Pieces of Forever
2021 / Sentient Spirit Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
Pieces of Forever is Grammy-winning pianist/composer Laura Sullivan's musical tribute to her parents, and I think it's her best album yet. Deeply personal yet universally relatable, the album overflows with love, memories, and much more. In addition to Laura's piano are cello, guitar, pedal steel guitar, violin, harmonica, banjo and - musical saw! A compelling and very expressive blend of contemporary classical and ambient Americana styles, the eleven original tracks are reflective of Laura's childhood on a farm in the foothills of Mount Lassen in California. Her mother was a classically-trained pianist and her father played country music on guitar and harmonica. When Laura was very young, her father drove his pick-up truck to and from Oklahoma to get the piano Laura's great-grandmother taught her six children to play. Laura's mother started teaching Laura to play that same piano when she was four years old. Laura's mother died from cancer many years ago and her father passed away in the summer of 2020 after a long struggle with Alzheimer's Disease. "He still remembered how to play his favorite songs on the harmonica and the guitar even after most of his words had escaped him."
Pieces of Forever begins with "A Darker Season," a poignant trio for piano, guitar (Gawain Mathews) and cello (Chloe Mendola) about the fear of wildfire - a reality that is affecting more and more areas of the world. The title of this beautiful piece refers to climate change and the need for awareness and action. "Rest Your Sorrow" is a three-movement work with each segment recorded as an individual piece. The first movement is for piano, cello (Liz Hanks) and pedal steel guitar (Bryan Daste); the second movement adds harmonica (Adam Burney), and the third adds violin (Kristin Weber). Both peaceful and mournful, all three movements are deeply emotional and go straight to the heart. In "The Farewell Fields," Laura plays both her piano and her dad's harmonica accompanied by cello (Mendola) and guitar (Mathews). The piece reflects on saying good-bye to the family farm when Laura's parents found it necessary to sell it. "The Long Goodbye" is dedicated to all of the families who have lost loved ones to Alzheimer's Disease as well as the pandemic. It is a haunting duet for piano and musical saw (Caroline McCaskey, winner of the International Musical Saw Competition). "I chose this instrument to accompany me on the piano because of the cry in the sound, symbolizing the longing for the pieces of a loved one as they slowly slip away in a long goodbye." The title track is in two parts - a prelude and a postlude - and both are very expressive trios for piano, cello (Hanks) and pedal steel guitar (Daste). The only piano solo on the album, "When We Were Happy" reflects on better times. Be sure to watch the YouTube video of this one! "Damaged Poetry" is an unusual but very evocative trio for piano, banjo (Charles Butler) and harmonica (Burney). "Blue Tent Creek," a gentle duet for piano and harmonica (Burney), is as peaceful and soothing as sitting under a tree, watching the flow of water in a creek or stream. Gorgeous! The postlude half of the title track brings this wonderful album to a quiet, contemplative close - a soft breeze over a field of wild flowers. I think there might be a second Grammy in Laura Sullivan's future!
Pieces of Forever is available on Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes, Spotify and other streaming sites.
September 7, 2021
Review by Michael Debbage