Favorite Icon, Full size
Album Review: A Hero's Journey
Karen Olson and Crispin Barrymore
Cover image of the album A Hero's Journey by Karen Olson and Crispin Barrymore
A Hero's Journey
Karen Olson and Crispin Barrymore
2016 / Karen Olson and Crispin Barrymore
67 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
A Hero’s Journey is a collaborative project by violist/composer Karen Olson and pianist/keyboardist/composer Crispin Barrymore. It is the fifth album released by Olson and her first collaboration with Barrymore, who is also an actor. Olson started with the violin as a young child, switching to viola in middle school. She got her start with performing by accompanying her minister father’s services. She went to New York and earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Juilliard. She then earned another Master’s from Yale and a Ph.D. in Music Performance at NYU. She has served on the faculty of Rutgers University and Rowan University, and has had a critically-acclaimed viola scale book published by EC Schirmer. Now residing in NY, Olson performs with the NY Pops at Carnegie Hall and teaches viola and violin privately. She is a certified practitioner and teacher in several healing modalities and is currently writing a book on sound and vibrations for healing. Barrymore is also a multi-faceted artist who started playing the piano at seven and has also studied voice, French horn, piano and composition at Cal Arts. He has served as a musical ambassador for the United Nations and has a long a varied resume.

A Hero’s Journey is intended to be a landscape for each listener’s personal voyage of discovery. Quoting the liner notes: “Our answers lie within; even though people cross our path and offer us support in the form of assistance or teachers of our lessons, we find our own answers and we are our own heroes.” By combining contemporary classical influences with ambient textures, rhythmic elements, and a new age focus on melody, the two artists have effectively removed the boundaries between these genres of music, creating an original sound that will appeal to a wide variety of listeners. I have always preferred the deeper and mellower sound of the viola, whose range is between that of the violin and the cello. Barrymore co-composed the eleven tracks with Olson and also did the orchestrations, performed on keyboards and added digital effects.

A Hero’s Journey begins with “Horizon’s Calling.” Shimmering strings and French horn begin the piece, which is an overture of sorts, setting a mood and introducing the album. The viola becomes the primary voice fairly early in the piece, which is mostly ambient in nature. “Life’s Persuasions” is very smooth with viola and acoustic guitar leading the way along with ambient textures and a strong beat that propels it. “Promising Hope” brings in the sound of an organ behind the viola along with kettle drum, bells, and other effects. Somber and reverent, it’s a favorite. “Dream Quest” is quite a bit lighter although the viola seems to be seeking something in a vast open space. It becomes livelier and more rhythmic in the middle, but that feeling of seeking continues. “Facing Fear” feels dark and ominous, but our hero moves ahead as the darkness gradually fades away. “Life Force” is an almost 8 1/2 minute exploration that is an especially intriguing juxtaposition of the more organic viola and electronic instrumentation. “Heaven’s Gates” is a more ethereal piece that I assume brings this hero’s journey to a peaceful end - at least for this phase of existence. “Epilogue” clocks in at over 11 1/2 minutes with a broad cinematic scope and sweep. Often intense and colorful, it brings this fascinating album to a dramatic close.

A Hero’s Journey is certain to be a unique experience for each listener. It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!
December 19, 2016