Favorite Icon, Full size
Album Review: Passages
Kathleen Ryan
Cover image of the album Passages by Kathleen Ryan
Kathleen Ryan
2018 / Indigo Mesa Music
48 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Passages is the sixth album from pianist/composer Kathleen Ryan and is a collection of twelve original piano solos and one cover (also a piano solo) that celebrates birth, death, transformation, forgiveness, love and joy. It is an unfortunate reality that an artist’s best work often arises from personal loss and pain, as seems to be the case here. Ryan’s albums have been an eclectic mix of styles and genres, always coming from a place of honesty and personal truth, and I would say that that is especially true of Passages. I have been fortunate to be able to see Ryan play live, and her performances are also deeply-felt and very much in the moment. A classically-trained pianist with both graduate and undergraduate degrees in music, Kathleen lists some of the influences on her music as "folk songs of the British Isles; blues masters Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker; American composers Gershwin, Hammerstein, and Copland; American shape note hymnody; Mozart and Schubert, of course; and the polyrhythmic coin boxes on the Providence, Rhode Island buses.” (quoted from www.KathleenRyan.com)

Passages begins with “The Gossamer Doorway,” a gentle prelude that sets the tone for the music that follows. “Siúil A Rún” is a favorite. I can’t translate the title, but on her site, Kathleen comments: “Devastation marches in, and marches away again. But the sweetness that follows … !” The piece begins quietly, almost plaintively, expressing deep sadness first and then the mix of emotions that often come with our most difficult emotional experiences. “Shenandoah” has always been one of my favorite folk songs, and Kathleen’s arrangement is very powerful as she reflects on love, time and the river of life. “Autumn Whispers” is also very reflective and is a bit more on the ambient side. “A Warm Autumn Sun, It Was” feels much more optimistic and hopeful, finding a sense of peace - I really like this one, too! “Pomegranate Trail” is a really interesting adaptation of the traditional “Hey Ho, Nobody Home.” It builds on that very basic theme to create a personal expression of the “journey out of the dark.” “Like a Flower” is a light and graceful song dedicated to a dear friend. (Lyrics are on Kathleen’s site.) “These Hands Held Music” is also dedicated to a close friend and duet partner who sadly passed away before the album was completed. Overflowing with love while expressing loss and grief, it is impossible to not be moved by this heartfelt piece. Forgiveness is not one of the more common themes addressed in music, but “Topaz” “was born in a moment of forgiveness; and forgiveness is simply always a good idea!” A mix of emotions run through this intriguing piece, becoming more buoyant as the music evolves and the heart lightens. The title track is a thoughtful, poignant mix of the sorrowful and the sweet. Perhaps part eulogy and part soliloquy, it offers a warm and gentle close to this special album.

Passages is available from www.KathleenRyan.com, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.
October 29, 2018
This review has been tagged as:
Kathy's Favorites: 2018Kathy's Picks
More reviews of Kathleen Ryan albums