Much like the national parks which serve as inspiration for her wonderful music, multi-instrumentalist Jill Haley is, herself, a national treasure, especially for fans of acoustic instrumental music. This ultra-talented English horn, oboe, and piano performer sits at the top of everyone’s list of desirable session artists (just ask Will Ackerman) but more and more she has been also releasing some of the best instrumental music available.

Throw in the fact that her albums feature her own equally gorgeous nature photography and all I can say is “wow.” If it’s later revealed she also writes poetry and is an accomplished documentarian, I wouldn’t be all that surprised. Clearly this charming, funny, and warm person has abundant talent and has set out to share it with the world around her.

Like her previous three recordings (Glacier Soundscapes, Mesa Verde Soundscapes, and Zion and Bryce Canyon Soundscapes), on her latest release, Haley was again inspired by the beauty and diversity of landscapes of the national parks. However, as one can tell from the title, rather than focusing on one or two, she traveled to eight new parks (and included her earlier “musically documented” four). Acadia, Badlands, Cuyahoga Valley, Everglades, Grand Canyon, Shenandoah, Valley Forge, and Yosemite are added to the ones I mentioned at the top of this paragraph.

What we have here is a veritable tour of some of the most treasured locations in the United States, often referred to as the country’s crown jewels. As on her previous national park albums, she has done them all proud, infusing these songs with her characteristic engaging melodies that are so instantly enjoyable that hearing them for the first time actually feels like welcoming an old friend who has dropped in for a visit. There is abundant friendliness inherent in Haley’s compositions and, of course, her playing is marked not just by virtuoso technique but a subtle passion married to simple sincerity, yet never even a whiff of artifice or overt showmanship. It is amazing to me that a musician this talented creates music that speaks so directly of humility and openness.

Joining her on the album is husband David Cullen on guitar and bass as well as daughter Dana on horn and son Graham on cello. All three of them handle their roles splendidly, in particular David, who is also in demand for his guitar artistry by other fellow musicians. Tony Deangelis handles the percussion (and snare drum on the last track) and does so admirably.

The tracks range in mood and style, not drastically but pleasantly varied enough. Jill Haley’s music sits comfortably in the same subgenre that the noted duo Eric Tingstad and Nancy Rumbel occupy, as well as Matt and Rebecca Stuart (who record as Minstrel Streams). All three of these artists tackle this type of “American instrumental music” somewhat differently, of course.

Unlike Tingstad and Rumbel, Haley’s music doesn’t feature any world influences and the overall vibe is always warm and unceasingly approachable. Some tracks here are reflective or somber (“Mariposa Sanctuary” being an example of the former and the closing “A Soldier’s Sacrifice” the latter) while others simply enchant with delightful refrains (“Waters of Acadia”) or bubble with gentle effervescence (“Sunrift Gorge”). I know Jill Haley is sought after for her woodwind playing, and there is no denying she is easily at the top of the field in that regard, but her piano playing should not be overlooked and her talent with the ivories is on ample display on this album.

Worth mentioning is the stellar job done my mixer/mastering engineer Corin Nelsen, as well as the three recording engineers: Tom Eaton, Jeff Towne, and Nelsen himself. As good as the album “looks,” it sounds even better!

From the beautiful music that winds through the album like a refreshing stream to the gorgeous photos that serve as a perfect visual accompaniment to the melodies, National Park Soundscapes is a delight, pure and simple. We are all lucky to have such a superb musical interpreter of our country’s diverse natural beauty as Jill Haley. May she stay forever inspired and grace us with more music in the years to come.

Bill Binkelman
Zone Music Reporter