Xyra & Verborgen Music Reviews

Click here to access the artists' website or on any an album image to access its review
Where Glass Birds Fly - click here to access review
Image by A. Andrew Gonzalez
© 1998 Xyra Harper-Cann
Shadows Of Light - click here to access review
Image by A. Andrew Gonzalez
© 1999 Xyra Harper-Cann
Frightening Beauty - click here to access review
Image by A. Andrew Gonzalez
© 1999 Xyra Harper-Cann

© 1998-2000, Russell W Elliot

Original Review: 26 October 1998 | Last Update: 09 January 2000

(28 October 1998) Now becoming increasingly well known in major cities on the United States East Coast, new recording artists Xyra & Verborgen are being discovered by an international audience. Over the past 25 years, East Coast progressive rock and alternative music audiences have established a firm commercial footing for artists such as Renaissance, Annie Haslam, October Project, Grey Eye Glances (formerly Sojourn) and Curved Air. In the last year, through personal promotional appearances and internet coverage, the band have become more widely appreciated. Characterised by the evocatively warm vocal talents of Xyra and the tremendously rich instrumentation of her classically-trained team of musicians, fans of progressive rock, folk and new age music will be pleased with their initial recording Where Glass Birds Fly. The album contains 10 tracks of beautiful music in a variety of individual styles.

Xyra & Verborgen are a good size ensemble led by vocalist and songwriter Xyra Harper-Cann. Andrew Cann contributes to songwriting and plays grand and digital pianos as well as acoustic and electric guitars. Cris Chillura plays lead Spanish and electric guitars and also contributes songwriting talents. Fred Lieder adds acoustic and electric cellos while Norm Thorne provides drums and percussion. Larry Lawrence plays fretless bass guitar. Don Stapleson plays woodwinds: clarinet, flute and saxophones. Two musicians contribute to three of the tracks; Edwin Cleverdon plays six-string bass guitar and Robert Fogelman plays additional clarinet and flute.

Further band information and history as well as sound samples are available to internet audiences via three inter-linked websites that each address slightly different aspects of the band's work.

It is entirely unfair to try to categorise Xyra & Verborgen's music into a particular genre, although their 'friends' page approximates it as "New Millennium - Alternative World -- Message Music." This is an album with broad appeal that should be as welcome in University dorm rooms as professionals' offices and homes. While some of the songs have highly memorable structures and tunes, it would be unfair to say any of them have the hook of a pop song per se.

Instead, this is music with important messages and the lyrics must be listened to carefully and understood in conjunction with the artists' messages. The CD booklet says it best: "Where Glass Birds Fly is dedicated to all that is precious and frail - to life itself. It is the very thing we tend to take for granted, until faced with the reality of our physical mortaility, be it through illness, tragedy, or death."

The album is musically intricate and produced with care and vision. Orchestration highlights both the instrumentalists' individual- and combined-talents. Strings, woodwinds and percussion work well together to provide a solid foundation for Xyra's vocals but provide equally compelling musical statements on their own. With a firm footing in the classics, the instrumental movements remain highly accessible and without classical pretentiousness. Here the sounds of the 1980s art rock band Renaissance come through loud and clear.

Where Glass Birds Fly is a vocal album and as such Xyra's lead and backing vocals constitute the central theme of the work. With a broad but centrally deeprange, her voice is emotional, powerful and rich, while being highly melodic at times. She can evoke happiness, blues or melancholiness equally. Often the instrumentals merely underscore the theme she provides within the music. At other times Xyra completely takes over herself or turns the music over to the rest of the band. Xyra's voice has extraordinary power and is at times reminscent of October Project's Mary Fahl ("Ice In Stone") and at others of Curved Air's Sonja Kristina ("I've Had to Know" and "He Gave it All Away").

The band's music differs significantly from that of these well known progressive rock bands. Particular movements within the songs are also reminscent of some of Loreena McKennitt's last two albums. The band's work shows great foresight into what music is becoming instead of what music has been.

While not my favourite, perhaps one of the most accessible songs on the album is "Back To Me" with a strong musical resemblence to the Dire Straits song "Sultans Of Swing" made vastly popular some years ago. We don't know what's being played on the East Coast radio stations, but suspect that this might be one of them.

"Postcards In The Rain" is the longest track on the album. It features some absolutely fantastic acoustic guitar work between the emotionally charged vocal elements. The instrumental composition "Riding the Dragonfly", written by Andrew Cann, demonstrates the orchestral sound Xyra & Verborgen can generate on their own. Here the band sound most like Renaissance. Led by piano the supporting instrumentals are perfectly balanced presenting an outstanding modern acoustic image of the band's talents.

"Ice In Stone" is a marvelously stunning track written by Xyra Harper-Cann, Andrew Cann and Cris Chillura. The song opens with Xyra's vocals over a light piano introduction. Percussion is added as the rest of the instrumentals come to life. The progression of the song involves light flute and emotional build up to full power until the pseudo-chorus surrounding the lyrics "It's not a dream" takes over. This is a wonderful song and, to me, most illustrative of the group's vast range of musical capabilities.

Overall this is an oustanding album that demonstrates the true virtuosity of a talented group of songwriters and musicians. Instead of covering old ground, the music begins where others have left off and explores future themes with heartfelt emotive lyrics and vocals as well as outstanding instrumental orchestration. Take advantage of the audio samples on the internet and give their music a listen and be sure to look for the CD in your local shop soon.

Another thoughtful review has been written by heavenly vocals critic Graham Lubin. Read it at his Celestial Voices website.

(09 October 1999) Shadows Of Light is a six track CD containing preview selections from Xyra & Verborgen's second album Frightening Beauty. Recorded with absolutely stunning quality, the EP contains about a half hour of all new material richly produced with lush instrumentation and Xyra's incredible and highly dramatic vocals.

Viewed by artists and fans alike as the group's most emotive sounding material, the instrumentals on the EP also stretch to new heights in their depth and in the imaging quality achieved in the final mix. The EP has been produced as a first class product with the CD nicely silk-screened and a high quality glossy sleeve illustrated by the same artist as the band's debut album.

Clearly moving in a more progressive direction, the EP's tracks are more varied and instrumentally balanced. "Frightening Beauty" offers the listener soaring lead vocals, highly effective keyboard work and bright guitar segments, especially in the passages bridging the vocal segments.

"While My Heart Is Still Beating" offers upbeat saxophone excursions, reminiscent of a Latin brass section, while robust electric guitar riffs by new guitarist, Eric Ulreich, add further depth to the piece.

"When She Walks Into The Room" is 'Xyra's song for Nico' and reflects a theatrical—somewhat Cabaret—style, incorporating surprising Spanish guitar undertones from Cris Chillura, no longer with the band. More spoken and story-telling than is typical for Xyra's work, the track shows the virtuosity of the lead vocalist's talents. Spanish guitar playing Gypsy chords and woodwinds in the instrumental bridge are both especially well performed. The quality of the recording is certainly evident in the quietest of the almost vocal-only passages.

Leading with Andrew Cann's contagious piano melody, "Delicate Anger" continues to develop the style of the EP differing in its more melodious lead vocals and additional instrumentation—especially in the dimensions of the jazzy woodwinds.

"Seeds Of Dissension" continues in a neo-jazz style with a reggae back-beat, and vocals mixed way up. Xyra's sensitive vocals are right there, in your face, throughout the track. Jazzy electric guitar, cello and bass are more prominent working off a backdrop of saxophone at times.

The album closes with Nico's song for Jim Morrison, "You Forgot To Answer," which is a serious and majestic progressive rock ballad that moves into a highly polished set of moving instrumentals, certainly worthy of improvisation in a live setting. With the lushest of string and woodwind instrumentation as well as Xyra's soaring vocals, the song is certainly a tribute to this group's ever expanding talent. Electric guitar and cello play off each other, furiously weaving through Xyra's echoes of Nico's pleas to Morrison "The high tide is taking everything . . . Why aren't you listening?"

When reflecting on this EP, it's clear that Xyra's soaring and powerful vocal work still carries the songs but the instrumentals are now taking a larger part in the overall experience. Surely their forthcoming album will llustrate a notable development in the group's overall direction and should please and intrigue a broad variety of music enthusiasts.

(09 January 2000) Frightening Beauty is the latest fourteen-track album from Xyra & Verborgen. Although six of the tracks were previewed on the Shadows Of Light EP, slightly different edits were likely used on the album for several of them. The all new tracks include "Find Me," "Random Inquiry," "Prisoners In A Free Society," "Until I Find," "The Fool's Journey," "Minstrel Of The Grail" and "Funny Valentine."

Again with stunning artwork inspired by A. Andrew Gonzalez and a full set of lyrics in a thoughtful well produced foldout booklet, the album's packaging compliments the stunning technical quality of the recording. The album picks up on the sound developed in the EP with its emotive sounding vocals while the instrumentals stretch to new heights in their depth with top quality imaging in the final mix.

"Find Me" is a slow, almost-spoken, emotive ballad with the melody carried by piano while bright flute and darker strings bring a balance to the instrumental arrangement. Sung in a similar style, the track "Random Inqiry" exhibits more pronounced percussive elements joining strings and piano while Xyra's vocals climb to higher levels as the instrumentals build to full band proportion. The guitar solos certainly illustrates Eric Ulreich's virtuousity.

Lush instrumental arrangements with lots of strings support the quick moving rocking cabaret style of Xyra's powerful soaring vocals in the tracks "Prisoners In A Free Society" and "Until I Find." The saxophone solos in the latter by Donald Stapleson are really good.

"Nibelungen" is an emotive ballad softly sung by Xyra completely unaccompanied, a capella, partly in German. "The Fools Journey" is a lovely short and instrumental, much in the style of Blackmore's Night, with ample acoustic guitar by Eric Ulreich, flutes and strings. Xyra sings the ballad "Minstrel of the Grail" soaring in the choruses. Her accompanyment is especially light in the verses but it builds in the choruses and Donald Stapleson's expressive, Jethro Tull-like flute excursions add a certain richness to the instrumental bridges. "Funny Valentine," which concludes the album, continues in the style of "Find Me" yet without flute. The piano carries the song and the solo during the instrumental bridge by Andrew Cann is especially notable.

In their new album Frightening Beauty Xyra & Verborgen have balanced soaring and powerful vocal work with lush instrumentals and a range of styles. The album certainly continues to illustrate development in the group's overall direction and will please broad variety of music enthusiasts. The album is available through the artists' website, at their live performances and several large online shops. Live performances scheduled in the Washington Metro Area should not be missed!

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