Music That Tells A Story is a unique album. It is a mixture of neosymphonic, contemporary, and cinematic impressions. Master guitarist and composer Peter Xifaras leads the Symphonex Orchestra into a world where time is suspended and the license of imagination abounds freely. This is a double disc album containing 27 tracks of moody, joyful, and mesmerizing music that grabs you and immerses you into a tale told by the imaginings of a thousand writers, both old and new. Every twist and turn, every mystery, every happy and not-so-happy ending from your favorite book is transformed into notes of fantasy and illusion. Maybe even dreams. Disc 1 contains mostly instrumentals, but also some sublime vocals featuring Felicia Farerre. Disc 2 has spoken word prose and poetry over Xifaras’ musical stories. Dreams in Bloom - The Encounter.

Everything must have a beginning and Xifaras’ commencement, The Encounter is with restrained violin that lulls you into an opened door. Once inside, you get the full thrust of his intentions, to draw you in sonically, and, to keep you there. It did not take long for me to be a willing participant. The door swung closed…

Wind chimes and violin invite you to follow on the tune Dreams in Bloom - Falling. One could imagine a single raindrop tumbling from a gray sky or an individual leaf making its way to earth to recycle its bounty. The overall motif was one of quietly wafting more than simply falling. The music has a weightlessness to it, but the feel is wistful almost sad. As Jean de La Fontaine once said, “Sadness flies away on the wings of time.”

Piano flourishes and melancholic violin dominate Garden by the Sea. It is a short tune, but vividly imagined wind and wave, sunny shores, and the swaying of tall grasses are shaped within the song. There is an Asian flavor to this ballad and the ever present wind chimes reminds us that the day will soon be over.

There is a unique trio of cantatas on Music That Tells A Story called Variations on a Theme of Tromboncino. Italian composer Bartolomeo Tromboncino was the originator of a form of Renaissance music called the frottole, and Xifaras uses it in the fundamental polyphonic manner. It is quite successful, dulcet, and unpretentious. One of the variations becomes a prayer, another a hymn, a third, a tribute. Beguiling all.

I maintain that Erik Satie is the grandfather of New Age music and as Xifaras mentions in his liner notes, Satie’s “musique d'ameublement” is clear evidence of early ambient compositions. My favorite of his music has always been Gymnopédie and its relations. Xifaras uses the Gymnopédie Variations as a respite from his original works and the infused complexities are a welcomed addition. Glass harp opens the track Gymnopédie - Blu. Quavering synthesizer and strong violin leads in the familiar, but the “breathing” i.e., the ebb and flow of the background is vibrant and dynamic as vigorous percussion is introduced and managed.

Marimba and other instruments of metal percussion permeate the cut called Dinner With Friends. There’s nothing like seeing an old friend to stir memories long forgotten. The tune is succinct, but the tempo and bass licks are cheery.

Reminiscent of the Renaissance Period, Hevene Quene Introduction and Edi Beo Thu, sung by Farerre, is glorious and lyrical. Xifaras has transformed a 13th century composition into a modern day aria in praise of the Virgin Mary. This tune is sublime.

It would be sheer folly to try to describe all 27 tracks, but I liked each and every one of them for their bourgeoning splendor and refined musicality. Some of the music reminds me of Lisbeth Scott and Paul Schwartz’ collaborations on the State of Grace albums or Jim Daneker’s Ad Alta. The variety of stories on this album are endless, but Xifaras’ lush and melodic themes makes for one unified body of work. Highly recommended.

-RJ Lannon,