Album Reviews

Fernwood- Arcadia

Don’t you just feel like hiding away from the world sometimes, getting out of the rat race and jumping of that never-ending treadmill? I know I do, I don’t necessarily mean in a bad way either, sometimes you just like to have some time to yourself and relax, forget about the worries of the world and bask in a quasi-hypnotic state where nothing matters. To me this can be achieved by immersing yourself in some simple, ethereal music that takes you away to a dream world, a place of contemplation and reflection and this state of grace is easiest achieved by letting instrumental music wash over you and seep into your cerebral cortex. Don’t worry about having to understand words, just enjoy the sounds.

Last year I reviewed an album by veteran Californian progressive rock band Djam Karet and it is through that that I became friends with guitarist Gayle Ellett and learned of his instrumental acoustical music project Fernwood on which he is joined by renowned sitar player Todd Montgomery.

Even the name evokes memories of backwoods America and the first two albums, ‘Almeria’ and ‘Sangita’ were centred on American a motifs and moods, with the release of ‘Arcadia’ they have taken their music out further into the folk and world music scene that encompasses the whole globe.

On ‘Arcadia’ these two impressive musicians play up to twenty five wooden instruments and the majority hail from before the mid nineteenth century. With influences ranging as far afield as Ireland, Greece, India, China, Turkey and Morocco, all melded with the sound of the Appalachian Hills in America, this cinematic and dramatic soundscape takes you on a journey full of mystery and Eastern promise.

Throughout this enchanting album you will find an east-west combination that, at times, compliments each other and, at others, fights for control. From the gentle Americana of Bells Spring, Pan Handler and Vision at Vasquez Rocks, tinged with a hint of the mediaeval and classical, through the eastern hints on Red Hill Trail and exotic hues that are painted all over The Lost Night, Gayle and Todd create an all-encompassing global sound from the traditional instruments and methods they employ.

To achieve a more natural and dynamic sound there is no tinkering or computer manipulation used in the making of their albums and this lends a raw, unfiltered note to songs like Crossing the Divide and Owen’s Hideaway, an innocence that the elemental instrumentation only enhances. The sophistication and masterful composition is apparent throughout and the sparing use of electronic instrumentation like Moogs, electric guitars and mellotrons is only used to add a sparse lustre to the mix. Some of the songs take the old world music and give it a thoroughly modern upgrade, like a nod to the past, Young Mountain Memory is indicative of this with its urgency filtered in to the bare essentials of the sound.

The extended family of world instruments can only enhance and augment the lush melodies and exotic musical landscape on songs like After The Big Sky Falls and Escape From Sycamore Canyon where the simplicity of the acoustic instrumentation is all that is need to convey the strong multi-cultural ties that underlay every song. Winter Way is intelligent and haunting and symbolic of the amazing skill, patience and understanding that these two extremely talented musicians have.

If you could take forty-five minutes out of your busy life and just sit down, relax and enjoy the thought of doing absolutely nothing, ‘Arcadia’ should be the soundtrack to that peaceful moment in your life. By stripping things back to basics without losing the beauty deep at the core of the music, Fernwood have produced a rare thing of natural and elemental wisdom and grace that is an antidote to the cluttered and hectic modern world we live in. My advice to you is to take a step away from it all and closet yourself somewhere quiet with this instrumental masterpiece.

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