Reviewed By Cathy Oakes
Rhonda Mackert is one of the best of the good Irish yarn spinners. She tells wonderful stories that take the listener on a journey of the soul. But she does it with music rather than with words. This was the case with her previous album, “A Wild Beauty,” which told the story of an Alaskan cruise she and her husband enjoyed. And she’s done it again with “Safe Harbor.” In this album, she weaves a common thread throughout thirteen delightful pieces, yet keeps you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next turn in the plot. Her chord progressions are rich and her “velvet touch” on the keyboard (in the words of fellow artist, John Paris) is so pleasing and soothing.
This story takes the listener on a journey aboard aRhonda beautiful ship called “Dreamer’s Lament.” Mackert establishes the mystery of the trip from the very first notes of this piece. She sets the stage for adventure and prepares the listener for more to come as they set sail on the enchanting sea. From the calm seas, the vessel sails through “Shadowlands” where Rhonda describes it as a place “where phantom voices whispered to me in the mist.” She portrays this beautifully with a “question and answer” motif on the keyboard, some haunting, some joyful. The echo effect is wonderful and the changing meters of this piece add to the mystery and drama. This is one my favorite pieces!
The journey continues with an “Approaching Storm.” The introduction warns that something is afoot. The intricate patterns in the right hand seem playful at the beginning, but become more menacing as the piece progresses. After a dangerous passing through the wall of the squall, she brings the traveler to the beautiful, peaceful “Eye of the Storm.” One can almost see the stars shining in the night sky and feel the peaceful rocking of the ship. She masterfully guides the listener to that “other worldly” feeling of having a storm raging all around and yet being totally at peace.
After the experience of the storm, the journey continues through “Uncharted Waters.” Once again, Rhonda creates the actual emotions one would have and conveys them on the keyboard. This piece is mysterious and allows the listener to actually experience the caution and trepidation one would feel.
Next, Mackert portrays a beautiful piece of “Sea Glass” being tossed in the tide. I heard her play this piece in concert. She compared it to what we feel when we are tossed by the storms of life. With the next chapter in this wonderful story, Rhonda allows one a glimpse through her spyglass at the “Seabirds” as they soar and play in the wind currents, calling one to the other. “Sailing in a Gentle Rain” is so peaceful and restful. I love the walk-down in the bass on this one. You can almost feel the raindrops caressing your face.
Going farther into the journey, Rhonda takes the listener to the place “Where Sea and Stars Meet.” This piece is somewhat playful and yet, conveys the amazing mental picture the title conjures. The listener can almost see the stars twinkling and reflecting in the gentle waves. The end of this piece gives one the sense of sailing right over the edge of the horizon and touching the stars. As the traveler continues, they finally come to a “Safe Harbor.” I heard Rhonda perform this piece in concert, as well and I fell instantly in love with it! The uneven meter leads one to linger just a little longer in the peaceful rocking of the boat. At the end, you can almost hear the contented sigh of the travelers.
“Morning at the Marina” paints a beautiful picture of a foggy, misty morning on the water as the sun just begins to break through. The listener can feel the gentle rocking of the boats at dockside. “Breathing in the Sun” is a happy, carefree piece. It is so easy and relaxing. After the night on the sea, the traveler enjoys simply basking in the warm sun.
The journey is almost over. The final piece, “Journey’s End” is my absolute favorite. The chord progressions are rich and beautiful. This is gorgeous piece with a “singable” melody. One can feel the peace left over from being in the rocking boat and yet the sadness that the journey has come to an end. It is a perfect ending to a wonderful story!
When the last note has sounded, as in the best stories, the listener comes away not knowing whether this journey was a dream or reality. In this case, it doesn’t matter. The journey is so delightful that one will find themselves wanting to go again and again, enjoying the adventure and coming once again to “Safe Harbor.”
This is an excellent CD for those seeking rest, relaxation and a journey of the soul. I am giving it a very solid 5 stars and highly recommending it. Wonderful work, Rhonda! I can hardly wait for the next story in the series!!!
The Wonder Of Christmas
Reviewed By Donovan Johnson
“The Wonder Of Christmas” is the latest album from Rhonda Mackert, a holiday themed collection of pieces for celebrating the Christmas season. The first thing I noticed when reviewing this album was the artwork. Rhonda obviously went to some lengths to make sure that the visual component of the recording was just right, and she did a great job. The colors are captivating and draw you in, creating a sense of awe and wonder; the things we hope to find in this very special time of year. After listening, I would find that the recording, in addition to the artwork, did not disappoint.
This disk consists of thirteen tracks, two of which are original pieces written by Rhonda specifically for this album. To give an overview, the first thing I’ll say is that the album is very consistent all the way through. Each track has a similar feel and style, and the sentiment of the songs is very quiet and reflective throughout. This makes “The Wonder Of Christmas” a collection that’s very easy to listen to start to finish, without being taken back by something unexpected. It’s not complicated or involved listening, which makes it the perfect album to enjoy while in the company of others, or while enjoying time in the kitchen or around the tree.
The tracks that I’m going to highlight from the recording are the first, “Lo How A Rose ‘er Blooming,” “Hymn For Winter,” an original, and “Christ Child’s Lullaby.” The aforementioned opening track begins with the old and familiar theme that we all know from the popular advent song heard year round. Rhonda’s interpretation of this song is very interesting however, in that she changes up the melody to create something we haven’t heard before. She takes the popular tune in a number of different directions throughout the song, and occasionally returns to it. By doing this, the listener gets a sense of distant familiarity as they listen, without being simply handed a song that they already know. The arrangement, although written in a major key, is quite melancholy. This is worth mentioning because melancholic reflection is one of Rhonda’s trademarks. Most of her original pieces are written in minor keys, and it’s interesting that she can take a song written in a major key and arrange with the same signature melancholic feel.
“Hymn For Winter,” probably my favorite piece on the recording, is a lovely mix of the old and the new. The song has a very hymn-like quality about it, as the title suggests, while mixing in elements of modern “New Age” style original piano music. The entire piece is extremely reflective, bouncing back and forth between the chordal nature of the hymn and the melodic modern approach. The song is very gentle natured, and if you allow it, will take you on a crisp journey into the depths of the winter. Pine trees, the cool air, the gently falling snow, and all of the things we love about this stunning season on a sunny day are found here. The song also brings to the heart and to the mind a certain reverence. One of the things I experience as I listen is a Christmas time service in a small, slightly chilly country chapel.
Nearing the end of the album, “Christ Child’s Lullaby,” has a very contemporary sound and a simple, stately way about it. The chord progressions paint a regal picture indeed, perfectly appropriate for a song written about the Christ Child. Chords move from major to minor, and the melody floats over top as though singing to us from a place “on high.” About two thirds of the way through Rhonda takes a musical detour that will probably not grab your attention-because she weaves it so well into the surrounding music. This is a mark of superb arranging, and is certainly worth mentioning. One can really get lost in a beautiful piece like this one, and Rhonda does a great job of bringing to life the magical stories and images from long ago.
One mistake that many artists make in recording Christmas albums is that they try too hard to think outside of the box, and in turn create music that almost doesn’t sound like it belongs in the holiday season at all. This recording couldn’t be further from that model. “The Wonder Of Christmas” is a brilliant piece of work that is ready to be enjoyed by any audience. There is truly nothing negative to say about this album, and if you like beautiful arrangements of traditional holiday favorites I’d strongly recommend it. Absolutely true to her form and style, Rhonda has created a piece of work that will live on for many decades to come. Five stars.
You can find out more about Rhonda Mackert by visiting her website at www.rhondamackert.com. Her music is also available through Amazon, CDBaby, Itunes, and Pandora radio.
Time Not Forgotten
Reviewed By Pam Asberry
Solo pianist and composer Rhonda Mackert grew up in the mountains of Colorado. She started piano lessons at age eight, switched to flute at age twelve, and returned to the piano as an adult. Now a resident of Seattle, Washington, Rhonda’s music is straightforward, intensely personal and evocative and I am delighted to have the opportunity review her fifth and latest recording, “Time Not Forgotten.”
The album opens with “Dancing Through My Memories,” composed on a gray, rainy winter morning in which Rhonda found her thoughts drifting back to sunnier times from her childhood; this nostalgic waltz sets the stage for the remainder of the album. The second track, “Walking Among Giants,” is solemn and brooding and reminded me of my first encounter with the mighty Sequoia trees in Muir Woods north of San Francisco. The title track, “Time Not Forgotten,” is poignant and flowing, its melody effortlessly alternating between moments of pure joy and hints of regret.
“Molokini,” with its rich base and resonant overtones, is an impressionistic sound painting of the magnificent coral reef located inside the sheltered arms of the volcanic crater Molokini in the Hawaiian Islands, a popular underwater destination where thousands of fish and marine animals cohabitate. “Monsoon” is another example of Mackert’s ability to create vivid imagery with her music: persistent opening intervals sounding an ominous warning of the storm ahead, rapid ostinato left hand patterns reminiscent of swirling winds, crashing bass octaves depicting bolts of thunder. “White Cliffs” describes the composer’s experience watching the White Cliffs of Dover fade from view while riding a ferry to the Netherlands. This music, which perfectly summons both the magnificence of the scenic beauty and the sorrow of loss upon leaving such a well-beloved place, is a personal favorite. Similarly, “Spring on Greyrock Mountain” is a musical memory of hiking up Greyrock Mountain, located in Roosevelt Forest in Colorado. Another favorite, “Chasing Fireflies,” sweetly captures the innocence of childhood and the simple pleasure of this universally beloved summertime activity, flashes of sound twinkling like fireflies in the dusk and taking me back to my own younger days.
“Healing Places” is a gentle piece evoking the healing meccas located all around the world, which attract seekers with their restorative powers. This beautiful piece, renewing to the spirit and soothing and refreshing to mind and body, segues perfectly into “Dreaming of Sedona,” itself a spiritual destination for many with its magical blend of red rocks, cool waters, singing birds and wildflowers. “Skipping Stones” recalls another childhood delight, its rippling left hand interrupted by streaks of sound in the upper register skittering over the music like stones splashing across the surface of the water. The final piece, “Free Floating,” is dreamy and ethereal and put me in mind of those moments between waking and sleep when conscious thought begins to dissolve into early stage dreaming, the perfect conclusion to this introspective album.
Fans of beautiful solo piano music won’t want to miss the musical memories shared in Rhonda Mackert’s “Time Not Forgotten.” Very highly recommended!