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Album Review: The Flowers Suite
Barbara Hills
Cover image of the album The Flowers Suite by Barbara Hills
The Flowers Suite
Barbara Hills
2018 / House in the Wood Productions
57 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
The Flowers Suite is a collection of twelve original tone poems and “paintings in sound” by British composer and producer, Barbara Hills. Using a fusion of electronic sound, acoustic performance and recordings from nature in her music, Hills has created another very diverse album, this time composed during a recent move from England to Wales. Each track takes a flower as its starting point, and the limited edition (300) CDs include a small hardback book illustrated with Hills’ paintings and photos of the flowers and plants that inspired the music. (These books will easily fit on a shelf next to CDs. Downloads of the music are also available.) The album was expected to be the sound installation at the Art Sanctuary’s 2018 International Art Exhibition in Belgium, but the exhibition was postponed until the summer of 2019. The album was ready to go, so Hills’ decided to release it anyway. I’m glad she did! An independent artist with a passion for music, visual arts and writing, Hills’ 2016 double album, Moon and Shadows, was nominated for two Zone Music Reporter awards for “Best Electronic Album” and “Best New Artist.”

The Flowers Suite begins with “Love-In-A-Mist,” a very Celtic-sounding piece that features strings, wordless vocals, harp and other electronic instrumentation. Nostalgic and bittersweet, it’s an intriguing start. “Among Lilies” is much more ambient with a gentle motion that makes me think of graceful lilies moving to the rhythm of a breeze. I really like Hills’ description of “Through Iris Halls”: “This is a piece which describes what it must be like for a tiny insect to travel through an iris flower. It looks up into a vast blue cathedral of a roof and an endless sky beyond.” Also very ambient and peaceful, a magical stillness runs throughout the piece. “On Hawkweed Bank” picks up the tempo a bit with a strong beat and a playful keyboard melody that has an Asian influence - a favorite. I also really like the light and carefree “Sweet William” with its accordion, strings and other keyboard instrumentation! Hills describes “Forget-Me-Nots” as a “happy death song, one final wave before skipping into eternity.” She goes on to say that the spring after the death of her father, the garden was filled with forget-me-nots. What a beautiful sight that must have been - and what a lovely piece this is! “Creeping Buttercup” is pure joy with a strong driving beat and swirling, danceable rhythms propelling the playful melody - electronic sunshine - and another favorite! “Hedgerow Walk” is a five-movement, sixteen-minute piece about Hills’ perception of times and places in the countryside that she left. “In a way, I’ve painted them in sound to keep them. It’s full of English and Celtic folk influences.” Each of the movements is distinct from the others and features instrumentation that includes drums, strings, flutes, and various keyboard sounds - something of a family history set to music. I love this very colorful and emotive track!!! “Canyons of the Black Tulip” begins with the sound of thunder followed by dark and mysterious ambient sounds. Near the middle of the piece, the tempo and rhythms pick up with cinematic, almost heroic music - a dramatic ending to an excellent album!

The Flowers Suite is impossible to categorize - always a good thing, I think! If you like albums with a variety of styles and instrumentation, be sure to check this one out! It is available from iTunes and Bandcamp.
September 24, 2018
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