somber, reflective, and mournful piece, yet at times also a song of love, faith, and optimism, with powerful and emotional Native American Flute, a steady and captivating rhythm, light electronics, and masterful accompaniment by Laura Sullivan on piano. A video made to accompany the song can be viewed here.

imageOne of our favorite tracks is “Steal The Moon.” It is slightly more upbeat than the first track, with soulful and sophisticated Native American Flute and a strong orchestral background. It is also one of the more melodic tracks on the album.

In contrast, “Miles Together,” is a bit more down tempo at the outset, with a powerful piano opening, acoustic guitar accompaniment, and an emotional, soulful, and melancholy melody. It is also one of our favorites.

On two of the tracks, Gareth reconnects with his Mi’kmaq/Cree heritage and the powerful beauty of Native American Legends. “Spirit Horse” and “Flight of the Thunderbird” are both much more up tempo and fast moving, with significant contributions by acoustic and electric guitar, powerful percussion, synthesizer, and a noticeable rock music influence. On “Flight of The Thunderbird” in particular, soaring Native American Flute, occasional ambient thunderstorm sounds, the rock infused guitar accompaniment, and the well conceived and steady percussive elements fit together seamlessly, and sound “just right.”

“The Journey,” which honors Native Americans who lost their lives on The Trail of Tears after the Indian Removal Act of 1830, begins with a brief narrative by Garath explaining the motivation for the song. It is much more down tempo than many of the tracks on the album, with emotional, melancholy, and melodic Native American flute as the primary voice, and acoustic guitar as the primary accompaniment.

“Flutitude” is very very up-tempo, energetic, and fun, with an unabashedly different style than the rest of the album — slashing trills on the flute — occasional organ accents — and pulsating rock influenced percussion. While listening to this track, we were very much reminded of the Native American Flute led and rock infused vibe of the group Ingenuity on their album “Fight For Survival.” “Flutitude” wonderfully demonstrates not only Gareth’s predilection for blending his flute playing with modern musical elements, but also that Gareth is only beginning to demonstrate the extent of his musical agility and creativity.

Perhaps the most outstanding track on the album is the title track. It pays tribute to Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” in which Poe laments “…neither the angels in heaven above nor the demons down under the sea can ever dissever my soul from the soul of the beautiful Annabel Lee…” Thus, the song is about lost love, longing, and fate – the notion that our loved ones can never be parted from us so long as they are in our hearts…as long as we can still feel them like a “Sky Before a Storm.” The track is very down tempo, with a contemplative piano opening and strong accompaniment, and Gareth not only playing a haunting Celtic flute as the lead voice, but also contributing emotionally powerful and profound vocals.

In summary, “Sky Before A Storm” is an outstanding album from a musician who has barely scratched the surface of his immense talent. It puts the Native American Flute at the “heart” of music about love, life, pain, change, and tradition, as only someone with Gareth’s spirit, dedication, sensitivity, genuineness – and exceptional musical gift – could achieve. We highly recommend it.

Review of the Album “Next” by Jeff Oster

July 24, 2015 by Admin

imageJeff Oster, who was born in 1957, in Danville, Illinois, began playing trumpet at the age of eight. He eventually graduated from Coral Gables High School Florida in 1975, where he played in “the best marching and concert band in all of Florida.,” as he puts it. “We marched 200, and our concert band had over 100—and we were good!….We went to Europe—all 200 of us, marched in the Orange Bowl half time shows, and in general, learned about deep friendships and excellence of working together in music. It inspired me and still does….” His first paying gig was playing “Taps” at a veteran’s funeral—for which he was paid $10.

He lists as his major musical influences artists such as Bill Chase, Herb Alpert, Miles Davis, Chris Botti, Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Will Ackerman, Yes, U2, and more recently Kendrick Lamar.

In 1979, Jeff moved to L.A. to pursue a career full time in music. During the ensuing years, He honed his musical skills during live performances in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and Atlantic City, and while working the LA club scene. Now, as one of the few trumpet/flugelhorn artists working in the contemporary instrumental music genre, he draws from a rich background of classically trained and jazz influenced musical study.

In 2004, Jeff began working with producer Will Ackerman, Grammy winning guitarist and founder of Windham Hill Records. Oster and Ackerman collaborated on, and Ackerman produced, Oster’s four-track EP, “At Last.” The title track from that album, performed by Oster, Ackerman, Philip Aaberg and Happy Rhodes, also won the Best New Age Song award at the 5th Independent Music Awards.

This was followed by the CD “Released” in 2005. “Released” won the 2005 Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Instrumental Album awards at the NAR Lifestyle Music Awards. Listeners of the national radio program “Echoes” also voted “Released” as its 6th-place winner for The 2005 Listeners Poll, and the “Echoes” staff chose it as one of the 25 Essential Echoes CDs for 2007, at #18.

In 2007, Will Ackerman produced “True,” which again features music composed by Oster and Ackerman, as well as by Ugandan vocalist Samite, Jan Pulsford and Patrick Gorman. In December 2007, one of the songs from “True,” the composition “Saturn Calling”, written and arranged by Oster, won the Best New Age Song award at the 2008 Independent Music Awards. Listeners of the national radio program “Echoes” voted “True” as its 10th-place winner for The 2007 Listeners Poll, and the “Echoes” staff chose it as one of the 25 Essential Echoes CDs for 2007. “True” also won the 2007 NAR Lifestyle Music Awards for Album Of The Year and Best Contemporary Instrumental Album in March 2008. In 2009, “Echoes” listeners voted “True” No. 88 of the 200 CDs for 20 Years of “Echoes” poll.

On April 23, 2008, NASA and JPL added a profile of Jeff Oster and his song “Saturn Calling” to the NASA and Cassini-Huygens websites. “Saturn Calling” includes a sound excerpt from the Cassini spacecraft’s recording of the auroras of Saturn.

In 2011, Jeff Released “Surrender,” co-produced by Bryan Carrigan and Oster, and featuring a guest performance by vocalist Diane Arkenstone. Later that year, “Echoes” chose “Surrender” as its September CD of the Month. Around the same time, “Surrender” reached #1 on the Zone Music Reporter New Age/Ambient radio charts. Then, in December of 2011, “Surrender” was chosen by the staff at “Echoes” as one of the Top 25 Essential CDs of 2011, ranking it at #12. The listeners of “Echoes” also voted “Surrender” as its 7th most popular CD on the Best of Echoes 2011 Listeners Poll.

In February 2012, “Surrender” was nominated by broadcasters worldwide for Album of the Year and Best Chill/Groove Album for the 2011 ZMR Awards at ZoneMusicReporter.com. On March 8, 2012, “Surrender” was also nominated for Best New Age Album, and “Beautiful Silence,” a track from “Surrender” was nominated for Best New Age Song at the 11th Annual Independent Music Awards. And on March 11, 2012, Surrender won the ZMR Music Award for Album of the Year and Best Chill/Groove Album for the 2011 ZMR Awards,at ZoneMusicReporter.com.

In addition to recording his own very successful albums, Jeff has played flugelhorn or trumpet as a supporting musician on albums by Karen Marie Garrett, Rory Sullivan, Kathy Moxham, Matt Millecchia, Kori Linae Carothers, Lawrence Blatt, Will Ackerman, Fiona Joy, Rocky Fretz, Stanton Lanier, Frank Smith, Garneau, Ann Sweeten, Dana Cunningham, Tim Gaetano, Bob Belden, Shambhu Vineberg, Heidi Breyer, Ann Licater, River Donaghey, Jamie Bonk, Robert Linton, Ronnda Cadle, Laura Sullivan, Carl Weingarten, Jennifer DeFrayne, Louis Colaiannia and Masako. One of those albums — “Love’s River” by Laura Sullivan — won a Grammy Award for Best New Age Album of 2013.image

Jeff’s most recent album, “Next,” is an exceptional, sophisticated, pleasant, and powerful collection of varied instrumental tapestries woven together with elements of jazz, funk, chill, and New Age – but with one common thread – Jeff’s exquisite horn (trumpet and/or flugelhorn) as the foremost voice. Recorded at Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, the album was co-produced with Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton, and engineered and mixed by Eaton. For “Next,” Jeff also enlisted the services of the legendary duo of Chuck Rainey on bass and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums, who together had previously provided the groove inducing rhythm section on many of the recordings of Steely Dan.

The album also includes guest performances by Tony Levin and Michael Manring on bass, Ricky Kej on bass, synthesizer, and keyboards, Tom Eaton on guitar, bass, Fender Rhodes, and other keyboards, Britt Thomas Brady on guitar, Fender Rhodes, synthesizers and keyboards, Catherine Marie Charlton and Philip Aaberg on piano, singers Melissa Kaplan and Noah Wilding, and Nile Rodgers, Shambhu Vineberg, Will Ackerman, Carl Weingarten, Scott Tarulli, Todd Boston and Taylor Barefoot on guitar, Vanil Veigas on sarangi, and Jeff Taboloff on saxophone.

For Jeff, this album is about rebirth and change, and tells the story of what’s next for him, both as a musician and in his life. As he states, “”Next” is about claiming who I am, and who I’ve always wanted to be. It’s why I live. It takes strength and power to step out into the unknown. Not everyone opens the door and takes the risk to try something new, something you’ve dreamed of for years. And with uncertainty comes the joy of freedom. This album represents my moment to truly make a statement…to claim my place as a musician with something important to share.”

The album begins with the title track, which artfully integrates contributions from various instrumental voices – horn, bass, percussion, synth, electric guitar, and even slide guitar – into an carefully crafted, airy, celestial, up-tempo, slinky, funky, rich, and occasionally bouncy trumpet driven groove, with obvious jazz influences. In fact, one of the standout qualities of this album in general is the masterful and ingenious ways in which a variety of musical elements are interwoven together seamlessly.

imageThe second track, “Night Train To Sofia,” features Eastern-European styled ethereal and emotional vocals from Melissa Kaplan, and presents a slower, more steady rhythm, only subtly suggestive of a slow moving train, and with more mysterious, smoky, and decidedly sultry qualities.

Along similar lines, “Ibiza Sunrise” has slow, mystical, sultry, and seductive qualities, but with heavier percussion. And again, female “siren-like” voices provide a focal point, with a cleverly mixed backdrop of percussion, synthesizers, guitar, and Jeff’s flugelhorn.

“Gardens at Varanasi”, which features one of the most compelling lead melodies on the album, begins as a substantially downtempo, airy, celestial, and mysterious exploration, with Veigas’ sarangi playing adding distinctly Asian qualities. By the ending, however, the tempo builds a bit into a somewhat more jazzy, mellow beat.

“Half A Cookie,” which is probably the most ambient and chill style track on the album, also includes a notable ethnic music flavor — what is most certainly Native American inspired percussion — at its foundation. Otherwise, it it a slow, churning, study in acoustic minimalism.

“The Mystery of B” features a slightly up-tempo bass guitar and percussion driven rhythm, but with slow, sultry horn that plays off that rhythm like the proverbial tortoise chasing the hare. Periodically rising to a climax, this track, along with “Heroes,” provide a bit more drama than any of the other tracks.

Two other tracks, “On Mother’s Day,” and “And We Dance” feature Jeff’s horn, accompanied only by light and emotive acoustic guitar. In the former case, it is the masterful guitarist Shambhu, accompanying on a track which he co-wrote with Oster as an emotional tribute to mothers everywhere. In the latter case, the tender, gentle, and exquisite acoustic guitar stylings of Will Ackerman provide the warm, introspective counterpoint to Jeff’s blissful flugelhorn. This song, co-written by Jeff and Will, is one of the stronger tracks on the album and one of our personal favorites.

Jeff’s cover of the Bonnie Raitt song “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” is a country slow dance inspired, sultry, soulful and piano enhanced lament. Philip Aeberg’s piano even occasionally adds a bit of country music inspired color around the edges.

In contrast, “Turn left at San Pancho” and “Avenue D” are more up-tempo, exquisitely layered, carefree, melodic, and unabashedly smooth jazz influenced tracks. The former features strong percussion, compelling bass, and light but sparkling electric piano as Jeff’s accompaniment, while the latter, probably the most up-tempo and joyful track on the album, sizzles with a percolating rhythm, weeping electric guitar, dazzling keyboard licks, and a superb trumpet and flugelhorn driven melody. Carefully placed environmental sound effects also enhance the playful nature of the song, making “Avenue D” our most favorite track on the album.

“Heroes,” with a major contribution from Jeff Taboloff’s soaring tenor saxophone, is probably the most complex, layered, and dynamic track on the album, and again one of our personal favorites. The opening, with an interweaving of Charlton’s piano and Tabaloff’s mellow saxaphone, provides one of the most interesting passages on the entire album. Eventually, though, it gives way to an up-tempo blending of piano, synthesizers, horns, guitar, and a more pronounced bass-heavy beat that really sizzles with more drama and a distinctly classic New Age jazz feel.

Overall, “Next” is a delightful album with outstanding musicianship and is certainly Jeff Oster’s best overall album thus far. Recently, Will Ackerman observed, “Jeff Oster has always amazed me. Anyone who sounds like no one else amazes me, but a guy who grows so stunningly as a composer and player in the space of a few years inspires nothing but awe. “Next” is a step in musical evolution from where we last heard from Jeff… rather like the apes harnessing fire and inventing French cuisine. It’s a joy as his friend and co-producer to watch someone you love and respect grow into an artist of true importance and significance in a world of background noise. Listen to this. It matters.”

We agree and so we very highly recommend this album.

Review of the Album “Ascension” by Tony Vines

April 26, 2015 by Admin

imageAt the age of 13, Tony Vines discovered a love for playing drums. He went on to drum for several bands, but later established a very successful career as a luthier (someone who makes and/or repairs stringed instruments). In fact, his hand made acoustic guitars are rated by experts as some of the best made guitars in the world. Over the years, many well known musicians and others, e.g., Johnny Cash, Henry Smith (recording engineer and producer), Tom Bass (the acoustic player for country artist Clay Walker), and Tad Laven (who plays acoustic guitar for Art Garfunkel), have chosen to play guitars made by Tony. Recently, however, guitar building has taken a backseat to Tony writing and singing intensely personal and heartfelt songs of peace, playing for churches, youth groups, Celebrate Recovery groups, hospital patients, and coffee houses.

His latest album, “Ascension” presents a collection of largely instrumental compositions featuring Tony’s hand made acoustic guitar as the lead voice, and with just the right amount of limited instrumental accompaniment (strings, piano, bass), and occasional light (non-word) vocals by Tony. There is also one solo guitar track (Forgiveness) and one simply outstanding track featuring Tony’s amazing and powerful voice and lyrics (Dance). The album also features the “fretless bass” stylings of accomplished musician Michael Manring on three songs: “Book of Tears,” “Ascension” and “Moonlite.”

image “Ascension” is a an extremely impressive album. Tony is clearly a master of the acoustic guitar and the sound he produces is mellow, rich, and exquisite. The music is deceptively complex and sophisticated, with an undeniable classic “New Age” guitar feel (think Will Ackerman and Jeff Pearce). But the music is also especially relaxing, diverting, slow, emotive, and peaceful, with a unique style that captures the listener and pulls them in. The songs also clearly reflect the fact that for Tony, the music is deeply personal and expressive of his life experiences and his faith. The slow, emotional style is particularly pronounced on “Book of Tears,” “Dreams,” “Reflections,” and “Forgiveness.” In contrast, two other tracks have a more positive, optimistic, and uplifting feel (Sunflower and Cafe). In summary, “Ascension” is an exceptional album and we definitely recommend adding it to your collection.

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