Album Reviews

Stairway: Pearls Of The Deep (Best Of) (Angel Air)

stairway

Stairway
Pearls Of The Deep (Best Of)
Angel Air

“New Age” is such a nebulous term, especially when it relates to music. Some relate it to world music, especially music of a Celtic or an Asian persuasion. Others relate it to field recordings of rainforests, beaches, and the wind, while others define it with light, jazzy synth sounds, such as those of Yanni or Windham Hill. Then there’s the dark, heavy ambient/progressive rock sounds of “space music,” as exemplified by the long-running radio program Hearts of Space. About the only thing that connects all of these disparate styles is their shared desire to present thoughtful, relaxing, meditative music. The genre’s easy-on-the-ears approach often leaves it vulnerable to criticism and mocking scorn, due to a mixture of absurd excess of practitioners of “New Age” thought and the seemingly simplicity of the music itself. Rare, then, is the artist or band that blends these styles together.

British group Stairway proved to be one of the better cross-pollinating New Age groups, as evidenced by Pearls Of The Deep, a collection that complies some of their best moments from their brief tenure. Stairway formed in the Eighties, when The Yardbirds founding drummer Jim McCarty reunited musically with his bandmate Louis Cennamo and Jane Relf from his later group, the progressive-rock Renaissance. The trio would be joined by additional players, making Stairway an actual band, as opposed to merely a studio project. Altogether, they would release four albums, with a fifth being credited to McCarty and Cennamo, though it was a Stairway album in all but name.

What makes Pearls Of The Deep so satisfying is its diversity of arrangement, traveling between atmospheric electronic, gentle acoustic guitar melodies, breezy synth passages, and ethereal singing.  Moments such as “Deer” and “Sunset Point: are gentle strolls down he familiar path set forth by Yanni, while “Beautiful Changes” feels like an Enya melody that’s waiting for her vocals, “The Lovers” and “Aquamarine” go to the other extreme, a heavy, groove-laden numbers with melodies that sound dangerously close to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. In spite of these sonic extremes, nothing here sounds too out of character, and the album flows together nicely, a 78-minute journey into gorgeous, relaxing sound. 

Stairway’s tenure may have been brief, but Pearls Of The Deep is a fabulous collection that serves its subject quite well. Considering the resurgence in this kind of music over the last two years, perhaps this release will be augmented with reissues of their back catalog. There’s certainly enough evidence here that makes a strong case for such a thing…

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