Gardens of Zion in the Rain
2022 / Michael Borowski
Review by Kathy Parsons
Sometimes an especially promising debut album leads to a disappointing follow-up, but that certainly isn't true of Michael Borowski's Gardens of Zion in the Rain! His first album, Peace Valley (2020), also produced by Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton, is a warm and relaxing antidote for the stress and worry of the past few years, but it seems that Borowski went even deeper into his own heart and soul for this new album. Ten of the eleven piano solos are original compositions and/or improvisations, and the eleventh is a wonderful arrangement of "Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman, "probably my favorite song ever written" (quoting Michael).
The son of a piano teacher, Michael took formal piano lessons from age four to eighteen, and then studied music at Temple University. He composes and plays with the ease of someone who is possibly the most comfortable with a piano keyboard at the ends of his fingertips, communicating his deepest thoughts and emotions through music rather than words. Not everyone can play with that kind of honesty and truth, but it definitely flows through Michael's music.
I haven't called any of the pieces on Gardens of Zion in the Rain favorites, because I really like the whole album. It begins with "Gloriana," a grateful and loving tribute to Michael's piano teacher. I can only imagine how she must feel when listening to this gorgeous piece that bears her name. The reverent "Brotherly Love" expresses Michael's affection for Philadelphia and is a slowly-flowing piece that is more ambient than melodic. "This Is My Song - Frick's Field" begins (and ends) with "Be Still My Soul," ("Finlandia" by Sibelius) before segueing into the much livelier "Frick's Field," named for a preserved piece of land in Michael's current hometown. Energy and feelings of joy run through this music that I interpret as many happy memories. The title track was inspired by Michael's mother and step-dad's final resting place, Zion Memorial Gardens, also located in his hometown. As often happens when we lose someone very close, a mix of deep emotions flows through this piece - sometimes very slow and still and sometimes much livelier. "Bella" was named for Michael's 14-year-old Australian Shepherd. I have a 9-year-old Aussie and wonder if an earlier tribute to Bella would have been nearly this calm and serene! The lazy but determined flow of "Jaxson's Creek" was inspired by the backyard creek that curves through The Borowskis' landscape - so soothing and relaxing! Also an amateur beekeeper, Michael's piece called "Bees" reflects on how much he cares about saving bees as well as their vitally important role in life itself. "April Mourning" was improvised in one take in the studio. It references the fact that both Michael's mother and his Uncle Dwight passed away on April mornings, decades apart (his mother much more recently). Even so, both continue to influence everything Michael does - a heartfelt close to an incredible album!
Music for the heart and soul, Gardens of Zion in the Rain is available from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites such as Spotify.
February 25, 2022