Music Review: “Asha,” AO Music

The world music group AO Music is back with another superb album of high-energy sounds and enlightening vocals. The group’s name – AO – means pure light or all colors in ancient Polynesian, and “light” and “colors” are good words to describe this music.

As always, the incomparable Miriam Stockley leads the vocals on nearly every track. AO co-producer Richard Gannaway contributes to several songs, along with the voices of children’s choirs from around the world.

In a bit of a departure from their recent albums, many of the songs on Asha are in English – like “Love Knows the Way,” “The Wildest Dream,” “Where in the New World,” and others. AO has liberally used vocalese for many of their songs in the past (vocalese: made-up phonetics, open to personal interpretation, that fit the rhythm of the music). While there are still vocalese lyrics to be heard on this album, many of the songs are in English, Zulu, Polynesian, Scottish Gaelic, or a blend of languages. Continue reading


Music Review: “Viena,” Värttinä

The Finnish folk group Värttinä has been a major player in the world music scene for over 30 years. “Viena” marks their fourteenth album, and it is a beautiful combination of both old and new.

The lineup of singers has always been a constant evolution for Värttinä, from the band’s early days as a 15-singer children’s vocal group to the three-women trio of recent years. Folk singer and ethnomusicologist Karoliina Kantelinen is a new addition to the group. Her voice blends perfectly with the other two singers, Mari Kaasinen and Susan Aho. Continue reading

Interview with Singer Suzie Tighe

I enjoy music that’s unique in both sound and lyrics, music that evokes another time or place, music that relaxes me or energizes me. The songs on Suzie Tighe’s self-titled debut album are all of these.

Instead of an album review, the way I often have done on my blog, I have the honor of presenting Suzie’s own words about her new album and her musical journey. So here is Suzie Tighe, in her own words:

This is your debut album, but you’ve had a career in music prior to this, is that correct? Could you share a little about your musical journey up to this point?

Yes, I have been singing seriously since the beginning of the 90’s. Mostly in Montreal, Québec. Sometimes with bands, sometimes solo, in duos, in vocal quartets, vocal quintets, as a back-up singer and in so many styles like rock, pop, jazz, rhythm ‘n blues, Argentinian folklore, world, alternative… I have also written music for different projects, artistic or for non-profit organizations, such as jingles, themes for documentaries, community TV shows, video publicity for fund raising , artistic photography montages, etc… Continue reading

Music Review: “Revitty Rakkaus,” Kuunkuiskaajat

The Finnish folk-rock duo Kuunkuiskaajat has just released their second album, a crowd-funded project titled Revitty Rakkaus. I first started following the duo of Susan Aho and Johanna Hytti from their time with the band Värttinä.

For any Värttinä fans who haven’t heard Kuunkuiskaajat’s music yet, it’s well worth checking out. With a generally light and folksy sound, Susan and Johanna’s voices interweave like a dance, punctuated by Susan’s masterful accordion playing.

This album has perhaps a bit less of a “traditional” sound than their first album, as most of the tracks feature strong modern percussion. The upbeat tracks, like “Kaupungilla” and “Polttaa,” usually feature Susan as the lead vocal, while the slower, ballad-like tracks such as “Unelmaa” and “Elämä Kantaa” let Johanna’s voice shine.

In listening to this album, I was reminded that while Finland is usually grouped in with the rest of Scandinavia, musically they seem to belong more with Eastern Europe. To my Western-trained ear, tracks like “Salakavala” and the title track “Revitty Rakkaus” held the rhythms and sounds of Eastern lands. The entire album is a beautiful blending of East and West, and traditional and modern.

Whether you’re a fan of Värttinä, Eastern European folk music, or you can’t even find Finland on a map, I encourage you to give Kuunkuiskaajat a listen!

Kuunkuiskaajat’s website (in Finnish)

Kuunkuiskaajat on Facebook


Finding Peace, Hope, and Joy with Dylan Laine

For those who don’t know, in addition to writing this fabulous blog, I’m a regular writer for an online publication called Christian Media Magazine. I recently interviewed an up-and-coming music artist – you can read the original article and interview here. But since I do occasional music reviews here on my blog, I thought I’d share this post with you. Enjoy!

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I had the honor of interviewing Dylan Laine, a new voice in the Christian music scene. She’s not a newcomer to music, but she recently made a decision to change the direction and message of her music. Songs of anger and depression are now songs of peace, hope, and joy, and she wants to share this message with the world. I’ll let her do the rest of the talking:

Q: So you just launched your first EP. What is it called?

Yes! My debut EP is self-titled, “Dylan Laine.”

Q: When did you first get started with music?

Well, I remember being five years old and standing on my parent’s dining room table, belting out Enya’s “Sail Away” at the top of my lungs over and over until my voice was gone. My grandparents bought me a piano when I was seven, and shortly after I was taking classical piano lessons, I participated in choir during every year of my schooling from elementary through high school, and used books to help teach myself guitar and ukulele. A combination of my piano education, choir involvement, and love for performance led me to dabble in being a singer-songwriter. Once I realized I could mix my hobby of writing poetry, with piano, guitar, singing, and performing, I never looked back!

Q: This new EP is not the first music that you’ve written or recorded. What sort of songs have you done before, and how is this EP different?

I have been writing and recording music for the last 13 years. In fact, ever since I was 13, I would record every song the moment I finished writing them so that they would never be forgotten. As of August 2014, I had an inventory of over 200 original songs written and recorded in a file on my laptop, titled, “All My Songs.” The majority of the 200 songs in that folder were inspired by the heartache, confusion, and frustration which consumed my life throughout my early teen years to my early twenties. In August 2014, I made a decision to erase all but five of my songs. The five songs left standing were centered around peace, hope, and joy.

Q: Did your decision to change the direction of your music come to you gradually, or was there a defining moment that made you change your mind?

After graduating Berklee College of Music in 2010, I spent four years trying to decide which direction to take my music. After marrying in June 2013, my husband and I made a commitment together to guard our hearts from movies, TV, music, and all other sources of media that promoted a negative message. In Luke 6:45, we learned that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of,” and so we chose to fill our hearts with content centered around peace, hope, and joy. Once I implemented this decision into my day-to-day life, I knew that going forward in my music career, I had to apply the same principle.

Q: If you could sum up the message of this EP in just one sentence, what would it be?

You really are so loved.

Q: Would you say that your goal and vision is to use your music as a ministry?

My life is my ministry, whether it’s through my music, my conversations, or my simple daily choices. I would say my goal is to keep pressing forward, to never quit, and to always find the value in effecting even one person’s life for the better. My vision is that my audience will continually expand among Christian and non-Christian listeners, and that they will find encouragement through my lyrics so that they can feel passionate and safe to go out in the world and free-fall into whatever wonderful calling God has placed on their lives.

Q: Where would you like to be in five years – musically, as well as ministry-wise?

In five years, I would love to be making a living solely through playing live shows and selling custom songs as well as custom poetry. I am on my way, but there is much room for growth! My husband and I also have a dream to either start or be a part of a professional worship band. I would also like for my audience to extend out beyond (loyal and dedicated) family and friends, and to reach people from all over the world as I spend time touring and posting videos, using beneficial promotional tools such as YouTube and Facebook.

Q: What are some comments you’ve received from your fans?

The most frequent comment I hear from fans is that my music is very distinctive and refreshing. I love hearing this because one of my intentions when I put music out there, is to give listeners something unique to listen to.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the song-writing process – words or music? Which usually comes first?

There has been a pretty even balance of times that either the music has come first or the lyrics have come first. As far as my songwriting process goes, my favorite moment is when I realize that my idea is one worth using, either musically or lyrically, and then I know that I get to spend the next hour or two developing that idea.

Q: Do you enjoy performing live, or are you more of a studio artist? Any tours or shows coming up?

I absolutely love performing live! It’s a privilege to be able to showcase my art and to connect with people face-to-face. I don’t currently have any tours or shows coming up, but I am in the process of changing that!

Q: What’s your favorite song on your new EP?

My favorite song on my debut EP is, “Joy.” The lyrics embody one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn, which is to choose joy, despite my situation and circumstances, regardless of how unnatural it feels.

Q: Do you have a favorite song by someone else – either Christian or secular?

My favorite song is always changing, but as of now I love to blast Bethel Music’s, “You Make Me Brave.” The bridge build-up always gives me chills and leaves me feeling so encouraged and inspired.

Q: Do you have a favorite Bible verse, or a verse that particularly inspires you when you’re writing your songs?

Yes! My favorite bible verse is Philippians 4:8, which reads, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” This verse has been the motive by which I strive to live and write.

Q: Any other final thoughts you’d like to share?

For many years, I used music as a way to escape and therefore, became very consumed in self-pity as I indulged in lyrics inspired by heartache. While it felt good temporarily to cry along with the music, or even justify my anger or depression with the music, it didn’t affect me positively in the long run. In the last few years, as I’ve begun to listen to worship music, I’ve been able to let those encouraging lyrics nourish me and lift my spirits, rather than drag me down or make me cry like I had done in previous years with secular music. I want to challenge others to try letting go of secular music for a week, and to find music that is inspiring and uplifting, just to see if there are any noticeable positive changes, as I have experienced in my own life.

I believe that Dylan’s message is a powerful one, and a much-needed one in today’s world of darkness and heartache. If you’d like to find out more about Dylan and hear her music, you can find her online:

Dylan’s website:
Dylan on Facebook:
Dylan on Twitter: @dylanlainemusic

Music Review: “Just the Two of Us,” Secret Garden

After nearly 20 years of composing and performing, the Norwegian-Irish New Age group Secret Garden is going back to the basics, as it were. Secret Garden’s latest album is titled Just the Two of Us, and features Rolf Løvland on the piano and Fionnuala Sherry on the violin.

Even though Rolf and Fionnuala have performed with other musicians, singers, and orchestras for all of their other albums, a duo of piano and violin was always at the heart of their music. For their ninth album, they created a simpler, more intimate experience for their listeners.

Every melody on this album is a delicate resculpting of tunes that would be familiar to long-time Secret Garden fans: “Awakening,” “Song from a Secret Garden,” and “Papillon” are some of my favorites on this album. Two new pieces are featured for the first time here: “En Passant” and the title track “Just the Two of Us.”

There aren’t any of Secret Garden’s upbeat Celtic jigs or songs with full choirs on this album. This easily could have been called “Ode to Simplicity,” as one of the tracks on the album suggests. I feel that Rolf and Fionnuala achieved what they set out to do – create new life while revisiting the past.

If you’re looking for a soothing instrumental album, full of variety but without any jarring musical surprises to interrupt relaxation or enjoyment, then I would highly recommend Just the Two of Us.

Secret Garden’s website

“Song from a Secret Garden”