Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

FEBRUARY 9, 1998: 

Various Artists

Conversations With God

(Windham Hill)

The “New Age” category of music inspires as diverse a gaggle of detractors as any I can think of. Rockers, rappers, jazzers, classicists, blues fans, country fans…these and other camps host a huge faction of New Age bashers. “Too repetitive!” or “Simple-minded!” or “Sappy!” are common complaints. But, beyond the motley knee-jerk reactions, I think I perceive a more universal revulsion: fear of vulnerability. Many people are simply and fundamentally afraid to subscribe to the genteel and unguarded ways of New Age, lest they become prone.

Multi-instrumentalist Ray Lynch is one of several New Age artists showcased on the latest Windham Hill Collection.
There exists a rich and varied body of New Age music for listeners who are willing to cast off such constraints, and those adventurers should know that the comely Windham Hill compilation Conversations With God brings together an impressive list of composers and compositions worthy of examination. As confounding as the notion may be, there are “superstars” in the world of New Age music, and this CD boasts the presence of several. Outstanding among the roster of artists whose works are showcased here are Liz Story, Ray Lynch, Gabrielle Roth & the Mirrors, Shadowfax, New Age icon George Winston, and Windham Hill guiding force Will Ackerman.

Conversations With God is intended to function as an audio companion to Neale Donald Walsch’s best-selling book series of the same name, and the CD’s 15 instrumental tracks are of an appropriately tranquil and resplendent stripe. Walsch helped to determine which pieces would ultimately make it onto the album, choosing from a vast assortment of previously released songs. (Actually, track #15, the album’s title piece, was composed by Liz Story expressly for this project.)

The dedicated New Age fan will probably already know most of the music on Conversations With God, but this gorgeous album is a perfect place for the open-minded neophyte to commence investigations. – Stephen Grimstead

Holly Cole

Dark Dear Heart

(Metro Blue/Capitol)

Never underestimate the power of a woman, particularly if the woman in question is vocalist/song stylist Holly Cole. For the past decade, Canadian Cole has steadily built a solid fan base around the world through extensive touring and a series of six increasingly individual jazz-tinged albums. Rapidly evolving from a street-smart chanteuse (who was “lounge” before it was cool) into the most intimate of modern-day interpreters, Holly Cole has the rare gift of being able to take any song – no matter how well known or obscure – and make it entirely her own.

As with many other talented artists who defy strict categorization, the good ol’ USA took some time to warm up to Ms. Cole’s formidable charms. With her latest release, Dark Dear Heart, Cole finally hit pay dirt in the States through the success of the lead-off track, a throbbing, upbeat feminine take on Lennon-McCartney’s “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” Embraced by adult alternative radio as a breath of fresh air, Cole’s transformation of the Beatles’ light-headed love song into a sensuous elastic celebration is just a small sample of what the lady is capable of doing.

For longtime Holly Cole fans, Dark Dear Heart may appear to have more of a pop veneer to it, but the shadowy soul within is still pure. Cole’s choice of material is once again impeccable, with over half of the songs originating from female composers. An unreleased Sheryl Crow tune leads the pack (“You Want More”), with strong support from Mary Margaret O’Hara (“Dark, Dear Heart” and “Brighter Lonely Day [Run, Run, Run]”), Patty Larkin (“I Told Him That My Dog Wouldn’t Run”), Laura Harding (“Make It Go Away” and “Onion Girl”) and even Joni Mitchell (“River”).

One of Cole’s secrets for success includes her two core sidemen, keyboardist Aaron Davis and multi-instrumentalist David Piltch, her musical allies since their professional beginning as the Holly Cole Trio. The three have played together for so long that they intuitively anticipate each other’s moves, like she’s the heartbeat and they’re the shared pulse. This organic simpatico arrangement between the singer, the song, and the soundscape results in Dark Dear Heart possessing a languid, liquid center, ever changing but never out of control.

The current record-company slogan for Holly Cole declares that “she doesn’t cover a song, she uncovers it,” and for once, the hype proves to be true. Her permutational powers actually reach far beyond those limits, as she’s capable of making the listener believe that everything she sings originated with her. Once Cole puts her unmistakable stamp on a song, it’s hers forever. On “Onion Girl,” Cole exclaims, “I’m naked and shameless/And I’m peeling back the layers.” This process of continual self-discovery makes Holly Cole an undeniable force to be reckoned with, and Dark Dear Heart emerges as a hypnotic musical journey worth taking over and over again. – David D. Duncan

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