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BEST OF CASON
The Crossing
Album Review by Bill Binkelman


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Shirley Cason, one of my favorite new age music keyboardists, has culled the most popular tracks from four of her previous releases (Forever In Bloom, A Summer Dream, Winter Mornings, and Inner Peace) for The Crossing, a career retrospective that clearly shows why her web site is filled with praise from fans all over the world. As I have mentioned in my reviews of her albums, what sets Cason apart from many other keyboard artists is how her music is deceptively simple on the surface (piano accented by assorted orchestral and new age keyboards) but suffused with genuine warmth, like the comforting presence of a good friend, as well as a heartfelt sincerity that is refreshingly straightforward and not muddied by over-production or unnecessary glitz. She seems to be the kind of person you want to have offer for coffee or a glass of wine, the opposite of a "star," so to speak.

The Crossing contains a good sampling of the various styles Cason is capable of playing, but it contains only previously recorded work, so fans who already own those albums previously mentioned above need to be aware of this fact. On the other hand, the track selection (these are all very good choices by the artist) presents enough allure that even completists will enjoy this disc. I personally think this is one "best of" from an artist that actually merits the title.

The first song on the album, Journey, illustrates what I described as Cason's strengths right away: flowing warm piano in the lead with lightly applied synth strings and a draping of light electronic textures. Cason is particularly good at painting in muted shades, mixing an evocation of remembrance with regret so that fondness and sadness intermix. However, as the next song, Seabreeze, shows, she can also lighten the mood and spice things up with added instrumentation. A jaunty assemblage of piano, xylophone, flute and electronics, the song conjures the titular reference of a sailboat carried along by soft but insistent winds. Next, Cason lets the romantic in her musical persona shine through on Forever in Bloom with its gentle guitar and serene orchestral strings. The forlorn lead melody on Last Walk is juxtaposed by the track's somewhat lively bass rhythms and accented by occasional injection of lighter melodic components. This song is one of the better examples of Cason's skills at exploring an assortment of electronic keyboard sounds within an accessible framework.

Other songs on the CD include one of my favorites from her discography, the eight and half minute Winter Skies. With twinkling synths that sonically mirror ice crystals, smooth synth strings that fall like a gentle snow, as well as muted bell tones and delicately plucked guitar strings, the song perfectly captures the beauty and solemnity of the season. The next track, Icicle Melt, emphasizes Cason's talent across a wide spectrum of electronics and keyboards, including some subtle chill-out beats. Shirley Cason is no one trick pony, merely layering in some strings now and then. The eleven songs here aptly demonstrate just how broad her "music palette" truly is. Yet no matter the song's style, each piece is easily identifiable as "Shirley," due to her music's warmth, her uncomplicated way with the lead melody, and her heart-on-her-sleeve straightforward sincerity.

If you haven't yet heard this wonderful artist's music, The Crossing would make the perfect introduction. Even if you already own several of her previous releases, this is still a recommendable CD because it showcases her best, and her best is, as we say in Minnesota, pretty darn terrific. You betcha!
Highly recommended.

Rating: Very Good +
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman




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