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Medicine Box by Robert Rich

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Ambient pioneer Robert Rich returns with an album that injects a certain dynamic to his signature serenity.

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ROBERT RICH: Medicine Box (CD on Soundscape Productions)

This release from 2011 offers 61 minutes of soothing tuneage.

Rich (playing synths and MOTM, flutes, steel guitars, piano, bass, and percussion) is joined on certain tracks by: Haroun Serang (on guitar), Cheri Chuang (on voice), Edo Castro (on bass), Hans Christian (on cello), and Slim Heilpern (on chromatic harmonica).

There's a distinct pleasantness to this music. Rich has forged a comfortable fusion of ambience and contemporary EM that tantalizes while it relaxes.

The electronics flow with luxuriant ease. Atmospheric texturals generate a nearly invisible canvas for the other electronics, which present themselves in a similar subtlety. Rich exhibits a meticulous skill at applying conventional instruments in ways that excellently approximate the otherworldliness that characterizes most electronics. Here we have flutes evoking ghostly vistas, steel guitar glissandos which mirror those spectral realms, female vocals (of a non-lyrical type) generating heavenly chorales, even harmonica becomes a source of ethereal sound when set in the background and presenting a wheeze instead of a blaring twang.

A portion of this music's utmost beauty comes from its use of regular instruments to achieve haunting sonics.

But the true beauty stems from Rich's celestial compositional talent. His tunes are soothing and sedative, yet contain invigorating aspects. There's a perfect touch of bounce to his music.

The percussion is a prime example of this dichotomy. The beats are usually gentle, often buried in the mix, yet they convey a certain vitality: soft but firm. The rhythms are almost tribal--but not entirely, featuring a modern lilt.

In a way, the album is aptly titled, for each song offers a very holistic experience to the listener. They can be relaxed by the music, engaged by the crystalline complexity of the tunes, even healed by the calm communicated by the luscious melodies.

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