A Star Danced
Darius Production (2010)
The pitfall of releasing a stunning debut CD is that your follow-up is critiqued with a much more discerning ear than is usual. David Wahler’s Antiquus was roundly praised and recognized as a very strong first effort. His follow-up, A Star Danced, certainly smashes the myth of the sophomore slump—it’s a worthy successor and reveals that the artist is no flash in the pan or one trick pony.
It’s not without any flaws, though. In fact, I’d argue that the opening and closing track, both titled “Quest” (the closing version is subtitled “Reprise”) are weak bookends to the much better stuff “inside.” I didn’t care for the horn/trumpet sound and the piece itself struck me as somewhat “schmaltzy.” The other twelve tracks, though, emphasize that the praise heaped on Wahler (including by yours truly) was more than justified.
Overall, though, A Star Danced, is an accomplished and self-assured release. You can sense how Wahler trusts his musical instincts throughout the album. This self-confidence results in songs that “sound right,” such as the second piece, the title track, which features a mellow chill-out beat anchoring a late-era Serrie-like romantic new age keyboard melody. “The Seeds of Time” weaves delicate, feathery flute, harp, and guitar (accompanist Brent Gunter) on top of an underlying myriad of keyboards. The guitar lends a subtle Mediterranean influence with a resultant romantic evocation contained in the gentle warm lead melody. With the fourth track, “Come Gentle Night,” Wahler finally hits his stride. This song is as good as it gets for soothing, melodic, yet gently rhythmic new age music. Wahler’s expertise at layering his many keyboards is that of someone who has been at this for years and years—not a relative newcomer.
Later in the album, Wahler injects new life in the usually clichéd Debussy’s “Reverie.” His ethereally-inflected spacemusic-ish treatment is a revelation and refutes the truism of not being able to teach an old dog any new tricks. From track 7 until the second to last song, Wahler paints one mellow, serene, but never somnambulant, soundscape after another. He wields enough of a keyboard/sound variety that I was always engaged and entertained, sometimes anchoring a piece with echoed piano, such as on the lovely “Sigh Away Sunday” which is warm, wistful, and reflective. His knack for romantic longing/melancholy lends the relatively sparse (piano and subtle accompaniment) “Missing You” a sincere feeling of gentle sadness while “Unsunned Snow” (now that is an original title!) is even more restrained in production yet infused with a palpable sense of longing and reflection (the echoed piano put me in mind of the late Dan Hartman’s New Green Clear Blue).
While I would imagine, nowadays, few people buy CDs based on cover art, especially with the explosion of digital download sales, I still wish to convey that the album cover of A Star Danced is a let down after the bold artistic statement of Antiquus. There is nothing “wrong” with the cover, but I will admit that were I to see it in a store, it would not compel me to reach for the CD, although Antiquus’s catch-your-eye graphics certainly would have had that affect. Cover art not withstanding, A Star Danced is a worthy successor to Wahler’s debut and should convince anyone with a taste for electronic keyboard-based new age (and, to a lesser degree, chill-out) music, that David Wahler remains someone whose career should be followed as he further self-defines his artistic persona through high quality recordings.
Rating: Very Good
Zone Music Reporter