They say that you should not judge a book by its cover. Listening to David J. Peña’s “Thinking of You”, I can confirm that the same is true for New Age music albums. The title and the lovely Hupfeld piano on the cover may indicate that this is a gentle and reflective release. Still, as soon as you start listening to the opening track “Renaissance”, you will see that this impression is entirely wrong. The album is a firework, surprisingly powerful and hard-hitting – but right under the surface is a rare sensitivity. This duality makes “Thinking of You” into a superb release with almost limitless replay value. David J. Peña is definitely an artist to follow in the years to come.
David J. Peña is a drummer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist raised in Mission, TX and based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. At age 4, he would sit on the street curb and listen to the local marching band. After the band passed, he would rush to his family’s piano and steadily decipher the tunes and harmonies of the music he had just heard. Peña developed as a musician and has become known as a skilled drummer and piano enthusiast. He debuted with the Contemporary Christian album “The Time Has Come”. Later Peña met orchestral composer Judah Earl. As Peña and Earl began collaborating, the seeds of a project took root in their minds. These seeds came to fruition in Peña’s sophomore album, “Thinking of You”.
The album-opening “Renaissance” is a bold and uncompromising piece. While other artists debuting in a new genre use a few tracks to establish their sound, Peña uses less than three minutes. Yanni fans will feel right at home; Peña has the same melodic approach. Peña’s music will also be of interest to fans of Samer Fanek and Fransoafran. When the flute, strings, and drums enter the stage, the piece has the same magic as Yanni’s “If I Could Tell You”, it is that good. I believe it also is a comment on the Renaissance, both as a time period – and as a force in our lives. We all go through periods of revivals, times when the old and the new are redefined. “Renaissance” captures all of this brilliantly. Bravo!
When a New Age music piece is called “Serenity”, we usually know what to expect. But forget all that you think you know about serenity and be carried away by the music of Peña! It is a magnificent piece, with an incredible build-up and drums. The strings are divine. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking for the replay button; “Serenity” is a keeper in any playlist.
Piangere Per Te
I wrote that there is a sensibility here, but it is a bit hidden by the mighty arrangement – so you have to look for it. “Piangere Per Te” is filled to the brim with raw emotions, although the tear-dripping part (as indicated by the title) is a part of a whole scene; close your eyes, and the music will provide the imagery. Each piece is like a short story, a narrative that you can relive again and again.
I love the following part of the album; It is so playful and carefree. When you listen to “Wild and Free” and “Smoke Signals Rising”, no day will feel gray and cold. “Good Day (Uzziah’s Song)” is another jewel. Notice the many twists and turns; it is phenomenal! It is my favorite piece here, although there are so many to choose from.
The next part of the album is much more contemplative. “Grace” is a fantastic ballad, perfect for a romantic dinner or an evening in front of the fireplace. “Mystify” follows up where “Grace” left, making sure that we appreciate all the mysterious and undefinable things in life.
If you want to understand what this album is all about, you only have to listen to the next two pieces, “Farewell” and the title track. They go straight to the heart and stay there. The rain-dripping “Farewell” is nothing short of incredible (notice the build-up; it belongs on the big screen), and then the title track – WOW! – it will leave you breathless. It must be the strongest track 10 in New Age music history. But don’t take my word for it; check it out yourself.
We might be near the end, but you cannot tell that by the music’s quality; Peña keeps on giving! Both “Anaiah’s Song” and “Yesteryear” are masterly, George Winston-level piano melodies. Usually, I find myself wishing for more arrangements, but these pieces are so delicate that they would sound amazing solo piano style too. “Lighthouse” is the hopeful album closer. It leaves you with a good feeling, completely rested, and ready to get on with your day.
In conclusion: I started this review by saying that the piano on the cover did not tell the whole story about “Thinking of You”. After listening to the album for over a month, though, I see the truth in having it on the cover. Listen carefully, and you will hear that all the melodies are all piano-driven. They follow the logic of the piano. In many ways, this is the ideal album for everyone that enjoys its sound but often finds a whole album of solo piano a bit dull. “Thinking of You”, on the other hand, is exciting and captivating from start to finish. It is not drowned in melancholy, which gives it high appeal. David J. Peña has delivered an incredibly well-made, heartfelt, and riveting album. I am sure the amazing Judah Earl also deserves to be credited here.
“Thinking of You” is, in short, a triumph.