With the Native American band Brule, Nicole LaRoche plays her spirited flute over a backdrop of energetic pop music tinged with traditional flavors. As a solo artist, she drops her last name and plays soothing flute melodies that fall just short of being ambient.
Like the music of Brule, Passion Spirit does not pretend to be traditional music by any stretch. Nicole employs her flute to evoke atmosphere, not to recreate a style. With subtle touches, such as vocals in the language of the Lakota Sioux, she conjures the mood without ever approaching an authentic tribal sound.
The album plays well in the background, as ambient new-age albums are wont to do, but the melodies are sweet enough, with enough lush instrumentation behind them, that the music also holds up to more focused attention.
Joining Nicole on the album are Paul LaRoche (keyboards), Chuck Davis (traditional drums, percussion, Lakota vocals, narration), Vlasis (lead guitar, percussion) and Shane Summers-LaRoche (guitar, percussion). Additional vocals are provided by Earl Bullhead, Cornel Pewewardy and the Eastern Eagle Singers. Paul LaRoche also composed the music and engineered the recording.
I'd probably prefer the album if it made greater use of traditional melodies and more pronounced application of native percussion, both woven into Nicole's pop-inflected, danceable instrumentals. Still, she and LaRoche have crafted a pleasant album that flute enthusiasts will appreciate and many others will likewise enjoy.
[ by Tom Knapp ]