by Kathy Parsons

I really wasn't sure that Sharon Fendrich could outdo her 2019 debut, Red Sky Prairie, but I was wrong. Sapphire Oak soars, dances, drifts, and dreams - the perfect music for getting lost in as it soothes, heals and uplifts the spirit. My one-word evaluation is a very enthusiastic "WOW!" 

More than an album themed around oak trees, Sapphire Oak is based on the history and lore of these magnificent trees and also tells the story of the mightiest oak our imagination has ever known. Quoting Sharon's website, "Viscerally evocative, this music creates a universally identifiable soundtrack of life. It is for every one of us. Herein lies refuge." Orchestra,  piano, vocals by Sharon and Talia Valdez (Sharon's daughter), as well as violin (Lisa Rydberg), cello (Klara Källström), harp (Stina Hellberg Agback, and Irish whistle and Uilleann pipes (Ian Harper) come together to create a genre-defying musical work of art. 

Again quoting Sharon Fendrich: "For thousands of years sapphire blue has been seen as a color of protection from harm or illness and a guard against envy. It is a sign of loyalty, honesty, and peace. I believe that if the wisdom and strength of the oak were to emit a color, it would be sapphire blue. And if we were to tune in to that radiance, and guidance, the trust and the loyalty, we would feel grounded and connected to all living things." 

Sapphire Oak begins with "Sea of Oaks," a beautifully melancholy piano and instrumental piece that reflects on the long tradition of ships being built from oaks and the forests that were cut down for that purpose. What if the trees could remember their early years in the forest, standing tall with their families, wondering what happened to them? "Leaves of Glory" refers to the oaks that have lived for hundreds of years, the countless battles they have witnessed, and the soldiers who have been buried beneath them. Very symphonic and cinematic, it's a stirring tribute.  

"Runic Roots" is a favorite. Sometimes dark and mysterious and sometimes light and playful, the music takes us to a different place and time. "Call of the Ruins" refers to the many mentions of oak trees in The Old Testament and has lyrics sung (by Sharon) in Hebrew. It also refers to various cultures that believe that the spirits of ancestors live in oak trees. Mournful and prayerful, it's an emotional and haunting piece.  

I really like "Of Badges and Crowns," which refers to  the fact that images of oak trees and their leaves have been used worldwide throughout history on flags, insignias, crowns, and coats of armor, representing dedication to a cause as well as hope and bravery. The piece begins with chiming bells, pipes, piano and cello before swelling into a fully orchestrated anthem. 

"Under Her Canopy" is a wonderful vocal duet with Sharon and her daughter, Talia Valdez, and celebrates the Celtic tradition of the sacred bond between mothers and daughters. The title track is a gorgeous ballad with quiet orchestral and piano accompaniment supporting Sharon's powerful, heartfelt vocals - another favorite!  

Wow! What an amazing and inspiring album! Sapphire Oak will be released on June 10, 2022 and is available for pre-release sales from Amazon. More links will be added as they become available. Don't miss it!