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Album Review: Keys To the Heart
Joseph Akins
Cover image of the album Keys To the Heart by Joseph Akins
Keys To the Heart
Joseph Akins
1996 / HeartSong Music
49 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Keys To the Heart was the first piano-driven album by pianist/composer/professor Joseph Akins and was originally released in early 1997. The album was dedicated to Joseph’s father, who had recently passed away from Alzheimer’s disease, and the title track was composed on the day of his passing. The album was discontinued in 2003 when the CDs were sold out and it was discovered that the graphics and master disc had been lost. For this 2018 re-release, the album cover was redesigned from scratch and the recording was reborn into the digital age. I have been a big fan of Akins’ music since he sent me Masterpeace for review back in 2007. He has played in my house concert series many times and I thought I really knew his music, but some of the tracks on Keys To the Heart are a revelation. Four tracks include vocals by Akins’ wife, Unita (before they were married), and guest artists are Wiz on flute and bass flute, Bob Stagner on percussion, and Ken Cardillo on classical guitar; Akins plays piano, keyboards and soprano sax. Soprano sax??? Yep! That isn’t the only surprise on the album. Very different from Akins’ new age/ solo piano/ Southern piano sound, a few tracks are much jazzier and even kind of funky, showing some of his musical roots and the foundation of his more recent music. The bonus is that along with being a look back at the earlier years of an artist’s career, it’s a great album!

The title track opens Keys To the Heart. I was very familiar with this great piece as a piano solo (the way it appears on Akins’ Masterpeace album and in concert,) so it’s fun to hear the first incarnation of one of his signature pieces. Played on a digital piano, orchestral embellishments add a different dimension to the music. I have to admit that I like the solo piano version best, but I really like this one, too! “Mother’s Eyes” is a beautiful and heartfelt ballad with lyrics and vocals by Unita. The accompaniment is mostly piano, but there is also some light percussion, sax and strings. “John Wayne Goes Jazz” is a really fun piece with an easy rolling cowboy rhythm and performed with an organ sound, electric bass and a few other digital instruments - sure to bring a smile! “Peace of Mind” and “Unconditional Love” lean a little more in the direction of smooth jazz with a lively beat. “Through the Looking Glass” is a little darker and more intense, becoming more buoyant as it evolves. Unita’s vocalizations add beautiful tonal colors to the music. “Always” is a gorgeous ballad overflowing with love and heartbreak, soaring to emotional heights on Unita’s expressive voice. “Fred, The Funky Dragon” is my favorite track. Piano, flutes, and percussion merge to create a piece that is upbeat, fun and a real toe-tapper. The passionate “Mother Earth, Father Sky” is an anthem to the environment that is just as timely today as it was twenty-two years ago - maybe even more so. Ethereal vocals, poetic lyrics, soulful piano and keyboards, and an intoxicating instrumental rock chorus between the verses make this a close-second favorite track.

I can really see why Joseph Akins wanted to re-release Keys To the Heart more than two decades after its original release - and I’m so glad he did! It is available from JosephAkins.com, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!
August 17, 2018
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