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December 2022
Vol. 22, No. 3
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Randi's Jingle Ball

CD Reviews

HEMISPHERE: Unity

by Wayne RikerAugust, 2022

Unity is the second release from Hemisphere, a San Diego-based quintet spearheaded by guitarist/lead vocalist Rob Shinno along with saxophonist/vocalist Don Bowman and anchored by Max Zape on keys, Nathan Brown on bass, and Michael McQuilken on drums. All the lyrics are the brainchild of Shinno and Bowman throughout ten of the eleven tracks other than a cover of David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.” It is the follow up to the 2020 release American Dreams and the middle recording of a projected trilogy. The album is chock full of rich harmonic string and horn arrangements, lush vocal harmonies, and well-placed key change modulations on top of the overall lyrical “up with people” vibe all adding up to a made for musical theater production.

Recorded and mixed by Peter Sprague, Shinno brings in a boatload of A-List musos to bolster his wall of sound with strings, horns, and backup vocals, including Chris Klich and Tripp Sprague on saxes; Paul Seaforth on trumpet and flugelhorn; and Rebecca Jade, Janet Hammer, Leonard Patton, Donna Larson, Janice Edwards, and Allison Adams Tucker on backing vocals, along with added percussion from Tommy Aros and Jason Tipp on keys.

The opening track, “Blue Sky,” immediately signals a full-on theatrical production from start to finish with Sprague’s lush string arrangements leading the way amid the joyous and uplifting lyrical vibe of “one world.” The scope of musical diversity expands with the funky grooves of “Bring the Magic Back” and “The One,” harkening back to the sounds of the ’70s à la the Ohio Players, Earth Wind and Fire, and Rufus with a slick solo from Zape on the former and a rousing soulful vocal feature from Edwards on the latter.

The happy and breezy “Mr. Moonbeam” and “Younger Days” are nicely supported by the chorus of background singers reminiscent of the days of the 5th Dimension and The Association. “Open Your Eyes,” a lovely minor key ballad, strikes a serious tone throughout. “Must we see the world fighting…must we see the endless dying before our very eyes.”

The pop-flavored ballad “Laura in the Moonlight” brings Jade into the spotlight in a mellifluous vocal duet with Bowman followed by the hard-driving rocker “Find Your Way Home,” which turns the tightly arranged horn section loose with a blazing sax solo from Chris Klich. Seaforth’s melancholy flugelhorn tones highlight “Shadowland,” a reflective ballad with a soothing duet vocal from Bowman and Hammer. “Here in my home…my hopes and dreams…finally close to my heart.”

The final track, “Power to the People,” is a teaser for the third release of the trilogy with the same title, which is fueled by a powerful repetitive vocal chorus that segues into a vocal duet by Shinno and Bowman calling for people to stay the course of unity. You can’t help but feel the optimistic and positive lyrical and musical vibe of unity, diversity, and equality from each eclectic track of Unity. From here one can only expect Hemisphere to reach new benchmarks of compositional creativity ahead.

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