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Gems from the Dollar Bin: New Age Edition

Written By: 
Phil Cho
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Hidden gems, one trackers, and undervalued full listens from the world of bargain bin New Age.

Considered one of the most “uncool” genres of the past few decades, New Age has of late experienced a massive resurgence. Music blogs including the New Age Music Guide, Crystal Vibrations and Sounds of the Dawn unearth rare finds while labels like Numero Group reissue lost classics and younger artists push the genre forward on Leaving Records and RVNG Intl.

Luckily for record-digging fans of the genre, artists like Steven Halpern, Andreas Wollenweider, George Winston and others sold millions of copies in the 80’s, so New Age records still consistently pop up in your local Goodwill, charity bin, or yard sale due to the sheer amount of pressings that exist. 

Of course, there’s plenty of cheesy, uninspired free-form sounds to be found in this bargain New Age zone, but some truly transcendent music remains, some of which easily rivals the rare, private press finds treasured by record heads. Below, we’ve listed some favorite bargain bin New Age that you can find just about anywhere that sells records.

Juan Martin – Painter in Sound (1986)

One of the masters of flamenco guitar, Juan Martin also had a lifelong interest in painting, which culminated in this wonderful work from 1986 produced by New Age hero Mark Isham. Each of the album’s 11 tracks was directly inspired by a famous painting, and Martin and Isham employ a broad palette of guitar, synthesizers, saxophone and sequencers to capture the mood of each piece. Selections include David Hockney’s The Diver, Pablo Picasso’s Geurnica, and Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Tony Scott – Music for Zen Meditation (1965)

An improvised work by Tony Scott (clarinet), Shinichi Yuize (koto) and Hōzan Yamamoto (shakuhachi), Music for Zen Meditation is considered to be the first New Age record. It’s a little harder to find than the rest of the albums in this list but definitely pops up under $10. Hōzan Yamamoto records typically go for much more so this one’s a steal. Also, for the sample hunters, track A4, “After the Snow, the Fragrance,” was sampled by electronic producer Four Tet on his track “Parks.”

Apsaras – S.T. (1984)

Apsaras’ lone album is an underrated Japanese gem that’s surprisingly cheap and easy to find in the United States due to a major label pressing on CBS. The group has a wonderfully unique sound that’s somewhere between new age, post-rock, and jazz fusion. The mellow, reflective tracks here sound like they could easily fit on any of those sought after 80’s Japanese left-field music labels like JVC’s Music Interior or Moon Music.

Claire Hamill ‎– Voices (1988)

Not exactly New Age — though it does appear on Beggars Banquet’s “new age” imprint — Claire Hamill’s Voices is a massively underrated album that could easily be skipped over in the bargain bins as another Windham Hill record. Hamill started her career at just 17 as a Joni Mitchell-type folk singer on Island Records, but soon changed directions after a few of her albums underperformed. Voices captures the singer-songwriter at her best, using her voice as a polyphonic instrument mixed with a bit of light synth and drum machine. 

Andreas Vollenweider – Behind The Gardens (1981)

Our favorite album from the Swiss harpist was also his most successful, selling millions of copies in the 80’s. Vollenweider plays nearly every instrument on the album including soprano sax, electric/acoustic guitar, accordion, Prophet 5, Oberheim Obxa and, of course, his signature modified electroacoustic harp. 

Paul Horn – Inside (1968)

Paul Horn recorded Inside during a visit to India to produce a documentary about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation. The album contains some appropriately transcendent, improvised woodwind playing recorded “inside” the Taj Mahal. Who really is the star here though, Paul Horn or the magnificent reverb of the Taj Mahal? It’s hard to say; both sound fantastic.

Kay Gardner – Mooncircles (1975)

Music for healing from the “Cosmos Wonder-Child” Kay Gardner. This album is steeped in New Age philosophy with tracks like “Prayer To Aphrodite,” “Inner Mood I” and “Lunamuse.” Gardner was a Dianic priestess and healer who created music specifically for healing, relaxation, and meditation. Even if you’re not into the whole “new age” healing thing, this record will certainly succeed in putting you in a relaxed mood. 

Georgia Kelly – Seapeace (1978)

Harp is possibly the most New Age of instruments and Georgia Kelly plays beautifully in this meditative work recorded at Pranava Studios in Hollywood. A1 “Nῑladpadmam (Blue Lotus)” was recently spun on LA harpist Nailah Hunter’s “Astral Garden” show on NTS Radio. We highly recommend checking out Nailah’s music if you’re into this soothing ambient harp zone. 

Steven Halpern – Spectrum Suite (1975)

One of the founding fathers of New Age music, Steven Halpern has recorded more than 50 albums of free-form relaxation music that can be found in bargain bins across the United States. There are many favorites to choose from (and plenty of duds as well) but we’ll pick Spectrum Suite simply for it’s importance as one of the albums that began the 70’s New Age movement. The first side is gorgeous solo Fender Rhodes, while the second side features Prophet 5 and the musician Iasos on flute.

Giles Reaves – Wunjo (1986)

A Chee Shimizu favorite that was also featured on the excellent Sounds of the Dawn NTS Radio show, Giles Reaves Wunjo is classic, sparkling digital New Age that’s so well-executed that it’s able to exist in that rare zone of acceptably cheesy music. The best New Age seems to work in a similar zone, and Reaves achieves it with ease. Look out for Reaves’ follow up album Nothing is Lost as well for similar cosmic, new age vibes.

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