The Healing Road is the brainchild of Hanspeter Hess born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1966. So far he recorded three albums of which two have been reviewed for our website. The debut album The Healing Road (2006) got no review for this was a private release that only appeared as a limited edition. However, you can read all about Timanfaya (2008, see review) and Tales From The Dam (2009, see review). On these fine albums Hess mainly played the keyboards assisted by some musical friends on guitars and other instruments. Recently The Healing Road released their fourth album Backdrop.
Hanspeter Hess started the recordings for Backdrop in June 2010. Just as on his previous albums Mike Oldfield has been a major inspiration. Reading an old interview with Oldfield gave him the inspiration to start working on this album. In the interview, Oldfield described the recording process of Tubular Bells. Being in the studio, he discovered several instruments on which he simply attempted to play without being educated for some of the instruments. On his website, Hess states that he still loves the sound, the structure and the instrumentation of Oldfield's early recordings. Accordingly he thought it to be a great and adventurous idea to work similarly as Mr. Oldfield did about thirty years ago.
He sat down behind his brand new 27-inch iMac, started Logic Pro and took out a very cheap ukulele. He wrote an e-mail to guitar player Thommy Frank for he needed a guitarist for the album; he sent another e-mail to Roland Enders for he wanted to end the album with a folk song written and sung by him. However, the new album had to sound differently as well compared to his previous records and he decided to use less piano and other keyboards like Moog-synthesizers and Hammond-organs. This time the album should have an acoustic and pastoral atmosphere and therefore it must contain as much acoustic instruments as he could play on. The instruments he doesn't master like the string and brass sections he played on the synthesizers, but also the clarinet and the flute were played on the Midi-keyboards using samples of these instruments. In February 2011 he finished recording and mixing. Two long tracks were written for the album which he simply named Backdrop, part 1 and Backdrop, part 2, just the same as Mike Oldfield did in the seventies: recording an album with only one track on each side lasting over twenty minutes each.
Due to the sound of the electric guitars, the first part of Backdrop starts as if it was recorded by Oldfield in his early days. The music is very mellow and contains hardly any tempo changes. Halfway, it moves towards the musical style of the Austrian musician Heinz Strobl, better known as Gandalf. The final part returns to Oldfield's early style of music. The second part of Backdrop shows many influences of Mr. Oldfield as well, not only as far as the electric guitar is concerned, but also the acoustic guitars. In addition, you can enjoy minimal music influences. Gandalf returns in the way the electric guitar is played; the beautiful flute parts played by Hess on the keyboards occasionally provides for a romantic touch. The way the banjo and the flute are blended reminded me of In Dulce Jubilo, a well-known hit single by Mike Oldfield in 1976. The last part of the second piece features the voice of Roland Elders, who also does some additional keyboards on the album. This acoustic piece with a short electric guitar part has a flavour of folk music. Unfortunately the vocals are not that strong, but they give the album a nice twist. Some playing on the acoustic piano, sounds of nature and barking dogs end this very relaxed and mellow album.
Hanspeter Hess kept to his word when he stated the album would be different compared to the previous ones. These albums contained both several strong up-tempo parts and a lot of splendid playing on many keyboards. In a way I missed these parts a lot; they provided for fine listening moments. However, the mellow parts on those releases were also very enjoyable from time to time. People who enjoyed these parts have a great new album to listen to. Especially Mike Oldfield-fans can buy Backdrop without hesitation or even without listening.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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