Towards New Beginnings
2020 / Narked Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
Towards New Beginnings is a super-smooth and uplifting new album by Matthew Shell. A rapturous blend of smooth jazz and new age elements, the ten tracks express a range of emotions while keeping the tone peaceful and soothing. In collaboration with guitarist Sami Turunen and pianist Vahagn Stepanyan, the album also features Glenn Welman (percussion), Douglas Lira (flute and sax), Phil DiMercurio (percussion), Yoed Nir (cello), and Marisa Frantz (vocals) in addition to Shell on guitar and percussion. Shell and Arun Shenoy co-produced the album and polished it to perfection without losing any of the heartfelt spirit of the music. The album was arranged before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but its themes of positivity and moving forward to overcome the difficulties and setbacks we are facing make it a warm and soothing antidote to the many challenges the world is currently trying to work through. However, I have no doubt that the music will continue to inspire long after our current difficulties disappear!
Towards New Beginnings begins with “Memories,” a poignant and tender look back through the mists of time. Guitar takes the lead with piano and gentle percussion adding quiet touches of color and rhythm to the mix. “Awakening to Reality” has a soft swaying motion and conveys the feeling of deep introspection. Guitar, keyboard/piano, bass and percussion create dream-like images as the music caresses the mind. The warmth and quiet self-confidence expressed in “Finding My Way” make this beautiful piece a gentle anthem to an “I can do this” spirit. “Anticipation” features some exceptionally soulful guitar supported by piano and light but very effective percussion - a favorite! “Meditation” is the most ambient piece on the album and offers a tranquil place to breathe deeply and just “be” for a few minutes. “Passion In Her Soul” is another favorite and features wordless vocals by Marisa Frantz. More upbeat and rhythmic than most of the other tracks, the gentle groove of this one is likely to get your toes tapping as the warmth of the music soothes your soul. (There is a wonderful video for this track on YouTube.) With an even stronger groove, “Embracing the Journey” soars to a place where all things are possible and any hardships we are experiencing can be overcome. I really like this one, too! Matthew Shell and company saved the title track for last, welcoming Douglas Lira (flute and sax) and Yoed Nir (cello) to the group to share messages of hope and of moving forward with a positive attitude and an optimistic outlook. Love it!
Towards New Beginnings is available to buy or stream from sites such as Amazon, Apple Music, and Spotify. There are also several videos and some fascinating remixes of the music with different instrumentation and a less “new age” vibe on YouTube. (The links are to the left of this review.) Don’t miss this one!
October 20, 2020
with Vahagn Stepanyan