If only we knew ‘What Lies Ahead’ for us or maybe not such a good idea since I’m a firm believer in living in the present. And speaking of the here and now, I have to admit after hearing this 2015 album for the first time in 2021, I was blown away! I’m a sucker for a great acoustic record and ‘What Lies Ahead’ does not disappoint my ears & musical palette.
This record features Ed Sweeney and Pipa master Yang Wei along with featured guests from YoYo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. And if you’re wondering what a Pipa is, it is a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument sometimes referred to as a “Chinese lute”. You have the world-renowned Yang Wei on the Pipa and Ed Sweeney on 6 & 12 string guitars and 5 string banjo. Together, these amazing artists created 15 compositions that are a BIG breath of fresh air. The uniqueness in sound & melody is detected immediately as soon as you hit play. This is due in big part to the merging of cultures musically where the East meets the West.
‘What Lies Ahead’ starts off with “Medley: K’ang Ting Love Song/The Star of Country Down” where traditional Chinese music meshes with Old World Celtic. The overall result is one joyous & spiritual journey that also incorporates a wonderful arrangement. Next, we have “Medley: Veni Creator Spiritus/The Lourdes Hymn” that showcases Ed Sweeney with a golden guitar melody that is so pure sounding. Track three, “Old Six Beats”, brings some good, old-fashioned banjo to the mix adding another dimension to the ancient Chinese culture. “Old Six Beats” is a unique blend of audio that offers mass appeal and works like a charm. Moving on, we dive into “Liu Yang River” that is flowing along with elegance & precision and the masterful Pipa is on full display. Track five, “Miss Hamilton”, supplies a tender touch, soothing melody and relaxing tone overall. On “Send Me a Thornless Rose”, the Pipa and tabla are bringing this song to life with an incredibly lively beat and tribal element. For those of you who aren’t familiar with a tabla, it is a percussive instrument that stems back to the Indian subcontinent. Get ready to head to the “Meadowlands” where the 12 string guitar is the star of the show and where Ed Sweeney and Yang Wei are bringing you some Russian influence by way of intriguing notes. What an inventive version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” I heard next where the musicians stayed true to the core structure of the original. What a powerful song “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is to me personally and I have to say Ed Sweeney and Yang Wei did it justice. On track nine, “Bang Chhun-hong (Longing for a Spring Breeze)”, the listener will get swept away by a pleasant & peaceful burst of wind that is beautifully orchestrated and simply music to my ears! Prepare to receive “Simple Gifts” from Ed and Yang as we travel to lands near & far; over the mountains and past the hills. Track 11, “Talk About Suffering”, switches gears with a soft, low-key approach that is a bit somber and most certainly gets your attention right away. All gather for the Ed Sweeney Banjo Extravaganza on “Medley: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring/Scotland the Brave/Sourwood Mountain” where it’s all about fun-filled times. Track 13, “Please Stay with Me Friend from Far Away”, highlights Yang Wei and Pipa playing at its finest, which in turn makes for one enjoyable listening experience. The “Snowflake Reel” is falling our way next and what you get is a real mover & shaker-type tune that is fast but efficient. There are new sheriffs in town on the closing number, “Home on the Range”, giving us a completely different rendition of this Western classic that gets the stamp of approval.
‘What Lies Ahead’ is a pure joy to listen to from beginning to end and instant gold in my book. Ed Sweeney & Yang Wei have created a high quality, original album that is full of timeless material. As previously stated, I always enjoy a good acoustic record and so many more spins is ‘What Lies Ahead’.