Philip Riley & Jayne Elleson,
The Blessing Tree
(White Cloud, 2002)

With comparisons to Enya flying, references to Loreena McKennitt abounding and comments about Secret Garden creeping in, The Blessing Tree falls pretty squarely between them all in style and inspiration. With songs titled "Breton Drum," "Pictish Girl" and "Between the Shadows," the lyrics draw heavily on Celtic myth and folklore. The style borrows from new age, but is predominantly Celtic, with instruments such as bodhran, fiddle, Irish pipes and whistle featured.

Philip Riley and Jayne Elleson, who both live in New Zealand (Riley a transplanted Englishman and Elleson native-born) have worked together to compose four of the pieces, while the rest were composed by Riley. The traditional "Coventry Carol" is also included. Their gift for creating music that is at once grand and sweeping, yet gentle and mystical, is unsurpassed.

Elleson's voice has a sweet, dreamy quality to it, but it also has substance, something many singers of this style lack. Her voice is part of the music, but is never overwhelmed by it. The music itself is many-layered, with different instruments taking the lead and an evocative use of percussion.

The pieces on this album never fade into a gentle sort of background hum, but hold your attention. This can be both good and bad. Elleson's clear enunciation and the ever-changing mood keep the mind engaged, which is usually what you want music to do. However, though relaxing, it can be difficult to concentrate on another activity. I feel that this speaks to the high quality of the music.

The songs range from thrilling the blood, as in "Sanctus" with its medieval choral sounds, to love songs, such as "Breton Drum" which features a girl who joins the army disguised as a man to find her lover, to mystical, like "Spin the Circle" or "Come Silver Moon." The only complaint is that the lyrics are a bit repetitive. Most of the songs have only 8 to 12 lines that are repeated over and over again throughout. Though they are beautiful and the instrumental portions are lovely, there are limits to the number of times you want to hear the same thing in one song.

If Enya is your cup of tea, then I would advise hunting down a copy of this lovely album. It is similar in style, but with a bit more edge. Riley's composing and Elleson's voice are a wonderful team, evoking a mystical past and drawing the listener in.

- Rambles
written by Jean Emma Price
published 10 July 2004

Buy it from