Reviews 6-23-2007

Music Reviews 




by John Lyell

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I first became aware of John Lyell's music when I picked up a copy of Synthetic Universe a few years back which was John's 2nd collaborative release with Brent A Reiland after hearing it onForest's Musical Starstreams internet version of his popular radio show. The pair had released one CD prior to Synthetic Universe called Wormholes with which I am unfamiliar with but if it is anything like Synthetic Universe it is probably worth picking up a copy. Dimensions is the first solo release from John Lyell so when the CD arrived in the mail I wasn't sure what to expect or which direction John might go as a solo artist. John composed, performed, engineered and produced this effort all at Light Year Studio studios inMinneapolis,MN and except for the help of one very recognizable name, Robert Rich, who digitally mastered the project at his Soundscape Studios inMountainview,CA this project is John's baby from beginning to end. 

The quality of this project is evident from the first track right through to the very last track which as you can probably infer from that statement I enjoyed Dimensions from the first notes of track 1 through the last notes of track 9. The CD is 55:45 in length and takes the listener on a smooth soothing trip through a peaceful universe of John's creation.  While Dimensions falls squarely into the space music camp it does not stop there and leave you floating without anything to latch onto but rather he has given most of the songs on this collection a rhythm and a pulse as well. I enjoy space music as much as the next Ambient Visions reader but I especially love to immerse myself in the kinds of atmospheres and washes that Dimensions exhibits throughout this disc. For those purists who don't like "peanut butter with their chocolate" or pulses or gentle rhythms with their space music then this might not be the CD for you but for everyone else who loves to feel the gentle touch of these electronic waves washing over them while they cruise through this serene universe you should run on up to John's website and begin your journey today. 

One of my favorite tracks on this CD is called Red Shift and it combines the elements described above in a wonderful way that leaves me breathless each time I hear it. The gentle pulsed rhythms are with the listener from the get go and take you to the end of the song. Meanwhile there are some interesting synth waves that move around you moving from speaker to speaker in the mix and at times taking center stage even from the ever present "beat" that holds this piece of music solidly together. And when I used the word beat it has nothing to do with the beat you might find in your favorite techno song but rather a solid guiding cadence that keeps the listener moving forward in a steady but unhurried kind of way. The music on Dimensions share similar characteristics from song to song such as the washes and the rhythms but each song is unique in and of itself. Each song still evokes the feeling of floating and drifting in a vast open space but each song does it in a different way and creates different perceptions in the listener. This CD represents a great effort on John's part to be able to take the differences of each track and still blend them into a cohesive whole that delights the listener. 

All in all I was very pleased with this CD and find that John's music on Dimensions has matured and grown in new and extraordinary ways since his collaborative work with
Brent A Reiland on the first two releases that he worked on. While exhibiting certain elements of those previously mentioned CD's Dimensions kicks on its hyper space drive and jumps into a new universe that John has been so kind as to take us along for the ride. This CD has been in my player almost on a daily basis since I received it a couple of weeks back  and the music seems just as fresh and innovative the 10th time through as it was the first time I listened to it. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this CD and get started on this journey. AV recommended CD.

Reviewed by Ambient Visions



13 Masks

by Tobin Mueller

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13 Masks” is Tobin Mueller’s follow-up to his 2005 release, “Morning Whispers.” Full of musical surprises, Mueller interweaves jazz, 20th century classical, “post-New Age solo piano,” and what Mueller calls “progressive ragtime,” and blends them through the “chaos of his subconsciousness.” (quotes from the liner notes) Mueller’s stories, told through the medium of solo piano, are often whimsical and funny, but this is no lightweight piece of entertainment. The music is complex and often challenging, but is not so esoteric to be intimidating. I found it fascinating the first time through, and enjoy it more each time I hear it. This is music for active listening, and most people will not find it relaxing, (it wasn’t intended to be). The cover artwork, also done by Mueller, depicts the thirteen masks of the title. Of those masks, Mueller explains: “More than masks that hide the truth, these are meant to be interior faces of the subconscious that whisper, lear (sic) and assert themselves in ways known and unknown.” I love these drawings and their variety of expressions. Tobin Mueller is obviously a very accomplished artist in many genres, but says the true highlights of his life have more to do with “sitting in front of my keyboard, all alone.”

“13 Masks” opens with “You Make My Heart Skip a Beat,” a lively and rhythmic piece that dances all over the piano. The middle section slows down and becomes more pensive, gradually building energy and intensity, returning to the original theme at the end. “The Gumshoe Wears a Rag” is a bit more playful (how could it not be with a title like that?), but is still quite intense. “Memories of Elegance” has a melodic theme that goes through many transformations and rhythmic treatments - fascinating! As its title implies, “The Stillness of Wings” is one of the quieter, more subdued pieces, and its primary theme has a light, engaging rhythm. “Chaos of the Subconscious” is a wild, frenetic ride that explores a variety of themes and ties them together as a kind of nightmare - another really amazing piece. “A Monk Caught in a Thelonious Sphere” is dark and bluesy, but still a lot of fun - one of my favorites. I also really like “Holding Breath With Ophelia,” which is more exploratory, venturing into different themes and rhythms, occasionally returning to the original. “I Sail On (Into Deeper Waters)” is quite chaotic and turbulent. “The Last Mask Falls Away” has a strong feeling of vulnerability and honesty. With quiet moments and occasional deep bass notes, nothing is covered up or embellished. It is a powerful conclusion to an amazing album.

Tobin Mueller has created a conceptual work of art with “13 Masks.” Not everyone will appreciate it, but if you enjoy a truly unique album with music to really sink your teeth into, give this a try. “13 Masks” can be purchased at,, and Recommended!

Reviewed by Kathy Parsons reprinted from Mainly Piano on Ambient Visions



High Rising

by Sounds from the Ground

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Sounds from the Ground  is comprised of Brits Nick Woolfson and Elliot Morgan Jones have been releasing music since 1996 on the Waveform label and if you are familiar with Waveform you will know that Forest maintains some pretty high standards for what he releases on this label. High Rising is the duos fourth CD which includes Kin, Terra Firma and Luminal and again brings their talents to bear on the worlds of dub, trip hop, ambient and nicely chilled electronic music styles. High Rising sports 9 tracks and is just over 70 minutes long which is more than enough time to take a little trip with SFG and explore some of the musical side roads that this pair will eventually take you down. 

The nice thing about listening to electronica ala Waveform and other creators of this style of music is that the music is not only instrumental but often times contain voices as part of the textures that the artist weaves. The 5th track on this CD is called Beautiful Feeling and features Taz Alexander as the guest vocalist. If you are trying to blend a female vocalist into a song while maintaining the ambient feel to the overall track this would be one that you would want to check out as Nick and Elliot did a stunning job at balancing these two elements. If you are familiar with Waveform you will already know what I mean about voices being a wonderful counterpoint to the chill out music that you will find on these releases. Taz was also featured on a song on Luminal which preceded their current CD High Rising. 

And lest you think that SFG is just another chill out band that floats along without ever stretching their boundaries you need to check out track 7 which is called Palmprint and it features Gaudi whose musical career started back in the 80's and who has a penchant for reggae flavored electronica as this song will clearly display. Nick and Elliot keep things moving forward with this song and the addition of Gaudi gives it great medium tempo that still blends agreeably with the other elements of this CD. 

High Rising by Sounds from the Ground is a little more subdued than their past efforts but the SFG sound does eventually break through upon repeated listenings and once it does High Rising will find its way more often into your player and with each listen you will appreciate what Nick and Elliot have done on this CD. Highlights include the ambient pulsed track called Modo and for something that will seem more like what you are used to from SFG you can check out track 9 which is called Speedbumps. Here the groove is just a little faster and the melody really jumps out, holds your attention and takes you away. SFG fans will not be disappointed even though this CD does put a spin on what you have come to expect from Nick and Elliot. The great thing about music within this genre is that "different" does not equate to bad but rather it says that the artist is willing to stretch their talents and try new arrangements without feeling constrained by what has gone before. Taking the best of what they have created prior to this SFG has once again offered up a tasty tidbit for their fans and a nice introduction for those who will find SFG via this release. AV recommended CD.

Reviewed by Ambient Visions



At the End of the Day

by Carolyn Southworth

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“At the End of the Day” is Carolyn Southworth’s debut CD, but it certainly doesn’t sound like a first release! Produced by David Lanz’s former collaborator, Grammy nominee Paul Speer, and accompanied on several tracks by woodwind artist, Nancy Rumbel (of Tingstad and Rumbel), “At the End of the Day” could easily be mistaken for a Narada release from that label’s heyday. Speer’s guitar is so distinctive that I might have guessed that a few of the tracks were early Lanz/Speer material. Anyone nostalgic for that sound will absolutely love this CD! However, this is not an impersonation or copycat music. It is a flawless collection of deeply personal compositions for piano and other instruments (keyboard, oboe, English horn, bass, percussion, sax, flute, and guitar - almost all acoustic). Strong melodies and passionate playing make this a standout album for concentrated listening or to accompany a long drive, a cozy fireplace, or just chillin’. Along with being an accomplished pianist/composer, Carolyn Southworth is a violin and piano teacher, plays violin and viola, directs choirs, performs, and composes for a wide range of musical ensembles.

The title track opens the CD with a beautiful piece about relaxing and unwinding after a long, hectic day. Easy-going and smooth with a feeling of contentment, it’s a great way to start! “Sideways” tells about how life can go in that direction if we take ourselves too seriously and don’t have fun. Upbeat and cheerful, the mood is playful and lighthearted. “Silver Lining” is a favorite. Flute, guitar, and percussion enhance the soulful piano with mystery and passion. “In My Fondest Dreams” is a love song from a musical Southworth wrote the music and lyrics for, called “Abinadi,” arranged as a warm and dreamy instrumental. “Where Eagles Soar” is another favorite. Inspired by watching a family of bald eagles soaring and playing on wind currents, the music is powerful and graceful, yet effortless. Speer’s guitar represents the cry of the birds. “Highlander” is a beautiful tribute to Southworth’s Scottish heritage. Mostly piano and flute, the flowing melody suggests a hillside with a gentle breeze blowing through the grasses and wildflowers. “Anchor In the Storm” is especially Lanz-like with its loving warmth and optimism as well as Speer’s accompanying guitar. “In the Wake of the Storm” is much darker, describing the destruction that washes up on the shoreline after a winter storm. Near the end of the song, the tone lightens as the sun comes out and the calm returns. Very effective! “Nocturne” brings us back to the end of the day with a gorgeous song of comfort and peacefulness - the flute and piano are so good together on this!

I usually try to not compare artists and their work, but I really think fans of David Lanz’s early music (and there are a LOT of them!) will love “At the End of the Day.” Carolyn Southworth is a wonderful discovery, so check her music out! It’s available from,, and Recommended!

Reviewed by Kathy Parsons reprinted from Mainly Piano on Ambient Visions