Tuesday, November 14, 2017

John Sokoloff - Album Review - Hartland Street Echoes


Review by: Stewart Brennan ~ World United Music

My passion for good music compels me to write especially when good music moves me, and “Hartland Street Echoes” by John Sokoloff has certainly moved me in ways that I never expected, as I now, better understand, empathically, a small part of a displaced community after the 1917 Russian Revolution. One hundred years later, the spirit, culture and art of that community continue to grace our world in the most passionate of ways, expressed so profoundly in the music of Russian American composer and artist, John Sokoloff.

In many ways, the emotional expression present in John Sokoloff’s music mirrors that of my own Irish Community. There is a similarity in the depth of pain experienced by both communities through their tragedies as well as the euphoria of joy in their triumphs expressed through art, which, to me, is the soul of the people in all communities.

The strength of heart and character of the Russian people is as ever present today as it was yesterday and carries on from generation to generation through its preservation of culture, its artforms and its people.

“Hartland Street Echoes” is an empathic window to the life and experiences of not just one man, but of an entire community and perhaps a nation. History is said to be written by the victors, but it is also written by the vanquished through the empathy and artistic passion of its people.

“Hartland Street Echoes” by John Sokoloff contains the pulse of the Russian heart expressed brilliantly by John Sokoloff and band through a music that is thoroughly engaging, empathic and meaningful.

Be sure to subscribe to John Sokoloff’s Official website and / or his Facebook and YouTube channels here and here to keep up to date with music tours and everything else.

First, a little about John Sokoloff and what he’s been up to:

John Sokoloff's music comes from his Russian-American heritage. Melodic and soulful, John's piano-based songs are unique in their lyricism and passionate honesty. Combining a variety of instruments and styles seamlessly, The John Sokoloff Band has released five compact discs of compelling, instrumental music.

John served as composer for the critically acclaimed CBS Primetime "The Bonnie Hunt Show" for David Letterman's Worldwide Pants Productions. He composed and played on the theme and all incidental music for the show.

A song from his debut cd Vacation Beach, was the featured theme for Moscow’s 850th Birthday official documentary, produced by award winning director Tofik Shefardeev. Commissioned by Mayor Lushkov and sanctioned by the Moscow government,
DVD copies of the documentary were distributed to the gathered mayors of the world’s major cities.

Additionally, The John Sokoloff Band has been heard on radio and television in the United States and Russia.
The piano-based band also allows for eclectic instrument combinations and a variety of influences - from Blues and Classical to Russian Folk.
From congas to violin, electric guitar to balalaika - the common denominator is soul…

John’s influences include Rachmaninoff, Van Morrison, Tchaikovsky, Sting, JJ Cale, Neil Young, Roy Buchanan, The Band and Bulat Okoudzhave, among others.

Discography:

1993 - Vacation Beach
1996 - Valleys
1998 - Eastern Shadows
2000 - Bliss Misplaced
2004 - The Melancholy Way
2017 - Hartland Street Echoes

Hartland Street Echoes Album Review:

Band Members:

John Sokoloff – Piano / Synths
Tony Mandracchia – Electric, Acoustic and Slide Guitars
Denny Croy – Fender Base
Craig Fundyga – Congas, Vibes and Percussion
Willie McNeil – Drums

Guests on “Hartland Street Echoes”

Alexander “Lulu” Podresov – Acoustic Guitar and Balalaika on “Hartland Street Echoes”
Gee Rabe – Accordion on “Vanowen Girl”
Nikolai Kurganov – Violin on “Dom Veteranov”

SONGS:


Song # 01 - She Lives at 4 View Road

“She Lives at 4 View Road” begins the musical journey with youthful carefree ambiance, a delightful presence that moves into a natural build up with layers of comforting musical impressions as if thoughts and memories joined-in to greet a friend from youth. A pleasantly engaging song from beginning to end.


Song # 02 - Her Voice

“Her Voice” is a short departure from John Sokoloff’s traditional musical style but no less emotionally impacting through a combination of music and spoken word poetry of a young man talking over the phone with an old girlfriend in hopes of reuniting, only to find that her heart belongs to another. A song and poem about a true-life experience of sinking heartbreak.


POEM: HER VOICE

Her voice, it sounded happy
I listened selfishly
Three years I haven’t seen her
But she is still in me.

Our talk was small, by standards
I didn’t really care
Since on this night of empty words –
It’s feelings I would share

She told me of her college days
While work wore out the nights
Why she “hasn’t done a social thing”
Her time has been so tight.

I closed my eyes
And thanked the clock
for playing kindly thief
No mention of another -
I blew the sigh relief

Euphoria begins
with quivers in the soul -
And how do you stop a rock
that’s begun it’s downhill roll
Aching was my heart –
At hearing that voice again
Take this letter now –
to heaven my feelings send..

It came without much warning
A shower in summertime
She mentioned it in passing –
The truth so hard to find.

“My boyfriend can’t communicate
but treats me really nice.
Our future is together..
John...can you lend me some advice..”

Sometimes we expect
the blue sky to turn green
Sometimes we can’t face,
what we have always seen..

But tell me how to stop,
what has begun to roll
This rock has stopped its tumble –
It’s resting on my soul…

Song # 03 - Vanowen Girl

The more I listen to “Vanowen Girl”, the more blown away I am. Not only is it infectious, it's truly a modern day classic that I'm sure, would have been loved and envied by all the great classical composers. The music is so delightfully simple yet also very complicated in its structure, its essence and its emotional reflection...

”Vanowen Girl” is a modern day classical masterpiece… a waltze made by a master that will grace all of our communities to the end of time…this is simply a brilliant piece! Here is a musical composition that needs to be heard by the world as much as an André Rieu Orchestral Dance and performance is viewed by millions throughout Europe.


Song # 04 - Chasing Hara

I view an album as a life journey or story told through music and so “Chasing Hara” continues the story of a youthful composer, lost in the emotions of love, chasing yet never capturing the elusive dream.


Song # 05 - Covello

“Covello” is a cheery upbeat composition that is seemingly filled with the hustle and bustle of life that builds and builds with infectious instrumental hooks telling of youthful experiences; a piano instrumental piece that lifts the spirits and energy level.


Song # 06 - Coronado Terrace

“Coronado Terrace” is a very reflective piece as if looking back through time at the experiences and roots to what life was like in the Russian American community with all the stories that drift to mind in old silent black and white news reels complete with a hint of melancholy and longing. A wonderfully engaging and artistically inspiring composition.


Song # 07 - Waltz for Anastasia

“Waltz for Anastasia” is another brilliant composition and expression brimming with emotional reflection that tells through its melancholy ambience, the catastrophic loss of innocence and the tragedy that befell the Romonov family, and indeed the entire Russian nation during the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Anastasia was one of the Romanov children and so this composition brings emotional reality to the loss of innocence and the tragic death of a child through an empathic expression of music by John Sokoloff.


Song # 08 - Hartland Street Echoes

The title track of the CD, “Hartland Street Echoes”, encompasses a period of time in the composers life where he lived in a small house isolated from the hustle of the world but was intimate with nature which influenced the artists creativity. The composition profoundly resonates the comfortable feelings and memories of home and could easily be a soundtrack to an academy award winning movie.

Song # 09 - Solo Ari

Solo Ari is the deepest and most complex song on the album as it seemingly plays out the emotional thoughts of one waiting with a candlelit dinner for someone that does not show up. A very engaging song that builds musically and emotionally to a climactic finally and then peacefully closes a chapter.


Song # 10 - Dom Veteranov

Song Background: “Dom Veteranov” “Dom” meaning house in Russian, was a society started in 1926 by Veterans who fought against the Bolsheviks. They had lost their country and lived their entire lives in suitcases and died without being able to return home... The house where they met for decades was filled with their memorabilia .....and their Spirit. The composition, “Dom Veteranov” was composed within those walls.

“Dom Veteranov” is an emotionally empathic and moving tribute to the lives and spirits of the many veterans who passed through the halls of “Dom Veteranov” in the tiny California Russian community.

In my mind, “Dom Veteranov” represents the sorrows of the entire Russian community, many of whom were the families and descendants of those veterans and while I write this album review just after “Remembrance Day” November 11th, 2017, one hundred years after the 1917 Russian revolution, I find a common understanding of sorrow, loss and respect for those that gave their lives for the greater good.


Song # 11 - Balloons of Matilija

John Sokoloff ends his “Heartland Street Echoes” album with “The Balloons of Matilija”, a spoken word poem and music holding deep reflection of a once vibrant Russian community long since gone but still thriving in the hopes, dreams and artforms of its descendants. A wonderful creation and fitting end to a wonderful reflective album.


Poem: The Balloons of Matilija

The balloons have
long since drifted,
The tinsel swept away...
The din of voices...silenced,
It's just another day.

Where laughter once had reigned
And cheer had once resided
Where music once was heard
And utopia - sighted.

But vertical, the hands of time became
And icy gusts blew candles dry
The mighty steed had turned up lame:
Truth transformed into a lie.

Where once you passed
you now must fail
Life's lesson early learned -
Time is not for sale.

The balloon does drift
through clouds and haze
It drifts, serenely
thru the days

It drifts the nights
o'er plain and hill
and thru
the early morning chill

Drifting to a place beyond
where rainbows smile
and sunsets yawn.
Where misty shrouds
of yesteryear -
elude the desperate
grasp of fear

It floats the fields
and grassy knolls
where fawn-like creatures
bare their souls.
Where perfumed flowers
reach the sky
and hands are held
in manner shy

It sees it all
from up above:
the common branch
of hawk and dove,
A bison sipping
lion's tea,
a cats embrace
of canary..
the boisterous bull
and matador:
sharing vintage, Spanish lore...

Wafting by the balloon foresees:
an end
to all life's agony

The scene shifts
to a dark abyss
A cruel, forbidding
precipice -
from which
a gust escapes
the void,
Motivation - to destroy...

It thrusts balloon
on jagged edge -
a pointed branch
or rocky ledge

A hiss is heard,
then a cry -
The lone balloon
begins to die

It sinks past clouds
and through
the trees
clutching, grasping
for a breeze...
while down below
the rocks await -
harsh practitioners
of Fate...

The balloon quivers,
begins to toss
It's life air
all but lost.
And with what proves
it's final gasp
from balloon -
a wish is cast..

And with that
he fights no more
and succumbs
to canyon floor..

Rainclouds gather
and skies do bleed
drenching ground -
devoid of seed.
The distance darkens
while winds moan dry
up above
the barren sky

But somewhere, somewhere
way beyond -
Rainbows smile
and sunsets yawn,
and misty shrouds
of Yesteryear
elude
the desperate grasp of fear.

The balloons have long since drifted
The tinsel, swept away...
The din of voices....silenced,

It's just another day.
--------------------------
Last Word:

If I had the vocabulary to describe my inner feelings, my poems would rain in music. If I possessed the musical ability of expression, my music would be filled with empathy for life and that is what I get from John Sokoloff’s 2017 CD “Hartland Street Echoes” an album I treasure, which is now a part of me.

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