Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review - Clouds Echo In Blue

When I first heard that Derri Daughtery, the guitarist for one of my all-time favorite bands, had finally released a solo album my first reaction was unbelief. This guy writes so slowly that for the past fifteen years all of his solo-slated songs get absorbed into band albums when they end up needing an extra track or two to make a full album. But then I learned that the reason why this batch of songs didn’t get snatched up because they are ambient instrumentals and my interest flagged. I’m much too A.D.D. for ambient or even minimalist music so I instead used my music money that month to complete my collection of Seals & Croft vinyl.

Then, almost by accident, I heard a track off Clouds Echo In Blue and suddenly I was entering my credit card information into the scary internets. I should have known that someone who has written some of my favorite songs in life wouldn’t be able to discard his knack for melody, even if it is “ambient” melody. While there are no real rockers here a couple of tracks come up to a soft simmer, countering the few that move along at the pace of restful summer clouds. In fact, only the first track, “The Sound At The End of the World” is can fully be categorized at ambient, opening as it does with a full minute of droning, a focused beam of sound, that slowly unfolds into a gently cascading tumble of notes. This is immediately followed by “This Is How I Feel” which moves along jovially compliments of a drum kit and chiming guitars that swirl around, rising and falling like the tide, comfortable and at peace with itself, reminding me very much of the songs by Phil Keaggy on his The Wind and the Wheat album. The final track, “Tonight the Stars Shine” is likewise a playful, cheerful summer day spent under the shade of a mighty oak tree, packed with amazing guitar tones and an upbeat melody that makes me think of Bryon Thompson’s instrumental albums.

The other five tracks fall somewhere in between the playful and the placid in terms of tempo. “Where Did Winter Go” starts with a repeated backward guitar loop before adding a dreamy western-like tremolo guitar to satisfy your yearning for melody. Ambient tones fill the first two minutes of “My Imaginary Friend” before a very slow moving background shimmers in, evoking images of the last raindrops leaving the safety of roofs and tree branches for one last plunge long after the storm has moved on. A personal favorite is “I Smile When I Feel You Next To Me” which slowly builds up layers of ethereal cotton candy tufts of guitars that float lazily along until the drums enter halfway through, giving the song momentum enough to carry a new melody above the treetops.

Clouds Echo in Blue is obviously not an album you put on and crank up loud. But it is one that goes well with headphones. It might also serve as lullaby, reading or background music but be forewarned that once you absorb the melodies you might find yourself distracted and unable to focus on the task at hand.

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