Rayburn Blake
& Sharon Xu,
Shadow Dance
(Zuka Music, 1998)

The album Shadow Dance combines Asian music with Western musical elements to create a wonderful blend of sounds. This album is mostly an instrumental piece with only two lyrical songs. Sharon Xu plays on the Yang Qin, essentially a Chinese version of the hammered dulcimer. Coupled with a motley of other musical pieces (all made to enhance the Yang Qin) and Xu's lovely voice, this album is a wonderful piece to add to anyone's collection.

Rayburn Blake provides Xu a wonderful backdrop as he enhances the sounds of the Yan Qin with his own expertise on the electric and acoustic guitars, the lap steel guitar, drums and synthesizers. He also provides vocal backup to Xu on "Hi Yo Na."

The title song, "Shadow Dance," has traditional Chinese melodies plucked out on the Yang Qin slow and steadily, but then the beat picks up to fast pace but keeping within the Chinese melody. "Twilight Dragon" has a new world beat in the very beginning. The Yang Qin is distinct in this piece serving as mostly background as an alto flute plays center stage. Its sinuous rhythm reminded me of a Chinese dragon sailing across the sky in pure joy.

"Heart of the Brave" is only one of two pieces in which words are added to the music. Sharon's voice echoes eerily throughout the song, combining with the Yang Qin. In the very beginning, the rhythm of her singing reminded me of more "airy" tunes of vocalists such as Loreena McKennitt and Kate Price; the words of the songs are reminiscent of Celtic tales, but the Yang Qin adds a peculiar richness and depth to the song, and Xu's voice raises in a higher soprano than Price or McKennitt.

"Hi Yo Na" is the other song with lyrics added. Xu's voice plays the major focal point in this piece, with the instruments serving as background and enhancing the song subtlely.

Within "Xiao Juan's Lament," a French accordion is added, giving the song a seemingly sad French air, reminiscent of a long night at a Parisian cafe. Xu's voice serves as another instrument as she hums and laments throughout the song without words, but rather just a play of her voice.

The last song, "The Gathering," shows the diversity of the Yang Qin as a veritable waterfall of notes falls across the strings. A light smattering of percussion instruments enhance the play on the Chinese dulcimer. Gathered chords are struck across the Yang Qin, again followed by the rainfall of notes. A whistle serves as the poignant ending to this wonderful album.

[ by Jade Falcon ]