Guest Post: CD Review: Acoustic Sunday by Kevin Williams
This is a guest post from NewSoGoFan.
I love acoustic music. I must confess, there is a small part of me that’s a little disappointed when I listen to something with banjo/fiddle, etc…but then also an electric [fill-in-the-blank]. It may be good music…but it’s not acoustic music.
I don’t know about anybody else, but for me, there’s something just so tremendously satisfying about the sound of unplugged instruments jamming away. It just hits the spot. There’s nothing quite like it. The only thing that could make it any cooler would be if they were jamming on a beloved hymn of the church… oh yes, and if Buddy Greene were on harmonica. With Jeff Taylor on the accordion, naturally. And if you had a fiddle and a mandolin, played by one of Nashville’s finest bluegrass musicians… maybe somebody like Aubrey Haynie.
Oh wait a minute. That is this album.
Needless to say, my mouth was practically watering by the time I downloaded Acoustic Sunday to iTunes. My musical palate was more than satisfied by the feast that awaited my listening pleasure.
So let’s dig in, shall we?
Nothing But the Blood: Like an old friend, Kevin’s guitar immediately kicks in, picking out a light, shuffling intro before launching into the melody of this classic hymn. Some delicate percussion sets a companionable middle tempo, and then the sweet sound of Buddy Greene’s harmonica is added to the mix around 40 seconds in. Kevin finishes out the chorus, then Buddy takes over the melody, improvising and dancing around it as only Buddy can. For the third verse, guitar and harmonica trade off pieces of the melody. Buddy gets the last word, letting the last chord linger and hang deliciously in the air before Greg Ritchie’s brushes bring things to a crisp close.
My Savior’s Love: Clapping guitar and percussion set the backdrop to a delightful fiddle intro for this arrangement. Kevin then plays the first verse and chorus as Aubrey’s fiddle sways gently behind him, sliding back to center stage for the second verse. Kevin makes sure he doesn’t go unnoticed however, spinning out some lovely backup licks towards the beginning of the chorus. Kevin takes the melody back on verse three, this time an octave up. For the chorus melody, he hops back down an octave while the fiddle harmonizes above him. This creates a wonderfully light, sweet effect. The chorus is then repeated with Aubrey and Kevin sharing the melody. And then we’re back where we started, with an outro as delightful as the intro.
Blessed Assurance: The tempo slows down a tad for this one. As with many of these tracks, it sounds like Kevin stacked together two or more tracks of himself on guitar to enrich the sound. It’s a lush, thick sound, sweeter for the simplicity of the melody. Somewhere around 50 seconds, the warm, expansive tones of Jeff Taylor’s pump organ are added to the mix, making it still more rich. Then, suddenly, Jeff switches to accordion to carry the melody for verse two. But then the pump organ returns to the background for the chorus as Kevin takes the melody back. The organ is the last thing we hear at the fadeout, bidding us a warm goodbye. This is one of the tracks I find myself re-visiting most often.
Pass Me Not: Unquestionably one of the most poignant tracks on the record, this arrangement is very simply done. Kevin’s gloriously rich Taylor sets the mood, with a touch of mandolin in the intro. The mandolin then returns to carry the second verse and chorus, and the interplay between the two instruments is just achingly lovely—the golden warmth of the Taylor and the sweet, minty freshness of the mandolin mingle perfectly.
Leaning On the Everlasting Arms: Now we’re really getting into serious jam territory. Kevin and Buddy go toe-to-toe on this one. (No offense Kevin, but I think maybe Buddy won…) All kidding aside, this track is just dripping with juicy, bluesy goodness. Anybody reading this who’s watched the Together video—featuring both the GVB and Signature Sound—might remember a comedy segment where Jeff Easter kept trying to play this hymn on the harmonica and Kevin kept interrupting him. Eventually, he was allowed to proceed, and the hymn was performed with the audience singing along. Well, this arrangement is like a dressed up version of that arrangement sans singing. The tempo is the same, and the basic concept is the same, with harmonica prominently featured. Buddy takes it away on the second verse—I can almost see him smiling behind those glasses as he expertly caresses that little instrument. But Kevin’s guitar has something to say too, laying down a crisp rhythm behind Buddy with one layer and doing some engaging improvisation of his own with another. On the third verse, he plays the melody with a blues tweak that’s pure joy to listen to. This whole arrangement is just a feast for the ears and one of my favorites on a project stuffed with goodies.
His Name is Wonderful: We’re back to mellowness with another guitar/mandolin duet similar to “Pass Me Not.” As with that arrangement, Kevin takes the first verse, and Aubrey takes the second. The mandolin is even more prominent in this arrangement, and I love the way it keeps drizzling through in the background even when the guitar is the main instrument. Lovely stuff.
Higher Ground: This guitar/fiddle duet has a wonderful swing to it. It’s so deliciously light and effortless—like a walk in the woods when the leaves are falling. The intro features a great sliding harmony lick which crops up later in the arrangement as well. Guitar and fiddle take turns with the melody. I’m particularly taken with the fiddle on this track—breezy, lazy, butter-smooth. This arrangement feels like an autumn day—not too warm or cold, crunching leaves underfoot, woodsmoke in the air, and a foaming glass of cold cider.
All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name: The mandolin kicks off another mid-tempo number similar to “My Savior’s Love.” As always, Kevin starts off the song but has the arrangement switch to the other featured instrument for verse two. The mandolin just sparkles on this track. Kevin suddenly changes key for verse three, then changes key yet again for verse four—beautifully done. Terrific arrangement all round.
I’d Rather Have Jesus: Another mellow cut. Kevin plays the first verse all by himself, but when we get to the chorus, Jeff Taylor creeps in almost unnoticed on the accordion, then takes the second verse. I’m not positively sure, but it sure sounds like there’s a tiny bit of mandolin that slips in part-way through Jeff’s solo. But I don’t hear a mandolin anywhere else on the track, so it’s probably Kevin fingering out some high notes on the guitar. Kevin takes the second chorus while Jeff fleshes out the sound behind him. For a song that generally gets a pretty dramatic treatment when sung, this is a wonderfully understated, low-key arrangement.
At Calvary: Back to jam territory. I don’t have a favorite off of this record, but if I did, it would probably be this one. 😉 From the get-go, you know it’s going to be an exciting track. Percussion, fiddle, and guitar all come in together on the intro. Kevin plays the first verse simply enough, but you can hear the fiddle restless for attention in the background. Aubrey comes sliding in for his second-verse feature, done to perfection (naturally) while Kevin throws in some licks underneath. The third verse has a particularly stripped-down feel as Kevin plucks the melody instead of strumming it while the fiddle pants behind him. A fuller sound returns for the chorus. But then suddenly, Kevin’s all alone. As percussion and fiddle gradually join him in the background, he cuts loose on a deep blues rampage that’s probably his finest moment on the record. It’s a terrific moment. Then all the instruments turn around and dive back into the chorus for the finish, giving the fiddle the last word with a sweet wrap-up.
Amazing Grace: Another guitar/harmonica duet. Kevin gently picks out the tune for verse one, rushing nothing, just letting each note quietly drip from the Taylor and linger—sweet, familiar, timeless. Then good ol’ Buddy comes in on verse two, equally slow, gently bluesy. They change key for verse three, and Kevin adds some light strumming under the melody to give it just a little bit of a swing. Another key change, and Buddy takes over once again while Greg Ritchie adds a bit of percussion in the background and Kevin picks out some laid-back blues riffs. Things end as quietly as they began, Buddy’s last note melting away into the smooth batter of the guitar.
Softly and Tenderly: And the album comes to a simple close, with this hymn of invitation. Nothing but guitar and accordion. Kevin starts off with just one guitar, very lush and understated. Then for verse two, I believe he switches to two layers, one for underlying strum, one for picking out the melody. Jeff Taylor’s accordion also slips into the background on the second verse. He then plays verse three as a solo. It never ceases to amazes me how he can get an accordion to sound so beautiful. To me, it almost sounds like a harmonica on the higher notes. This is just a gorgeous arrangement, and like “Pass Me Not,” may even make you a little misty-eyed if you just sit quietly and let it sink in.
Conclusion: In what promises to be a banner year for A-list groups like Signature Sound and the Booth Brothers, Kevin has put together what I would venture to say may be one of the best albums of 2010. A sweeping statement, but, in my opinion, a fair one. In the course of writing this review, I’ve listened to every track at least three times, some as many as eight, ten and eleven. And it still hasn’t gotten old. Not only did Kevin do all the guitar work on each song, he also put together all the arrangements. Each one brings out the best in the musicians he chose to work with, and they sound like they could just as well be playing on their back porch as in the studio. Kevin said they wanted to capture that “intimate feel of having 3 or 4 musicians just sitting around drinking coffee and playing music,” and while the project obviously wasn’t literally recorded live, they more than succeeded in capturing that tight-knit, spontaneous sound. It’s at once refreshingly simple, yet subtly rich. It is, in a word, beautiful.
Now all Kevin has to do is record another project just like this one with all the same musicians, but this time bring in Gordon Mote on the piano and Ron Block on the banjo…maybe throw in a little dobro too! How ’bout it, Kevin? 😉