Terry Lee Nichols
At Peace Beneath The Shade Of My Father’s Tree
Going by the title of the album alone, one might be inclined to think this recording to be one of hymns, which it is not. “At Peace Beneath the Shade of My Father’s Tree” is a recording of expressive pieces by pianist and composer Terry Lee Nichols, with a theme that takes our life experiences at their word and our Spiritual experiences to be just what they are – deep and meaningful experiences. Terry does a great job of bringing to mind the essence of what it means to be at peace and to be connected to something greater than ourselves. The compositions are bright and expressive, and lots of beautiful orchestration surrounding the vibrant piano melodies can be found in this recording. While some of the pieces may have a certain “sense of urgency” about them, none of the songs feel in any way intrusive. The tracks on this album tell dynamic stories, each one a little different with something unique to say. Listening to “At Peace Beneath the Shade of My Father’s Tree” is like reading a collection of short stories that are part of an unrelated whole. A gallery of unique pieces of audio art.
“Timekeeper” is the first pick of my top three in this album. It’s a reflective piece that conveys the wonder and mystery of a great creator; one who created what we call “time” itself. The composition of the piece is interesting in that the background pads and strings are very ambient in nature, cradling the strong and lush piano melody that sits inside of the music. The result is a regal and pronounced piano part combined with an awe inspiring musical background – truly breathtaking. The piece goes through several key changes before concluding on, musically speaking, the major sixth of the key. In other words, it does not resolve where it started, ending the piece on an interrogative note. This is highly appropriate for this track, as the ending seems to ask the listener even more questions than there were in the beginning of it prior to listening. This is probably my favorite track on the album.
I am a big fan of both trains and history as well, so the next track on my list was naturally “Train to Dachau.” Dachau was the first concentration camp opened up in Germany during the second war, and this piece of music expresses the sadness of the people who had experiences there. Beginning with the sound of a train arriving at the station, the track then opens up musically with a strong minor string and brass section. The chords seem to melt into the atmosphere, and as the piano enters we find ourselves looking inward. We contemplate all that has happened over the course of history and what our part in that is. But all is not lost! The progressions shift at about midway through. Strong major chord sections are interspersed into the piece to provide a feeling of hope and encouragement. When the original melody returns, it’s almost as if it’s “musically overpowered” by the reality the this terrible experience in our history and within ourselves will eventually come to an end.
“A Winter’s Tale” begins with a haunting piano melody. It’s light and elusive, and at the same time dark and enveloping. Graying skies and blowing snowflakes come to mind here. Throughout the piece there are brief moments where Terry interjects some major chord passages, as if to remind the listener that even in the midst of a winter storm there are moments of calm. At the conclusion of the piece, the strings and other instruments which have been so present throughout vanish, leaving only the piano and the original haunting theme that struck our attention from the beginning. A descending chromatic scale, all in it’s lonesome, brings us to a cold and lonely musical finish.
“At Peace Beneath The Shade Of My Father’s Tree” is a beautiful piece of work and a fine of example of Terry Lee Nichol’s musicianship. The pieces are crafted well, and the recording itself is sound and well produced. The music leans toward engaged listening, although I feel that it would be appropriate in almost any scenario to play this album as background music as well. Strongly recommended, I’d encourage you to have a listen to this recording, and to listen with an open mind. If you do, I believe you’ll find some unexpected surprises in your musical walk with Terry, and I know you’ll find it to be well worth your while. Five stars.
We Have Only Come To Dream
Reviewed by Pam Asberry
We Have Only Come to Dream is an epic soundtrack of the history of the Americas, beginning with the settlement of Australian aborigines in South America and ending with a stunning tribute to the National Park Service of the United States of America. An inspired collaboration between composer and pianist Terry Lee Nichols, vocalist Rebekah Eden, poet Philip Spevak, and notable guest artists, this album takes the listener on an extraordinary journey through sound and time.
Our travels begin on a Phantasmagorical Voyage from Australia to South America, when tens of thousands of years ago Australian aborigines traveled from Australia to South America on primitive boats. Beginning as a contemplative piano solo and building through the use of magnificent orchestrations and soaring vocalizations to a triumphant ending, this piece sets the tone for the rest of the album. The Anasazi pays tribute to the ancient peoples who lived in the area today known as the Four Corners (that part of the United States where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah meet). With its pulsing rhythm, superb orchestrations and haunting vocals, this track is breathtaking and unforgettable.
The title track, We Have Only Come to Dream offers a brief respite from the intensity of the first three tracks. Thoughtful and meditative, the sounds of nature, rain sticks, flutes, and vocals are perfectly woven into the music, which celebrates the civilization of the Aztecs in Mexico with their rich, complex mythological and religious traditions along with their remarkable architectural and artistic accomplishments. 1492 is a vivid sound painting of the perilous ocean voyage of Christopher Columbus from Spain to the New World, the piano and orchestra joining forces to take us on a wild ride over the raging seas. Conquistadors tells the tale of the Spanish explorers who eventually conquered the Aztecs. The most notable of these explorers were Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro; the well-known rivalry between these two men led to a conflict and bloodshed and this poignant musical description depicts not only to the personal cost paid by these two men but also the tragedy of the loss of the ancient cultures they decimated.
Intensity builds with The Courier, which tells the story of Paul Revere’s heroic ride in order to save the democratic movement burgeoning in the thirteen colonies. In The River of Life, we join Lewis and Clark as they head out west to explore the Louisiana territory. Sweeping and majestic, the luscious combination of piano and orchestration is punctuated with the natural sounds of water running and birds singing. But there is also an element of melancholy, which serves to foreshadow the dark times lying ahead for the growing nation.
The 19th Century Refugee Crisis relates the plight of the Irish immigrants in the United States, not at all unlike the plight of modern day refugees. The centerpiece of this stirring arrangement is stunning rendition of the Irish tune Down by the Sallee Gardens sung by Eden. This song literally moved me to tears; although it is hard to choose just one favorite from the album, this might be it.
In a similar vein, A House Divided recalls the sufferings of African slaves and the horrors of the United States Civil War. Powerful and moving, this piece features the rich vocals of Kehembe Eichelberger singing the traditional freedom song Many Thousand Gone.
The Last Cowboy chronicles a day in the life of the American cowboy, beginning and ending with a ride on the open plains, raw and majestic, with a midday romp in a saloon somewhere in the Wild West. We hear our cowboy ask for a “stiff one”, tap our feet to the rhythm of the honky-tonk piano, perhaps duck under a table when the gunfire begins. The album concludes with Canyon Sunset, an awe-inspiring celebration of the National Park System, most notably the Grand Canyon National Park. Showcasing the gifted Sherry Finzer on flute, this piece is also a contender for my personal favorite.
Whether savored from start to finish with liner notes in hand or listened to purely for the unique musical experience it provides, We Have Only Come to Dream grabs the listener from the opening chords and never lets go. This is an album you don’t want to miss.