CD: Inamorata
Artist: David Arkenstone and Charlee Brooks

Inamorata_coverIt’s been two years since I had the pleasure of writing about composer/ multi-instrumentalist David Arkenstone and enchanting vocalist Charlee Brook’s epic recording Lovèren, which out of the over 250 featured albums on my site, has been by far, the most viewed of all. Since that time, this dynamic duo has certainly not been resting on their laurels. Much of the music from that album was subsequently featured in a live multi-media concert extravaganza entitled David Arkenstone’s Symphonic Adventure, which has recently been broadcast on PBS. Along with David and Charlee, the event included a full concert orchestra and choir, the world famous Cirque de la Symphonie acrobats, Celtic dancers, incredible digital stagecraft, costumes, lighting and special effects, and an impressive display of musical guests including synth wizard Jonn Serrie and violinist Karen Briggs who tours with Yanni. They followed this with a lovely album entitled “Celtic Garden.” All of which brings us to the present moment and the release of one of the most eagerly awaited albums of the year, Inamorata.


This album is a bit of a departure from their previous work, and I’ll let them share some of the details about it. In David’s words: “On this one we started out with the viewpoint of doing more of a pop record compared to our last one, which was more of an epic fantasy record called Lovèren. Inamorata was a lot of fun for me because I tried music I don’t usually do, a little more in the pop vein that I haven’t really put on my records before. I came up with some piano themes, which I shared with Charlee, and she came up with some wonderful lyrics, the best I’ve ever heard from her.” He goes on to say: “There are eight original songs in addition to the David.Charlee2themes from Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones, Zedd’s ‘Clarity’ and Sarah Brightman’s ‘Harem’. This time out, we wanted to craft some songs that were more pop/crossover tunes, and we chose a few cover songs that we felt we could bring something fresh to.”


As Charlee explains: “Inamorata is an Italian term for a person’s female lover. Lyrically and melodically this album takes you through many emotional journeys. I feel that everyone has experienced some interpretation of love, whether it be great, or just a passing moment. Many of these songs are written from the female’s perspective, especially the main title “Inamorata”. Overall this record is very sweet, of course with its deeper moments. The lush strings and arranging that David did on both the originals and covers really move it to another level.” She adds: “This album is very special to me. I put a lot of my own emotion into the lyrics, and a lot of personal experience, so I hope that translates to people when they hear it.”


Of course, the music has all the creative power, emotional resonance, and sonic richness that we’ve come to expect from David Arkenstone over the course of his illustrious 25-year recording career. Always the musical storyteller, as David shares: “I envision a place where I would like to go, or an adventure I would like to take, and let my imagination run free.” In this case, the journey begins with a track called “Believe.” As the curtain rises, rich orchestration sets the stage for the story to unfold. As Charlee’s lofty vocals give wings to the song, the mood soars, and the listener is swept away on a flight of fantasy and inspiration. Lyrics about the power of belief are illuminated with sparkling images of “stars in the sky” and “castles in the air.” The aforementioned pop element is evident right away, and I could easily hear this piece on a soundtrack of a major Disney film like The Lion King.


Track two, entitled “Did I Make The Most Of Loving You” is the theme song from the hugely popular TV series Downton Abbey. It is a soul-searching song that critically examines a relationship and asks some difficult questions. After listening to the original version for comparison, I have to say that David and Charlee have more than done justice to it, which is saying a lot considering the extravagant scale of the composition. However, anyone familiar with in concertDavid Arkenstone’s work knows that creating music on a grand scale is not new to him. The album’s title track is a good example of that. According to David, “Inamorata was the first track we wrote and it set the tone for the rest of the album.” Charlee adds: “This piece in particular is written from a place of longing to be somebody’s everything – a reassurance to them that they will be there forever.” One of the things that impressed me about this piece was the sense of dynamics as the song ranges from the quietest valleys to the highest majestic peaks.


The other theme song from popular culture is “Game Of Thrones.” Exhibiting a bit of the Celtic flavor of David and Charlee’s previous album, the song features exquisite violin work by David Davidson About this, David shares: “On Celtic Garden we worked with David Davidson a lot and we brought him in again to this project because he is an incredible violinist – very sensitive and soulful and he brought a nice flavor to it. Mixed with the different textures we already have, the guitars, piano, the strings, all that stuff, made a nice finished product.” Other textures I particularly enjoyed were the crystalline harp-like tones and driving Celtic-style drumming. Continuing in the pop vein is a stunning version of the hit song “Clarity” by young German-Russian music producer Zedd. One of the things I realized by this midway point in the album was how perfectly David and Charlee were able to take music from such diverse sources and mix them with original tunes to create a totally cohesive listening experience. Charlee seems to be able to shine in a variety of contexts with equal brilliance. I was also impressed with the balance of well trained vocal technique and pure emotional expression her voice projected.


And as impressive as the cover tunes are, it is the original songs that highlight David’s masterful composition and arranging, not to mention his skills on piano, guitar, and more. He is truly one of the finest symphonic arrangers in this genre that I have had the pleasure to listen to and write about in my career as a music journalist over the past 30 years.

Charlee, Will Ackerman, David at ZMR Awards

Charlee, Will Ackerman, David at ZMR Awards

A career that incidentally was just getting going when I wrote a magazine review of his first album, Valley In The Clouds back in 1987. The detail in Inamorata is exquisite with every instrument perfectly placed at just the right time. I often found myself waiting and wondering what accent or orchestration was around the next musical bend. In one moment, the sense of drama is palpable on a song called “Beautiful Storm,” with the sound swirling out of the speakers, drawing the listener into its emotional weather. And in the next song, “Don’t Let Me Go,” the mood is as romantic and cozy as an evening by the fireside, while still retaining a dramatic edge. The album’s final cover song, “Harem” by Sarah Brightman, reflects an exotic Middle Eastern ambience. This was an interesting choice considering that Charlee’s voice has sometimes been favorably compared to Ms. Brightman. David and Charlee’s version also includes another fine virtuoso violin performance. The album retires on a lovely and appropriately understated piece called “Lullaby For Belina.” According to David, “the lullaby is for my niece, who was born during the recording.”


It is not uncommon that a recording artist who has a long and successful career becomes crystallized in a particular style or niche of music. The maestro Arkenstone, however, deserves a great deal of credit for being willing to continually explore uncharted territory and integrate new elements into his elegant compositions. The combination of David Arkenstone and Charlee Brooks is pure magic, bridging diverse genres to evoke fresh musical perspectives and inspired performances. Inamorata is a romantic masterpiece that bears repeated listening to absorb the intricate orchestral details and heartfelt threads of emotion woven into the fabric of its lush sonic tapestries.