Journey To The New World is the latest release from Grammy-winning classical guitarist Sharon Isbin. The albums contains a selection of elegant, Medieval chamber-folk instrumentals and haunting traditional vocal pieces featuring folk legend Joan Baez and violinist Mark O’Connor. The title Journey To The New World represents the time-travelling concept of the album. The songs progress from 16th century Ireland and Britain to early 20th century America, and the musical style of the album evolves with each step of the journey.
The four Renaissance lute works that open the album are each lovely, graceful instrumentals. “Drewrie’s accordes”, “Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home”, “Le Rossignol”, and “Greensleeves” melt flawlessly into one another, though the familiarity of the latter makes it stand out most. Isbin’s playing is beautiful, but unobtrusive enough to fit perfectly into the antiquated time period to which she pays homage.
The jaunty Irish sea chantey “The Drunken Sailor” is paired with the softer Scottish tune “Wild Mountain Thyme”. On behalf of my Irish husband, I take offense at the title “Two English Folk Songs” given to the two tracks in the liner notes. Scotland may be part of Great Britain, but Ireland is an independent country entirely free of English rule, thank you very much. Anyway, geographical misrepresentation aside, the pretty tunes make way for the subtle shift in style soon to follow.
Though I’ve heard The Beatles’ “Yesterday” is the song that has been covered the most over the years, I suspect “Wayfaring Stranger” isn’t far behind. Baez delivers a beautiful and somber vocal that greatly compliments Isbin’s gentle instrumentation. Next up is the “world premiere recording” of composer John Duarte’s “Joan Baez Suite”, a seven-movement instrumental tribute to Baez’ classic folk songs. Baez herself then returns to sing “Go ‘Way From My Window”.
The album features a second world premiere recording: Mark O’Connor’s “Strings & Threads Suite”. The soulful and vigorous twang of O’Connor’s violin infuses new life into the album, quietly but insistingly urging the journey forward from the shores of America into the Appalachian mountains and onward to the Wild West. Particularly charming are “III. Captain’s Jig”, “V. Pilgrim’s Waltz”, and “XI Texas Dance Hall Blues” – I highly recommend all three tracks to Appalachian folk and country lovers out there. O’Connor’s songs may differ in genre from the other compositions, but it’s somehow fitting given the album’s theme of trans-atlantic travel spanning several centuries. The suite provides the perfect finale for this gorgeous album.
I was not granted permission to share an mp3, but you can hear samples at the links below.