Chill Out Island

From New Age to downtempo electronica to acoustic folk, Chill Out Island surveys the finest in relaxing music.

Vickie Russell returns wit to country music

Reviewed by Carson James

Artist: Vickie Russell

Title: Next

If Dolly Parton is interested in reviving her superstar country career, she might want to think about covering the title track of Vickie Russell’s new CD. “What about the one before, I think it was Wayne?/At your 10th reunion you rekindled the flame/Got you hot and bothered by the way he kissed/Had a second job as an arsonist,” Russell sings. Such twisted humor has sadly become a lost art in country music; I applaud Russell for reminding us that this genre is not as vanilla as people think.

Russell sways back and forth from old to new country, utilizing elements of both to create a sound that is neither too retro nor too pop. She should be able to corral both audiences then. Her singing borrows from folk music, such as on “Painted by Monet” and “I Want You,” with its reflective acoustic opening that then picks up speed. The piano song, “Go to Sleep,” is as sweet and uplifting they come. You will emerge from Next with a large smile on your face, either from laughing out loud or simply being touched.

Torch’s ‘Charmed’ offers a ‘world of endless delights’


Reviewed by Carson James

Artist: Torch

Title: Charmed

Torch’s Charmed has been delighting me for a couple of months now; in fact, it has become such a presence in my everyday listening that reviewing it is proving difficult. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, just an absence of words. Finding ways of writing about a well-played record as if it was still fresh in my mind would normally be impossible, but thankfully Charmed conveys more of its abundant qualities after massive spins.

At first, my attention was fixated on the smoky singing of Seela Misra. Veering from the film noir-ish enigmatic beauty of “Night of the Arrival” to the giddy self-confidence and radiant sexuality of “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” it was inevitable that my ears would linger on her voice. However, after a while I began to notice the top-flight musicianship of her band. Chris Maresh and Mike Porter are superb bassists, helping give the songs (a combination of original compositions and nicely chosen remakes) their tight, intoxicating rhythms. Jon Greene is a solid drummer, especially thrilling on “Is It Enough” and “Caravan.”

I envy those who will just now hear Charmed. To them, a world of endless delights will follow.

‘Mood Swing’ combines classical elegance with the deep emotions of jazz


Reviewed by Carson James

Artist: Becky Archibald

Title: Mood Swing

Pianist Becky Archibald combines the elegance of classical music with the rich emotional textures of jazz. Some of the compositions here are so strong that you might think they were written decades ago. Actually, this is a new record with Archibald writing everything herself. The production and mixing are immaculate; it’s sounds almost as if Archibald is performing in your living room.

For quiet time, put on “Spring (duet),” with its golden collaboration of piano (Archibald) and cello (Ingrid Fischer-Bellman). It is lush and relaxing, putting calmness in your heart. “Waltz” and “A Really Mean Boogie-Woogie” quicken the tempo a bit but it all goes down smoothly like warm honey. I am particularly moved by “Unspoken,” which has somewhat of a winter feel to it, perfect for this time of the year. As far as chill-out music goes, this is about as classy and sharp as it gets. Lovely!

Vahe inspires listeners with lovely summer-afternoon Latin jazz

Reviewed by Carson James

Artist: Vahe

Title: Inspiration

The title is certainly apt; Vahe has produced an album that is definitely inspired, a work of love and good feeling that warms the heart with each succeeding track. You don’t have to be a fan of Latin jazz to appreciate the sunny glow of the music here. The opening cut, “Romantic Whisper,” caresses the ears with its playful tropical percussion, shuffling beat, and incandescent acoustic guitar. The production is crisp and elegant; you can hear every subtle turn of the guitar strings. Vahe’s playing is mesmerizing and aims for beauty, which he effortlessly achieves.

On “Rumba Flamenca,” the seduction continues as luscious guitar work cradles us with soft hands; it has a pleasant, summer-afternoon vibe that creates a sparkle in the eye. The title track is something altogether more ambitious, a sweeping, orchestral number that wows the senses. It is both cinematic and intimate, a rare combination that deserves to be treasured. There isn’t a single misstep on Inspiration. Vahe is a master craftsman with the loveliness of the world as his muse. We are inspired because of it.

Blind New York singer/songwriter sees love and wisdom through soulful shades


Reviewed by Carson James

Artist: Vinny St. Marten

Title: Blindness Is a State of Mind

You see the cover — a bald, white man in shades enveloped in darkness, and you become intrigued. Immediately you get the impression that this isn’t pop music, at least what passes for such on commercial radio stations. In fact, although I can hear the late ’60s-early ’70s AM influences that color the music of New York singer/songwriter Vinny St. Marten, that doesn’t mean you’ve heard any of this before. Rather, this is one of those records that is so personal, so close to the artist who created it, it doesn’t feel like it belongs to any genre at all.

While there are only three tunes on the EP (not including Marten’s heartfelt, informative introductions to each of them), we don’t feel short-changed although it does leave us yearning for more. “Think About It (Roy’s Song)” deals with the subject of racism in a powerful, non-preachy manner. Using audio samples from Martin Luther King, Jr. as an anchor, Marten relates the true story of his friendship with a black boy named Roy. Since Marten is blind, the color of Roy’s skin was at first completely unknown and then irrelevant to him. It’s a beautifully moving tale with poignant, dramatic narrative punched by Marten’s bluesy singing. On “Please Let Me Be Your Eyes,” Marten duets with Elysa Sunshine for a soulful declaration of love that has deeper meaning the more you analyze the lyrics. Their singing is gorgeous and hauntingly pretty. The sentimental “16 Grove Street” ends the EP with Marten’s homage to his family. It’s almost as if he’s opened the front door of his house for you and let you in. But really it’s his heart that has allowed you entry, and every cut on this CD beats with the pulse of life. Unforgettable.

Crooner Julie Blue is soulful, passionate on new CD

Reviewed by Carson James

Artist: Julie Blue

Title: One of a Kind Woman

Just as its title promises, Julie Blue is, indeed, a One of a Kind Woman on this beautifully crafted and sweetly-scented album. With a voice as sultry as Sade’s and as dreamy as Dido’s, Blue unites the world of jazz, blues, pop, and soul with tasteful and deliciously inviting compositions. Her vocals are the key to your heart, opening the doors of various emotions, from romantic regret (“Love Looks Like Now”) to positive reinforcement (“Believe in Yourself”) to spiritual reflection (“Way of the Mystery”). It’s all performed with emotional highs and lows, delivered with passion yet restraint as well.

Blue is a crooner, but one with real feeling in her voice; she is not some restaurant karoake singer. No, Blue is a vocalist who captures the thoughts conveyed in her words with an honest-to-God sincerity. “Love Looks Like Now” recalls Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home” in its mix of sad lyrics with rather upbeat adult alternative music. “Love Looks Like Now” surprised me because I was expecting a mostly jazzy affair. However, Blue is not one to be categorized. “Believe in Yourself” has echoes of Elton John in the piano playing and “Bluer Than Blue” and “Well of Love” are extensions of the blues. This is a CD that continuously surprises and delights as it goes along. To say that I’m merely in love with it is an understatement.

‘Christmas Rose’ is a lovely, unique holiday record


Reviewed by Carson James

Artist: Bronn Journey

Title: Christmas Rose

Bronn Journey probably only intended this album to be played during the holidays, but Christmas Rose has something else going for it. It’s a lovely, ear-soothing work, one that can be appreciated at any time of the year. Of course, the notes of “We Three Kings” and “Drummer Boy” are such an indelible part of our lives that we cannot separate them from the season in which they are normally only heard. However, there are performances and unique touches here, such as the Oriental flavors of “Pat-a-Pan” and the world-music undertow of “Drummer Boy,” that’ll make them tasty treats the whole year.

Journey’s rendition of “We Three Kings” is drop-dead gorgeous; sumptuous strings produce layers of silky lushness. Journey doesn’t play as much as weave; there is magic here, a spellbinding network of emotion and atmosphere. “Christmas Time is Here” will probably be best known for its use in the Charlie Brown Christmas TV special. Here, Journey gives it a handsomely fragile and star-sparkling treatment.