PETER STERLING, Magic Kingdom
As a culture, we have been ultra-Disneyfied for so many years and via so many media that when we see an album called Magic Kingdom, our minds can’t help but run first to all the Disney-connected songs we (and maybe our kids and soon our grandkids) grew up listening to and singing along with. But a quick glimpse of the mystical, mind-tripping titles on multi-instrumentalist Peter Sterling’s latest new age masterwork lets us know that we’re in for, to draw from one of the eight track collection’s titles, a “Joyful Journey” deeper and far beyond the reach of the Mouse.
While Sterling’s glorious, sweeping harp is the most resonant melodic sound throughout, the Sedona based composer and multi-instrumentalist lays the atmospheric and seductive groove foundation with a Korg keyboard and colors his dreamy, soul-stirring yet gently relaxing flights of fancy with recorder, Freenote chime, wooden flute and percussion. He also invites guest musicians Richard Hardy (Irish Pennywhistle, soprano sax) and Anthony Mazzella (guitar) to add their rich colorful textures to the mix.
If Sterling’s feeling like he’s found the Magic Kingdom in his own life and career, it’s with good reason. He will soon be celebrating an amazing 25 years as a force in New Age music, which began with the release of his 1994 debut Harp Magic – a title which makes the current album seem like the full circle completion of his first quarter century. Since the turn of the century, he’s been a mainstay as a New Age Reporter/Zone Music Reporter award nominee and a consistent force on their charts. In 2017, he shared a Hollywood Music in Media Award in the New Age/Ambient category with Art Tawanghar.
Upon the release of Magic Kingdom, Sterling wrote a passionate letter to his “Friends in Radioland,” explaining that his inspiration for the project was the energy of the 2017 total solar eclipse. He found “one melodic groove following the next, as if the music had been waiting for this moment to be born.” At first, he thought he was creating music for kids, and considered the idea that maybe this project was the fruition of his desire to create a children’s album for his 7 year old son Micah. But then, the muse that first inspired him to dedicate himself to music at the age of 33 took him in an unexpected direction, encouraging him to build on the keyboard rhythms and sounds he had created with all these other instruments. The result is a Magic Kingdom that is truly music of the sun, designed to, as he says, “awaken the inner child with all of its wonder, joy and belief in magic.”
With its mix of ambience, nature soundscaping, harp strums, deep guitar and subtle native chants, my first impression of the expansive opening track “New Horizons” was “exotic spa music.” The tune urges us to let go, chill and enter a safe realm away from the pressures of the world. Just as we’re enveloping into that deep state, Sterling amps up the groove and brings a hypnotic funk and synth driven flow to “Joyful Journey.” The lighthearted harp melody and trippy keyboard sounds wafting over these deep grooves creates a sensual, seductive effect. The title track “Magic Kingdom” brings more rest and relaxation, as Sterling’s twinkling harp swirls above immersive atmospheres and joins with Mazzella’s guitar to create open doors to expansive spaces full of mysticism and wonder. Once we’re there, we are encouraged to hop “Over the Bridge” and feel like children again as we hear gentle voices of young ones and the musing innocence of the pennywhistle.
Blending moodier backdrops with the whistle, harp and chanting adult voices, Sterling creates a contrast of darkness and light, as if there are challenges to overcome, on the collection’s shortest but perhaps most poignant and introspective piece, “Sword and Stone.” Once out of the woods, so to speak, we are free once again to get back into our harp-laced trance and groove slowly into a discovery of “Everlasting Love,” which is infused with Hardy’s passionate sax. As a composer, Sterling ventures here into pop instrumental/smooth jazz territory, finding that fusion sweet spot between harp and sax similar to that of the legendary band Hiroshima.
As we close in on the “Magic Kingdom,” Sterling invites us to “Kiss The Sun,” a graceful reflection on the joys life can bring (if we only look hard enough) featuring angelic voicings, gentle atmospheres, a hypnotic harp strum and a few touches of the pennywhistle. Magic Kingdom closes with the title track, a simply arranged, lengthy soft-spoken meditation that allows us time to reflect on the highs and lows of life’s journey (and the one Sterling has taken us on) as he plucks his strings gently over easy, free-flowing ambiences.
As a new age musician, Sterling is often asked, “What is the best part of being a musician?” His response: “Creating music that touches the heart and soul of listeners…bringing peace and healing to people all over the world.” Incredibly, his musical journey has taken him from selling door to door in Sedona’s stores to having his albums enjoyed all over the world. The muse that has guided his remarkable path is surely smiling every time she hears Magic Kingdom, which lives up to its name by providing many wondrous musical tools for self-reflection, relaxation, healing and soul transcendence.