1. Joy to the World -- Louis Landon
2. Angels We Have Heard On High -- Thano & Lolo
3. The Gift -- Art Patience
4. Away In a Manger -- Chris Burton Jacome
5. Light to the World -- Amber Norgaard
6. First Light -- Jocelyn Obermeyer
7. Jingle Bells -- Sherry Finzer, Darin Mahoney, Will Clipman
8. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman --Greg Starr
9. Ave Maria --Tatum Stolworthy
10. What Child Is This? (Greensleeves) -- John Calvert
11. Silent Night --Voyager Tom Moore
12. The Huron Carol -- Nathan Tsosie
13. O Come O Come Emmanuel -- Amy Faithe
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Heart Dance Records is based in Arizona and they specialize in New Age and "contemporary instrumental music". Their stable of artists is made up of those who either live in Arizona or spend a good deal of their time playing there.
"Christmas From The Heart" begins like a late Autumn snow shower--the kind that begins slowly and unexpectedly in the middle of the day. There's that single flake. You're not even sure it is snow at first, but you watch it fall in slow motion...you follow it all the way down. Then you look up and here come all its brothers and sisters. Louis Landon's "Joy To The World" starts out with the delicacy of that first snowflake--a bit like a music box actually--then builds to a richer and fuller shower, before tapering off and ending much as it began. Sweet. Perfect way to begin an album.
Next up are Thano & Lolo. These two are nothing short of magic. Thano Sahnas is the guitarist while Lauren is on the harp. Their sound collects up influences as disparate as Classical and Classic Rock. Together, they weave a fetching version of "Angels We Have Heard On High" that, every now and then, is going to zig when you expect it to zag. It's a bit of a snowflake ballet that should capture your heart and put a smile on your face. Even as their sound is completely unique, it is also what exceptional New Age sounds like. Truly wonderful and probably the artists I'm most happy to have discovered through "Christmas From The Heart". It's a shame I can't find very much more Thano & Lolo on the web (though there is this video of "He Said, She Said").
Chris Burton Jacome follows with a brief Spanish Guitar take on "Away In A Manger". It's a perfect palate cleanser that puts you in the perfect mood for what follows--the first vocal track on "Christmas From The Heart"--Amber Norgaard's "Light To The World". It's an exceptionally well crafted song that ties the birth of Christ from ancient times all the way into contemporary times, taking something that we think of as a unique story and (hopefully) helping us to understand that, in many ways, the story is universal. In any time or place, women give birth and, in worlds often far darker than we'd wish, those children are the light and the hope. Musically, "Light To The World" would stand out in virtually any format I can think of. It's a truly beautiful song, beautifully done and, if you happen to be a DJ, I'd encourage you to add it to your Christmas rotation. I sure would.
"First Light" from Jocelyn Obermeyer is an engaging piece for harp and a perfect selection to follow "Light To The World". In the given context, I actually get a Christmas Day feel from "First Light". It could be me--y'all know I'm crazy--and I'm certain it was the farthest thing from what Ms. Obermeyer intended, but I kinda visualized a youngster on Christmas morning, here. Whaaa...? Hmm. Forget I said anything and we'll speak of this no more.
Greg Starr's "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", a solo piano piece, is very much in the style I think of when I think of New Age. It's a mellow and meditative take where the time signature takes a back seat to exploring every note and every space between them. Greg, by the way, has had quite the career. He's worked with everyone from Steve Allen to Mr. Rogers. And, if you sign up to his mailing list, there's a free download of "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus"in it for you (and a couple of other tunes, too).
Tatum Stolworthy (or Tatum Lynn, as her website bills her) is one of those people with boundless talent and energy who has probably accomplished more in the last year than I have in 60. She sings, she dances, she mentors youth even though she's still a teenager herself, she even-- Hey, you know what? We've gotten this far into the record and I haven't even mentioned that 10% of the proceeds from sales of "Christmas From The Heart" will go to the Music AS Therapy non-profit. Three guesses who started that charity and the first two don't count. Yep, Tatum did that. On the record, Tatum provides the second vocal track, "Ave Maria". And it's breathtaking. Of course, it would be. And, by the way, recorded perfectly; so whoever was running the board for that one, your work, too, was outstanding.
Amy Faithe closes the record with "O Come O Come Emmanuel". I believe I mentioned in our earlier write-up that Amy used to sing Jazz and Blues (and she may still, for all I know). And you know how much I love Jazz and Blues. So I hope you realize that it means something when I say that THIS is the music Amy Faithe was born to sing.
Sometimes I approach an album with high expectations and that usually doesn't end well. I was desperately thirsty from some good new New Age and so, yes, my expectations for this one were probably a lot higher than they should have been. But I'm happy to report that "Christmas From The Heart" met my expectations easily, and surpassed them by quite a bit. There are some truly brilliant artists on the record from whom I most definitely want to hear more. Thano and Lolo are beyond amazing; I hope Heart Dance or someone else is thinking about a full album from them (and soon). Art Patience is the Ambient artist I've been waiting for. Amber Norgaard is a bright star shining. And Amy Faithe blows me away. And that should not be taken to mean that I think any less of the other artists here. "Christmas From The Heart" reminds me of the early days (what I call the early days, anyway) when New Age was the new thing and you'd grab your first Windham Hill compilation, or your first Narada compilation, or your first Higher Octave compilation--excited to discover 10 or 12 or 20 new artists in the genre who would each transport you to a different place. And all this is going on in Arizona, huh?
"Christmas From The Heart" was officially released on October 21, 2016. If you happen to love New Age and Ambient as I do, I would tell you to buy this album immediately. If you happen to enjoy some New Age, I would tell you that you're going to want to buy this album sooner or later, so you might as well get it now. And, if you don't happen to like New Age or Ambient at all, I would ask you to keep an open mind and heart, check out the songs or samples on line and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Of course, if you're a Christmas music obsessive, I probably don't have to tell you anything.
And while I'm here.... I'm a total idiot sometimes. When I was doing one of my runs through Amazon's digital listings, I fell in love with this album from Dulce VAS, "Christmas Picante". It's harp and flute (and I told you I'm a sucker for flute). The record is a little bit Jazz, a little bit Classical and a little bit Pop. Great stuff. I've been grooving on "Carol of the Bells" from that record quite regularly this fall. Hearing the flute and harp go all Jazzy like that, to me, is like winning the lottery and finding out you don't even have to pay taxes on it. Had I scrolled down Amazon's listing, I'd have seen that "Christmas Picante" was a Heart Dance release and that it's Sherry Finzer on the flute (VeeRonna Ragone on the harp). DOH! They do a killer "O Holy Night", too. Check it out if you get the chance.