The Piano Guys have produced musical and video gems that mash up classical themes with pop songs, making their YouTube channel one of the most visited on the planet and bringing the group a recording deal with Sony Masterworks. This self-titled set, their major-label debut, features their amazing ten-handed take on One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful," the recording and video that first vaulted the Piano Guys to international fame.
Steve Leggett, Rovi
Comprised of 18 tracks culled from the singer/composer’s first three decades, The Very Best of Enya was pieced together by the artist herself, along with longtime collaborators Nicky and Roma Ryan. Luckily, the trio seems enamored by most of the same songs that the general public is, resulting in one of those rare “greatest-hits” collections that goes deep without depriving the listener of the essentials. With tunes like "Orinoco Flow," "Caribbean Blue," and "Book of Days" in the pot and out of the way, it’s easier to appreciate hidden gems like "Cursum Perficio," "Boadicea," "Trains and Winter Rains," and "Anywhere Is." Also notable is the inclusion of "May It Be" and a previously unreleased version of "Aníron (I Desire)," both of which originally appeared on the soundtrack for the first chapter of Peter Jackson’s beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy.
James Christopher Monger, Rovi
Celtic Woman, a Riverdance-inspired PBS phenomena that boasts the talents of several female leads and a whole lot of orchestra and genre instruments like pipes, bodhrans, and fiddles, gives contemporary Celtic the Il Divo treatment on New Journey, a lovely and occasionally over the top collection of familiar melodies and grandiose sentiments that should please both the Celtic new age and the adult alternative crowds. [New Journey is also available in a "Deluxe Edition, Rovi
Calling Shepherd Moons a near carbon copy of Watermark puts it quite mildly. Like Watermark, Shepherd Moons opens with the title track, a calm instrumental, has another brief instrumental titled after a Dora Saint book smack in the middle ("No Holly for Miss Quinn"), and concludes with a number incorporating a striking uilleann pipes solo, "Smaointe...." In general, Enya's own musical style and work remains the same, again assisted on production by Nicky Ryan and with lyrics by Roma Ryan. Shepherd Moons does have one key factor that's also carried over from Watermark -- it's quite good listening. Though the total continuity means that those who enjoy her work will again be pleased and those who dislike it won't change their minds, in terms of finding her own vision and sticking with it, Enya has increasingly polished and refined her work to a strong, elegant degree. "Caribbean Blue," the lead single, avoids repeating the successful formula of "Orinoco Flow" by means of its waltz time -- a subtle enough change, but one that colors and drives the overall composition and performance, the closest Enya might ever get to a dance number. Some songs call to mind traditional Irish music even more strongly than much of her earlier work, while two other tracks are haunting rearrangements of old, traditional numbers. With her trademark understated drama in full flow many other places, especially on the wonderful "Book of Days" (replaced on later pressings with an English language version done for the film Far and Away), Enya shows herself to still have it, to grand effect.
Ned Raggett, Rovi
Thanks to its distinct, downright catchy single "Orinoco Flow," which amusingly referenced both her record-company boss Rob Dickins and co-producer Ross Cullum in the lyrics, Enya's second album Watermark established her as the unexpected queen of gentle, Celtic-tinged new age music. To be sure, her success was as much due to marketing a niche audience in later years equally in love with Yanni and Michael Flatley's Irish dancing, but Enya's rarely given a sense of pandering in her work. She does what she does, just as she did before her fame. (Admittedly, avoiding overblown concerts run constantly on PBS hasn't hurt.) Indeed, the subtlety that characterizes her work at her best dominates Watermark, with the lovely title track, her multi-tracked voice gently swooping among the lead piano, and strings like a softly haunting ghost, as fine an example as any. "Orinoco Flow" itself, for all its implicit dramatics, gently charges instead of piling things on, while the organ-led "On Your Shore" feels like a hushed church piece. Elsewhere, meanwhile, Enya lets in a darkness not overly present on The Celts, resulting in work even more appropriate for a moody soundtrack than that album. "Cursum Perficio," with her steady chanting-via-overdub of the title phrase, gets more sweeping and passionate as the song progresses, matched in slightly calmer results with the equally compelling "The Longships." "Storms in Africa," meanwhile, uses drums from Chris Hughes to add to the understated, evocative fire of the song, which certainly lives up to its name. Watermark ends with a fascinating piece, "Na Laetha Geal M'Oige," where fellow Irish modern/traditional fusion artist Davy Spillane adds a gripping, heartbreaking uilleann pipe solo to the otherwise calm synth-based performance. It's a perfect combination of timelessness and technology, an appropriate end to this fine album.
Ned Raggett, Rovi
The late Israel Kamakawio'ole, known to his many fans simply as Iz, was a consummate Hawaiian with a wonderful voice and accomplished ukulele technique. This posthumous release of some unplugged performances, enhanced arrangements, and previously unreleased songs is definitely for his legion of admirers. While best known for his native Hawaiian songs, Iz covered a lot of ground, and three of the most affecting tracks here are standards: his take on "Mona Lisa," starting alone, then with a full arrangement behind him; the nursery rhyme "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"; and a most unusual version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" which shouldn't work in his style, but quite stubbornly does. His angelic pipes seem capable of working around any material and doing it justice (although it should be noted "Starting All Over Again" and "In This Life," with full-on synths behind him, definitely go for saccharine overkill). But he's perhaps at his best when he's at his simplest -- just him and his ukulele -- whether on the strummed "Panini Puakea" or the delicate and mysterious "La Elima," which relies on his gentle picking. On the classic Hawaiian song "Opae E," the guitar backing fleshes out his work without overpowering it, a gentle filigree around his voice. To those who love Iz's albums, whether his solo work or as part of the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau, this stands -- certainly for the most part -- as a wonderful, thoughtful addition to his catalog, highlighting most the stunning purity of his voice.
Chris Nickson, Rovi