The Wonder Well picks up where John's 2012 release The Fire in the Flint left off, this time adding some new styles and musical textures: from the soulful smooth jazz guitar of "Never Alone," to the powerful and evocative electronic/world grooves of "Unbounded" and "Window to the West."
As on all of his releases, John’s multi-instrumental talents are complimented by the luscious, layered vocals of Daya - including the inspired and uplifting songs "In Spiritus" and “If A Rose Could Speak."
1 In Spiritus – featuring Daya 4:55
2 Never Alone 5:09
3 The Wonder Well 5:20
4 At Home 4:03
5 Window to the West 4:16
6 If a Rose Could Speak – featuring Daya 4:19
7 Unbounded 5:31
8 The Cup and the Veil 3:48
9 The Meeting Place 4:09
10 Heartstrings 4:51
11 Beautiful World 3:27
For additional information on the album click on the 2nd picture underneath the above CD cover
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Every time I put this in, I know I am going to really listen. Because I don't want to miss a second, a single note. Each song is immaculate in its own way. Sometimes a new CD takes a while to get used to, to work into actually liking it. Not this. It is like immediate chocolate. You can play it over and over and over and never get tired of it.
The opener, “In Spiritus,” begins with Daya’s vocals layered on top of John’s own vocals. The lyrical content of the song—Spiritus est Deus, In Spiritus est Deus—is powerful in its message but simple enough to allow the melodic content to shine through. The shimmering piano lines that glide over the easygoing pop beat serve as a nice interlude between the vocal bits. And of course, there’s one of those effortless key changes that have come to mark John’s music as so unique! Overall, “In Spiritus” sets up the rest of the record as one to sit back and enjoy. If you’ve reached the end of the track, don’t miss the cello accents that keep the song moving forward in contrast to the soaring synth string line sustained at the top. "Never Alone" opens with a calming string introduction that leads into a more "urban" beat than we have heard from John before. Some great guitar work in this piece too. There is a moment about two-thirds of the way into the song where the beat breaks down and the piano continues on its own—very nice bridge. The title track is a haunting piano-driven piece that features the keyboards playing solo for a large portion of the piece. The refrain features some sparkling synth sounds on top of a driving beat, but the focus remains on the melody, not the rhythm. The bridge features an extended string section feature that builds into the arpeggiated piano line again. To my ears, some of the coolest sound design in this track is in the bass line. Keep an ear out for that… I think you’ll find that it enhances the melodies tremendously. And don’t miss the synth bells that create a countermelody to the piano in the final coda, either! The fourth track, “At Home,” is another one that starts without a beat and opens with piano and guitar only. The interplay between melody and rhythm with a consistent yet non-distracting bass throughout seems to be a recurring theme throughout The Wonder Well. It’s executed well, too. The appeal in “At Home” for me is the sweeping autoharp that accentuates the main theme at the downbeat of every bar. It makes for a very comforting vibe—suitable to the title of the piece. "Window to the West" is my favorite track on the record. The title is delightfully vague, leaving plenty to the listener’s imagination. Plus, it’s in my favorite mode—Dorian! John must know this, because he has been generous enough to write plenty of pieces in it. The piece is one giant electric guitar feature, really. It’s a brilliant concept. So often in instrumental pop we hear piano and keyboards get plenty of footage but the guitars—especially electric—hardly get their fair share of attention. "Window to the West" singlehandledly illuminates the electric guitar and reaffirms its position in the instrumental music world, alongside the critical role it plays in rock, jazz, and countless other genres. "If a Rose Could Speak" is a pleasant song that brings back Daya’s voice at a nice halfway point along the record. Written from the perspective of a flower looking at a human—usually it is the other way around—and inspired by a hymn, the song carries a nice message and has a gorgeous sound reminiscent of the long-lost innocence it seems we spend our entire lives trying to reclaim. In a single song, John and Daya remind us of what it is to be human. In a complete mood change, “Unbounded” frees us of the shackles that bind us in an ethnocentric, Western-minded pop music industry and instead transports us to the Middle East. The piece opens with several rhythmic instruments, both electronic as well as acoustic, that layer together at disorienting places in the beat. The groove doesn’t settle in until the drums join in, and this makes for a wonderfully disorienting effect. Daya’s electronically processed vocals add for another ambient flavor which, juxtaposed against the brilliant banjo and sitar lines played by John himself, create a mood not found anywhere else on the album. The signature John Adorney key changes exist in abundance in this piece as well. In my opinion, the thought that goes behind the sound design in contemporary instrumental music is severely underrated—“Unbounded” is one excellent example of cutting-edge soundscaping not rivaled by any other composer in the industry. The next track, “The Cup and the Veil,” sets up another striking mood change. Moving along in a half-time meter of 3 through the Lydian mode, this is mood music at its finest. The slow-moving progression creates the impression of cluster chords—a neat ambiance. This track is a comforting one that speaks of ages-old wisdom. John has mentioned in interviews that this piece was written a long time ago. No wonder that it has aged so well. "The Meeting Place" features Richard Hardy doing some great work on the bamboo flute. The feel-good, lounge-like vibe of the piece establishes a nice atmosphere which highlights the flute. John’s accompanying piano is a nice complement to Hardy and overall the piece is one of John’s best collaborations to date. The penultimate number, an introspective work called “Heartstrings,” is a nice play on words. There are all kinds of string instruments sprinkled throughout this one—from dulcimers to guitars. Even the harpsichord makes an appearance! The unassuming rhythm is something to listen for, too. As the loudness war rages on in today’s music industry, it seems the battle to find a bigger, better beat never ends. It’s pieces like “Heartstrings” that give us a break from the loudness and remind us that soft music has its own appeal. Speaking of which, The Wonder Well ends on an even softer note with the piano ballad “Beautiful World.” Overall, this record strikes me as John’s inner musing on music, humanity, and the world we live in. It is without doubt mood music—but not the kind that is, unfortunately, so frequently marketed as “elevator music” or “easy listening.” As with all of John’s other records, The Wonder Well is a cerebral, thought-provoking work that allows the listener to explore depths of sound that few other composers dare to venture in. It’s a masterpiece that stands out from the other work going in the instrumental music world today. Don’t miss out on the chance to hear this album all the way through—you won’t regret it.
John Adorney has for years been among the most popular artists on New Age Stars Radio. No other artist has had so many no. 1 positions, in front of artists like Enya, Mike Oldfield and Enigma. John is now out with a brand new album called The Wonder Well. So to celebrate this, we decided to dedicate the next three weeks – from 13 March to 3 April – to the music of John Adorney. BT Fasmer