Perfectly meeting our anxious collective moment and desire to move past the struggles and sorrows of a year like no other, visionary guitarist/composer Matthew Shell follows his soulful, emotionally and spiritually immersive 2020 collection Towards New Beginnings with Towards New Beginnings II – Songs of Healing, and equally impactful but more sonically expansive collection whose subtitle reveals the deeper intentions of the dreamy, lilting and intimate flow from track to track.
In my review of the first album, I wrote, “The concept of heading towards new beginnings can also be seen universally, as a way to encourage us to cast our thoughts optimistically to a place of peace and love beyond this year of trials.” II’s focus on crafting songs that are subtly passionate, soothing to the soul and healing. Sometimes, he creates this quite directly, as on the sensually swaying closer “Song of Healing,” featuring the silky sax of Douglas Lira, who also brings his alternately earthy and whimsical flute magic to earlier pieces like the opener “Drifting Through Dreams” and “Kindness.”
Though still musically and driven by the trio of Shell, pianist Vahagn Stepanyan and lead guitarist Sami Turunen, the essential vibe of the Towards New Beginnings series has shifted dramatically with the switch from lead Spanish guitar (his dominant instrument on the debut volume) to the more emotional and visceral resonance of Turunen's crisp electric guitar.
Likewise as a producer, Shell adds to his palette of musical hues with Lira’s aforementioned flute and sax, Marcus Mitchell’s gentle sax inclinations (on the laid back, perfectly titled “Patience” and infectious and lighthearted “Joy”), Josue Garcia Garcia’s soft-spoken trumpet (on the reflective “Tribute,” featuring one of Shell’s most expressive electric guitar melodies, and “Heart of Love”) and Marisa Frantz’s haunting, ethereal vocalizing on “Faithful Until the End.”
A little background on the Towards New Beginnings Series: Shell launched produced the first album when Narked Records reached out to him to record a relaxing instrumental guitar and piano projectd. Although it was arranged before the onset of the pandemic, its themes of perseverance in the face of adversity and the need to take a moment to breathe perfectly reflected our world in 2020. The second collection builds upon those concepts musically and thematically. As Matthew says, “My inspiration comes from how the world has completely changed in these crazy times of the coronavirus, and how the world needs calming peaceful music as we head Towards New Beginnings. But the beauty of creating instrumental music is that it can mean something unique to every listener.”
Listen to Towards New Beginnings II: Songs of Healing here: https://open.spotify.com/album/58FfXVWie3cy5p0FNk7Jsr