CD: Soundscapes
Artist: Steve Bowe

After hearing all the tracks on Steve Bowe’s “Soundscapes” album, I’m reminded of the famous quote delivered byTom Hanks in the movie Forest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” And so it is with this Whitman’s Sampler of a musical CD. There is an incredible diversity from one song to the next that makes for a most interesting and tasteful listening experience. Like a box of chocolates where each piece may be different on the inside yet all are similarly covered in chocolate, a unifying element in Steve’s varied music is the use of the latest technology, synthesizers, software, etc. that gives his music a contemporary electronic candy coating.


Steve’s first musical experiences, however, were more traditional. While growing up in England he was classically trained on piano, which began early in life, and continued until he had attained a high level of achievement around the age of 15. About this time he started becoming enamored with pop culture and went on to learn guitar and bass, which he played in a number of local rock bands chasing that elusive dream of rock super-stardom. Eventually, his natural affinity for technology developed into a passion and he became immersed in recording and engineering which is something he continues with to this day. But his love of composing music is still strong as evidenced by this album, which is a follow up to his debut release, “ Finest Hour.”


So let’s delve into this box of chocolates and see what sweet treats are to be found within. The first bite is a track called “Prayers.” This song features a mélange of international flavors as well as an interesting story about its evolution. When Steve heard an African drum rhythm that caught his ear, he decided to build a composition around it. Feeling that it needed additional percussion, he added Indian tabla drums and began developing a theme of cross-cultural spirituality, eventually including exotic sounding chants as well as Christian and Islamic prayers – hence the song’s title. Synthesizers and electric guitar complete the mix. On “Queen Of The Nile,” not surprisingly, an Egyptian vibe characterizes the song with ethereal choirs in the background over a driving beat. This is followed by a bit of dance-friendly electronica entitled “Orpheus,” which was inspired by the mythical Greek musician who ventured into the underworld and lost what was most precious to him because he defied the command not to look back. Steve thought it was ironic in that, from his own perspective, looking back is often what makes things precious in life.


Up next is a tune called “Ile de la Cite” which is perhaps the most unique on the album. With its accordion-like melody and the sound of people chatting in a café, it paints a cinematic portrait of the charm and culture of the backstreets of Paris. The song is composed in 3/4  time, also known as “waltz time,” which has a distinctive rhythmic gait. Steve has written an informative article about this under-used time signature in a blog on his website, for those who find interest in this aspect of music theory. Continuing with the cultural smorgasbord that is “Soundscapes” is snappy little jig with a Scottish/ Celtic flare on “The Return of Jack Tar” that blends a traditional sound with some modern touches. Traveling north in the next song we encounter “Iceman,” which was inspired by Steve’s interest in Nordic fairy tales. The premise of this piece centers on a supernatural being who roams the land bemoaning his frigid state while longing for the warmth of human touch. Icy synthesizer textures add appropriate ambience and drama.


One of my favorite tunes was “Sunset Highway” with its percolating sequencer and electronic rhythm giving it a bit of a Tangerine Dream flavor. As the title hints, this would make a perfect soundtrack for an evening drive. A music video of this song is available for viewing on his website, along with other videos and a nice sampling of audio tracks.  The album draws to a close, appropriately, with “A Farewell.” Steve created this piece specifically as a finale and features lush orchestration swirling around a constant arpeggio that provides forward momentum.


As can be surmised by the above descriptions, “Soundscapes” is an album of diversity and diversions. In Steve’s words: “ To me, music serves a very important purpose. That is to take the listener away from themselves, for even a brief moment, and to place them somewhere else. I wanted to create an album full of evocative themes and moods to transport the listener through lands and times whilst keeping to my core philosophy of producing accessible music that engages. I hope you enjoy the journey I have arranged for you.” I know that I certainly did. It’s not easy to create an album that features such a wide stylistic range, and I highly commend Steve for all the wonderful creativity, imagination, and musical expertise he has integrated on “Soundscapes” – very impressive.