Songs Without Words II
Windham Hill Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/19/2002
The piano can be one of the most soothing and romantic instruments in the musical world. There is something about listening to those who have mastered the 88 keys, hearing them put musical visions into a form we can hear which captivates the senses and tugs at the heartstrings.
Maybe this is why I knew I was going to like Songs Without Words II, the latest compilation of instrumental works from new age pianists, before I even heard the first note. Even if I had only heard of a handful of the artists, like Jim Brickman, David Benoit and Janis Ian, I had an inkling that this was going to be a special disc.
Thankfully, executive producer Benoit does not disappoint throughout this 45-minute, 11 song collection. Don't let the term "new age" or the fact this is released on Windham Hill fool you; these songs refuse categorization, wanting only to be accepted on their own merits - of which, they have plenty.
Interestingly enough, the duet between Brickman and Benoit ("Glory"), while pretty, is not the highlight of this collection. That honor I'll give to Barbara Higbie with her selection "Charlie Riley". Originally released on her CD Variations On A Happy Ending, this tune captures the feel of ragtime blues locked in the body of Vince Guaraldi. It's a lot of fun to listen to, and makes me wonder why Higbie isn't more well-known. It also makes me want to hear more of what she has to offer.
Simply put, though, there is not a bad song to be found on Songs Without Words II. It is interesting to hear the different approaches to the keyboard that each artist brings to the table, realizing that these artists have more in common than you'd think. Of special note are the performances by Janis Ian ("Days Like These"), Alan Pasqua ("To Love Again"), Brian Culbertson ("You're Not Alone") and Taylor Eigsti ("Past Voices"). No slight is meant towards any contributor I haven't named individually - frankly, without their input, this disc might not have been as magical as it is.
Time, then, for the sole complaint I have - this disc is so enjoyable that 45 minutes seems too short. Still, a minor quibble.
Songs Without Words II is an exceptional collection of some of the best pianists of this age, and is a disc that should appeal to music lovers of all ages and styles. It kind of makes me wish I had reviewed this one for Valentine's Day - but then again, romance, like this disc, shouldn't be bottled up for special occasions.