Artist: David Arkenstone & Charlee Brooks
Ever since his debut album Valley in the Clouds back in 1987, David Arkenstone has been one of my favorite artists in the new age music genre. A three-time GRAMMY nominee, his grandiose style of musical story telling has encompassed diverse influences including ambient, Celtic, folk, world beat, electronic, acoustic, and more. His latest release is entitled Lovéren, and is a collaboration with operatically-gifted vocalist Charlee Brooks. All I can say is that the writer who described this album as “epic” is guilty of one thing – understatement in the first degree.
On so many levels, this is one of the most elaborate CD productions I have seen in a long time. To begin with, David commissioned Steven Vlasak to write the original story of Lovéren, which is an imaginative odyssey of love, romance and passion set in the magical world of mermaids. Accompanying the CD is a lavish 16-page booklet that contains the story along with stunning visionary artwork. In addition to Charlee’s contributions as a vocalist and collaborator on many aspects of the production, she also created an original mermaid language called Mermish, to give the music an even more exotic ambience. According to David: “Lovéren’ may be able to reach a lot more people than I’ve reached before because it has vocals as part of its foundation. Many of the songs are sung in Mermish, a new language that Charlee was inspired to create to illustrate the story so you feel those emotions. It’s wonderful because it’s universal. Everyone can understand it because it’s based on pure emotion.”
While Charlee contributes both vocal and instrumental talents, David creates on guitars, keyboards, drums and percussion, bass, mandolin, vocals, and a number of world music instruments. He sees working with Charlee as an opportunity to reinvent himself as an artist yet again. In his words: “ We have created music that transcends what either of us would be able to accomplish on our own.” The album also features additional players on percussion and Uilleann pipes, as well as symphonic touches from a thirteen-member string section consisting of violins, viola, and cello. As if this were not enough, the lofty vocals of The Nashville Soul Choir add their distinctive sound to the production. I think by this point, it becomes clear why I said the description of this music as “epic” was understated. It is easily on a level where it could serve as a soundtrack to a monumental film like Lord of the Rings.
Lovéren, however, is a world unto itself. Opening appropriately with a track called “Origins,” the neo-classical influence is felt as the delicate female vocals ride the waves of swelling strings. Fans of Enya will immediately be captivated by this dramatic intro. At the one-minute mark, waves of percussion and piano sweep in, propelling the song in its flow. I especially liked the atmospheric multi-tracked vocals that grace particular sections. On “The Forbidden Sea,” washes of dreamy synthesizer and harp evoke aquatic ambience and set the scene for the next chapter. As the music unfolds, powerful rhythmic undercurrents blend with airy otherworldly vocals – a theme that is found throughout the album.
In an interesting change, on a track called “Sessa Nulma (Mermaid Love)” the lyrics are primarily sung in English. It’s a lovely ballad that highlights Charlee’s exquisite vocals in a spacious and reflective context. Its energy is more lunar in contrast with the bright solar energy of “Jamboree,” that shines with joyful world music influences. Perhaps the most ambient piece on the album is a track entitled “Lost,” which I could see garnering airplay on “Hearts Of Space” and “Echoes” radio.
For me it all comes together on ”Love Always Waits,” the grand finale, where various elements from the album converge as it flows through its diverse passages. The sweeping intro sets the stage for a contemporary electro groove with driving Celtic-sounding percussion and a melody that, for me, evoked memories of early U2 in it’s feel. The song’s third movement opens into a majestic cathedral of sound that builds to a crescendo as a choir of voices rise to the heavens amidst grand fanfare. I’ve always appreciated David Arkenstone’s flair for imaginative writing and arranging and this piece shows the level of accomplishment he has attained in his accolade-laden 25 year career – very impressive. As he describes it: “Creating Lovéren was a magical experience inspired by my desire to create a symphonic, cinematic album with more singing than usual, and the desire to work with Charlee Brooks, who’s a wonderful vocalist and writer. The originality of the project turned out to be vitally important.” While comparisons to the music of Yanni, Blackmore’s Night, or 2002 might serve as somewhat of a reference point, I have to echo David’s statement about the originality of this work – it is truly unique and a product of his and Charlee’s combined artistic vision. There can be no doubt that Lovéren is a transcendent example of musical mastery that will inspire the imagination of listeners for years to come.