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.

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