Michael Jones, the king of piano improvising will eternally live in our musical memories
Who: pianist Michael Jones
What: the king of piano improvising
When: 1981 debut reissued in 1983 on the Narada label
Sounds like: Michael Jones because there was no one like him.
To say that the loss of Michael Jones in 2022 was devastating would actually be an understatement. Not only was Michael Jones the King of inspiring improvisational music, he was also one of the cornerstones and pillars of the Narada record label in the mid 80’s as both he and David Lanz jump started the New Age label’s tremendous surge into the palatable recording market. In spite of the label’s success, Michael Jones music was the purest in improvising creationism but it was wonderful to also see a success in his musical output over the decades.
With the recent passing of Mr. Jones, it would appear that his alleged last recording Almost Home in 2005 was most appropriately titled. But somehow this reviewer ashamedly missed the truly last official 2014 recording of Deep Songs and what a breath of fresh air it is. To find this “lost album” is truly a deep inhaling of the great improviser. In an effort to rectify this oversight, what a profound pleasure to deeply immerse one’s self into this 2014 recording with Mr. Jones providing us with six titles lasting 75 minutes with a wonderful wanderlust of his magical music. The 6 gems range from the shortest title track clocking in at 8 minutes yet ranging up to and in excess of 18 minutes plus. The latter is reflected by the playful “Born on The Wind” (as suggested by iTunes and You Tube postings versus the CD sleeve credits that appears to have track 3 and 4 in reverse). It is this actual track along with the opening track “Stirrings Of The Morning” that wanders in its improvising themes that then suddenly finds a melody of stirring wondering moments.
In spite of the above in mind, it is the truly well grounded “The Earth Sings” that perfectly mergers Michael’s improvising wanderings with an unassuming melodic flirtation. Add the rich closer “Belonging To The World” that finds both the left and right hand piano playing in perfect balance, this conclusion of Michael’s work is a stellar exit to the musical world of the improvising king of piano !!!
If this reviewer can borrow from himself, it is the elegant, sophisticated and contemporary impressionistic approach of Michael Jones that continues to live in his simplistic but graceful music. Deep Song further extends this rich tradition of classy improvisational "pianoscapes" that has become well known as Michael's Music. May the piano man of improvisation truly rest in peace and yet eternally live within our musical memories.
Who: Rock Candy Magazine
What: a leading specialty music magazine in the current market
When: Issue #1 April 2017
Reads Like: early Classic Rock AOR that was front to cover reading
Typically this blog is about undiscovered or rediscovered artists. But every now and then we explore beyond artists and in the past have covered labels that support our theme. But this time around it is about a magazine. From the days of one’s youth, there was no doubt that the UK music newspapers of Sounds, NME and Melody Maker were top shelf material. With each newspaper focusing on different aspects of musical genres there was a personal preference to Sounds. With the likes of writers such as Geoff Barton and Pete Makowski (R.I.P.) the transitioning to an early first full color UK magazine Kerrang, there was a little too much focus on heavy metal and this particular writer did not make the transition. Since then the UK has presented several genre specific magazine and while Classic Rock AOR was the bomb, Rock Candy has more than filled that void. But not initially!!!
With the likes of Derek Oliver heading up Rock Candy with his staff of Malcolm Dome (R.I.P.), along with Howard Johnson, Dave Ling, Dave Reynolds, Rob Evans and Jon Hotten to name a few, the writers were clearly a winning combination, or at least on paper. However, with the record label already in place dating back to 2005, despite the magazine being founded 12 years later, the early impressions of the magazine was that it was a promotional supplement to the record label. Over the years these early impressions have since been eradicated.
With the top shelf writers in place and also the technological genius of Ross Sampson, the magazine layouts, high gloss photography is supplemented with a digital copy but not at the expense of a physical primary magazine subscription, it is nothing short of stellar material. And frankly the demise of Classic Rock AOR after 13 issues at the end of 2014, there has not been another magazine that is compelling enough to read from cover to cover. Rock Candy since its development and expansion has become one of those magazines.
Now Rock Candy is not just a top record label to reissue great rock music of yesteryear but now it is a magazine that is still focused on that particular musical taste, but one that is beyond just focusing on self promoting its label but also branching out and bringing in bands of that beyond their exclusive label and early magazine focused era. It is no longer about self promotion but a magazine that stands on its own. And with a review of a magazine that promotes re-discovered artists, now that the Angel catalog has been completely re-issued on the fantastic record label how about a look at the Punky Meadows/Mickey Jones pre-Angel album in the band called Bux? And just when you thought this was an unbiased review!!! But seriously this is a great magazine in its own right aside from its mother ship record label.
Jeremy Lubbock, a somewhat unknowingly member of many of our musical households!!!
Who: arranger composer artist Jeremy Lubbock
What: the underlying DNA beauty of artists such as David Foster, Chicago, Al Jarreau and Chris Botti just to name a few.
When: born 1931 passed January 2021
Sounds Like: John Barry meets David Foster
It has been over 15 years since this review was first written and posted. But with the oncoming anniversary of this wonderful man's passing, now seems like a good time to revisit, reawaken and pay tribute not just to this wonderful artist, but this breathtaking album Awakening that Mr. Lubbock left with us before he passed on into the heavens. The discovery of this album resulted in reaching out directly to Mr. Lubbock not expecting a response but better yet resulted in a text interaction with him directly. Needless to say, despite his fame it didn't prevent him from reaching out directly interacting with Mr. Lubbock if even for a brief moment. And what an honor it was to write about one of our times sometimes overlooked arranger, composer and artist.
For many of you this may not be a familiar name but many of you will be surprised to learn that you have already been touched by his music or arrangements without even knowing it. Lubbock has composed and arranged for the likes of Whitney Houston, Chicago, Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie just to name a few. The most prominent name association for this reviewer would be David Foster where Jeremy Lubbock’s DNA is stamped all over one of Foster’s best solo albums The Symphony Sessions. If you are familiar with the previously mentioned album then there is no doubt that Awakening, just like the rising early morning sun will slowly and gently arouse your soul.
Unlike Foster who aims at the emotional jugular, Lubbock objective is a more graceful and eloquent result, with his compositions and arrangements deeply founded in the bed rock of a soft slow soul stirring sensation. Frankly all 67 minutes of Awakening is not only on target but composition after composition they hit the bulls-eye over and over again. While this reserved but emotive gem focuses on Lubbock’s magical instrumental arrangements, he does not hesitate to include 4 vocal renditions performed by the very different styles of Darlene Koldenhoven and Chaka Khan. Darlene actually opens the album with the title track with an extended string and horn arrangement introducing Koldenhoven’s unspoken lyrics adding to the reserved exotica. Meanwhile Chaka’s performance on “How Many Lives To Go” is beyond impressive with a very soulful controlled performance.
While the vocal performances are a wonderful addition to Lubbock’s arsenal, it is the instrumentation that is the lifeline and blood to this beauty. Just listen to the classically influenced “Sing Thee To They Rest”, “Wings Of Love” or “Cry No More” with a huge emphasis on a full crystal clear orchestration. It does not hurt to have Quincy Jones’ engineer Bruce Swedien, famous for his work with Michael Jackson. If it were at all possible things get even better on “Communion” where Lubbock’s string arrangements “break bread” with the brilliant guitar work of Oscar Castro-Neves truly living up to the title of the song.
Before Awakening ends, Lubbock finds the time to share an old friend in the form of “The Ballet” that he co-wrote with David Foster previously featured on Foster’s 1988 The Symphony Sessions though this time around its Lubbock who graces the piano. “The Ballet” is as beautiful now as she was back then and the same can be said with Awakening whose magic is encapsulated in its slow endearing seduction that will leave you craving an enduring musical affair for years to come. By in no means an undiscovered artist, many of you will discover that his DNA is intertwined with many of your favorite musicians. Discover or rediscovery this musical jewel he left for us. We still miss you Mr. Lubbock!
California Transit Authority keeping the spirit of the early years of Chicago alive!!!
Who: California Transit Authority aka CTC
What: early days of Chicago and Chicago Transit Authority
Sounds Like: early days Chicago featuring Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine and guitarist Marc Bonilla
For many of you the music band Chicago may bring back memories of the soft hit ballads created by producer David Foster, Peter Cetera and company. However, the very early years of Chicago under the name Chicago Transit Authority was far more progressive driven which included the rhythmic talents of drummer Danny Seraphine. Well the latter is the musical foundation of the band CTA (California Transit Authority) as a result of the determined ambitions of Danny’s collaboration with producer guitarist Marc Bonilla. And the results are a profound combination of a reminiscing set to an updated technological transformation of Chicago’s early years along with appropriately picked cover songs and originals to match the theme.
The debut album jumps out of the starting blocks with the pounding revolutionary rendition of a Chuck Mangione song “Something Different” that features Bonilla’s amazing guitar work compounded with Seraphine’s drumming. Nor does it hurt to have the horn sounding keyboards of Peter Fish complimented by Ed Roth. For those of you that loved the Chicago horn section have no fear as Seraphine and Bonilla were also wise to bring in Brandon Fields on tenor sax, Lee Thornburg on trumpet and Nick Lane on trombone on several other magical moments throughout the debut disc. The most distinct moment can be found on “Make Me Smile” where Bonilla, Seraphine and the horns simply hit a home run with their instrumental rendition of James Pankow’s composition. Similar outstanding results can be found on the loose and funky “I’m A Man” that also features Shelia E and Alex Acuna on percussion and even Keith Emerson on the Hammond B-3 organ. Parallels with Santana are unavoidable though once again the horn section helps the song retain that Windy City feel. For something completely different check out the exquisite atmospheric guitar work of Bonilla on the opening two and half minutes of “Colour My World”. Equal to the task is the soulful vocal rendition of Larry Braggs. Speaking of Braggs, he is up front and center on the powerful Gregg Allman song “Dreams” with Peter Fish’s synth brass and Hammond B-3 solo only adding to the significant R&B element.
Apparently this was not a one off project as the band followed up by their debut with their 2013 Sacred Ground sophomore effort. However, this time around there was way less spotlight on Chicago covers with only “Take Me Back To Chicago” featured. Despite the self composition focus, the spirit of Chicago was no less apparent on the follow up effort found on the opening self title “Sacred Ground” featuring Will Champlin on vocals or the wonderfully melodic “Out Of Reason” featuring Bonilla on vocals versus his usual guitar role. Equally as impressive are the Bill Champlin vocals on “Full Circle”.
Whether you want reworked Chicago covers in the form of CTA’s debut or the spirit of Chicago with their even better follow up debut Sacred Ground you just cannot go wrong. While it was 2013 since their follow up effort, here is hoping that CTA will continue to follow their hearts in keeping the spirit of Chicago Transit Authority and the very early years of Chicago alive.
Who: The Boys Club
Where: a temporary gathering of stars that toured CA back in 1998
What: rediscover this superstar band featuring Marc Bonilla, Keith Emerson and Glenn Hughes among others.
Sounds Like: heaven on earth classic rock roots
For those of you fortunate enough to witness the live collaboration of guitar extraordinaire Marc Bonilla with friends Keith Emerson and Glenn Hughes, you will know that these recordings have been rumored to have existed for a very long time. Well, it is a rumor no more as this all star line up affectionately known as the Boys Club has finally seen the light of day. Chronicling a few live California dates back in 1998, Live From California encapsulates the magical moments of these three brilliant musicians on stage.
While for many, Emerson and Hughes will be the marquee players, this album is anchored by the utterly underrated and underexposed Marc Bonilla who released two fabulous solo albums back in 1991 and 1993. To this day they remain probably the best instrumental electric guitar albums of all times. With Keith Emerson making an appearance on Bonilla’s debut EE Ticket courtesy of the song “White Noise” and then Hughes on the follow up American Matador on the entirely breathtaking rendition of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, relationships had already been established. Three years later, Bonilla collaborated on Glenn Hughes solo album Addiction, while Bonilla has been playing live with Emerson since 2006. This ultimately progressed to 2008’s ambitious studio recording under the Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla.
But let’s turn back the clocks over a decade and take a look at Live From California that features the three amigos, as well as Bonilla’s impressive band affectionately known as the Dragonchoir. Prior to this live recording, Bonilla appeared at Billboard Live also known as The Key Club which is relatively small but one of the most efficient venue back in its heyday. That particular concert also included the surprise appearance of not only the three amigos but also Ronnie Montrose. Whether there were any high quality recordings of this particular concert captured still remains to be heard but had it been captured here it would have been the quintessential recording to fully represent the live dates of California on what is already close to absolute perfection.
Nevertheless, the 68 minutes of live material that also includes the impressive studio collaboration “Middle Of A Dream” is an utter sonic delight of musician perfection. The album opens with Bonilla’s solo track “Afterburner” that outright sizzles and places you on immediate notice that you are in for a wild ride of utter rock n’ roll. Accompanied by the duel guitar work of Mike Wallace the music is tight and spellbinding. The album immediately changes pace with the more ambient “Long Journey Home” where it is Bonilla on his Ebow guitar downright weeping music tears mixed in a light wash of Ed Roth’s keyboards. While it is a wonderful song in and of itself it acts as a prelude to the introduction of Keith Emerson’s stage entrance as the song migrates into a brilliant rendition of Emerson Lake and Palmer’s “Hoedown”. The Emerson Lake & Palmer catalog is revisited later with the 19 minute mother lode “Tarkus” hammered out. However, instrumentally the band is at its best with their rip-roaring sampling of the Nutcracker courtesy of their playful and dizzy performance of “Nutrocker” that is so magical and transforming that it will have you believing that it could snow in the middle of the Sahara. The band is also spot on with the execution of Bonilla’s composition “White Noise”.
However, let’s not forget the powerful Glenn Hughes who arrives on stage on track four to present the audience with his awesome vocal rendition of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”. With Bonilla’s guitar taking over the lead parts that were originally written for the keyboards, the duo and the entire band for that matter, breathe new life into this stellar Procol Harum classic. Those of you who have had the privilege to hear Bonilla’s studio rendition will be happy to know that both the guitarist and the Voice of Rock are totally capable of reigniting their magic live. Hughes is also prominent when the Boys Club’s perform his mid-tempo moody rocker “Cover Me” from the Addiction album, as he is on the band’s interpretation of the Allman Brother’s song “Dreams” all done with the powerful funk that we have come to expect from Glenn.
For those of us that managed to miss this low profile magical moment, Live From California, you will not be disappointed. The production, energy and brilliant live performances have finally been etched for eternity via this official release. Run don’t walk to purchase this silver disc and slip it into your hi fi player of choice. Then close your eyes and let Bonilla, Emerson and Hughes take you to musical heaven. Your rock and roll spirit will truly soar!
Side note: Since this was first reviewed, there is a Complete Session version that features 4 extra tracks. In addition, Bonilla finally released a newer solo album entitled Celluloid Debris.
Who: Paul Cardall
Where: born in Utah residing in Nashville
What: New Age Instrumental meets a purpose
When: 1996 solo debut Sign Of Affection
Sounds Like: soft purposeful instrumental music of former Narada artist with a message beyond what we can see.
After completing over 16 album reviews and 2 interviews over the last two decades, it would be highly misleading to assert that pianist Paul Cardall is an Undiscovered Artist in this writer's eyes. The same can be said in the New Age genre circle with Paul signing to the heady new age label Narada back in the day. But beyond a certain niche, Paul Cardall's name may not be so household friendly. But it should as he continues to release outstanding music over the decades. And the story of his life is no less outstanding that it reads like a Hollywood movie.
Born with a defective heart, Paul has been a very fortunate boy and man to undergo several surgeries and finally a life changing heart transplant that was very risky and elaborative. He has fortunately survived much and his latest release thematically focuses on his realization that every single day of his life should be cherished and never taken for granted. Musically, Cardall continues to wander and returns with more embellishments including several vocal renditions. So those of you familiar with Paul who might have enjoyed his titles New Life and Songs Of Praise, then you will find both styles and themes merged here on The Broken Miracle, resulting in yet another top shelf recording from Paul Cardall.
For those of you that prefer the more instrumental side of Paul Cardall, be warned that of the nineteen tracks you get to feast on, nine of them are vocal renditions. However, be bold and adventure out as Cardall’s choice of vocal performances and the sequencing of the album makes for an astonishing listening experience. Two of the vocal performances feature country band Thompson Square, who are also the first vocal appearance on the appropriately titled track three “The Man With Half A Heart”. The song is very personal consider the physical challenges Paul Cardall has faced over the years, yet equally a love song that anyone can relate to. Yet Cardall and Thompson Square even outdo themselves later in the album with the sublime “All I See Is Snow”. What a great merger of Cardall’s simplistic steady piano work as the back drop to gorgeous harmonies, strings and a crescendo of a song only to wind you down and bring you back to its reflective opening moments. Equally moving is the more commercially driven David Archuleta on the passionate “My Heart Beats For You”, enough so that this song truly deserves some radio time.
Without going through a track by track listing of the other vocal appearances, Cardall continues to present his listeners with beautiful wordless music. In fact, he opens the album with the magical spacious song “A Blue Baby” which then mergers right into the inspiring soft rhythmic “Moth & Butterflies”. Similar themes can be found on the reflective “Family” among other tracks. But if you are looking for a more joyful, less reflective instrumental music then maybe the acoustic guitar supported “Finding My Way” might be one of your preferred choices. Though the consistent pulse of Paul’s piano on “Tina’s Theme” may be your favorites as is the subject matter to the artist.
Whether pianist Cardall is collaborating with vocalists or just going it alone with his wonderful instrumental themes, the results are equally moving and magical. In the eyes of Paul Cardall, every day he gets to breathe in air to his lungs as a result of new heart is truly a great day. For us as listeners, we get to hear almost a memoir of his joy and frankly with or without a risky open heart surgery, this is probably something that all of us should do especially during these challenging times of COVID-19. So breathe in the musical beatitude of the beautiful sounds of The Broken Miracle. If not for the joy of reflecting on the blessings of each day in our own lives, at least let us be grateful for the presence of a wonderful artist who could have departed many years ago and yet continues to release breathtaking releases time and time again.
If listening to this musician does not suffice, pick up his book of the same title written by J.D. Netto with contributions from the artist himself. Both album and book were released 2/5/21
Equinox is an introspective musical experience that allows us to soar like an eagle hovering over God's wonderful Creation!!!
Who: Jim Daneker
Where: resides in Nashville TN by way of Allentown PA
What: New Age meets Classic Crossover with a mainstream bend
When: 2017 since his solo debut Ad Alta
Sounds Like: reflective instrumental music with a higher vision of purpose.
It has been 3 years since Jim Daneker’s hugely impressive debut Ad Alta that it appeared his problem paralleled the rock band Boston. How do I follow up that grand massive piece of work? Unlike Boston, who attempted to reduplicate their efforts, Daneker did quite the opposite and took a totally different new journey. He did not attempt to reach “to the summit” but instead took us on a musically passage unlike anything we have ever heard from Jim Daneker. As a result Equinox presents a completely contrasting musical perspective that is nevertheless equally as moving.
During this time of isolation and distance from our family and loved ones, Equinox is a perfect soundtrack to allow us to find peace and reflection during this difficult time to remind us that when you are alone you are never really alone. The album has a consistent theme of allowing you to slow your pulse and reflect that while the world may appear chaotic and out of control, there is a greater power beyond what anyone of us can see. With that in mind, this 12 track 42 plus minutes of tranquility helps you find calm and quietude.
Equinox opens with the meandering understated “Aurora” and continues on into “Long Shadows” allowing you to get lost in the music. Though just over the 2 minute mark, the latter finds a wonderful soft repeating melodic line that brings to mind the opening introduction of “The River” on Bruce Springsteen’s Live 1975-85 album. That soft understated melody continues on with “The First Frost” and continues to transform you as the listener from a place of possible worry and distraction to a safe harbor of peace and tranquility.
While the music is refrained and refined, it is by no means boring nor bland. That said, Daneker gently picks up the pace somewhat with the more rhythmic lively “The Wonder Of Autumn” that even includes some gentle percussive embellishments. If this song was filled out, it would have fit nicely on Ad Alta but it does not place the pastoral theme at risk. Meanwhile, the album slowly closes out with the light reflective string embellishments found on the delightful “There And Back Again” that will leave a goose bump trail followed by the concluding “Light Of The World with its light choral arrangements.
Though Jim Daneker’s latest recording will not have you prancing around like Ad Alta did, that is not the point of this poignant recording. Equinox is an introspective inward musical experience, that instead of hiking God's country, we get to soar and glide on the wings of an eagle as it hovers above the valleys and mountains, allowing us to gaze down upon God's wonderful Creation. You can almost feel the life breathing air brush against your face along with being able to visual see the majestic mountains and landscape, but this time from far above. With very similar moods and tempos throughout, Equinox allows you to completely escape from today's chaos uncovering a harbor that will allow you to rest reflect and restore yourself. Do yourself a favor and switch off the news and find a quiet room with this hushed sound experience.
At the time of posting on 1/31/21 currently only available for digital download on Jim Daneker’s website at the below link:
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Tomi Malm is Coming Home with his follow up solo album....and every home should have one!!!
Who: Tomi Malm
What: music steeped in West Coast AOR
Sounds Like: elements of David Foster, Chicago and Earth Wind & Fire
It has been 3 years since we soared and raved over Tomi Malm’s solo debut album Walkin’ On Air that one has to wonder what next after releasing such a strong solo debut? Needless to say the stellar production and some of the same players and vocalist remain and so do the top shelf compositions. But did Tomi Malm play it safe and repeat himself or did he risk stepping out? The answer is yes to both questions with Coming Home bringing the familiar and also a new forte of styles that have only added even greater value to Malm’s follow up release.
So, we revisit his debut by starting off the album with another instrumental song but unlike the jazzy moody instrumental “Kuwakaribisha” from the debut, the new release starts with the snappy R&B feel of “Second Wave”. Speaking of instrumentals, this is where Malm has been more “vocal” this time around by extending his repertoire in this area. This especially so, if you include what appears to sound like the wordless vocals of ZoSia on the bouncy optimistic “Na WeWe (With You)” that is actually of lyrical content sung in Swahili. That said, it is followed by the rather progressive “Solaris”, though the complex arrangements of earlier Earth, Wind & Fire come to mind. However, Malm’s most progressive moments are found on the 10 minutes plus multi movements of “Freefall” that is clearly Malm’s most ambitious recording to date. For those of you that remembered and enjoyed the jazz fusion of Deodato, then that will give you some idea of what to expect.
Otherwise, the remainder of Coming Home, as the title would suggest, brings the pleasures and peace of coming home to something familiar and fulfilling. While there is much to rejoice about with regard to Tomi’s follow up, the highlight reel includes the mid-tempo “Come Away” featuring Bill Cantos that is immediately followed by gorgeous “When You’re Gone” co-written by Cecily Gardner with the soulful vocals of Andreas Aleman. Tomi Malm is not afraid of seeking composition assistance from friends in high places such as the Jeremy Lubbock penned “Without You Saying a Word” sung by the underrated Marilyn Scott. Needless to say, influences of David Foster can be heard here. Yet still this beauty is outdone by the Michael Haddad’s composition “The Time Is Now” featuring the late great Warren Wiebe duetting with Wendy Moten and of course Malm’s amazing arrangements.
Closing out with Malm’s collaboration with the Randy Goodrum’s on the highly reflective and poetic “Hearts In Phase”, Malm’s does well to counter the musical mood through out the album with more upbeat moments such as the toe tapping “Two Hearts” and “I Got You”. But if we keep rambling, this review will quickly become a track by track breakdown. The reality is that this is no sophomore jinx along with no filer and simply put another stellar recording from the phenomenal Tomi Malm. If Coming Home has not yet found a home in your music collection then it is time to rectify this as every home should have one!!!
Who: Grammy Award winner pianist Omar Akram
Where: Born in New York with an ancestral home of Afghanistan
What: musical weavings of world, new age and smooth jazz
When: Recording debut 2002
Sounds like: the exotic leanings of Yanni
Omar Akram is by no means an undiscovered artist in the New Age/World/Smooth Jazz genres, but it has been 6 years since his pleasant yet subpar Daytime Dreamer that this would be an excellent opportunity to rediscover this unique artist. Prior to Daytime Dreamer, he made three sublime albums in a row in the form of Free As A Bird, Secret Journey and the Grammy award winner Echoes Of Love. With the gap in recordings, one might ask which category is Destiny destined for? One listen to this album or even just a small peek at it, one will instantly know that Omar Akram is clearly right back on track with a sensationally inspiring winner of an album, so much so that one has to wonder why this album is not also destined for a Grammy.
While all the music is composed and produced by Omar Akram, he does not hesitate to bring in impressive friends to assist him. First, we have the world-renowned producer Walter Afanasieff (who has worked with the likes of George Benson, Kenny G, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey to name a few), that co produces on the blooming “Lotus Flower” as well as the exotic closer “Here I Am”. The latter includes his vocal work, along with the poignant guitars of Ramon Stagnaro. Omar is also assisted on two tracks by the arrangement and conducting of Shardad Rohani who is well known for a little gig with Yanni Live At The Acropolis. Rohani’s contributions can be heard on the heart-rending “My Promise To You” along with the slow churning builder “Regenerate Love”. The latter features Akram’s beautiful piano work interplaying with Rohani’s arrangements and Steve Oliver’s guitar work. Add David Foster’s engineer/mixer Dave Reitzas into the mix one can only expect nothing short of a total winner of an album.
However, let’s remember that this album is about this Grammy Award winning artist Omar Akram, who with or without the above company, has created an album that is flying in the upper stratosphere of beautiful creativity and inspiration. From the stirring opener “Take Me Away” to the pulsating flirtatious title track or the soft rhythmic “Mystery Train” with Akram’s unforgettable melodious piano work, Destiny is emphatically his best to date.
While not reviewing as frequently as past years, it is these types of sublime albums that keeps bringing this reviewer back to the keyboard. And while late to the party, thankfully we did not miss this celebration of a rich harmonic musical tapestry of world, new age and smooth jazz, synonymous with Omar Akram’s recordings.
DAVID SURVIVES BUT THE TOWERING GOLIATH FALLS WHILE ANOTHER IS FALTERING!!! NOW WHAT FOR RECORD STORES???
Do you remember the day when it was so easy to drive to your local record store and check out the latest new and used inventory? From state to state and city to city, the metropolitan populations were always stocked with independent stores that were capable of accommodating to its customers even with the most far-fetched genre’s that could not make it to the mainstream market. The day the lofty retail giant Tower Records had to close its doors to its customers was a sad one. Then came COVID-19 and even more so the independent stores are continuing to struggle in a business that had its issue even before this pandemic. So where were we and what next?
After moving to Houston, Texas from the isolated yet beautiful Bahamas back in the early 80’s, I was exposed to the dominant retail record store of its day Sound Warehouse. This was only a tease when compared to the network of record stores I was introduced to upon my arrival to Southern California in the late 80’s. Of course, there was that significant retail chain Tower Records also located on Sunset Boulevard with its worldwide recognized yellow and red sign that seemed to be featured in a multitude of pop cultural movies of its time. Who would have thought that someday it would be no more? That day arrived many years ago.
The mega-retail store had survived many hurdles such as the growing voracity of the record industry, Napster, the internet retail boom, and now the growing demand to download music for pennies. But early signs of their fate came in 2004 when Tower filed for bankruptcy who were to close their doors by the of 2006 with the exception of some of their mega stores in Japan.
How did the retail business in general get here? Though there are a multitude of intertwining aspects, certainly an initial resistance to the technological advancements was one of many stumbling blocks. There was the long hard battle of converting the vintage virgin vinyl consumers to the silver disc however compact discs did finally take a commanding lead in retail sales. While the technological developments understandably resulted in an initial higher price tag, once the research and cost controls were inhaled by the consumer the buying public looked forward to the lowering of the retail prices. It never happened but instead discs were repackaged only years later with bonus tracks and anniversary editions persuading the consumer to buy their product a second and third time. This would only anger consumers even more.
Meanwhile, Napster took a further bite out of the music retail sales which resulted in artists and the recording industry litigating over this technology advancement. Then, the internet crushed the local retail outlets resulting in the homogenizing of those that survived for a while such as the Wal-Mart’s, Targets, Best Buy’s and Barnes & Noble only to all of them cave into the online giant Amazon.
So, what has happened since? Though many independents stores have perished in the capitalistic “food chain” there are a few independent local outlet and internet stores that continue to survive and thrive, willing to commit to a niche of consumers who cannot find what they are looking for via their mainstream options. And with the resurgence of vinyl there is a younger generation showing a strong interest in the past and actually heading into a physical store. Prior to COVID-19, Amoeba Records was booming, but even this giant is struggle as is so much of mainstream America. Along with their online presence Amoeba is still getting by. But if you don’t live in the greater LA area or San Francisco where can you run to? Though not intended to be exhaustive, here are a few viable alternative resources that may actually be your best buy.
1. Amoeba www.amoeba.com
Located in the heart of Hollywood, Amoeba is a mega-store that accommodates to every genre you could possibly think of. Their inventory is equal strengths of used and new cd’s and DVD’s. And yes, their used vinyl collection in recent years is also very impressive. The store is so huge that it will take your breath away. Though currently closed they are in the process of reopening their new store just around the corner from the original Hollywood location. Stay tuned for that. They also have 2 other locations in San Francisco and Berkley.
2. Zia Records www.ziarecords.com
Should you ever decided to visit the greater Phoenix AZ area then it is a must that you visit the city’s most dominant independent record store Zia Records. With both an extensive range of CD’s and vinyl at a reasonable price, Zia Records is a priority. With 5 stores in the Greater Phoenix area, one in Tucson, AZ and now also 2 stores in the Las Vegas area there is certainly a physical presence. It should also be reminded that if you purchase over $30 on their website it comes with free shipping and handling and points.
3. Bull Moose www.bullmoose.com
Much like Zia the set up is very similar from having a physical presence of 12 stores in the Maine and New Hampshire north east corner of the USA along with a strong internet presence. Like Zia, they use the same search engine and also offer free shipping and handling on any purchase over $30. And considering you have 12 stores of new and used product to pull from this is easily achievable. And even the used product much like Zia are rarely below very good condition.
4. CD Trader http://www.cdtradertarzana.com/
While there is physical record store in the Southern California valley in the suburb of the greater LA Valley that makes for a wonderful visit if you are in the area, their website ordering and presence is very limited. But if you are in the Greater LA area this small but super-efficient local record store when compared to the Amoeba Mega Store might be less overwhelming yet even greater efficiency wise. COVID-19 is still limiting their ability to be open to the public.
5. Waterloo Record www.waterloorecords.com
While Waterloo Records is not quite as strong on the website like Zia Records, their physical presence despite only one store is impressive. Nevertheless, this is the strongest pure independent record store that has a super strong new arrival and a multi-genre musical choice in both used and new music as well as a decent internet presence. Much like CD Trader, COVID-19 has limited their ability to serve the general public shy curbside and online.
6. Josey Records www.joseyrecords.com
Despite the closure of the dearly missed CD Source in Dallas, the blow of that loss was softened by the opening of Josey Records. With a stronger focus on the vinyl format, the Dallas location has strengthened its cd section over recent years and is beginning to flex its muscle in the Dallas market so much so that it has now extended into the Oklahoma and Kansas marketplace. Add their more recent moves of a stronger online presence also using the same search engine as the Zia and Bull Moose website, yet to be tested, Josey Records are showing to being a major new player in this ever-changing landscape of music stores.
7. Boo Boo Records www.booboorecords.com
If you ever decide to make a trip up the world-famous Pacific Coast Highway then pay a visit to the city of San Luis Obispo. It is at about the halfway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco and it is a stone’s throw away from coastal town of Morro Bay. It is the home of Boo Boo Records that has been in existence since the mid 70’s that has grown from a 300 square foot store to its current location of 5000 square feet. The selection is amazing which to this date includes a vinyl room and a significant classical, jazz and new age section. Though meager in size when compared to Amoeba, the store has a heart of a giant and is worth side stepping from your coastal excursion.
8. Forever Young Records www.foreveryoungrecords.com
Located in Grand Prairie which is a distant suburb of the Dallas Metroplex the store covers over 11,000 square feet of cd’s (used and new), vinyl, memorabilia and even eight track tapes (does anyone remember them?). From a size aspect the store almost compares to the Hollywood monster Amoeba. The cd inventory, especially new, is impressive, and the prices are reasonable but do not compete with the West Coast mega store. But for those of you now two steps behind on the audio technological advancements, they do have a huge impressive vinyl selection.
9. NEH Records www.nehrecords.com
With no physical retail outlet available, the Colorado based NEH Records is purely an internet presence that specializes in Melodic Rock. Yet despite an almost complete emphasis on imports, the prices continue to be very reasonable in the event that a used copy is not attainable. Add their limited Wednesday $5 sale day where titles go really fast, it should be remembered that owner Michael McPherson also released his own solo album back in 1997 titled Don’t Look Back. Produced by Bobby Barth the sound is solid, the lyrics insightful and McPherson’s voice and music somewhat in the vein of James Taylor.
10. Impulse Records www.impulsemusic.com
Specializing in metal of all kinds including a strong inventory of Melodic Rock, Impulse Music was located on the west side of Chicago in the suburbs of Roselle, Illinois. The owner moved to the state of CO and continues to stock an impressive inventory of affordable imported priced music.
The above is by no means meant to be comprehensive, but is a reminder that giants have fallen and faltered and yet there are still places either on the internet and better yet some in your own backyard. So, what’s in your neighborhood?
New Artists coming at you all the time.