Independent release, 2015

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


One of the best parts of this gig is getting caught by surprise. It doesn’t happen every day; the reality is that artists and publicists pay attention, and when you write a favorable review of an album that fits into a very specific style or genre, you tend to immediately get more submissions in the same style or genre. But the palate needs a break. There are reviewers out there who listen to and/or review just one particular type of music, but I crave variety, and I love that moment of discovery when something outside my normal frame of reference grabs onto me and won’t let go.

The liner notes to the latest album to deliver that moment of discovery, Fernwood’s Arcadia, lead off with this simple declaration: “All music played by hand, on instruments made of wood!” And that tells you a great deal about the esthetic at work with this album. It’s an album of acoustic instrumentals played on an astonishing variety of stringed instruments, including Greek and Irish bouzouki, sitar, guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin, EBow, dilruba, charango, tampura, surmandal, dobro, upright bass, ukulele and more. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The duo behind Fernwood, Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett, make deceptively simple music. There’s rarely more than two things happening at once, and there’s never any obvious effort to impress or display virtuosity. This album is all about mood and melody and creating natural sounds that warm the ears and stimulate the mind.

Even lilting numbers like opener “Belle Spring” have a certain deliberateness about them; nothing is rushed, and the suggestion of contemplation is always in the air. Like many tracks here, though, both “Belle” and second track “The Pan Chaser” build up a healthy head of steam over the arc of their four to five minutes.

The addition of Indian accents (sitar, tempura, dilruba) on tunes like “Red Hill Trail,” “Owens Hideaway” and “Escape From Sycamore Canyon” add a subcontinental edge, a certain otherness. Interestingly, though, when the sitar steps out of the room from 1:45 to 2:25 of “Red Hill,” the duet that remains has an almost Celtic feel to it. “Owens” features a notably dense sound, with multiple stringed instruments plus what sounds like a harmonium playing interlaced melodies.

Other tunes like “Crossing The Divide,” “After The Sky Falls” and the closing “Winter Way” take a more spare approach, with a tighter focus on two or three instruments and their conversations with one another. Here you find what feels like the heart of this album, and this esthetic: a series of calm, meditative, intricate, and at times very pretty instrumental moments.

The jacket and interior photos on this album’s packaging are all forest scenes, and the inset artist photo features Ellett and Montgomery wearing old country farmer hats while holding instruments and leaning against an old wood cabin. All of which is both in perfect sync with the vibe here, and somewhat amusing when you read the liner notes and find the album was conceived and recorded in Malibu. There might not be a lot of verdant glens around those parts, but there are plenty to be found on Arcadia. It’s an evocative little gem of an album, rich with beguiling melodies out of a nature-lover’s dreams.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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