New Age

Reviewed by Julian Wilson

Ravi Miriam Maron/Call from the Narrows

Ravi Miriam Maron’s Call from the Narrows is a double-CD set of Hebraic chants and spiritually powered world music. Recalling the transcendent mix of ancient vocal stylings and modern arrangements that made Dead Can Dance and the late Ofra Haza so alluring, Maron is able to take what could only be appealing to a specific crowd and make it attractive a far larger audience. The dreamlike, otherworldly textures of Maron’s singing will draw inevitable comparisons to Enya; however, Maron’s music digs deeper than that, drawing upon Biblical and other centuries-old text.

If, upon reading the description above, you think that Call from the Narrows isn’t easy to sit through, let me assure you that it isn’t. This is music that not only soothes the ears but the soul as well. On “Clear the Way,” Maron’s vocals are as ethereal as the evening stars; they will enchant you, dazzle you. “Great Mother” has punchy drums with a straighforward dance rhythm a la Haza and Peter Gabriel. “Preparation” and “I Must Follow” are songs of incredible beauty.


Reviewed by Julian Wilson

Christine Mag. Strasser/All for One

All for One is world music that is definitely, without question, both inspired by and trying to reach a higher power. Whether you believe in God – or a god at all – will not affect your enjoyment of this album. However, even the atheists among you might begin to have second thoughts because the songs here have an otherworldly glow that is not based in material experience. It helps that Christine Mag. Strasser has such a heavenly voice. No, not heavenly in the cliched Christian music sense of the word, but aiming for spiritual transcendence, which she does on nearly every track.

Strasser doesn’t have much instrumental accompaniment other than acoustic guitars, flute, and percussion. Her vocals are the focus here, especially on “Jesus Song” and “Gayatri,” wherein Strasser’s singing seems to be sent from the stars; imagine Enya with a deeper, more somber voice. “Praise the Lord” is illuminated by swirling riffs and peaceful, breathtakingly beautiful harmonizing while “Chandra Shekaraya” and “Ave Maria” unreel with gorgeous cinematic imagery. This is a work of art as well as a labor of love.

Reviewed by Julian Wilson

David Hicken/Goddess

Pianist David Hicken crafts New Age music with a soul. Not that the genre is the emotionless stereotype that detractors have often presented, but it does have its share of cold, detached efforts and robotic execution. With Hicken, emotions are the heart of each composition, especially on the elegant Goddess. A quick scan of each track will immediately reveal (if it isn’t obvious to you) that this CD has a unifying theme, a tribute to the various goddesses from culture to culture. What inspired Hicken to write a unique soundtrack for each one is a mystery that only he can answer. All we can do for now is savor the beauty contained within.

Goddess is an ode to loveliness. The hauntingly pretty “Lakshmi” drips with rain-soaked melancholy; its gorgeous melody paints strikingly vivid imagery of water and tears. “Kuan Yin” and “Sarasvati” are dreamy and reflective, the latter gripping a darker undertow. “Sekhmet” is probably the standout on the disc, featuring some of Hicken’s most incandescent piano playing. It is smooth and ethereal, making you want to gaze at the stars. Goddess is poetry in motion, the sounds of nature as interpreted by a gifted musician whose imagination drinks from the evening skies.

Reviewed by Julian Wilson

Levi Chen/Devocean

The wordplay in the album title isn’t the only cleverness that Levi Chen is capable of. A chart staple on New Age radio programming, Chen almost doesn’t belong in the genre. While the compositions on Devocean do have the meditative, atmospheric qualities that define New Age, Chen colors beyond the boundaries, so to speak. What Devocean is actually progressive-rock masterpiece that uses New Age simply as frosting. Much of that has to do with Chen’s impeccable guitar playing which suggests an older Jimi Hendrix discovering Zen. Chen doesn’t indulge in axeman heroics; his guitars create layers of sound and imagery that will awaken all of your senses.

If all this sounds a tad intellectual, it can be appreciated for its surface beauty, too. The lovely “Memory (DNA)” has a sweeping, theatrical rush that’ll leave you breathless. “Sound and Recent Sorrow” delves into light funk with some of Chen’s most fiery guitar playing. On “Brios” and “New Edge,” Chen has taken off into another dimension, taking us on a dreamy flight of transcendent awe. Chen uses several musical genres at his disposal – New Age, progressive rock, Latin music, jazz, blues, rock – and fuses them together without a moment’s hesitation. It’s an exhilarating, spellbinding work of pure genius.

Reviewed by Julian Wilson

Bronn Journey/Christmas Rose

Given that this is the season for bland, cookie-cutter Christmas albums, what a breath of fresh air it is to hear a Yuletide-themed CD that takes a different approach to paying tribute to the holiday. Christmas Rose is an album consisting of New Age instrumentals, mainly the sound of Bronn Journey and his harp. The gently plucked strings of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Still, Still, Still” produce sweet, ethereal tones that elevate these classic compositions to another level. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” adds gorgeously soaring flute, and “Still, Still, Still” is spiced by angelic operatic singing.

Some of the Christmas pieces on here are even unfamiliar to me. Much credit should be given to Journey for not sticking with the obvious. “Once in Royal David’s City” and “Pat-a-Pan” are not commonly heard Christmas compositions, and their inclusion here adds a bolt of newness that is emotionally stirring. But, familiar or not, Journey’s delicate, dreamy harp playing makes these songs seem as if they were just written yesterday. “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” is particularly beautiful, conjuring images of snow falling on the ground as Journey carries us into his own winter wonderland.