Since the trees in my Minneapolis neighborhood are already losing their leaves by the bunch, it’s time to start reviewing holiday music CDs. It’s a pleasure to kick off the “season” with this delightful album from pianist Shannon Janssen. Aided by the expertly layered and tasteful synths (mostly orchestral in nature) of Mark Vincent Pence, Janssen has recorded ten tracks, of which four are medleys and four (one of which is part of a medley) are self-penned originals by the artist herself. The familiar pieces represent a nice blend of Christmas hymns with secular carols, something I always prefer over just all of one or the other. Musical arrangement duties are split between the pianist and the electronic keyboardist, each handling their respective instruments. They display assured symmetry, never “stepping” on one another yet giving each a chance to shine as individuals.
Of the Christmas/holiday standards, I particularly enjoyed Janssen’s versions of “White Christmas” (which has a wistful romanticism to it, featuring great synth textures by Pence), the medley of “What Child Is This-We Three Kings-Carol of the Bells” (the first part is especially poignant while the drama of “Carol of the Bells” is nicely handled without going over the top), and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” spot-on perfect for listening to in front of a crackling fire, slowed down a tad by Janssen with Pence’s well-layered strings.
The original tunes number four and three of them are something special. “Flurries” is a playful yet delicate piano tune, opening with wind-effects, and has a child-like feel to it, as upper register notes dance on top of flowing electronic keyboard washes, with lower register notes providing a warm background. The introduction of a Russian-like tempo and melodic component mid-song, along with some sleigh-bells, injects even more liveliness into the cut. “Remember When,” as you might infer, is romantic and nostalgic, as piano and strings paint reflective soundscapes with occasional bouts of higher drama on Janssen’s part. “First Christmas” which interpolates with “The First Noel,” is a fairly standard “pretty” number but doesn’t really stand out (which is as it should be, since it must flow evenly in and out of “…Noel”). “Silent Snow” closes out the album Ushered in by twinkling bells, like moonlight on freshly fallen snow, this song is a perfect conclusion to the CD — soft, inviting, and also reminiscent of the unique blanket of quiet which embraces the outside world at this time of year. I often tell folks from southern climes that here in Minnesota, on cold winter nights, if it’s quiet enough, you can actually “hear” snow falling. It’s a very special occurrence and this song captures some of that feeling for me.
In my review of Shannon Janssen’s last CD, Piano Paintings, I wrote “Janssen could prove to be one of the better artists in the adult contemporary instrumental/new age music genre in the coming decade.” The Keys of Christmas proves that I was right in my evaluation/prediction. This is a lovely addition to your holiday music collection, fresh enough to sound “new” yet featuring a good mixture of familiar carols with the artist’s original compositions. Give yourself an early “present,” and start playing this one sooner than later, but probably not until after Halloween, though!
Jazz-New Age-Classical-Traditional – Dec 20, 2005
© Keith “MuzikMan” Hannaleck- muzikreviews.com
This is the third album I have covered by Shannon Janssen and I am continually impressed and enlightened by her tremendous talent on the piano.
The Keys Of Christmas came at a great time for me the past few days. The stress of certain situations was bearing down on me, and I put this wonderful CD on then suddenly my attitude began to change quickly. Not only did it put me in the holiday spirit, Janssen’s jazz-new age keyboard interpretations of yearly favorites and her own adaptations of seasonal classics was so beautiful and inviting I had to keep giving it a spin, three times in two days actually. When you hear something that is healing and spiritual you want more, it is natural to feel drawn towards the light to put a smile back in your heart.
Once again, Mark Vincent Pence is on hand to lend his expertise to the recording process. His orchestrations are the sweets for the sweet as they say. Pence is a real pro that compliments the artistry of Shannon Janssen in just the right way. That slice of heaven that Janssen is so adept in relaying in her music finds the perfect partner in well-timed orchestrations.
As I recall, the last two albums I heard from this talented lady had the same effect on me. Janssen has enormous potential and it is obvious to me now that she could decide to go in any direction with styles of music and have success. Ultimately that is the position any musician wants to be in, having no boundaries makes you more marketable. The only things left for this woman is for the right individual to discover her and present opportunities that allow those great talents to keep on growing and blossoming. This was an obvious choice to make a Christmas album and every composition is strong, her piano playing congeals with every element around her. What is there left to say? Holiday music is supposed to make you feel great, and without a doubt, The Keys Of Christmas gets the job done without any vocals. This album is a great triumph as most people like to sing along to their favorite songs. Trust me when I say this, you will not find it necessary to sing as your heart and soul will be singing right along every step of the way, and that is all you need to make holiday music feel right.
Rob Merritt – The Cedar Rapids Gazette December 8, 2005
While many of this year’s Christmas CDs are breaking out the choirs, the guitars and every bell and whistle (literally) they can find, sometimes it’s better to keep things simple. Piano player Shannon Janssen does exactly that on this holiday compilation.
Traditional tunes — “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” among them — are covered nicely, though Janssen’s own piano compositions are what make the album truly stand out. The final track, “Silent Snow,” is a particular highlight.
I wish the album had kept things even simpler; the synthesized strings in the background tend to be a bit distracting. Overall, though, “The Keys of Christmas” creates a rich holiday atmosphere that made me long for a fireplace, an easy chair and a tall glass of eggnog. Well, maybe not the eggnog.
Out of thousands of submissions, Shannon Janssen’s Piano Paintings CD was chosen to be reviewed in the Jan/Feb 2004 issue with the national magazine “Performing Songwriter”. This is what they said:
Good easy-listening instrumentals have a flow and an emotional integrity that can be quite moving, and Shannon Janssen’s second album Piano Paintings features a healthy sampling of just such instrumentals—delicate, swaying keyboard originals that are more substantive than mere Muzak air-pudding. With the aid of producer Mark Pence’s tasteful, unobtrusive arrangements, piano teacher and church organist Janssen comes up with light melodic variations that she plays with imagination and grace. Piano Paintings also contains touching liner notes in which Janssen explains the origin of each song in her travels and family life, adding to the album’s warm, homemade feeling. —NM (Performing Songwriter Jan/Feb 2004)
Bill Binkelman – Wind and Wire – January 2, 2003
From my neighbor state to the south (Iowa) comes a most pleasant, albeit fairly “safe,” album of piano and keyboard instrumentals, courtesy of Shannon Janssen. What I mean by “safe” is that the music is, simply put, immensely accessible and easy to get into on first listening, assuming the type of music is to your liking. Janssen wears her heart on her sleeve, whether her emotions are somewhat sadly romantic and plaintive (such as the opening “The Wishing Well”), warm and loving (“Mother’s Day”), or reflective and wistful (“The Lighthouse Window”). This, in and of itself, is certainly not a bad thing. Many of the songs on Piano Paintings are lovely and could serve as not just enjoyable background music for company but also as dedicated listening, if your taste runs toward similar artists (such as Robin Spielberg, Suzanne Ciani, or Kevin Kern). Like the latter, Janssen uses electronic keyboards to flesh out many of her melodies, adding coloring, drama, and substance to her artistic piano playing.
However, unlike Kern, her approach is a little more diverse and a little less overly commercial (although Piano Paintings is still 100 percent accessible to the mainstream). For example, “Approaching Storm” is one of several tracks that is somewhat more dramatic and incorporates sound effects in conjunction with the music. Thanks to the solid production quality of the album, these textures do not detract from Janssen’s piano playing. Whether they add anything to the songs themselves or not is more a matter of taste. Engineering is usually pretty good, although I think the piano sounded too “bright” at times.
Only occasionally does Janssen exhibit a trace of overkill with the synth strings (which, honestly, is the failing of many artists in this particular musical vein). To her credit, many of her electronic keyboard embellishments are well-placed and add depth and dimension to the music (such as the lush strings on “Peace Afterwards” and the slight lower register cellos on “Bittersweet”). Still, I wish she would have (at times) trusted more to her emotive piano playing and less to the “underlining.”
On balance, I think Piano Paintings is an admirable and enjoyable effort. It beats the hell out of a lot of more “name” players who are now just recycling past glory and, to be truthful, some of the music is quite pretty and is almost always devoid of faux sentimentality (in this way, it reminded me, somewhat, of another piano/keyboard artist, Shirley Cason). With a little more restraint exercised in the application of her electronic keyboards (but not leaving them out of the picture entirely), Janssen could prove to be one of the better artists in the adult contemporary instrumental/new age music genre in the coming decade. There are moments on Piano Paintings where the music is fresh and alive with romanticism and emotion wedded to artistry and talent. As such, the CD holds plenty of promise for Shannon Janssen and also stands as a fine addition to the collection of any fan of straightforward new age piano/keyboard music.
C. R. Pianist’s New CD Paints Peaceful Scenes
By John Kenyon – The Gazette – November 14, 2002
Cedar Rapids—Those familiar with Shannon Janssen’s piano playing, whether through her work at Von Maur, at the Collins Plaza Hotel & Convention Center, on the radio or elsewhere – now can take a bit more of Janssen’s music home.
The Cedar Rapids pianist recently released her second CD, “Piano Paintings.” Like her first, “Heart Journey,” it contains a dozen songs that are soothing and smooth, not unlike the music of George Winston.
This is textbook easy-listening music. Janssen’s playing and the synthesized backing glide over the listener like a soundtrack to a Calgon bubble-bath ad. The songs are inventive, and the melodies are seemingly new and familiar at the same time. They are rendered with care, as Janssen’s supple playing easily conveys the range of emotions behind each track. Many of the tracks are fleshed out with tasteful orchestration by producer Mark Pence. While they obviously are synthesized, they add texture and depth to the songs.
The songs are inspired by a variety of things. “Hollie’s Wedding Isle” is exactly what it sounds like, a processional composed for the wedding of Janssen’s daughter. “White Sand” was inspired by a trip to Mexico – though one is hard-pressed to hear bullfights and open markets in Janssen’s ballad-temp tune.
Family plays an important role in Janssen’s life, with songs for her daughter, mother and grandson included on the disc. “Mother’s Day,” for her mother, is a light tune that starts with the sound of a baby laughing. “Sweet Dreams,” a lullaby for her grandson, is a sweet, sleepy song of slumber.
Nothing here rises about the pace of a leisurely stroll, so you won’t put this on to liven up a party. But for a quiet evening or Sunday morning, “Piano Paintings” makes for a nice soundtrack.
Keith “MuzikMan” Hannaleck – Music Dish
October 18, 2002
After several months of intense deliberation in the studio, Shannon Janssen has another musical gift to share with us all. “Piano Paintings” is exactly what it advertises to be. Janssen paints a musical landscape that offers a group of tracks that come from the heart of woman with a direct connection to heaven. As sentient beings, we are all connected to that realm or dimension in some way, and others have tapped into that energy directly and are able to communicate its divinity through musical instruments; Shannon is one of those blessed with this gift.
While the 12 tracks on this CD have a variety of moods and styles, each song effortlessly blends into each other. In other words, the 12 tracks become one gorgeous sonata that creates a peaceful yet entertaining soundtrack.
All of the hard work and effort has paid off for this talented ivory manipulator. I would like to see her go into more of a jazz direction on her next outing rather than drawing her influences from the classical genre. Ideally, I think a blend of both would make for a dramatic recording. I would not say this if I did not feel she was ready to move to the next level of development in her career.
This woman is certainly capable of creating music that talks to your heart, and once again, she has touched my soul with her music.
Piano for the Soul…
Shannon was the November 2002 Featured Artist of the Month! October 15, 2002. From Vinton, Iowa comes a heart-warming debut journey through sound from Shannon Janssen. Playing the ivories since she was eight years old, Shannon’s debut effort illustrates that poignancy through well placed piano chords is still as powerful as ever. At just over 47 minutes, the 12 tracks on Heart Journey make an excellent companion for those days of reflection or for sharing time with someone special.
With its roots firmly planted in the new age instrumental genre, Heart Journey never becomes pretentious or overbearing. Rather, Shannon has the rare gift to keep her music in check, and presents her ideas honestly and openly. One comes away with the feeling that Shannon did not compromise anything during the recording of this album, nor did she attempt to make it something other than a straight-forward, piano based experience.
Heart Journey is not strictly piano by the way. Mark Pence also provides a goodly amount of strings, providing a complimentary backdrop for Shannon to work with. The result is a well-balanced, satisfying musical experience that is always appreciated.
Inevitably, an artist such as Shannon Janssen can be compared to Suzanne Ciani or Lorie Line. In fact, Heart Journey is as expressive and heartfelt as anything recorded by Ciani and Line, and I think a concert featuring the trio would be very interesting.
Some tracks to note on Heart Journey include the welcoming opening piece called “Love’s Serenade”. This track wastes little time getting to the “heart” of the matter, and immediately it is clear that Shannon is out to impress with this album. I also enjoyed the relatively pensive “Seaside Nocturne”, which evokes imagery of a gray day by the seashore.
“Longing” is a simple yet beautiful composition that again manages to go right for the heart. “Moonlight Mist” is almost on the verge of being considered dark, but in the company of the tracks on this recording, it serves as a nice counter-balance to some of the more cheerful pieces.
Shannon Janssen has created a memorable album in Heart Journey. In the vast sea of solo piano releases, it is becoming far more difficult to get enough attention to albums that truly deserve it, but this debut certainly has what it takes to make people sit up and take notice. Keep an eye out for this artist…I expect we’ll be hearing more from her in the not too distant future.
5 Stars! Graceful and Emotional
By Kathy Parsons, Solo Piano Publications
“Heart Journey” is pianist Shannon Janssen’s debut CD, and what a promising debut it is! Her twelve original compositions are full of life and emotion. While most of the pieces are quiet and thoughtful, there is a wonderful passion running through all of them. Janssen’s piano is accompanied by subtle and tasteful orchestrations composed and performed by Mark Pence. There are many CD’s where I wish that accompaniments had been left out, but these enhancements are outstanding on every track. A church pianist and piano teacher for many years, Ms. Janssen also plays regularly for a local department store and hotel. In the business settings, I’m sure her playing is required to be of a more background nature, as these pieces would cause shoppers and party- goers to gather around the piano for more, more, more!
All of the tracks on “Heart Journey” are excellent. Several of the pieces are light and airy, and others are darker and deeper. My favorite is “Moonlight Mist”, a moody and passionate piece about misty shadows cast over the landscape by a full moon. Bigger than most of the other pieces on the CD, this is one that makes my fingers itch-I want to play it! The dark and mysterious qualities of this composition make it a real stand-out. “Longing” is another real beauty. The aching feeling of the simple melody goes right to the heart. “Seaside Nocturne” beautifully describes the peaceful ocean in the moonlight-dark, sparkling, and breathtaking. “Shadows of a Forgotten Dream: is almost a swirling dance-peaceful and quiet while gradually building energy to a burst of exhilaration, and then winding down only to begin building the next energetic burst; the ending is nostalgic and melancholy.
Shannon Janssen is a wonderfully expressive pianist/composer, and “Heart Journey” is a CD I highly recommend. Parts of the CD remind me of Suzanne Ciani and Kevin Kern, so if you like those artists, I think you’ll like this album a lot. Listening samples are available at: http://www.shannonjanssen.com.
New Contemporary Instrumental
Keith “MusikMan” Hannaleck – Music Dish
March 24, 2002
If you are looking for a piece of heaven right here on earth you can start with Shannon Janssen and her CD “Heart Journey”. The title of the recording is very fitting. Her music comes flowing from her heart to her hands and then to the keys of the piano in one magical transfer of divinity. Anytime I ever hear soothing spiritual music like this the entire world takes a back seat and I am able to breath a sigh of relief and appreciate the day that has been given me. I honestly believe that each day is a gift full of gifts; we just have to stop to see them and enjoy them. I am guilty of not doing that on a regular basis. Music is such a beautiful way to mirror our thoughts, emotions, and the spiritual nature of our God given souls. I am thankful for artists such as Shannon that do not need vocals to accompany their music. The music is enough to pass on their message. Her message helped me to refocus and ground myself.
If you enjoy new age spiritually based instrumental piano music, it doesn’t get much better than this. Shannon Janssen is a blessed woman. She has been given the gift of purity from a place in the heart. Yes it is a journey, and one you will want to take more than once. Pick up this CD and you find peace in the music and calmness in you soul. Let the music lead the way.