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Little Red Boat Reviews

The JW Vibe

Both musical artists and fans have been lamenting the minimization of album art in this digital age, when covers are often reduced to several inch thumbnails that are a far cry from the glorious, sizeable LP covers of a previous generation. Happily, however, no matter how the music is consumed, album art is still an important aspect of the presentation for most. When artists do take the time to create meaningful sleeves, they usually commission visual and graphic artists to somehow reflect the spirit of the music.


Solo pianist Mary Lydia Ryan flips the script on this practice on her lush, beautiful and deeply expressive new collection Little Red Boat, which was deservedly nominated for Whisperings Solo Piano Radio Album of the Year. The boat with black and red swirls that inspired these masterful songs was the focal point of a painting by artist Steve Jensen that came into her life in 2015 – the same year the versatile singer and pianist released her first solo piano album Moving in Grace. Falling immediately in love with its energy and depth of layers, Ryan connected with its impressionistic subtleties and thematic possibilities – and made the bold decision to write an entire album’s worth of material to capture the imaginative journey sparked by the visuals. All of these images are authentic to the pianist’s day to day experience living on a “floating home” in the Seattle area.


Placing it atop her piano, she began to compose effortlessly, metaphorically connecting the images, the rhythmically varied moods and compositional elegance to her own life experiences and the deeper places in a heart that has known its share of turbulence, struggle, survival and the joy and peace that followed. She lays her foundation for the seafaring adventure with the dreamy, meditational and slightly whimsical “Little Red Boat,” then quickly spots and reflects gracefully and cheerfully upon a “Woman in the Moon” – a spirited feminine twist on the familiar concept of a mythical “man in the moon.” Turning her focus earthbound, Ryan centers herself – and us as listeners – with the hypnotic meditation “Floating on a Gentle Breeze” and a playful and lighthearted, slightly percussive flow expressing “The Joy of Ten Knots.”


Though there are note flurries that express both light rains and more formidable storms, a sense of awe and gratitude infuse Ryan’s mythical landscape, most notably on the soulful, breathtaking ballad “In Wonder” and “Sailing This Sea Alone,” the darker toned, stark meditation on being lonely but content with the Universe as a constant companion. There are prayerful questions along the way like “How Did I End Up Here” – a metaphor for our crazy lives on land if there ever was one – but the key to survival in the world where Ryan meets Jensen is to let little bursts of “Gentle Sunshine” in.


She basks fully in those rays on the swaying gossamer magic of “Waltz Under the Sun (Kevin’s Song),” then imagines - because they are not in the painting itself – some friendly accompanying creatures on the appreciative, deeply hypnotic “A Song about Sea Turtles.” Ryan’s final tracks take her and us from the surface to the depths, starting with a hopeful breakthrough via “Sparkle on the Water” that leads her to a moody, reflective exploration of her life on the contemplative closing track “Ocean of My Soul.”

I have always found it fascinating how a painting (or another art-form) can have a huge and lasting impact on someone’s life. A perfect example is the painting that inspired Mary Lydia Ryan’s solo piano album, Little Red Boat. The painting with the same title graces the cover of the album and was painted by Seattle-area artist Steve Jensen. The painting entered Mary Lydia’s life in 2015: “I fell in love with the energy, the depth of layers of beauty and artistry it holds. I felt the music in me rising to the surface while gazing at it. I placed it on my music stand atop my piano and began composing with ease.” The music and titles to the twelve piano solos were created as the musical journey unfolded. It is interesting to note that Mary Lydia lives and composes on a floating home on a lake in Washington State, which helped to shape the feeling of the pieces. All of the tracks are very relaxed and express the gentle rocking movement of a boat on peaceful waters. Little Red Boat has been nominated for Whisperings Solo Piano Radio’s “Album of the Year” award and has been named as one of the “Top 3 Best Piano Recordings of 2018” by Dyan Garriss of The album was recorded and mastered by Joe Bongiorno at his PianoHaven Studio in Sedona, AZ.


Little Red Boat begins with the title track. The gently rocking rhythm conveys the feeling of being on water while occasional percussive notes make me think of light dancing on the surface of the lake. “Woman in the Moon” is slower, more mysterious and very graceful. The haunting melody is played with a hypnotic velvet touch that says more than words ever could. “Floating on a Gentle Breeze” is positively dreamy as it soothes away the stresses of the day. “The Joy of Ten Knots” picks up the tempo a bit and you can almost feel the wind in your hair as you effortlessly go sailing through the water. “Sailing this Sea Alone” is wistful and perhaps “wishful” as well. A bit more melancholy, it feels like a musical soliloquy spoken to the sea at night when “alone-ness” feels the most real. “How Did I End Up Here” could also be late-night musings by candlelight - gently introspective and poignant. “Waltz Under the Sun (Kevin’s Song)” was composed for a close friend who was “experiencing his own inner ocean storms.” Light and overflowing with warmth and caring, I’m sure Kevin found healing in this lovely gift. In “Sparkle on the Water,” the left hand seems to be expressing the gentle movement of the water itself while the more percussive right hand conveys the beauty of light dancing on the surface of the water. “Ocean of My Soul” provides almost 6 1/2 minutes of peaceful bliss, floating on a sea of tranquility without a worry or trouble in the world. Very open, free and beautiful, it brings the album to a serene close. 


Little Red Boat is an excellent choice for music for relaxation, meditation, background music for working or quiet activities, or simply to enjoy calming piano music. It is available from, Amazon, iTunes, Apple Music and CD Baby.

Mary Lydia Ryan is a composer, pianist, vocalist, artist, intuitive visionary, lightworker, and sound healer. But I don’t think we should even try to label her. Any “label” might be way too narrow.  From the first notes of her album, “Little Red Boat,” we can feel that this music emanates wholly from her heart, soul, and very essence.  Too, she lives on a floating home in the Seattle area, so one can imagine that from this position she has a completely different and interesting vantage point of life.


“Little Red Boat” is a truly elegant solo piano standout. Velvety smooth, it’s like soft rose petals. The album is twelve tracks and forty-three minutes of gentle, flowing, solo piano music that encourages us to sit back and relax deeply to our very core. It’s soothing balm for the soul.

The album artwork for “Little Red Boat,” is adapted from a painting that was given to her in 2015, by Steve Jensen, a Seattle artist. She set it on her music stand and she could immediately feel the music flowing to her and from her. Personally, I find the little red boat to be reminiscent of a tea cup, a vessel, waiting to be filled with the joy of life.


Even though Mary Lydia had eight years of classical training, one of her innate musical skills is, and has always been, feeling the music rather than analyzing, and then interpreting what she feels. Her masterful, graceful cadence, evident throughout the album, “Little Red Boat,” is truly a gift.


“Little Red Boat,” is her second solo piano album. Currently, it’s nominated for “Whisperings Solo Piano Album of the Year 2018.”  It’s also on the list of the “Top 3 Best Piano Albums of 2018” at New Age


The album opens with the title track, “Little Red Boat.” This is the lovely little red boat on the album cover.  Here we are launched gently from the shore into the voyage, with a charming, eloquent melody. Following is “Woman In The Moon,” which was inspired by the moon in the upper corner of the painting.  We can feel the feminine energy of the moon drawing us in willingly and deeper into the mysteries of life’s journey.


“Floating On A Gentle Breeze” is soft, gentle, and comforting, just as the title implies. Quite soothing. “The Joy of Ten Knots” (which translates to about eleven and a half miles per hour), is fun, flowing, and here we can almost see and feel the experience of navigating slowly on the waters of life, leisurely passing by other boats and people. Quite likeable.


The tranquil, relaxing, “In Wonder” has a lullaby-like quality that evokes feelings of gazing up at a starry night sky and being filled with awe at the magnificent beauty of the universe.  “Sailing This Sea Alone,” is calming, gentle, and contemplative. There is something here that reminds us that we are never really “alone,” even if we feel that we are so in the vast sea of life. This is a definite favorite.


I found myself listening to “How Did I End Up Here,” several times. This is one that perfectly showcases that masterful cadence we mentioned earlier.   Harmonious and sweet, with no regret, this is simply reflection.  It’s wonderful in every way.


The playful “Gentle Sunshine,” is one where we can feel the warm rays of the sun and the gentle breeze on our upturned faces.  Smile and celebrate life. We are invited to fully embrace the dance of life in “Waltz Under The Sun (Kevin’s Song).” May we all glide gracefully through our journey, no matter what ups and downs we may encounter along the way.

Another favorite is “A Song About Sea Turtles.” If you’ve ever had the gift of observing these magnificent, ancient creatures, you will fully appreciate this song. It perfectly captures what should never be “captured” or taken for granted.


For anyone that’s ever had the pleasure of embarking on a gentle boat ride, you know there is something magical about the way the sun sparkles on the water like glittery diamonds. “Sparkle On The Water,” track 11, perfectly conveys this scintillating vista.  And although we don’t want it to end, the album closes out with the ultra-relaxing and very beautiful “Ocean Of My Soul,” which brings us to a sublime, harmonious conclusion.


“Little Red Boat” is one of the best piano albums of the year; one that is guaranteed to relax and soothe your soul wherever you are on the journey.


Get it here:

One World Music

Mini Album Show

Artist in Profile

Take 3: Mary Lydia Ryan

Review of Little Red Boat

"Beautiful Brother" with David Johnson

Whisperings All Star Concert 2019

Live at Piano Haven 2016 "Anastasia"

Mary Lydia's Current Events

  • September 19, 2019
    Enlightened Piano Radio Concert and Awards Ceremony, Montreal
  • November 6, 2019
    The Houseboat Concert Series Presents:, Seattle, WA
  • November 23, 2019
    TEDx Seattle, Seattle, WA

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