Reviews 12-05-2016

Music Reviews 




by Doug Hammer

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Doug Hammer's latest release Americana comes on the heels of the most brutal and divisive election that this country has ever known. With a release date of November 11, it made its appearance in the aftermath of this election which has left this country divided and hurting like never before. So, Doug's timing is either very unfortunate or very fortuitous depending on your point of view. To be very honest I really didn't feel up to taking on reviewing an album filled with patriotic and national boosting songs such as are found on Americana but decided I would add my views of what this album might represent to those of us who have survived the tragedy of this election.

Doug has chosen 18 songs for this album which features some very patriotic songs like The Star Spangled Banner, the Battle Hymn of the Republic and God Bless America as well as some traditional folk interpretations by Doug along with 8 songs that were written specifically by Doug in an attempt to capture those same feelings of national unity and create his own musical vision of what it means to be proud of your country.

The music of Americana is heartfelt music that offers a contemplative point of view that allows the listener to focus their thoughts not on what has ravaged this country but on what the whole process was about and how we should move forward from here. The music is filled with emotion and provides a rich expression of the roots of what has made America great and will continue to keep it great regardless of who is in control in Washington because America's greatness extends far beyond those few who work for us in Washington and reaches out to each one of us who live and work in America.

Americana also is dedicated to those men and women who serve this country in the military. Theirs is not to decide who is right and wrong in Washington but simply to do their best to do what has been asked of them in service of this country. There is a vein of pride that runs through Doug's music on Americana in regards to those who have been called on to serve this country in the military as well it should because many of them are called on to sacrifice everything for the ideals that this country was founded upon. 

Doug's music on Americana is both delicate and rousing as it seeks to allow healing of the wounds to occur while at the same time showing the listener through songs like Redemption that this is not a permanent state we are in and that nothing lasts forever no matter how it feels. Americana is not your usual AV release as it combines solo piano work right alongside vocal work of traditional folk songs like Shenandoah and The Water Is Wide and follows that up with The Dream Is Alive which features orchestra and drums to emphasize that there never was a time when America was not great no matter the rhetoric that was casually thrown about during the last year.

Doug faced a challenge when releasing this album simply because of "when" it came out but the album does not represent what the election spotlighted but what this country actually is through songs that have been heard for generations and new songs that speak to that same mindset with new melodies and stirring refrains that Doug has seamlessly woven together to form a tapestry of music that reaches down into the heart and reminds you that we are better than what has transpired this past year. Doug's playing on this album struck a balance between the traditional patriotic songs and the new music that represents the hope and vision that are still alive in this country. Doug's solo piano work and his interpretations of songs that are forever stuck in the national psyche was refreshing and offered new perspectives on songs that we have heard all our lives.

All in all, this album stands unique in the music that I will probably be reviewing in the coming months but it also has a gentle and comfortable feeling to it like going home for Christmas or visiting your old hometown because it is familiar. That is what Doug's playing has presented us with here. A look at where we have been as a country and a hopeful vision for what the future holds for us all. The music was expertly recorded and allows Doug's solo piano work to shine through on each of the songs whether he is reinterpreting a classic song out of our past or a newly composed selection that was written to be a beacon shining towards the future. Some of the music on this album will tug at your heartstrings while others will make your spirit soar. I would recommend Americana simply as a cathartic experience to help heal the wounds that were opened so that we can move on to the next phase of our lives.

Reviewed by Ambient Visions


In the Midst of Stars

by Majestica

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In the Midst of Stars is the latest release by a group called Majestica. Now if you aren't sure of the name perhaps it will help if I tell you that Majestica actually consists of Sherry Finzer and Cass Anawaty who have joined forces under the name of Majestica to create some tasty compositions that pushes the boundaries of what each artist could do on their own. It doesn't hurt that each musician is a strong composer, performer on their own so when you add the two talents together you are almost certain to end up with a great album like In the Midst of Stars.    

The album is hard to pin down in terms of overall feel and direction because as with any joint venture there are a variety of avenues open to the artists as to what direction the music will ultimately take. Take for example the song called Close of the Day. The song features Sherry out front on her flute but the song also features a strong keyboard part and drums to round out the instruments that are prominently featured in this song. The composition hearkens back to some of the early new age music that I have listened to over the years especially the old Narada and Windham Hill albums that featured quite a few instruments in their songs. So this song sounds very familiar and comforting as if I was revisiting an old friend that I hadn't seen in awhile and we had some catching up to do. It is apparent as you listen to this song and the album as a whole that Cass and Sherry were sharing the same vibe as to how to audiolize (akin to visualize except with sound) the music that they were hearing in their heads.

On the track In Bloom there is a definite laid back feeling to the song almost akin to space music but with a little down to earth feel to it as Sherry's flute playing gives the music a smooth, silky edge that just envelops the listener in this warm, gentle mood that seems to suspend time. The keyboard work on this song creates the perfect counterpoint to Sherry's flute playing by offering the listener little sparkling highlights like Christmas ornaments adorning the family tree. Many of the songs have this give and take, yin and yang to them that would not have happened if this had been a solo record for either artist. As a duo though there were more potential variations as they played together than would have been possible if they were working alone.  

Aurora Australis is a standout track on this album that fully crosses over into the space music realm and works quite well as Cass and Sherry both help to create the otherworldly feel that permeates this song.  The composition is a wonderful piece that moves slowly and deliberately allowing the listener ample time to drift along with the music and fully enter into the space soundscape that they create so well together. The song runs a healthy 10:31 so it is perfect for an extended journey by the listener as they explore both inner and outer spaces via the music in this song. If there were one track that exemplifies the title of this album "In the Midst of Stars" then this one would be it and what better way to close out the album than to drift away into the stars listening to this song. 

In the Midst of Stars is a creative blending of styles from two very talented performers that yields some great music. I would classify this album as space meets new age and the resultant blending of music just goes to show that given talented performers working together each taking their own musical perspectives and merging them yields a top-notch hybrid album that has characteristics of both but still stands on its own as something else. Sherry Finzer demonstrates again and again that she is able to use her flute as a brush to paint the emotions contained in each composition onto the hearts of the listener during the course of the song. Cass Anawaty's expertly layered keyboards, drums, guitars and synths create the foundation upon which Sherry's expressive flute playing is allowed to run free. While Cass' playing is foundational to Sherry's music it also lives and breathes on its own as well as witnessed on How Does It Feel where Cass' guitar playing shines right beside Sherry's flute. The trick to making a group venture work best is not so much that everyone gets a turn or their own songs to work with but that all of the songs are representative of the best that each performer has to offer and that is exactly what happens here as Cass and Sherry both shine on each of the compositions. The music on In the Midst of Stars is a peaceful journey for those who will take it and as it ends with a trip among the stars and the listener will be glad that they chose to take the trip.

Reviewed by Ambient Visions