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A Southwest Story by Elizabeth Naccarato
- posted by Robin James on 7/31/2022
New Inspiration in the Vastness of the Southwest
A Southwest Story is a romantic, spiritual and dramatic portrayal of the beauty, history and culture of the land, the seventh release by Elizabeth Naccarato. It features Piano with instrumentals influenced by the music of the Southwest’s Classical roots of Spain, Native American culture and the Old West. Featured artists include Leon Christian and Nancy Rumbel.
The Southwest region of North America is full of adventure, beautiful scenery, great-walled lonely canyons, what you will hear with A Southwest Story is a consistently calm, very sensitive and well arranged album of instrumental piano music with a bright Southwestern flavor. Sometimes the piano is joined by a guitar, or a native flute, English horn, bass, percussion, violin, accordion, or mandolin, and sometimes the piano is solo.
Spanish settlers came through Southern Colorado via New Mexico. When they saw the beauty of the mountains and the fertile valley, it reminded them of Spain. They stopped there and now that location is known as the oldest Town in Colorado. The opening track, "San Luis" (4:42) has a nostalgic sweet sad feeling, a familiar sounding traditional song given tender treatment, piano seasoned with guitar and mandolin.
"Wild Horses" (2:58) has a very Spanish feeling, violin behind the piano just a hint of percussion, feel the horses glide through the landscape, to grace our land, running free, they drink off the Acequia and Rio Grande. It is said the land between Ute Mountain and Mt. Blanca is sacred to Native Americans, "Sacred Land" (5:08) reminds us that holy places strengthen the earth’s biological and cultural diversity, inspiring reverence for land, connecting nature with culture.
"Spanish Dance No. 2 by Granados" (5:25) is a slow dance with lots of colorful fabrics, sad and rich with a quiet feeling, gentle as a breeze of spring. "La Sierra" (4:38) is an ode to the mountains in the distance and forever, a range of mountains with a serrated or irregular outline. The sound is quiet and full, along with the piano, chimes shiver in a breeze. "Shrine of the Stations of the Cross" (3:33) is a sacred story, visitors come from all over to walk the trail to see the magnificent bronze statues and take in the breathtaking views. "The Vega" (4:31) is a piano solo with a deliciously lighter sensation, invoking the Southwest's beautiful skies.
Colorado skies bid farewell to the sun with all its melancholy splendor, "Dusk" ( ) is the album’s first single, a tribute to the end of the day and the beginning of the night, piano and guitar joined by violin. The track "Cowboy's Waltz" (3:30) features an old-time dancehall feeling with hand percussion, high hat and accordian; and "Flower Moon" (3:36) is a piano solo that closes A Southwest Story, a lovely portrait of the full moon in May.
Elizabeth Naccarato’s previous recordings are Jarrell’s Cove (inspired by the coastline of Puget Sound near Seattle and produced by pianist Michael Gettel), North Sycamore (named for a street in West Los Angeles where she spent an early stage of her career, with special guests oboist Nancy Rumbel and saxophonist Richard Warner), Stone Cottage (inspired by a special residence with a wild garden), One Piano (a collaboration with Gettel), History (combining some of her best work with both new and live performances), Souvenir d’Italia which was inspired by one of her favorite places, and now A Southwest Story, a tribute to the Southwestern part of the United States of America.
This newest album enhances the vision of the growing collection of exquisite piano interpretations of various aspects of specific locations and contexts, as well as life itself. Elizabeth Naccarato has achieved a noteworthy translation of the spirit of the land, its cultural history and the flavors and elemental aspects. Each note fits into a magnificent audio portrait of the Southwest, from the environment to how it feels to be there, a hot sun, spirits in the canyons, the languages and religious iconography are included in the melodies and musical forms.
1 San Luis (4:42)
2 Wild Horses (2:58)
3 Sacred Land (5:08)
4 Mi Hito, No! (4:12)
5 Fandango (1:48)
6 Brown Eyes (4:12)
7 Spanish Dance No. 2 by Granados (5:25)
8 La Sierra (4:38)
9 Shrine of the Stations of the Cross (3:33)
10 The Vega (4:31)
11 Dusk (4:08)
12 Cowboy's Waltz (3:30)
13 Flower Moon (3:36)

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Rating: Excellent
Sapphire Oak by Sharon Fendrich
- posted by John Iverson, CKUW 95.9 FM Winnipeg, Canada on 6/19/2022
Another Exceptional Album!
With Sapphire Oak, Sharon Fendrich has created another stunning album of musical artistry, a remarkable follow-up to her outstanding debut album Red Sky Prairie. Sapphire Oak will take you on an ethereal cinematic journey into the realm of nature, oak groves, runes and spirits, replete with lush orchestrations and stirring vocals. This is a true gem in the neoclassical oeuvre, and this album could easily be the soundtrack to a magnificent fantasy movie. The character of the music and the cinematic soundscapes on this album remind me of movie score greats like John Barry and Howard Shore.

Sharon Fendrich has once again shown us her exceptional skills at composing, and she has also proven that she is equally adept at arranging and producing her music. Sharon not only performs the piano parts on this album, but does all of the vocals as well, including a duet with her daughter Talia Valdez, on the touching song "Under Her Canopy".

The performances by the orchestra and guest musicians on Sapphire Oak are exceptional. The beautiful lush sound of the orchestra, Symphonica Recording, is created under the skillful baton of Vladimir Martinka. As such this orchestra provides the perfect backdrop to all of the outstanding music on the album. The guest musicians on Sapphire Oak include Lisa Rydberg on violin, Klara Kallstrom on cello, Stina Hellberg Agback on harp, and Ian Harper, who incidentally has also worked with Loreena McKennitt, on uilleann pipes and Irish whistle. These talented musicians, who must have been inspired by Sharon Fendrich, have immersed themselves into this breathtaking music, and the result is an album bursting with passion and emotion.

All of the pieces on Sapphire Oak are outstanding, but I especially liked Sea of Oaks, Leaves of Glory, The Oaken Door, and Carry the Oak. Sharon Fendrich has injected her whole heart and soul into this recording, and the result is a breathtaking work of art, from the wonderful music right down to the enchanting album cover! I highly recommend this album for lovers of neo-classical, classical, and new age music, and I give it my highest possible rating!

Bravo Sharon!
Rating: Excellent
In Awe by John Gregorius
- posted by Robin James on 5/20/2022
IN AWE John Gregorius on Spotted Peccary Music
Growing out of a search for meaning within life's mysteries, and his deep love for the guitar, John Gregorius intertwines the physical and spiritual, a combination that seems to flow naturally from one piece to another. What you will hear are instrumentals focusing on the finger-style acoustic guitar and ambient, processed electric guitar. All of the songs heard on his newest album on Spotted Peccary Music, In Awe, were written, produced and mixed by Gregorius himself, who plays guitars, keyboards, percussion and developed the drum programming. Sean O’Bryan Smith plays bass on all songs, Mitch Ross plays drums on three songs, Benjamin Fleury-Steiner created the synth bed for Everyday Miracle, and Kim Daniels contributes her wondrous ethereal vocals to three tracks.
Perhaps this music is a gentle reminder to pay attention, and that there is more to life than what can be empirically measured or scientifically observed. There is time to discover these beautiful characteristics emerging from within and slowly transfiguring us. It's hard to slow down and notice things in a busy world. Try to take the time to experience your environment with all of your senses - touch, sight, smell, taste and hearing. Be kind to your wandering mind.
The sonic worlds that Gregorius has created in his imagination are enchanted, not by magic or fantasy, but by an even more startling truth that ultimately cannot easily be put into words - the universe is a love note from God. The title track on the album, "In Awe" (5:28), is a melodic instrumental with ethereal vocals featuring Daniels and the tempo of Ross, who reinterpret the word-free tradition in meaningful and sometimes surprising ways, allowing the listener a space for meditation, contemplation, silence, solitude, stillness, and practicing the idea of universal cycles, such as day and night, to repeatedly restore light and life to a glimmering world.
Light is at once both obvious and mysterious, a bright form of energy given off by the sun. Faith affects us in subtle ways, imageless, stillness, and wordlessness, unfathomable or dauntingly incomplete. "Light" (3:55) reveals the only truth that matters to some listeners, the presence of God in our daily lives. Gregorius is heard here on keyboards, joined by Ross on drums, to express what is truly inexpressible or ineffable, the mood is moderately paced, perhaps a bit meditative.
Benjamin Fleury-Steiner created the synth foundation that emerges beneath the electric guitar phrases, "Everyday Miracle" (6:03) has a delicate and meditative pace, when the drums join all the breezes come together. When the drums pause, there is a transformation to suspension and that is when the miracle happens. A miracle is not something we achieve; it is something we receive, awakening to the working of God that is perceived in all that one experiences. Different musicians present different images and ideas, too often people tend to have a very limited, stereotyped view of what it means to be spiritual.
Being "new" only happens once, this is perhaps a tribute to discovery and mindfulness, expressing the renewal of our minds with a feeling of the infinite. "New" (5:18) features the vocals of Daniels and Ross playing heartbeat drums, with Gregorius on acoustic guitar, bringing a living organic tempo with layers of soaring chordwork, simple and open, showing new ways of knowing and loving based on states of awareness. You might be moved to suspend judgment and unleash your natural curiosity about the workings of the mind, approaching our experience with warmth and kindness, to ourselves and others.
"Here Now" (4:25) exists in an eternal present, we are all getting lost in thought, noticing it, and returning to our chosen meditation. The moment might rest in anything, and in fact probably does rest in everything, in every thorn on every bush, in every drop of water in the sea. Gregorius weaves cyclic fingerpicking patterns and electric guitar layers, joined by Ross on drums and Smith on bass.
When it comes to exploring the secrets or mysteries that are hidden, locked away in the heart or mind, sometimes what you need to do in a real life situation is to go out and get more clues, allowing access, passage, or a view through an empty space; not closed or blocked up. And yet, over time, the feeling does seem to emerge, one begins to have some consciousness of absolute or divine reality. "Open" (2:59) simply means not closed, accessible, unimpeded, as an open gate. Not drawn together, closed, or contracted, anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance what is found, electric guitar finger weaving layers repeating, building a sense of collecting.
Ascending describes a rising or growing thing, climbing to unexpected and fascinating places, very carefully moving towards great heights and experiencing a sensation ultimately free from gravity. On the track "Ascending" (4:06) you can hear acoustic guitar, strings, perhaps a cello, and a piano. All of us have somewhere in us an instinct to try and become better, choosing gratitude until we are grateful and accepting the possibilities for expanding our gratitude awareness. The graceful voice of Daniels blends with electric guitars and programmed percussion, establishing a simple melody that creates a sense of confidence and peace. Appreciative of benefits received, unfolding like a puzzle being fit together, "Gratefulness" (5:39) is more about the heart than the head, more about our embodied sense of spiritual living, rather than just a set of abstract beliefs or principles that one is supposed to believe.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what's going on around us. "Wonder" (4:50) arrives to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes. Hidden behind the natural world and within the music oriented towards contemplative prayer, the sound of electronic instruments and guitar is slow, respectful and radiant, the feeling aroused by something strange and surprising to think about something because you want to know more facts or details about it.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness can involve breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress. Appearances are deceiving, and the truth is that no one is just like everyone else. Our goal, therefore, is to learn. In Awe does not impart a story, the music allows for the understanding of what it means to be human, and everything that we are, every single aspect of creation is sacred, a pathway to the heart of God.
1 In Awe
2 Light
3 Everyday Miracle
4 New
5 Here Now
6 Open
7 Ascending
8 Gratefulness
9 Wonder
Rating: Excellent
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