Thursday, September 18, 2014

Music Review - Phil Keaggy - The Song Within

Not one of his more memorable albums. Still, the man is a living legend!

Phil Keaggy is many things. He's been voted one of the top finger-style guitarists in the world by Guitar Player Magazine the past three years. He's a master of the difficult eBow, a man with over 50 albums released over nearly 40 years, and he's a dedicated husband and father.

He's also extremely uneven when it comes to what he chooses to call an album. His releases range from platters of self-indulgent jam sessions and improvisational guitar loops, to watery vocal albums, to rock solid vocal albums, to instrumental albums of astounding depth that rival the big names of classical music. The highlights in this latter category are Beyond Nature and Lights of Madrid, both highly focused instrumental endeavors full of mature compositions of breathtaking beauty.

It is against such timeless perfect albums that his latest instrumental album, The Song Within, must unfortunately be compared. It is unfortunate because when compared to his random noodlings, this latest album is pure genius. But compared to the classics mentioned above it is merely "quite good," although this is akin to saying that while Beethoven's Seventh is no Fifth it is still Beethoven's Seventh, if you get what I mean.

Which is all to say that The Song Within is most definitely worth your time and money. Sixteen tracks fill the album with Keaggy's always amazing guitar prowess, fleshed out with drum kits, hand percussion, piano, cello, strings and Irish whistles. Additionally, his guitar tone has never sounded better, thanks in large part to his playing the excellent guitars of McPherson, which run at a paltry five grand, sans extras.

As an added bonus to longtime fans, Keaggy took an unusual twist in creating the music for this album by culling riffs and chord progressions from his immense back catalog and then reworking them into new creations. Fear not, these are far from "new version of old songs," but rather new songs that contain glimpses and shadows of memories “kind of like being in an unfamiliar city and unexpectedly running into an old friend. A shining example is the playful "Water Day," which runneth over with memories held together by his well known riffs. "Wow's the Weather" goes back to his days of The Wind and the Wheat, making extensive use of the eBow and fairlight strings to provide a lofty experience. The complete chord progression of an earlier song is reproduced on "Noah's Song," though you'd be hard pressed to tell from this new creation, crammed as it with a bridge of mellotron flutes and an "I Am the Walrus" beat.

Keaggy flexes his musical muscle on The Song Within, making everything look easy and proving why he is esteemed as an amazing finger-style guitarist, a solid composer and a skilled song crafter. Even without lyrics, many of these songs are easy to latch onto on the first listen, creating a hopeful sense of joy and beauty in the listener. If you enjoy acoustic guitar played only the way a seasoned virtuoso can, then you need look no further than The Song Within.

First published in Whatzup, 2008 - Ad Media Inc.

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