CD: Trail of Dreams
For a well-established recording artist or ensemble with a large following, experimenting with new directions in their signature sound can be risky. Fans sometimes have preconceived notions about what they expect to hear from that artist and charting new territory can often go either way with the listeners. Fortunately for 2002, their experimentation has paid off, and I have no doubt that the changes to their sound will be well loved by those who have followed them over the course of their numerous chart-topping albums. In fact, I’m sure it will serve to expand that fan base as well.
All of the familiar elements of their sound are still there – the classically tinged melodies, dreamy flutes, crystalline piano, tender strings, celestial choirs, harp, and acoustic guitars. The evolution that has been taking place, particularly on this new release, include the increased use of vocals and percussion, as well as infusing elements from pop, folk, and progressive rock into their ambient/neo-classical roots. While the group has been known over the years as the husband and wife duo of Randy and Pamela Copus, their previous release, Believe, saw the introduction of their then 8 year old daughter Sarah into the group on harp and vocals. On Trail of Dreams, Sarah, who is now the ripe old age of 10, is moving into a much more prominent role in the ensemble. In addition to her heavenly harp playing, she is now the primary lead vocalist in the band, with many of the harmonies and vocal arrangements having been created by her. This is not to say that she necessarily sounds like any of these artists, but I imagine that fans of Enya, Loreena McKennitt, etc. would greatly enjoy the addition of Sarah’s ethereal Celtic-influenced vocals.
Interestingly, the group’s desire to explore new musical directions ties right in with the theme of this album. According to the artists: “Fate sends us on journeys. Some are planned. Many are not. Trail of Dreams is about that great journey into the unknown, to find one’s destiny. Many of the songs were inspired by the stories of great travelers. This collection of songs explores that insatiable desire to find new worlds, to challenge fate and to soothe curiosity. A common thread runs throughout our myths and legends, regardless of where we are from. The hero’s journey echoes endlessly throughout the tapestry of all human experience. The synergy that Sarah brings to 2002’s signature sound has created something entirely new, by a band that believes in following the musical adventure wherever it leads, ever onward.”
With 15 studio recordings, countless compilations, 3 DVD soundtracks and numerous guest appearances, 2002 has definitely been on a musical journey. Although I have had the pleasure of writing about a number of these releases, I recently learned something interesting about the origin of the band’s name, 2002, that was brand new to me. The zeros in the middle were originally an infinity sign and the “twos” on either side represented them (Randy and Pamela) on either side of infinity. However, since it was not the easiest name to type on a computer keyboard, or to pronounce, they became known as “Two Thousand Two.”
The first steps on Trail of Dreams start out in the grand cinematic fashion the group has become known for with the opening track entitled “Into The Light.” Randy Copus is an absolute master of epic orchestration, and right from the start his artistry is felt. After his inspired instrumental introduction on keyboards, Sarah opens the gates of heaven with her soaring vocals that literally gave me chills when I first listened. Not to lean too heavily on the comparison, but I would imagine that if someone heard the next track, “Sky,” without knowing who it was, it wouldn’t be too hard to assume that it was from an album by Enya. Lovely vocal harmonies, imaginative string and harp arrangements, powerful percussive elements, and a touch of Pamela’s gorgeous flute playing elevate this piece to the lofty realm described by it’s name.
The album’s title track is a stunning piece of music and is a good example, not only of the new musical currents the group are charting, but also of the previously mentioned theme of the project. They describe his composition as “depicting the great spiritual epic “Autobiography of a Yogi,” where Yogananda travels to far away America to bring the spirituality of India to the west.” This piece reflects a bit of progressive rock element that is becoming a part of their sound. Although it is propelled by hand drumming rather than a full drum set, stylistically, for me, it brought to mind the music of the group Yes. This is due in part to the arrangement and lyrics, but also to the vocal timbre of Randy, who sang lead on it. As he comments: “I’ve been compared to (Yes vocalist) Jon Anderson for my whole career. I’m a tenor-alto who sings high notes in deep reverb, with lyrics centered around spirituality and celestial themes. Given that, it’s hard not to be compared to Jon! I don’t want to sound like anyone, that’s just what happens when I sing those notes and words.” Interestingly, when the song was first written, they had hoped to collaborate with Jon Anderson on the recording and that it would be included in a movie being made about Yogananda’s life at that time.” Although that didn’t occur, I’m glad that we get to hear it now as a centerpiece on this album.
Another track that particularly relates to the theme of the album is “Navigato,” which “recounts the voyage of Saint Brendan from Ireland in the sixth century, setting out to find a glorious Heavenly Island.” It’s a lovely piece that evolves through various movements and captures the feeling of a journey. I particularly enjoyed the elegant and graceful harp playing that adds an otherworldly air. Since Pamela and Sarah both play the harp, I’m not sure which one, or both, played on this, but it was quite beautiful.
“Follow Your Star,” is another tale of adventure that tells the story of Honera O’Flynn who was kidnapped from her home in Ireland and brought to America, where she ultimately finds her destiny and true love. This is quite a dramatic piece with powerful orchestration, lofty vocals, and an enchanting flute solo by Pamela. The album’s final track, “Ever Onward,” is described as “a life-affirming anthem about following dreams, and always moving forward.” This piece really draws together all the elements that make this recording such an immersive sonic collage. I particularly liked the way the song evolved into a mystical dream sequence in the middle, before building back up and ending on a high note. (Watch a live version of it performed in the link below)
I have sincerely enjoyed every album I’ve heard by 2002 over the years, and never fail to be amazed at how they keep raising the bar with each release. The addition of Sarah to the group and the exploration of new musical directions definitely take this recording to the next level. While Sarah did perform on their last album, Believe, it was more like she was just testing the water and getting her feet wet, compared to this recording where she is totally integrated into the group’s creative process and performance. Sarah has come a long way from this day that Pamela describes: “When she was just 3 years old, she announced to us over lunch one day that she was a ‘sing writer.’ Of course we smiled and thought ‘how cute.’ But she went on to say that she had come here to help us. That was a bit over the top. But it was true. She completes us.”
While I’ve taken this opportunity to highlight the remarkable talents of the newest member of the group, this is not to overlook the artistic genius of Randy and Pamela Copus who over the years have continued to push the boundaries of the genre with innovative and inspired recordings. They were amazing as a duo, but now as a trio, they are truly the “first family” of new age music. Trail of Dreams is a stirring, evocative, and absolutely magical listening experience that I give my highest recommendation to.
Click here to see 3 songs from Trail of Dreams performed live at the Zone Music Reporter Awards show in New Orleans.