Greatest Hits Vol. 2 is a collection of sixteen pieces culled from a three-decade span of works by California-based composer/musician Steven Vitali. His music first debuted on Canadian airwaves in 1988 with a song called “Eternity”. which was eventually followed up with his debut album, Come Dream With Me, released in 1989. Totaling sixty-seven minutes in length, Greatest Hits Vol. 2 weaves new age, neoclassical and contemporary instrumental styles of music that variably range from boldly cinematic to quietly contemplative, as environmental nature sounds along with touches of world music are additionally sprinkled throughout.

Every once in a while, I’ll come across an album that is so profoundly moving and personally resonant that it leaves me utterly speechless. This time, it’s a double album clocking in at over two hours, titled Prayer to the Energy, by ambient-electronic music composer, as well as fine artist, Hollan Holmes. With a title and accompanying cover art that appears to be a nod to Nikola Tesla, one might get the impression upon first glance that the music herein is rather observational in nature, and while that’s true, each piece is also deeply emotive and incredibly haunting without ever becoming morose. Comprised of fourteen flawless compositions, Prayer to the Energy is Hollan’s sixth release, as well as his first recording that employs both vintage and digital analog hardware synthesizers, with the first part of the album largely centered around dynamic electronic sequencer passages, and the second part offering up a deep space excursion.

Michele McLaughlin is a self-taught pianist and composer with a remarkably impressive recording catalog that includes both Billboard charting and multiple award-winning albums. Having recently had the pleasure of meeting Michele at a performance in my area, I found her demeanor to be warm and personal, as she shared inspiring personal stories behind various compositions, which were often laced with a good dose of humor and related via captivating storytelling. On her latest album, simply titled Life, Michele perfectly captures a compelling range of dynamic expression and quieter introspection throughout its thirteen beautiful compositions of contemporary solo piano arrangements, which often bear an intrinsically classical elegance throughout.

Nancy Shoop-Wu is a composer and violinist originally from Connecticut who resides in Hawaii. As a member of the Honolulu Symphony she has shared the stage with many notable Hawaiian musicians, as well as superstars such as Yo-Yo Ma and Bela Fleck. Rainbow Road is Nancy’s second release and first full-length album, having previously released a debut EP titled Beautiful Mana’o. Comprised of twelve compositions spanning forty-nine minutes, Nancy combines both classical and contemporary musical styles while additionally drawing inspiration from the surrounding natural beauty and culture of the Hawaiian Islands. Joining her throughout are several guest musicians, of which include Derek Nakamoto on acoustic piano and keyboards, both Jan O’Sullivan and Jeff Peterson on Hawaiian slack key guitar, Dean Taba on acoustic bass, Garin Poliahu on drums, Satnam Ramgotra on frame drum, and Holo’ua Stender on Ipu drum.

Giuseppe Dio is an Italian electronic music composer and photographer who combines his passion for both music and photography on his album, Lights, Shadows and Colors. Drawing upon both vintage and modern electronic music styles that span several decades, the album incorporates elements of Berlin-school, chillout and dance-trance music throughout its twelve amazing, adventure-packed compositions.

Stephen Peppos is a composer and multi-instrumentalist whose fifth album, Leaving Terra Firma, explores a variety of atmospheric sonic terrain. Comprised of thirteen compositions spanning seventy-two minutes, the compositions herein range from classic new age to cosmic space and electronic-ambient music, which are often imprinted with unique touches of eclecticism.

Darlene Koldenhoven is a Grammy award-winning vocalist with an impressive resume that includes her role as the soprano soloist in the Yanni Live at the Acropolis performance, as well as having appeared in the movie Sister Act portraying a choir nun. Her ninth album, Color Me Home, is an exquisite eleven-track excursion which Darlene produced, engineered and composed the lyrics and music for, as well as sings, plays piano, synthesizer, native drums and shakers on. Beautifully and thoughtfully packaged, the CD includes a coloring book depicting images of nature, perfectly illustrating a spectacular collage of diverse arrangements and instruments. In what could perhaps be best described as a fusion of classical crossover, contemporary instrumental and new age vocal music with an often-touch of subtle world elements, the album’s track lineup alternates between sung lyrical compositions and instrumental pieces that feature wordless vocal intonations. Joining Darlene on this musical adventure is a team of talented artists, of which includes Tom Scott, Brent Fischer, Ricky Kej, Wouter Kellerman, Charlie Bisharat, David Arkenstone, Rocky Dawuni, Gayle Levant, Jeff Oster, Al Jewer, John Sarantos, Mike Miller, Lyn Bertles, Nick Vincent, Courtney Jacob, and Vanil Veigas.

Into Eternity is the sophomore release from pianist and composer Jim Gabriel, and follow-up to his debut album, Sojourn. Comprised of twelve compositions recorded at Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, Into Eternity was co-produced by guitarist Will Ackerman and multi-instrumentalist Tom Eaton. Both are also guest musicians on the album (with Will on acoustic guitar and Tom on electric guitar, bass and accordion), along with Jill Haley on English horn, Jeff Oster on flugelhorn, Gus Sebring on French horn, Eugene Friesen on cello, Charlie Bisharat on violin, Tony Levin on bass, and Noah Wilding on vocals

Shapeshifter is the collaborative release by Scott Cole and Matthew Coffman, who create an intriguing blend of music that ranges from experimental ambient to acoustic, avant-garde and instrumental world fusion. Comprised of thirteen compositions, the album features an eclectic variety of instruments played by the duo, which include mountain dulcimers, bass, electric and acoustic guitar, synthesizer, keyboard, sitar, flute, reed instruments, didgeridoo, ukulele, cajon, melodica, guitarron, resonator, udu, and other percussion.

Sisu (pronounced see-soo) is the sophomore release from Jennifer DeFrayne and follow-up to her critically-acclaimed debut album, By a Wire. A self-taught pianist and composer of Finnish decent, Sisu is a Finnish word describing “a mindset that enables an individual to reach beyond their present limitations, take action against all odds and transform struggles into success.” Such a description couldn’t be more fitting for this album, one that has been conceptualized by an artist who experienced a series of personal tragedies, while her truest companion, the piano, guided her along through her pain and suffering. Comprised of twelve compositions written by Jennifer and produced with Corin Nelson, the album additionally features a handful of talented guest musicians throughout. Among them include Jeff Haynes on percussion, Premik Russell Tubbs on electronic woodwind instrument and saxophone, Michael Manring on bass guitar and EBow, Jill Haley on oboe and English horn, Sarah Milonovich on violin and vocals, Jeff Pearce on ambient guitar, and Jeff Oster on flugelhorn.

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