Bill Binkelman/ music reviewer
I've not heard all nine of harpist Peter Sterling's albums, but of the ones I have heard, The Sands of Time is my favorite. Ten tracks that veer from gently rhythmic chill-out (yeah, chill-out harp, how about that!) to world fusion influenced musical excursions to classically influenced romantic odes to serene new age/ambient-ish soundscapes. Besides his harp, Sterling plays keyboards (and they are perfectly blended in throughout the album, too), recorder, hammer dulcimer and adds some vocals, too. Sterling enlists some top notch talent to join him as well, including Richard Hardy on flute and penny whistle, Bruce BecVar on guitar and Brian BecVar on piano and keyboards (other accompanists contribute on guitar, bass, tabla, Bansuri, violin, cello, congas, and percussion). Cover art is likewise good, making this an all-around entertaining and solid album (engineering and production by Sterling is very good, and he mixed the album with the assistance of Gary Barlough - well done, mates!).
The seven-plus minute Forever and a Day is the aforementioned "chill-out harp" track and it's a beaut to open the CD with, featuring a slow tempo shuffling "skitch" beat, lovely lead harp melody, and just the right amount of flowing keyboard textures, as well as guitar accompaniment from Fitz Hugh-Jenkins and subdued bass by Deaon Estes. Come With Me continues on with the same beat (tempo and style) but accents it with East Indian flavor by incorporating tabla, Bansuri flute (played by the artist Manose), and subtle tamboura drones. The confluence of ethnic spice with the slow tempo chillage makes for an interesting hybrid. Ever After shoots for a more classical/Renaissance-era feel, the melody is low key and Hardy's flute is joined by Hans Christian's cello, while Sea of Dreams invites comparison to Deuter's more active music (including the inclusion of some nature sound effects), and again some classical influence (mostly a waltz-like sense of grace-in-movement) is hinted at via both the cello and BecVar's "additional orchestration" as well as Sterling's playing itself. To the Moon and Back dials up the energy a bit, and throws in a dash of tropical spice too! Bruce BecVar spins out some tasty guitar licks, Rapheal Padilla beats out a sassy sensual rhythm on bongos, and wordless vocals by Sterling complete the breezy palm-trees-in-the-sun midtempo evocation. The Mystic and the Master is appropriately, well, mystical (actually reminding me a little of the Braheny/Clark release, The Spell, although featuring more acoustic instruments than the latter did). Arc of the Angels surprises when, after the first half of the track's "typical" chorals, piano and celestial harp, trap kit drums (really well mixed in as more subdued than is usually the case - boy, I wish other artists learned this trick) enter the song and impart some unexpected dramatic emphasis as the cut spins a more contemporary web (but never to the song's detriment). Sterling goes solo (playing harp and keyboards) on the album's last cut, The Distant Shore, certainly the most soothing piece here - a nearly six-minute slice of minimal crystalline harp and assorted layers of synthesizers. It's a satisfying and fitting close to a highly enjoyable album.
Filled with exemplary musicianship by Sterling and all the guest artists, The Sands of Time reveals a depth and maturity which has evolved within this talented harpist as a composer, performer and producer (Sterling did a great job considering the large number of accompanists). His label is called "Harp Magic" and that's what awaits the listener on this solidly recommended release. Once you start playing The Sands of Time, you'll be hoping they don't run out too soon. Of course, that's what the "repeat" button is for on CD players, right?
Rating: Very Good
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 4/25/2009