|Posted by Bill Leslie on February 27, 2016 at 1:10 PM|
It is always a treat to read reviews from highly respected music connoisseur Bill Binkelman of Zone Music Reporter.
I love what he had to say about my latest album:
|Posted by Bill Leslie on December 14, 2015 at 9:55 AM|
This is turning out to be one of the favorite songs on my latest album titled Across The Water!
Irish Girl is a traditional tune of tender intimacy. The arrangement is sweet and simple but quite beautiful. Grand piano with Joseph Akins forms the underlying structure of the song. My Celtic whistle opens the melody on the first verse. Jennifer Curtis takes the second verse on violin. Cellist Nancy Green and harpist Anita Burroughs-Price add lovely textures and oboist Melanie Wilsden offers a haunting final verse.
I am extremely grateful for the photographs of Adrian Costigan that really make this video sing! You can see more of Adrian's marvelous images on Flickr.
|Posted by Bill Leslie on December 5, 2015 at 5:00 PM|
Come with us and put your head in the clouds for just four minutes and we think you will come back refreshed and renewed. Our latest musical video from the ACROSS THE WATER project celebrates the beauty and mystery of cloud formations. You will find it under the video section on this web site or by going to this link:
"Cloud of Witnesses" was written by BIll Leslie in 2000 for a recording with the Celtic-fusion band Bragh Adair featuring grand piano, violin, Celtic whistle and acoustic guitar. This new version of the song includes all of those instruments plus cello, accordion and stand-up bass. We hope to enjoy this adventure into the sky! It is a celebration of nature and loved ones who have passed but whose spirits are still very much alive!
|Posted by Bill Leslie on November 30, 2015 at 4:35 PM|
Check out the Video Section on this web site for a beautiful new music video from the Across the Water project. The musical mini movie features the gorgeous photogaphy of Adrian Costigan.
Lorica is a song composed by Bill Leslie and originally recorded by the Celtic-fusion band Bragh Adair on "Grace in Stone" in 2000. This new all-instrumental version features a glorious piano arrangement by Joseph Akins. Other instrumentation includes Celtic whistle, violin, flute, oboe and cello.
Lorica was inspired by the Breastplate Prayer of St. Patrick. We hope you enjoy it!
|Posted by Bill Leslie on November 24, 2015 at 9:15 AM|
I am thrilled to announce that "Across The Water" has been voted the top world radio album by international radio hosts. The Zone Music Reporter rankings for October just came out and we took the top spot in our debut month. There are so many people to thank! I would like to begin with Ed and Stacey Bonk of LAZZ Promotions who know how to get the music out to the right people and to build warm, genuine and lasting relationships. I am also deeply grateful to the many, many radio hosts worldwide who are playing the album now.
Special thanks also to co-producer John Plymale who mixed the album with the skill of an absolute master. Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound in New York put the finishing touches on the album and gave it a gorgeous sheen. Joseph Akins crafted four brilliant piano arrangements for the album. Jennifer Curtis is an incredible violinist who displayed creative courage and remarkable stamina in the studio. Melanie Wilsden's oboe playing on this album is one of the sweetest sounds I have ever heard of any instrument. What a thrill it was to have flutist Brian Dunning, formerly of Nightnoise, to play on this album and do a great job. Nancy Green's mellow cello is a sound to behold. Bassist John Brown was absolutely perfect in his work. Harpist Anita Burroughs-Price and accordionist Brandon Bush added rich textures to the melodies.
And a huge thank you to my wife Cindy for her love, strong support, patient ears and solid feedback!
|Posted by Bill Leslie on November 22, 2015 at 5:20 PM|
I am so grateful to the Tar Heel Traveler Scott Mason and photo journalist Robert Meikle for the wonderful TV story they did on my new Irish CD!! Here is the story that recently aired on CBS affiliate WRAL in Raleigh:
|Posted by Bill Leslie on November 3, 2015 at 6:05 PM|
What goes into making a musical CD? I hear that question a lot. One of my favorite parts of the process is the music video at the end of the journey. The music has been written, revised and recorded and now it is time for the icing on the cake. I squirreled away photos of my 2014 trip to Ireland knowing that I would use these images to help tell the story of the music. A new video was crafted with my pictures and the title track of my Irish-themed album "Across The Water."
What about the whole process of putting together a CD, or album, as I still like to call it? For me, it usually takes about a year and a half. That's because I already have a full-time job. The music adds a nice therapeutic balance to my life. The creative process of writing and arranging music has become a deeply spiritual experience for me. It is also very mysterious. I don't feel that I choose to write and record music. I feel compelled to do it. There is a driving force which I do not totally understand, but I am grateful for it and usually pretty obedient.
It all starts with a theme. It’s like writing a documentary for television news. The theme gives me focus and with my pinball of a brain I need all the focus I can get. “Across The Water” is the sequel to another thematic album “Scotland: Grace of the Wild.” As a product of the Scots-Irish immigration to America I wanted to return to the land of my ancestors in search of inspiration. I found it in abundance in Scotland and now Ireland.
Melodies are constantly popping up in my head, especially when I’m drooling over a gorgeous landscape or encountering some magnetic personality. I always try to have a recording device with me. It’s even better if I have a pennywhistle or a guitar with me. I haven’t figured out yet how to pack a piano in my luggage! The best scenario for me is to have a week of solitude for writing. I once wrote a whole album in one week. I put together the basic melodies for the “I Am a River” album in my cabin near Roaring Gap in the mountains of Alleghany County. Ira David Wood has told me that is his favorite album.
Once I have crafted the basic melodies I go into the studio and lay down foundation tracks on guitar and piano. I used to handle all of these foundation tracks myself but now rely on more talented musicians to perform and arrange the piano parts. Once the foundation tracks are set I begin working with some high-end orchestral software to determine which instruments I want to add to the mix. I will play around with this process for a couple of months. For “Across The Water” I chose the following instruments: acoustic guitar, grand piano, violin, cello, oboe, harp, Celtic whistle, flute, stand-up bass, accordion and uilleann pipes. I make calls to find the best studio musicians possible to play these instruments. My latest group of musicians is a world-class line-up including legendary Irish flautist Brian Dunning. I book studio time at Overdub Lane in Durham and hire John Plymale as audio engineer and co-producer. Once I have nailed down my arrangements for melody and harmony I send audio files to Richard Flickinger who is a genius at putting together sheet music for the various instruments.
Over the course of a month, musicians will record their parts at Overdub Lane in Durham with three exceptions. Brian Dunning will mail in his parts via Dropbox from Ireland. Pianist Joseph Akins will mail his parts in from Piano Haven Studio in Sedona, AZ. And world-traveling accordionist Brandon Bush will mail his parts in from Atlanta. I finish laying down my tracks on guitar and Celtic whistle at my studio in Cary. Violinist Jennifer Curtis goes next in the Durham studio and she wows John Plymale with her precise intonation, improvisational skills and stamina in what becomes a marathon recording session. Chapel Hill cellist and studio veteran Nancy Green is next and she too shows exceptional talent and skill in interpreting the music. Oboist Melanie Wilsden and harpist Anita-Burroughs Price, both from the North Carolina Symphony, are next and their instruments add gorgeous textures and melodies to the mix. Jazz bassist and Duke music professor John Brown wraps things up perfectly by adding a rich bottom-end to the music. I will listen to everything over a couple of weeks and add my own piano flourishes and some more guitar and whistle parts.
John Plymale and I spend a weekend mixing the album at Overdub Lane in Durham. Then we send the 12 tunes off to Sterling Sound in New York for the final audio treatment called mastering. We choose Greg Calbi for the job. His legendary client list includes John Lennon, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Norah Jones. Calbi is expensive but he is able to add a rich sheen to the final mix. We listen to the final product and are absolutely delighted.
Meanwhile Disc Makers in New Jersey takes Calbi’s master and makes a first run of 2,000 copies. Disc Makers also does an excellent job of designing the art work for the album. I write a basic narrative for the CD and give Disc Makers a few of my photographs from Ireland. Irish photographer John Miskelly provides the stunning cover photo and Cari Long adds a nice portrait shot.
Then it is time for marketing and promotion. Ed and Stacey Bonk of LAZZ promotions help me get the CD in the hands of 300 key radio hosts worldwide for an October and November promotion. They also help me line up some reviews for the album. CD Baby in Portland, OR helps me distribute the music digitally to dozens of music services including iTunes. We add “Across The Water” to our Amazon inventory and begin the process to distributing the CD to Barnes & Noble stores. But first we do the all-important CD release featuring a mini-concert at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh. I am thrilled with the crowd including reviewer RJ Lannan who drove more than 300 miles from Tennessee.
|Posted by Bill Leslie on November 1, 2015 at 7:10 AM|
Review of Across the Waters by Garry Crites
There is a wonderful Celtic legend about an Irish lord named Cenn Faelad who, in battle, suffered a terrible injury to his “brain of forgetfulness.” From that moment on, he was unable to forget anything. The wounded prince was taken to the village of Tomregan in County Cavan to recover. Now, in this town, there were three roads leading to three different schools. One school taught the intricacies of Celtic poetry to those would become bards. The second explained traditional Irish Law for those who would become brehons. A third school taught Latin learning for those men who were called to the priesthood. Cenn Faelad would spend his days wandering from school to school, listening to the lectures through open windows. That night in bed, unable to forget any of the three lessons, he would weave the lessons into a single narrative.
This tale gives a perfect picture of what Bill Leslie has done on Across the Water, his most recent CD. Like Cenn Faelad, in this exploration of Irish music, Leslie weaves three musical traditions together into one seamless album. The first tradition draws on the repertoire of traditional Irish tunes. “The Irish Girl,” with its wonderful piano score reminiscent of James Horner, is rustic, traditional, earthy. The arrangement of “The Boatman” is masterful, leading the listener on a haunting, emotional journey, capturing the ancient Irish yearning to sail dangerous waters until one reaches the mist-covered shores of Tir na nÓg, the land of Eternal Youth. It is perhaps my favorite song on the album.
The second strand that Leslie weaves into his narrative are the songs from his own musical past, birthed when he was part of the fusion band Bragh Adair. He has chosen three of the best songs from the album Grace in Stone, released in the year 2000: “Cloud of Witnesses,” “Gaelic Ghost,” and the beautiful “Lorica.” The arrangements are new, but comfortably familiar. When I first listened to this version of “Lorica,” I was briefly disappointed that the Gaelic words of Patrick’s Breastplate were not sung, as in the original. But by the time the melody was taken over by Melanie Wilsden’s moving oboe, I was won over.
The third tradition that Leslie explores fills the largest portion of the album, namely, his new songs. While these works bear the unmistakable imprint of Bill Leslie’s musical style, their wonderfully unpredictable use of different instruments makes them fresh and innovative. Take the plaintive and beautiful title track, for example. The melody line of “Across the Water” is quite simple, but it is passed from one instrument to another—from violin to cello to oboe. The traditional instruments of guitar and whistle are there, of course, and they ground the songs superbly in Celtic tradition. But the unexpected instruments give the songs their distinctively Irish pathos. It is interesting that, other than the “Lorica,” coming from its provenance in Northern Ireland, most of Leslie’s songs are of the West. You won’t hear him singing about the lights of Dublin; he prefers the hills of Connemara, the ancient sites on The Ring of Kerry, and the lake at Gougane Barra in County Cork. But maybe this isn’t surprising after all. Bill’s music has always had a fascination for wilderness, for rural history, and for the sacred spaces of a distant past.
As one who has studied Ireland for decades, I am grateful to Bill Leslie for taking me back to the sites I love so well on this lovely album. Like Cenn Faelad, he has woven a storyline that teaches us the unique heritage of the Blessed Isle. As always, the musical journey led by North Carolina’s Bard is well worth the time.
Garry Crites Duke University
|Posted by Bill Leslie on October 25, 2015 at 10:30 AM|
My new musical album Across the Water is about anticipation - waiting for a fog to lift or a thunderstorm to pass so that one will discover something incredibly beautiful in the distance. This CD is my story of Ireland.
I took a trip to the Emerald Isle in 2014 and wandered across the green spaces and watery places looking for inspiration and found it in abundance. But I had waited and dreamed about going to Ireland for 20 years before I actually did it. Somehow, those preconceived images are still a part of my story. And I am OK with that. Millions of words and hundreds of songs have already been written about the beauty of the land. So what can I add to the collection? Well, Across the Water came to me as a mysterious gift, and I hope you will accept it as one for yourself.
I never know where a melody will take me. Good tunes always write themselves, and usually pretty quickly. I look back on the music of this 12-track instrumental compilation and I hear the music of wind and wave. I hear the private thoughts of a lonely boatman working the waters of Donegal Bay. I smell the salty sea at Connemara known for the savage beauty of its rugged mountains. I tap into my Irish heritage and celebrate the blood of my siblings passed down by Margaret O'Neil, who ran away from ancient Irish royalty in love with a common Scotsman bound for America.
In the song Gaelic Ghost I pay tribute to Irishman Micheal (pronounced MEE-haul) O'Domhnaill, who grew up speaking Gaelic - whose music set my heart on fire and whose life was snuffed out way too early. Across the Water is a celebration of quiet and holy places bursting forth with flames of rhododendron just like in my native North Carolina. This album is a melody of meadows – blooming with both flowers and stone in an amazing place called The Burren.
This album is a cloud - a cloud of witnesses - raining down on me with blessings from my Scots-Irish ancestors. Call me a hopeless romantic. but I do believe as I once wrote in a song 14 years ago that “the spirits of my ancient kin continue to rise up and greet me on the wind.” The music is tinged with happiness and sadness and feelings in between.
Over the next few weeks will feature video essays from the album. Today’s piece is one I learned from my musical mentor Micheal O’Domhnaill. The Boatman is a haunting melody enhanced by a poignant piano arrangement from Joseph Akins of Tennessee. Juilliard-trained violinist Jennifer Curtis, who has played on all eight of my albums, delivers an achingly beautiful melody line after my Celtic whistle on the first verse. Cellist Nancy Green brought tears to my eyes with her harmony and transitional phrases. Accordionist Brandon Bush offers tender textures to give the song its unique sense of longing and theme of unrequited love.
The video is graced by the gorgeous photography of Eileen Donnell of Ireland. Eileen comes from a long line of fishermen. Several of the boats you see in the video are from her family. I can’t thank Eileen enough for allowing me to use these marvelous and deeply personal images.
Next week, I will offer up another video featuring my own photographs on the title track Across The Water.
If you are interested in purchasing the album locally in NC Across The Water can be found at Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh and will soon be available at Barnes & Noble locations. You can also find the album online at CD Baby, iTunes and Amazon.
|Posted by Bill Leslie on October 7, 2015 at 6:15 PM|
The long-awaited follow-up to Bill Leslie's World Radio Album of the Year for 2013 is now available!
ACROSS THE WATER was released Sunday, October 4, 2015 during a CD launch party and concert at Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh, NC.
Here is a feature article on the album written by veteran reviewer and author Michael Diamond: