Review of the Album “IV” by Saxon Moon

April 21, 2015 by Admin

imageSaxon Moon is a group of instrumental musicians from Houston, Texas, with influences ranging from Scandinavian folklore to hints of Celtic, Gypsy, Nordic, and even New Age music. The group is comprised of Dave Elles (Laud, Bouzouki, Acoustic Guitar, and Percussion), Paul Adam (Bass, Fretless and Acoustic Guitar), and Louis Finkel (Rhythm Guitar and Percussion). On their website, they say that their sole focus is to transport their audience “back to the old world, to re-create images of Saxon ancestry…” As a result, they are regular headline performers (in traditional costumes, of course) at Renaissance Festivals around Texas and other parts of the US, including the Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade, Texas, the Texas Renaissance Festival in Mission, Texas, the Scarborough Renaissance Festival (Scarborough Faire) in Waxahachie, Texas, and the Kentucky Highland Renaissance Festival in Eminence, Kentucky.

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“IV” is the third album released by Saxon Moon in the past year and a half, and perhaps their best to date. The music on “IV” is acoustic guitar and percussion driven, with occasional light (synthetic) vocal accompaniment, and for the most part, “up-tempo,” with toe-tapping rhythms, complex and fairly sophisticated instrument layering (e.g., “Freya’s Greeting”), innovative melodies (e.g., “Sleipnir”), and attention grabbing and stylish guitar riffs, especially on “Northmen” (our favorite), “The Shire,” and “Mabon Gambol.” Two of the songs are a bit more down-tempo, with more “mysterious” qualities and with decidedly “Middle Eastern” or “Gypsy” music influences (“The Journey Suffering” and “Song of The Dead”). Overall, “IV” is a truly energizing and purely “fun” album to listen to, and if you like rhythmic and fast moving Irish, Scottish, or folk music, we guarantee you will be tapping your foot to the rhythms and humming along with the music on “IV.” We highly recommend this album. You can learn more about Saxon Moon and their live performance schedule here. To listen to samples of the music from “IV” or to purchase the album, click on the album cover above or click here.

Our Favorite Recently Released Contemporary Solo Instrumental Music Albums

January 31, 2015 by Admin

Below we present a list (not in any particular order) of our favorite Contemporary Solo Instrumental Music (non-piano) albums released during the fourth quarter of 2014. We highly recommend each of these albums. To qualify for this list, an album had to be a new release (not a re-release) in either October, November, or December of 2014, feature solo instrumental music (or solo instrumental with light accompaniment) and be available for purchase on either iTunes, Amazon.com, or CDBaby.com. In selecting these seven albums from over a hundred possibilities, we applied the same rigorous standards that we use in choosing music for play on GAIA Prime Radio. So if you enjoy the music we play on our station, we are confident that you will enjoy the music on these albums as well. Click on the album title or CD cover image and you will be taken to iTunes where you can listen to samples of music from that album and/or purchase it.

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Firelight – Terra Guitarra
Terra Guitarra, as their name implies, focuses on two things — guitar explorations and planet earth. The music encompasses their love of nature, travel, fiestas, the outdoors, journeys of personal growth, and spiritual reflection. “Usually the melodies first come to me when I am outside experiencing nature,” says Bruce Hecksel. “We travel constantly and we find each place has its own musical feeling. Our music celebrates the landscape and the people there. The melodies are reflective of the earth’s energy and vibrations.”

“Firelight” begins with the sunrise and ends with the sunset. In the space between them lies a sparkling instrumental journey of Spanish guitar and world music textures to ignite the moment with passion. The natural, energetic, all-instrumental sound artfully blends the strong rhythmic steel string guitar of Julie Patchouli and Bruce’s nylon-string Latin-styled acoustic guitar, with elements of jazz, new age, folk, classical and world-fusion. Augmented by drums, ethnic percussion, bass and Native American flute, the result is music that is warm, passionate, fluid and melodic.

Fans can also purchase recordings by Bruce Hecksel and Julie Patchouli’s alter-ego group, the eclectic acoustic singer-songwriter duo called Patchouli which has more than a dozen albums available.

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Sanctuary III: Beyond The Dream – Sherry Finzer
Award winning flutist Sherry Finzer is one of those rare musicians whose approach to their art is so inspiringly beautiful that you just can’t wait for new musical works to hit your senses. In the words of others:

“If the sound of peace seems to escape, then you put on Sherry Finzer’s album and find just what you are looking for. It is music that produces a feeling of quietude that lets you dream, grow, think or heal with the press of the PLAY button.” – RJ Lannan – Zone Music Reporter

“I can’t go a day at work without listening to Sherry’s music. It has such a subtle, peaceful sound that I find it creates calm in my mind & body, which is always helpful during a hectic work day.” – Lenora Whitmire – New Leaf Distribution

With the clear exception of Terry Oldfield, no traditional flute player can create music that so stimulates both the heart and the mind with such subtlety and “Grace.”. With Sanctuary III: Beyond the Dream, Sherry expertly blends the ambient sounds of her flute, sounds of nature, and ethereal electronic textures to create timeless, soul-soothing music for the even the most discerning listener.

Sherry was born in Syracuse, NY and moved to Rochester with her parents when she was 13 years old. She attended Charles H. Roth High School, where she participated in numerous All-County and Area All-State Music Festivals. Classically, Sherry performed with the Brockport Symphony Orchestra from 1986-1988, and with the Greece Symphony Orchestra from 2003-2004. While in Rochester Sherry studied under Glennda Dove-Pellito, flute professor at SUNY Geneseo. Sherry now lives in Arizona where she has a private flute studio in the Ahwatukee area of Phoenix.

The album features a mixture of songs composed and performed by Sherry, and a few well-known tunes such has “Hallelujah”, “Amazing Grace”, and “Wayfaring Stranger”. Sherry arranged and recorded “Frost Runes”, written by composer Tom Febonio, who also wrote “White Sky in November” which Sherry recorded with Darin Mahoney on their duo album Transformation (winner Best Album of 2013 – One World Music). She also arranged and recorded “Grace” written by internationally known Australian pianist Fiona Joy. Guitar tracks on “Amazing Grace” were recorded by Darin Mahoney.

Original compositions on ” Sanctuary III” include “Another Time and Place”, “The Way”, “Beyond the Dream”, and “Song for Rex”, which was written for Sherry’s first grandchild, born in December of 2014.

Like Terry Oldfield, Sherry Finzer is a woman who exudes sincerity within every note of every song she ever performs. She is clearly a woman who knows her musical heart, and has produced an album here that can best be described as an outstanding work of art.

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Tapping At The Edge Of Paradise – Jerry Rockwell

Jerry Rockwell is a world class mountain dulcimer custom builder, player, teacher, and advocate who lives and works in the Appalachian foothills of southeast Ohio. He also regularly teaches mountain dulcimer at workshops across the country, and has authored several books, numerous articles, and instructional videos teaching and promoting the mountain dulcimer. In July of 2007, he performed, taught, and lectured at a folk festival in Siglufjord, Iceland.

Jerry specializes in the gentle, soothing, and hypnotic sounds of Celtic airs, waltzes, and folk tunes, and is committed to helping his students explore the dulcimer in the deepest and fullest way possible. And when we we first heard the music of “Tapping at the Edge of Paradise,” there was no question about it being music we wanted to play on GAIA Primr Radio.

And it is indeed impressive to find such a talented musician who not only composes and performs such exceptional music, but does so on instruments of his own construction. In Jerry’s own words:

“I did many annual 17-day runs at the Ohio State Fair in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, showing my dulcimers and selling my cassette albums. I would actually be building some dulcimers right behind my table…” The important connection that they had to make was “This guy actually builds his own dulcimers and makes albums with those same instruments! I think when that connection is made, I have gained a customer, or a fan, or a listener.”

Tapping at the Edge of Paradise features innovative, sophisticated, well-crafted, well-produced, and highly memorable instrumentals on both acoustic and electric (acoustic with electric pickup) mountain dulcimers, with occasional spot of electronic accompaniment. However, the synths are used with such care and precision, so as not to overpower the gentle sound of the dulcimer, that they are hardly noticeable. The first song, called Surfing at the Savoy Arcade, and one our particular favorites, has an upbeat, modern, and catchy melody and a decidedly “chill” ambiance. It readily demonstrates what a versatile and beautiful instrument a mountain dulcimer can be when in the hands of a talented musician. Highly recommended.

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Acoustic Light – Dan and Sandy Adler

Dan and Sandy Adler have been performing together since they were married in 1984. After the outstanding response they received to their first instrumental project featuring Native American flute and guitar, “Wind of the Spirit” – which features the flute as the solo instrument on almost every song, they decided to do a project with the focus switched to acoustic guitar as the main instrument and then decorate around it with lush and lovely vocals and soaring Native American flutes instead.

The result is “Acoustic Light” – an ethereal, moderately ambient, sophisticated, and sometimes breathtaking blend of deeply spiritual music with Jazz, New Age and Native American stylings, intertwined with lyrical messages of hope and peace. All guitars were performed by Dan who also engineered and produced the project and played all the instruments except the congas, which are played by Angel Diaz, and all the flutes, played by Sandy. Dan and Sandy perform all of the vocals as well. If, like us, you are true fans of high quality contemporary instrumental music, this album should be a no-brainer addition to your collection.

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Pirate’s Bay – Luna Blanca and Richard Hecks and his Nouveau Flamenco Band

Luna Blanca, the project of German guitarist Richard Hecks and his Nouveau Flamenco Band, is known throughout Europe for producing energetic melodies using a variety of different instruments. Their previous release, “El Dorado,” was the recipient of the Best World Album award by Zone Music Reporter for the year 2012. Helmed by classical guitarist Richard Hecks and co-written with pianist/organist Helmut Graebe, Luna Blanca has become one of the most popular World Music bands on the planet.

Their new album “Pirate’s Bay,” continues the band’s penchant for combining music and mystical storytelling. In fact, while listening to the music of “Pirate’s Bay,” one cannot help but visualize Captain Jack Sparrow and the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” especially with song titles such as “Fighting Jack” and “Black Pearl.” In addition to Hecks and Graebe, Luna Blanca includes Bino Dola on rhythm and lead guitar and Clemens Paskert on bass, percussion and keyboards. Guest artists on Pirate’s Bay include Uwe Gronau on organ on two tracks, Davina Carolin on piano on two tracks, and Gundy the singing mermaid on the only track that includes vocals. A few pieces include nature and other sounds to further illustrate the story.

Pirate’s Bay features carefully crafted melodies that most definitely have the ability to reach listeners of all ages through its energy and attention to detail. The music, put simply, overflows with joy, adventure, and a strong sense of fun.

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Midnight Rhumba – Johannes Linstead

From being named “Guitarist of the Year” in the prestigious Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards (2007), to four top-ten Billboard charting albums, Johannes Linstead (who also records under the name Sevaji) has become recognized internationally as one of the greatest guitarists and composers in the Instrumental and World Music genres. The Canadian based musician was also named “World Artist of the Year” in the T.O.M.A Awards (The Ontario Music Awards), and was the recipient of “Best World Album” and “Best Instrumental Album – Acoustic” in the Zone Music Reporter (ZMR) Awards. Further accolades two NAR Lifestyle Music Awards, a nomination for a Juno Award, and in 2010 Johannes signed an “Influential Artist” endorsement agreement with Yamaha Corporation of America, the largest musical instrument manufacturer in the world.

Midnight Rhumba is an exotic escape to the energizing sounds and sensual rhythms of Flamenco style acoustic guitar music. the gorgeous melodies and fiery rhythms, accompanied by a top band of international players on Gypsy violin, Afro-Cuban percussion, and joyful accordion, give the music a truly world-fusion sound.

This is warm and fiesta-flavored music. Listening to it is the next best thing to taking a trip to any of the Latin countries of the world – Spain (“Siempre – Now and Forever” and “El Lobo”), Italy (“L’Italiana”), France (“Balzac’s Brew”), South America (“Radio Argentina” and “Midnight Rhumba”) and The Caribbean (“Calypso Island” and “Bewitched”). The melodies are catchy and fun to listen to. Highly recommended.

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Wildflowers – Painted Raven

Painted Raven is a contemporary Native American and World Music trio led by Annette Abbondanza of Orlando FL, in collaboration with Marsha Harris of North Carolina, and Holly Harris of New Smyrna Beach, FL.

Wildflowers” is this trio’s first album release together, and Annette’s 5th album released as Painted Raven. All three of the artists come from different backgrounds and different musical styles, each bringing something a little different to add to the eclectic mix.

As colorful and attention getting as a breathtaking meadow of vibrant wildflowers, so is the music of “Wildflowers.” Featuring the Native American flute as the lead instrument artfully combined with Spanish and Western acoustic guitar, mountain dulcimer, keyboards, Native American and World drums and percussion, and other modern and ancient instruments, the music is vibrant, upbeat, cheerful, and lively. Unlike many other albums we have reviewed featuring the Native American flute, the music of “Wildflowers” is melodic and catchy, with a distinct complexity, sophistication, and variety that makes it not only easy listening, but leaves the listener definitely wanting to hear more of the from Painted Raven in the future.

Coming Soon: Our favorite recently released “Contemporary Instrumental: Piano” and “Contemporary Instrumental: Multi-Instrumental” albums.

Our Favorite Recently Released Contemporary Solo Instrumental Music Albums

October 23, 2014 by Admin

Below we present a list (not in any particular order) of our favorite Contemporary Solo Instrumental Music (non-piano) albums released during the third quarter of 2014. We highly recommend each of these albums. To qualify for this list, an album had to be a new release (not a re-release) in either July, August, or September of 2014, feature solo instrumental music (or solo instrumental with light accompaniment) and be available for purchase on either iTunes, Amazon.com, or CDBaby.com. In selecting these six albums from over a hundred possibilities, we applied the same rigorous standards that we use in choosing music for play on GAIA Prime Radio. So if you enjoy the music we play on our station, we are confident that you will enjoy the music on these albums as well. Click on the album title or CD cover image and you will be taken to iTunes where you can listen to samples of music from that album and/or purchase it.

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Sweet Awakenings – Terry Oldfield
It is indeed rare to find a musician who clearly composes and plays music from his heart. But Terry Oldfield, world acclaimed composer and flautist, is just such an artist. When listening to Terry’s music, one genuinely feels that they are in touch with the essence of his being–a kind, gentle, and peaceful soul with much love to share and with ill-will toward no one. With over 3 million record sales to date, that Terry has had such an effect on many, many people around the world is undeniable. That is precisely why we chose Terry as one of the five core contemporary instrumental musicians featured on GAIA Prime Radio.

With Sweet Awakenings, Terry gets back to his “roots,” so to speak. While many of his recent albums have been largely multi-instrumental and/or even vocal, this album features Terry’s world class flute front and center. With occasional soft piano and guitar in the background, the result is music that is innovative, sophisticated, complex, positive, emotional, sincere, tranquil, and memorable—truly exceptional music performed by a truly exceptional musician. In the artists own words…

“This album began for me with falling in love, again, with my silver flute – the same one that I began with all those years ago on the beautiful Island of Hydra in Greece. I felt like a big part of those ancient rocks; it was a magical time for me. The memories of learning to play this wonderful instrument in the pine forests above one of the most beautiful harbours in the world will forever be deeply engraved in my heart.

I remember the time when I played my silver flute standing on the Orator’s stone at the ancient theatre of Epidavros – I was just improvising in the moment and expressing what was passing through. Afterwards, a French tourist came up to me and asked me if I was playing Debussy. I laughed and told her I was just playing. Since then I have always created music like that – just playing what is passing through.

These pieces represent those precious moments when everything falls away and we find ourselves melting into the source of everything which is pure love. This is my offering to you in this timeless moment. May it bring you peace.”

The music on Sweet Awakenings will awaken you to a field of healing, relaxation, and inner peace-a realization that the shape of your journey is and ever shall be exactly as it should be. This album is in every way an outstanding work of art. Very highly recommended.

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Mystify – Armik

Armik was born in Iran of Armenian descent. When he was just seven years old, he pawned his watch for a classical guitar, which he hid and practiced in his basement. At 12, he was a professional recording artist. After launching his solo career in 1994, Armik has been recognized by Billboard Magazine as one of the Top Ten New Age Artists in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Armik discovered the beauty and passion of Flamenco guitar music while visiting Spain during the 1970s, when he saw the legendary Paco de Lucia perform. Driven by a fire for the tradition that has defined his musical life ever since, the young musician immediately switched from Jazz guitar for an in-depth journey to the heart of Spanish music. In 1981 Armik moved to Los Angeles to pursue this new direction, playing with other artists live and in the studio.

On Mystify, which is his 29th album, and arguably his best to date, his musical poetry soars with beauty, integrity, ingenuity, energy, passion, versatility, and character. On at least a few of the tracks, one is reminded of the music of Mehdi–another Iranian born superstar of the contemporary instrumental music genre.

And it is a rare–but certainly not unwelcome experience–to find an album where it is truly difficult to decide which track is the best. That is definitely the case with Mystify. All of the songs are truly outstanding. It is the kind of impressive recording that you’ll be glad you listened to from start to finish.

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The Power of Creation – Behzad Aghabeigi

Another outstanding album from Behzad Aghabeigi, an Iranian born Nuevo Flamenco guitarist who began playing guitar at the age of thirteen. After moving to London in 1990, Behzad completed his studies in Advanced Information Technology, while also composing and performing his own music. After graduation, he decided to devote all of his time to his music. Performances with groups around the world such as Fantasia or Futuro Flamenco gave him the opportunity to showcase his immeasurable talent abroad.

The Power of Creation, his fourth album, features a captivating collection of beautiful, sophisticated, and energetic Flamenco guitar works arranged with full band accompaniment. The music is inspired, innovative, and well produced. The lead instrument played by Behzad is a Flamenco style guitar hand made by Hamid Karimi, a master guitar maker. The entire album is dedicated to “the greatest spiritual teacher of mankind — Mr. Billy Eduard Albert Meier who has brought the highest knowledge and wisdom for mankind in order to bring peace and love on earth.”

Outstanding music that will lift your spirits and enrich your day. We highly recommend this album.

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Tales From The Wine Dark Sea – Tom Caufield

‘Tales from the Wine Dark Sea’ is Tom Caufield’s fourth collection of contemplative, rural acoustic guitar style pieces, and his first on steel string guitar. Expressing both the everyday and the transcendent, this relaxing yet engaging collection is his best yet. He masterfully blends ambient soundscapes and Irish and Turkish traditional ballads into a cohesive themed and truly outstanding and engaging largely solo guitar album. Unlike many solo guitar (and sometimes piano) albums, where the listener can easily lose interest after a few tracks, this album overcomes that hurdle with unique styling, strong composition, and distinctive melodies. While a few tracks feature light background accompaniment from other instruments, Tom artfully uses layered guitar tracks on several of the songs to add depth, complexity, and style.

The title of this album is based on the several references to a “wine dark sea” in Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, the meaning of which Classical scholars have been debating about for years. It seems to suggest that at least in some areas, the sea in question–the Aegean–appeared to Greek and Turkish sailors as dark red to black in color, perhaps the result of volcanic dust in the atmosphere, weather conditions, or even the time of day. The real meaning remains unclear. In any event, for sailors of this time, any sea was a foreboding place fraught with danger and mystery. In “Tales from the Wine Dark Sea,” Tom Caufield does an exceptional job of setting for the listener a similar acoustic landscape.

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Experiences – Ryan Michael Richards

A very strong first full-length recording by guitarist Ryan Michael Richards. This album was produced by the legendary Will Ackerman (founder of Windham Hill Records and a world-class guitarist himself) at his Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont. The music on Experiences is innovative, diverse, sophisticated, sincere, lively, optimistic, and joyful, and of course, well-produced.

Michael Diamond notes that “Ryan exhibits, not only a well developed and diverse playing style, but he has a fine sense of composition and arrangement that includes knowing when “not” to play, leaving space for the song to breathe. The range of emotions his music evokes is also quite exceptional…”

To quote Ackerman, “Ryan Michael Richards is a guitarist whose heart is in every note. He seems incapable of anything that isn’t true to him. This brilliant artistic honesty is the hallmark of what he has created in ‘Experiences’.”

The artistry of this album is exceptional and we recommend it highly.

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Ayahuasca Dreams – Ciro Hurtado

Ayahuasca Dreams is the latest exceptional work from Peruvian Latin acoustic guitarist Ciro Hurtado. On this recording he also shows that he is an outstanding composer, artistic arranger, and proficient producer. Backed up by acoustic drums, wood flutes, piano, organ, violins, and santoor, Ciro’s Latin nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, and occasional steel-stringed acoustic guitar and electric guitar, create memorable and intriguing melodies. Most of the tracks are purely instrumental, but on a few the magnificent voice of Cindy Harding, Ciro’s wife, takes center stage.

Overall the album has a gentle Latin sound, mostly mid-tempo and acoustic.

Inspiration for the music on this album comes from various sources. In the author’s own words:

“I grew up in the Peruvian rainforest, in my mother’s home town, Moyobamba. There was only one doctor in the whole town and therefore most people relied on natural medicines to cure their ailments. For more serious problems there were the curanderos or shamans. If you suffered from mal de ojo, melancholia, or were just going through a bad period in your life, you would turn to the magic of Ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca is a part of the mystery of the Peruvian rainforest, indigenous to its landscapes, traditions, stories and its peoples. It is a hallucinogenic vine that has been used for thousands of years within the indigenous communities of the South American rainforests in rituals and as a powerful medicine. It presents you with visions and possibilities. More recently it has been used to treat addiction, anxiety and depression. I participated in an Ayahuasca ceremony almost 30 years ago and I credit it in part to helping open up a creative path, transcendent in my development as a musician.”

One of the songs, “Silencio,” is offered as a tribute to all the families who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center attack on 9/11. “Too Young too Soon” and “Physician Poet” are a tribute to the prominent Public Health physician Antoinette Yancey, who lost her life to cancer at an early age. Toni, as she was known to her friends, wrote poetry in her spare time and Ciro’s guitar often accompanied her stanzas. Toni was an advocate for exercise, as a way to stimulate the mind as well as the body.

With Ayahuasca Dreams, Ciro creates a musical journey that can make life less burdensome and more relaxing, as we wash away sorrow and pain, with soothing tunes and comforting lyrics. This music will simply make you feel good.

Coming Soon: Our favorite recently released “Contemporary Instrumental: Piano” and “Contemporary Instrumental: Multi-Instrumental” albums.

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