2005 / Decca
Review by Michael Debbage
Lush, gorgeous, colorful and moving would be only be a few of the many adjectives that would still not describe the full wonders of the Garden of Eden. But these would accurately describe the new release from pianist Rolf Lovland and violinist Fionnula Sherry better known to us as Secret Garden. There is no doubt that Earthsongs is their best musical statement since their provocative freshman offering Songs From A Secret Garden.
Earthsongs represents Secret Garden’s fifth album since 1995 not including their recent compilation. After charging out of the gates with three albums in less than four years, the output has slowed in recent years as Earthsongs represents their first attempt at new material in three years. But the evidence heard here clearly supports the old adage that it is quality not quantity that counts. Though still enjoyable, their last effort Once In A Red Moon was rather disappointing at least by Secret Garden’s high standards. There is certainly no repeat here. Filled with classically influenced melancholy melodies that we have come to expect from this musical couple, the album also includes uplifting Celtic jigs, the occasional stirring vocal rendition, and even a hymn of praise to close the album out in grand and graceful style.
However, the album begins with their trademark melancholy sound courtesy of the song “Sometimes When It Rains”. Musically, the song is more representative of a pitter patter rainfall that really does not stop you from completing your activity. Nevertheless it prompts a feeling of wanting to stay indoors in the comfort of your abode and reflect on the mysteries of life. Sherry’s stirring violin work will immediately touch your heartstrings. If you would prefer a vocal interpretation of the same melody, skip forward to “Half A World Away”.
Secret Garden continues to create their reflective moments throughout the album. This evidence is found courtesy of the half speed waltz “Fields Of Fortune” and the very classically inclined “Grace”. Wisely, Secret Garden mixes it up with the utterly upbeat Celtic jig “The Reel”. One can only imagine a video documentation of a swooping plane taking aerial shots over the grand lush green fields and hills of Ireland. If you manage to keep your feet still, listen and check for a pulse...you might be dead inside. If not skip forward to “Daughter Of Erin” and celebrate for a second time. Once again guest violinist Mairead Nesbit and Fionnula battle it out.
Equally as moving is the lyrical and vocal content of “Always There” with choir embellishments led by the lead vocals of Russell Watson. There is no doubt that Josh Groben could make this a mega hit much like he did with Secret Garden’s song “You Raise Me Up” from their prior album. But the best is left until last with the absolutely inspirational “Raise Your Voices” that has hymnal qualities. One could easily mistake the rousing lyrical content from Brendan Graham with that of the Psalmist David. Meanwhile Rolf Lovland’s stimulating musical rendition is equally as encouraging, enhanced by the fully engaged Chamber Choir of Ireland. Uplifting would be an understatement.
Over ten years ago this musical partnership began writing music that included a conglomeration of Scandinavian, Irish and classical influences. The evidence here clearly supports that the inspiration to create is still fresh and vital. The only difference is that Secret Garden is no longer a hidden treasure but a musical gem available for all to hear.
March 30, 2005