Hilary Stagg

Dream Spiral

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By 1991's Dream Spiral, electric harpist Hilary Stagg had refined the composition skills that had somewhat lagged behind the inspired playing of his initial releases. Joined by tasteful dips of synthesizer, understated percussion and bass, acoustic guitar, and violin, Stagg presents eight of his strongest pieces yet. "Spirit Dances" matches his harp to the violin's mournful sway, as a moody background synthesizer suggests rings on the surface of a secluded pond. Stagg is best with spare arrangements, where his harp can guide the melody over lightly textured supporting instrumentation. "Heaven on Earth" and "Land of Oz" illustrate this perfectly; the latter cut is especially effective, somehow finding a way to evoke an earthy, Latin feel while suggesting the space cloud grandeur of the universe. The title track and "Sunlight Returns" do end the set with some ham-fisted turns toward generic contemporary instrumental percussion and pacing, but Dream Spiral is still a solid leap forward for Stagg, both in composition and instrumentation.

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