|Site review by Christine Tham August 10, 2009
|This is quite a unique disc, being the first SA-CD released by an Australian independent artist. It is an album of new age piano music. Unfortunately, you won't be able to find the SA-CD on retail music stores in Australia, although ABC stores will stock the CD version. It is orderable from www.littlehartleymusic.com.
The album comes with impressive production credentials. It was recorded and produced by Will Ackerman (founder of Windham Hill), engineered and mixed by Corin Nelsen (with an extensive Windham Hill discography), and mastered by the legendary Bob Ludwig.
There is over 68 minutes of music, separated into 22 tracks. However, all the tracks segue into each other, so that the whole album can be listened as an extended musical piece. The music is divided into a set of themes, each exploring a different emotional landscape, joined by short interludes.
The musical style is very reminiscent of Michael Jones - smooth, flowing melodies over legato arpeggiated chords, with perhaps a bit of George Winston in the interludes. There's also a hint of world music, notably Feeling Sunshine (featuring a "didjeribone" or sliding didgeridoo invented by Charlie McMahon), Samite's Prelude (the 5.1 mix features an extended version with lyrics in Lugandan by Samite Mulondo) and Song Phonique (which has a slight Mediterranean feel about it).
In addition to the piano, many of the tracks feature backing vocals (by Luka Bloom, Noah Chase, Noah Wilding, Heather Rankin, Lilith and Fiona herself), plus various other instruments including guitar (Will Ackerman), flugelhorn, mandolin, cello, bass, drums and percussion (Jeff Haynes). The first three tracks (Freedom, Feeling Sunshine, From The Outside) also reminded me of the beautiful music score to the film "Fly Away Home" by Mark Isham.
I really enjoyed listening to this album, and no doubt it will be frequently played from now on whenever I'm in a relaxing mood. I call this kind of music "lingerie music" - it's the aural equivalent of smooth satin, pretty lace and pastel colours. Great on a wintry, rainy day (or night).
The recording itself is superb, as one would expect given the production and recording crew. The mix is quite wet, as is typical for new age music, but not as drenchingly reverberant as, say, a Secret Garden album. The drums on Song Phonique have a pleasant "bite" to them.
The 5.1 mix itself is mainly front-centred, apart from the first track (Freedom) which features backing vocals being panned 360 degrees across the soundstage. Some of the other tracks (notably Voice of Angels) also feature some rear-channel activity, but overall I would have preferred a slightly more aggressive multi-channel mix. However, I understand there's probably not a lot of opportunities given that many of the tracks do not feature a lot of instruments other than the piano.
Overall - an excellent album, and a very worthwhile addition to the rather meagre new age titles currently available on SA-CD.