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Album Review

It's rather ironic that new age pianist Ann Sweeten's Orange Band label has a Salem, MA address. Salem is where the Salem Witch Trials — a horrifying example of Christianity's darker, more violent side — took place back in colonial times, and the sort of new age spirituality that Sweeten embraces on Passage would have probably led to charges of witchcraft in 1692. Of course, America's come a long way since then (although you wouldn't know it listening to Rick Santorum or Jerry Falwell), and these days, operating a new age business in Salem won't get you burned at the stake — actually, New England has evolved into one of the more socially liberal parts of the United States. New England is also a place where Sweeten, who is originally from Pennsylvania, seems to have been creatively inspired; influenced by Liz Story and Suzanne Ciani (among others), Passage is a decent example of new age piano. Some new age pianists project a certain innocence — Esteban Ramirez immediately comes to mind — but the word 'innocent' doesn't describe Sweeten's classically-influenced playing, which tends to be ethereal, dreamy, and evocative. Passage, Sweeten's second album, could have used more variety; many (though not all) of the album's melodies are interchangeable. But if the CD's primary goal was to maintain a tranquil, pleasantly calming ambience, Passage accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish. Like a lot of new age discs, this 1998 release is designed to calm frazzled nerves and soothe stressed out people — an approach that certainly has its place. There are times when one needs the exhilaration of observing a mosh pit at a Slayer show, and there are also times when one needs pure, unmitigated tranquillity. That said, some new age recordings are more challenging than others — and while Passage isn't as risk-taking as it could have been, it's still an enjoyably pretty sophomore effort for the Massachusetts-based Sweeten.


Genre: New Age

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Ann Sweeten displayed an early interest in the keyboard, and her mother gave her a Hammond organ when she was six. Three years later, she received a Baldwin piano for Christmas. She studied privately with David Sokolof, then attended Smith College, from which she graduated cum laude with a degree in foreign languages. Next, she took vocal lessons and founded a rock band called Fall Out. After two years, she returned to academia, attending the Boston Conservatory where she studied music, acting, singing,...
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Passage, Ann Sweeten
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