2004 / Delvian Records
Review by Michael Debbage
Laura Sullivan's first recording was committed to disc back in 2003 with her freshman effort, "Piano Solos." Since then she has expounded on her strengths, inviting the listening public to enjoy her compositional rhapsodies courtesy of her latest release, Mystical America. While her prior projects were most enjoyable, in a very conservative and refreshing approach, Mystical America will simply take your breath away placing you in a cocoon that will allow you to reenergize with a quiet confidence.
Though performing with a style that is uniquely her own, Laura does draw from the underlying classical roots prevalent in the music of Suzanne Ciani yet integrating a hint of improvisation that parallels the music of Michael Jones and George Winston. However, Sullivan is smart enough to avoid a clinical rendition and presents her music with just enough memorable melodies that does not distract from the core of her stylish compositions This balance was absent on her stripped down freshman effort, Piano Solos, but certainly the solid follow up "Pianoscapes For The Trails Of North America" showed hints of things to come, fleshing out her sound with the assistance of producer and guitarist Chris Camozzi.
Mystical America, though still drawing on a quiet confidence, has continued the trend set by its predecessor and once again has Chris Camozzi on board to create one of 2004's better musical moments. It is even more charming but it is never cluttered or overbearing. It is a perfect CD for either engaging entertainment or mellow meditation. And the opening track "America's Stonehenge" is a perfect place to find these qualities. The piano flutters around what sounds like a plucked cello with a sound reminiscent of David Darling. Along with Mary Pitchford's tearful violin work, this track sets the entire pace and climate of this very warm cd.
The warmth continues with the reserved yet joyful "Chaco Canyon" that also features Chris on the guitar. However, Camozzi is restrained and compliments Sullivan perfectly making this one of the album's many finer moments. Speaking of finer moments, skip forward to the very regal "Tongass Island" that reminds me of a stunning bride fully clad in her flowing white wedding dress as she regally strolls down the aisle to meet her prince.
Although the album is unified in its mood and tone, Laura does well to mix up her accessibility with her more complex classical arrangements too. This is best heard on "The Heavener Runestone" as well as the closing track "Mt. Shasta". In fact, the latter borrows from Beethoven's "Moonlight"(Sonata #14 In C sharp minor, Opus 27, # 2). Otherwise, the remainder of the album is self-composed.
Sitting somewhere between the accessible and the more classical there is the merging of both styles which is best manifested in the gorgeous "Hawaiian Islands". Using the ample amount of embellishments as a backdrop to Laura's flawless piano playing, this song is another one of the album's better moments. I am not sure what sound effect they used in the background but visually it brings to mind the quiet rumbles of lava flowing that in a paradox manner destroys and creates both at the same time. There is nothing absurd about this composition, but nevertheless, like lava, it is powerful and mesmerizing.
With the exception of the unusual artwork, this album comes as close to perfection as one could expect. In addition, the album has a cohesive theme with the songs paying homage to the sacred sites throughout North America. The only concern Laura Sullivan should have is how to follow up with this masterpiece. Yes, the album is that good and it is one that will grow on you with repeated visits, which is another sign that it will be an enduring gem.
April 4, 2004
Review by Michael Debbage