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`IN THE GARDEN' OFFERS 11 BEAUTIFUL PAEANS TO NATURE

Winter snows had begun to fly when Eric Tingstad and Nancy Rumbel's latest thematic album, "In the Garden," was released. The deep-freeze season held sway. Flowers and fruit and arboreal greens seemed like memories in retreat . . . or melancholy dreams.

In other words, I wasn't in the mood and set the instrumental CD aside.While winter is with us still, the weather has proved mild lately along Utah's Wasatch Front. Thoughts of gardens don't seem so alien - even to a petunia-and-impatiens "specialist" like myself. And "In the Garden" still beckons, in part because of the unexpected springlike break, but really because the partnership of guitarist Eric Tingstad and woodwind performer Nancy Rumbel has long been one of the most delectable imaginable. They can only be put off so long. . . .

The wait was well worth it; the mood was right. "In the Garden" - 11 paeans to nature and to gardens, both cultivated and in the wild - is unequivocally wonderful.

"The Gardener" gets this cornucopia off to a smile-stirring start with a melody both buoyant and reflective, a tasty tribute to gardeners like the Roman Plinys, Edwardian landscape architect Gertrude Jekyll and innovator John Jeavons (as explained in the CD's colorful and informative booklet).

Favorite, succulent succeeding tracks include the delicate but hardy "Bonsai Picnic"; "Harvest," reminiscent of late-Renaissance-influenced early Mannheim Steamroller; and "Medicine Tree," which calls forth images of an Indian-American forest and is melodic cousin to "Crow and Weasel," the Tingstad-Rumbel contribution to Narada's "A Childhood Remembered" project last year.

Other performances recall an unusual Northwest winter ("Ghostwood"), gardens of the ancients ("Hanging in Babylon"), Rumbel's flower-loving grandmother ("Roses for Jessie") and Founding Father/gardener extraordinaire Thomas Jefferson ("Monticello").

Rumbel's enchanting wind instruments (oboe, ocarinas, English horn) and Tingstad's accomplished guitars are supplemented by their own keyboards and percussion - but a star ensemble also lends support, including pianist David Lanz (their collaborator on the splendid 1987 album "Woodlands"), guitarist Paul Speer (this album's producer) and keyboardist James Reynolds.

"You can find a lot of metaphors about life in the garden," Tingstad says. "Cycles of life, renewal, patience, perseverance, growth, reaping what you sow. These are the kinds of lessons, either in the garden or in life, that you learn from the ground up."

Yes, "In the Garden" is at once thought-provoking and extremely pleasant. Adam and Eve would approve.

They'd like the title, too.