In 1993, Michael Gettel, future husband and producer of fellow new age piano great Elizabeth Naccarato, released – in association with Arizona Highways magazine – Skywatching, a vibrant ensemble album that, along with perhaps Nicholas Gunn’s debut Afternoon in Sedona, set the standard for musical homages to/celebrations of The Southwest.
Though the couple lived for many years in the Pacific Northwest, their move several years ago to a more tranquil life in San Luis, CO (a small town near the New Mexico border, pop. 665) sparked exciting new flights of imaginative musical fancy in 2022, with Gettel releasing The View from Here, his first album in over 20 years and Naccarato creating A Southwest Story, the perfect complement/rejoinder to Skywatching.
The exquisitely produced collection features an alternately meditative and whimsical, narrative (mostly driven by but sonically expanding beyond her trademark flowing piano grace) colorfully imbued with painted skies, majestic mountains, sacred reflections, lighthearted romance and dusty hoofbeats, with a transcendent sense of musical spirituality grounded in the hallowed earth that the ancients in the region once trod, danced and left their ample legacy on.
Naccarato once again proves herself a master storyteller, conveying different aspects of Southwestern history and current life there via compelling musical glimpses – some gentle and intimate like the opening track, a delicate piano-acoustic guitar duet with Leon Christian, others more playful and rambunctious a la the exotic, classical and Spanish tinged “Mi Hito, No!” – an ensemble piece featuring prominent violin and snappy percussion.
One major shift in the marketing of genre projects in the years since Skywatching is that now an artist like Naccarato can drop a few lead singles to secure advance interest from new fans and perhaps, via inclusion on key playlists, create new ones. The two tracks chosen for this purpose – the swaying, softly sweeping piano and strings gem “”Dusk” and the reflective piano/Native American flute ballad “Sacred Land” – convey the more peaceful aspects of life in San Luis.
Other wonderful surprises include the two classical pieces – Fandango” by Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982), performed as a sensitive solo by Leon Christian; and “Spanish Dance No. 2,” a hypnotic piece Naccarato presents as a solo showcase of her classical background. She closes the set with “Flower Moon,” a beautifully impressionistic original classical piece inspired by Chopin. Nearly 30 years since Gettel (the album’s producer) introduced me to the wonders of the Southwest, Naccarato rekindles the flame and sparks a longing for a return visit.