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Darby DeVon Highlands
Image 1999 Etherean Music 

(13 May 2000) The title track of Darby DeVon's 11-track album Highlands (Etherean Music (USA) 97347 35012, 1999) is also featured on the Celtic Mystique compilation (review). A reprise concludes the album and brackets nine Celtic-tinged vocally rich new age pieces. DeVon's music will certainly appeal to enthusiasts of Maire Brennan, Enya and Miriam Stockley. While the music is instrumentally rich with accordian, hammered dulcimer, fiddle, violin, viola, cello, recorder and double bass joining contemporary keyboards and guitars, Darby's extensive vocal contribution is the driving force within the music with both lyrical and vocalise passages. A lovely booklet complete with song backgrounds explaining the theme of the album accompanies the compact disc.

The title track is a highly instrumental number filled with stunning vocalise. "The Knight At Dublin Castle" is a moving and catchy Celtic ballad balancing traditional with contemporary instrumentation while instrumentals and vocalise characterise the contemporary ballad "The Quest of Lia Fall." A certain favourite track is "Daydreams." It is a very accessible rhythmic Enya-like number with layers of vocalise supporting a lovely and sensitively sung lead vocal. Allusions to Enya's style return in "Together We Fly. Upbeat and dynamic contemporary instrumentals join traditional sounds and layers of vocalise cohesively bind the song together.

"Valparaiso" is a lovely ballad, most reminiscent of Miriam Stockley's "Song Of The Seahorse." From the liner notes, "A mystical and intuitive interpretation of this reflective composition by Sting mirrirs the Hero's pensive inner landscape." Evocatively sung in all respects, backing vocals add to the texture of the otherwise simple instrumentation of the track.

The album's pure instrumentals include the soft "Passage to Iona" arranged in a Renaissance (-faire) style with a calling recorder and hammer dulcimer playing highly notable parts. Another is "Oghma's Return" mixing traditional Irish jig-like passages with the more military themes of Scottish Celtic music. The reprise of "Highlands" is reminscent of the tracks that precede it, clearly illustrating the variety of instrumental arrangements within the album.

Darby DeVon's debut album Highlands is certainly one of the finest new age-oriented albums we've heard this year and filled with stunning vocals and well-written and performed instrumental arrangements, worth a cross-country journey, is a must listen!

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