2023 / All Heart Publishing, LLC
Review by Kathy Parsons
Paul Cardall's Return Home is a very stirring collection of thirteen piano improvisations accompanied by a string ensemble. The album honors heritage, legacy and what we pass down to our children, and also serves as a memorial and tribute to Grammy-winning audio engineer, Michael Bishop, who engineered Paul's 2019 improvisational album, Peaceful Piano. The two had planned a follow-up to that album with improvisations inspired by Paul's heritage and ancestry, but, sadly, Michael Bishop passed away during the Covid-19 pandemic. Paul reached out to Bishop's business partner, Robert Friedrich, also a Grammy-winning engineer, with the idea of creating an album to honor Bishop and the legacy he left for his children and grandchildren, tying into Paul's desire to compose music about his own forefathers. The resulting album, recorded on a Steinway concert grand, is a collection of thirteen heartfelt improvisations that overflow with love, reflection and gratitude. The strings were added later by Nashville string arrangers Josée Weigand and Gideon Klein.
Return Home begins with "Immigrant Ships," a beautiful piece that expresses sadness for what was left behind as well as hope and optimism for the future. Often fragile and delicate, the strings really enhance the emotions running through the music. "Shropshire Hills" is an area in England where some of Paul's ancestors came from, and the piece with that title has a quiet energy that makes me think of breezes blowing through tall grasses on a hillside overlooking the ocean. "Love One Another" is an improvised arrangement of an LDS hymn that features piano, cello, and other strings - inspiring! While recording, Paul and Friedrich noticed the sound of chirping birds coming from the roof of the auditorium. The sound stirred a memory of a romantic dinner Paul shared with his wife in Paris, surrounded by birds anxious to grab crumbs underneath the table. That memory sparked "An Evening in Paris," which includes the faint sounds of birds "performing" overhead. "Castles and Cathedrals" is compelling and quite different from the other tracks. It recalls a trip Paul took in 2016 with his wife and mother-in-law, who fled Communist Yugoslavia as a teenager and hadn't seen her native land for 42 years. While exploring the area, Paul discovered that many of the castles were abandoned and in ruins while cathedrals were being restored to their original glory. Very open and pensive, you can almost feel the passage of time and the many, many lives that were affected by these massive structures (and those who controlled them). I find it interesting that the first half of the piece (the castles?) is dark and rather ominous while the second half (cathedrals?) is much lighter and more uplifting. "The Shores of Normandy" is a solemn tribute to Paul's grandfather, who served and was wounded in WWII, as well as all of the men and women who endure the tragedy of war. The cello adds its sorrowful voice to much of the piece, making it even more poignant and powerful. I interpret the last moments of the track as a quiet prayer for peace. "Land of Our Ancestors" is also very haunting. Making it even more special, it begins and ends with the sounds of the birds on the roof of the auditorium. The ending track, "Fathers and Daughters," was inspired by Paul's two daughters as well as the recent passing of his father-in-law. Warmth, love and tenderness flow from every note of this beautiful piece and bring the album to a peaceful close.
Always an inspiring composer and performer, Paul Cardall shows us a somewhat different side of his music with Return Home. The album is available from Amazon and Apple Music/iTunes as well as many streaming sites including Spotify. There is also a full-length video of the recording of the album on YouTube. It's a beauty!
October 16, 2023