An Open Sky
Ryan Judd – Rhythm Tree
An Open Sky is one of the most evocative “autumnal” albums of recent years, featuring Ryan Judd’s emotive fingerstyle acoustic guitar and Kristen Miller’s superb cello, blended into a wonderful “whole.” These semi-sparse tone poems are deeply pensive and strike the perfect balance between being both somber and beautiful. An Open Sky would serve as the perfect soundtrack to late fall drives through rural areas or a placid walk through the woods, surrounded by the splendor of nature’s explosion of colors. Gentle and slow-paced, the ten songs are sublime comfort for a troubled soul and the album is one of this year’s best, for sure.
Where the Heart Belongs – The Very Best of Curtis
Macdonald – Curtis Macdonald EverSound
Curtis Macdonald excels at crafting superb “ear candy” music in today’s instrumental music arena. Piano-based melodies enhanced with ridiculously fantastic applications of orchestrations, keyboard/synth textures and gently chilled rhythms are laced throughout with a deep sensation of romanticism and warmth. The seventeen tracks on the album will cheer the heart of all but the most hardcore cynic. Some songs have an uptempo feel and sound (“Promise” “Ocean Avenue”) while others are supremely laid back (“No Place Like Home” “Goodnight Moon”). No matter the tempo or mood, the result is always delicious and can be savored time and time again.
Sattva – Temple Trance
Deuter – New Earth Records
Just when I thought that New Age music pioneer Deuter had run out of new musical wrinkles, he releases Sattva – Temple Trance and shows me that he can still amaze and surprise me with his creativity and imagination. There are only two long tracks on the album, “Circles of Light” (37:53) and “Temple Trance” (25:10). While Deuter has explored ambient music before (his fantastic Earth Blue, for example), this fusion of electronic textures, rhythms, and melodic elements covers relatively new territory for him. This is true trance music and would be perfect for that practice or for meditation. The first track is more ambient while the second is more grounded in world beat influences.
Don Latarski – Hearth Dance Records
Guitarist Latarski was deeply affected by his travels from Oregon to Arizona in 2018, inspiring this sublime album. Essentially a solo guitar recording, River flows through an assortment of styles and tempos, merging a jazz undercurrent with subtle streams of minimalism, ambient, new age, and pop. The first nine tracks encompass the “River Suite” while the last three (“Tough by Nature,” Fall from Place,” and the 11+ minute “Bently”) also follow the same melodic pathway as their predecessors. The music is sometimes playful, sometimes reflective, but always extremely tuneful and masterfully played. It’s a terrific album for driving.
Paul Avgerinos – Round Sky Music
Paul Avgerinos goes solo on Mindfulness, an album that signals his return to a more classic spacemusic sound than some of his more recent recordings. Utilizing keyboards, programming, sound design, vocal choirs, and guitars, Avgerinos showcases his talent at crafting relaxing and spacious soundscapes, deeply meditative in nature and soothing to the ear. Almost the entire album is quiet so it should be (and deserves to be) listened to in an environment as devoid of noise and distraction as possible and through the best possible device (i.e. good speakers) to reap the most benefit from this amazing sonic paintings. Ideal for drifting away or as a precursor to sleep.
Stephanie Sante – Self-released
As someone who has followed Stephanie Sante’s music career “arc” over the last two decades, I have marveled at her chameleon-like ability to jump between genres, from her earlier spacemusic releases through her straight-up jazz guitar phase and then her “Nu jazz/Chill-out” period. Clear Light signals both a return to whence she came but also a merging of all the elements she has developed over her 18 years of recording. Wholly electronic using synths and keyboards, Stephanie takes the listener on an imaginative musical voyage, featuring an assortment of electronic music styles, moods and tempos. Clear Light is a work of depth, maturity, and artistic self-assuredness.
Sherry Finzer & Mark Holland – Heart Dance Records
Two world-class flutists, Sherry Finzer and Mark Holland, come together on Somewhere New, an album that displays each of their respective musical specialties (Holland on Native/world flutes and Finzer on assorted concert flutes). Joined by some stellar guests (including ace percussionist Will Clipman, among others), Somewhere New traverses an assortment of moods and tempos, although with Clipman involved, there is frequently an element of world beat present (admittedly, subtle at times). However, jazz influences are also present at times, as well as new age. Whether meditative and reflective, or cheerful and gently spirited, these twelve tracks reveal two musicians at the top of their game (as well as the guest stars, too).
Marcia Watson Bendo – Heartnotes Music
Throughout my 20+ years of reviewing music, now and then a debut recording comes along that blows my socks off! Woodland Moons from Marcia Watson Bendo (Native flutes, keyboards, and orchestrations) is one of those rare “Are you kidding me?” albums. Woodland Moons blends sonorous Native flute melodies with lush orchestrations and features influences from both the classical and new age genres, as well as, obviously Native fusion music. Percussionist Rafael Pereira contributes on nine of the twelve tracks and the acclaimed Trammell Starks handled mixing and mastering. Watson Bendo’s flute playing is magical, but it’s the depth and breadth of her compositions and her spot-on perfect orchestrations that elevates Woodland Moons to its heights of beauty and artistry.
Remembrance – A Collection of Cinematic Portraits
Jim Wilson – Willow Bay Music
Both the artist himself and others describe Jim Wilson’s music as being cinematic in nature (note this album’s subtitle). One spin of Remembrance will have you agreeing with that assessment. Pianist Wilson also performs and arranges some of the best orchestrations in contemporary instrumental music. Whether he is displaying power and drama (the opening “Shadow Falls”) or a softer, more nostalgic mood (“The Girl From Eastland County”), Wilson excels at “painting” in a visual manner (music-wise). More than once I found myself conjuring up images to suit these songs, perhaps a film’s opening credits or a montage of special moments. It’s this quality above all else that makes this album so special.
Here in Heaven
Donna De Lory – De Lory Music
It’s a foregone conclusion that Donna De Lory is a fantastic—make that amazing—singer. What amazes me is not just her vocal talents but her composing skills as well, and across multiple styles. Eight of the nine tracks on Here In Heaven were either written or co-written by her (the sole exception is her cover of Kate Bush’s “Never Be Mine”). De Lory has great control of timbre, pitch, and volume. Her voice can sound soulful, impassioned, romantic, playful, or pleadingly intense. When a singer with her chops and lungs surrounds herself with excellent musicians, as De Lory does here, the result is nothing less than an album chock full of listening pleasure. The closing “Go Talk To Mary” and “Heaven Meditation” are stunning!