The researcher who compiles the Billboard New Age chart expressed surprise that Salt Lake City pianist and composer Paul Cardall's new album "New Life" ranked No. 1 for three weeks earlier this year.
"I'm not sure how they did that," said Gordon Murray, chart and research manager of Billboard magazine, about Cardall and his Salt Lake City-based label, Shadow Mountain Records, a division of Deseret Book.
The album's popularity seems even more surprising when you consider that Yanni, the undisputed king of New Age music, released his new album just six days before Cardall released "New Life." For three weeks, Cardall, a little-known pianist and composer from the Beehive State, sold more copies nationwide of his new album than Yanni did.
But Cardall considers his biggest, and happiest surprise is that he's alive.
Cardall, a soft-spoken 37-year-old husband and father was born with congenital heart disease. He received a heart transplant in September 2009 after spending 385 agonizing days waiting for a match at Salt Lake City's Primary Children's Medical Center.
"New Life" is the album he wrote and recorded after the transplant. "To me, it's my little masterpiece that captures the most monumental experiences of my life," said Cardall, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who proudly claims the label of "LDS musician."
Those monumental experiences include imagining being separated by death from wife Lynnette and five-year-old daughter Eden; the realization that the heart beating inside his body came from someone now dead; and the June 2009 death of his younger brother Brian Layton Cardall, who was shocked by a Taser and killed by police officers on a highway near Hurricane.
Though "New Life" is categorized by Billboard as a New Age album, its 14 songs eschews synthesized stereotypes in favor of more organic sounds based around Cardall's piano, including orchestration and acoustic guitar. It's a life "comeback album," said Murray, the Billboard music researcher.
Some songs, such as "Life and Death" and "Restless Hope," speak to the hardships Cardall and his family faced. Others emphasize faith and hope, such as "Gratitude," and a new arrangement of the Christian hymn of prayer, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing."
The album's opening salvo, "The Traveler," was originally written by his late brother, who had a mental illness but was also a promising graduate student at the time of his death. Cardall finished the song and arranged the music.
Although Cardall had established his own record label, Stone Angel Music, he continues a relationship with Shadow Mountain Records forged before his transplant, when he contemplated the pressing possibility of dying before a donor heart could be found.
Cardall contacted Bob Ahlander, product director for music and film at the Mormon Church-owned company, Deseret Book, seeking help in compiling some of his better-known songs. Cardall hoped it would provide some income for his widow and child if he were to die, Ahlander said.
Cardall liked "Sacred Piano," the Shadow Mountain compilation. He liked it so much, in fact, that once he recovered from the transplant he approached Ahlander about working on a new Shadow Mountain album.
"He has a pretty good following, and we have a pretty good following," Ahlander said of the union. Cardall worked on the album from May to October 2010, while Ahlander planned a marketing push to accompany the upcoming release.
Of locally produced music, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has a legacy of topping the Billboard charts its latest, "Men of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," has been No. 1 on the classical-traditional chart for 10 weeks now, but individual artists have had less success.
That's until last year, when the label's marketing muscle helped push Utah native Jenny Oaks Baker's album "Then Sings My Soul" to the top of the classical chart. Ahlander employed the same strategy, social networking among Mormon music fans, to help Cardall's album to rocket to No. 1.
When Cardall and his friends and family learned of Cardall's first No. 1 ranking, his wife threw him a big party. One of his best friends was late to the party, but had a good excuse, Cardall recalled. His friend explained his lateness by saying he had just come from Yanni's party celebrating the Greek musician's No. 2 ranking.
Music for living
A benefit concert for recent double-lung transplant survivor Julie Hendrickson will feature Paul Cardall, Charley Jenkins, Ellee Duke and Steven Sharp Nelson.
When • 7:30 p.m. May 9 (silent auction begins at 6:30 p.m.)
Where • Jordan High School, 95 E. Beetdigger Blvd., Salt Lake City
Tickets • $10 available at paulcardall.com
Why • Julie Hendrickson is Cardall's cousin who needs help with medical bills