From September 2014

New Music Discovery- For King and Country

For King and Country

Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong.

As one who generally dismisses Christian pop music out of hand, I was pleasantly surprised by the Australian brother act For King and Country. Oft compared to Coldplay,  Joel and Luke Smallbone eschew the typical “contemporary Christian” cliches of cheesy “I want Jesus to be my boyfriend” lyics, predictable harmonies and key changes ad nauseum. Instead, the boys from down under give us sincere expressions of their faith set in dreamy, sophisticated orchestrations.

Joel and Luke are capable of spinning a good tune and there are a number of standouts on this their sophomore outing. I was particularly moved by Shoulders ,Long Live and Already Home.  I think the grand appeal of these songs is their avoidance of preachiness in lieu of an appeal to a universal good. Joel and Luke tastefully avoid the “I was a down and out horrible sinner with nothing to live for before Jesus” trap and offer up lyrics that are positive and uplifting . Even if one weren’t of a Christian bent, one could be inspired by these upbeat anthems.

For King and Country came as a very pleasant surprise and is a band that I will certainly continue to follow. Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong. is available on Rhapsody, Spotify, Itunes, Amazon, Google Play and other digital outlets. If you still love hard media, the CD is available through Amazon. Well worth a listen!

Side note:  I did a web search for a synonym for inspirational. The first site that I clicked on had a banner ad at the top for this release. Interesting coincidence, or God moment? You decide.


Dollar Delights – Arnold Bax, Chamber Music for Harp

Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953)

Valse (1931) , In Memoriam (1917), Fantasy Sonata for Viola and Harp (1927), Quintet for String Quartet and Harp (1919), Sonata for Flute and Harp (1928)

Marcia Dickstein, harp; Timothy Landauer, cello; Natalie Leggett, violin; Rene Mandel, violin; Simon Oswell, viola; Leslie Reed, english horn; Angela Wiegand, flute; Evan Wilson, viola

RCM Records 19081 TT=66:21


Welcome to the first in an occasional series of reviews of recordings that I have found for one dollar. Of course, you may not be as lucky as i was to find these gems in a thrift store or an estate sale, but I would encourage you to seek them out nonetheless, because they will all be recordings of special merit, and therefore you will not read any negative reviews in this column. Rather, the purpose of these entries is to turn you on to some fine recordings that you might have missed due to their limited distribution or their unusual repertoire.

Sir Arnold Bax was a master composer who is sadly left to the fringes of music history. He was adamant about composing works that were original, but also and more importantly beautiful and well crafted. Bax spoke in a finely honed musical language and with a supreme economy of gesture. There are never any wasted notes nor does his music smack of the grandiose pomposity of and Elgar or a Berlioz. Rather, he wrote with fluidity and simplicity that even Vaughan Williams or Benjamin Britten sometimes missed.

This delightful disc of works features the harp, an instrument of which he was most fond and for which he left a significant body of work. We owe it to the diligence of Marcia Dickstein for rooting out some of these heretofore neglected works. For her efforts in producing clean, contemporary editions of works that had been available only in manuscripts, she deserves a certificate of honor.

Performed here by a fine group of orchestral and studio musicians from the Los Angeles area, these superb performances transport the listener into a somewhat other-worldly realm. A place where emotions, although present are kept in check in favor of a more atmospheric and sensuous dreamscape.

Of particular merit is the gorgeous Fantasy Sonata for viola and harp, a work that is clearly modeled on Claude Debussy’s late excursions (sadly left unfinished) into a realm of ensemble in which there is no accompanist, but rather a equal matching of voices that express more of a musical conversation than a didactic lecture punctuated by chordal harmonies. Evan Wilson plays with a sonorous but understated tone which is well matched with Ms. Dickstein’s fleet and colorful playing.

The other standout is the Sonatina for flute and harp. The diminutive title will fool no one, at almost eighteen minutes this is a substantial work performed here to perfection by Ms. Dickstein and Angela Wiegand. The Debussy influence is again palpable. One need only give a repeat listen to his Sonata for flute, viola and harp to glean Bax’s inspiration.

With so much music at hand, it is rather rare that I play a disc multiple times in one sitting, but this garden of delights is the notable and gladsome exception. With the onset of Autumn weather, these dreamy and nocturnal works add incense to the darker hues of the changing season. This is a beautiful hour of music and well worth seeking out.





Classical Music in the Digital World, or, Why I Still Love Hard Media


I have never been one to eschew new technologies and I certainly appreciate the wealth of music, books, blogs and other digital feasts that are now available to the world for free or for a very small fee. However, with the availability of mass quantities of anything, comes the down side of having to wade through a ton of junk, and of having less that competent people doing the cataloging.

This shoddy bookkeeping is a major problem with the digital world and classical music. Although there is a wealth of titles available on subscription services such as Rhapsody, Spotify, Songza and Pandora, there is only one site, The Naxos Music Library, that even comes close to adequate and accurate labeling of these recordings. Additionally, NML is the only such site that has an adequate search engine enabling the listener to quickly find and stream recordings.

The problems are myriad. Missing composer and performer data, the lumping of multi-movement works under one generic title (often the wrong one), labeling music by the artist and not the composer, the labeling of composer’s works without identifying the artist,  and the listing of tempo markings for movements without identifying the entire work are just a few of the irritating problems lovers of western art music face when trying to find their favorite works in the digital sphere. Unless you are very well versed in serious music and its canon of recordings, it would be easier to translate Sanskrit with a German dictionary than to browse the classical music selection on Rhapsody or Spotify.

Playlist type services such as Pandora and Songza usually only offer single movements of larger works (although Pandora finally came out with a complete works station a few months ago) and they offer only the most cursory information about the music and performers that they stream.

Add to that the total absence of program notes and performer biographies (again, the notable exception is the Naxos Music Library which is like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way) and the frustrations for serious connoisseurs of serious music mount into a pile of obstacles that isn’t really worth the effort to overcome.

Thus, as much as I appreciate the ability to play thousands of pieces of music on my iphone as I take my daily exercise, I could never discard my collection of hard media, predominantly housed on the ever faithful vinyl record. My vinyl collection grows every day and I am amazed at how much I enjoy the old format. Some years ago I rid myself of my large cd collection and ripped the whole thing to a hard drive. That’s a decision that I regret more each day.

Enter the bargain bin!! Luckily for those of us who still love things made of plastic and having huge collections of media as a symbol of our intellectual and cultural prowess, thousands of compact discs are now languishing in bargain bins and thrift stores. If one is into serious music, ’tis very likely that one is also meticulous about the care of one’s treasures, thus, dollar bin classical cds are oft in pristine condition. This is a great thing for those of us on tight budgets!

Between the thrift store up the street from me that sells vinyl for fifty cents a pop, and cds for a buck fifty, and my local branch of the public library that sells used books and cds for a dollar each, I’ve been having a field day finding cheap treasures. And so gentle readers, I embark on an occasional new series that will be called Dollar Delights, treasures found for a buck. My first review will appear here anon, so Read on, MacDuff!