When music really, really moves you, it is like a journey. You start out in one place possibly
the act of hitting your CD player and end up someplace totally different. Maybe it’s the melodies, the grooves, and the instrumentation.Or maybe it is the culmination of experiences that the musicianshave had up until the moment of time that they crafted their songs, seeping through the music and into your thoughts.
Acoustic Alchemy’s American/English is just such a journey. It is an appropriate one, coming from a band entering its twentieth anniversary year, whose trans-Atlantic membership and wide-ranging influences make it a conduit for a myriad of sounds and textures. If the band has been entertained by the sounds of jazzy improvisation, late night dancing in a far away locale, or Caribbean grooves, those experiences might well seep into a new Acoustic Alchemy composition.
American/English’s opening track, The Crossing, invites the listener to begin the voyage. With
its wide, sprawling melody and uncluttered, spacious feel, the song tells an instrumental tale of uncharted territories waiting to be discovered and unknown adventures that might be right around the corner. “It is not about a literal journey”, explains guitarist Miles Gilderdale, “but
rather about whatever journey the listener might dream of embarking upon. ”
Gilderdale is joined on American/English by his guitar partner and founding member Greg Carmichael, bassist Frank Felix, drummer Greg Grainger, and keyboard player Fred White, the five musicians that make up Alchemy’s touring band. They have also got wonderful performances from their saxophonists of choice Eddie M and Snake Davis. Joining
them are Incognito’s horn section, keyboard wiz Neil Cowley and on one track, original drummer Bert Smaak. Production chores on the project were largely handled by Richard Bull,
who produced the band’s popular AArt (2001) and The Beautiful Game (2000) releases.
“Our last album (2003’s Radio Contact) was a bit of a step backwards”, says band manager
Stewart Coxhead. “The Beautiful Game and AArt both took the music in very different directions than we had explored in the past, but for Radio Contact we stepped back a bit and
did something more familiar. On American/English we realized that the music had to move forward, so the band took some chances and tried some new sounds and ideas.”
However,rather than indulging in the piano, keyboard, and horn lines that played prominently in The Beautiful Game and AArt, American/English finds the band using those instruments as textural accompaniments, setting up dramatic surroundings for the dual nylon and steel
string guitars that have defined Acoustic Alchemy since the band’s inception two decades ago.
“Our signature is two guitars,but from there we have jazz tracks, reggae tracks, salsa tracks,
and all forms of rock and pop”, says Gilderdale. “We tend to be a musical travelogue, representing a wide range of influences, people, and occurrences that inform our musical
and personal lives”
Therefore, it is in keeping with the band’s adventurous nature that The Crossing is followed by the dance track Say Yeah. Astute listeners will recognize the digitally chopped up acoustic guitar riff as something that Madonna utilized on her pop hit Don’t Tell Me underground dance
fans will tell you that this is a technique often employed by U.K. club tastemaker Craig David. “The technique makes it quite spiky”, says Gilderdale, “so we added a vocal melody to make it flow a bit smoother.”
So Kylie also references the U.K. dance scene with its not-so-subtle reference to diva Kylie Minogue. It’s a fun tune, with a buoyant dance groove that nonetheless sports complex chord changes and a harmonic motion far more suited to a contemporary jazz composition than a dance floor hit.
Next on the journey is Trinity, a reggae tune dedicated to the Washington-based disc jockey of the same name who has been a longtime supporter of the band’s music. The Detroit Shuffle follows, with a big, soulful groove reminiscent of the Motown hit How Sweet It Is To Be Loved
By You. The similarity ends, however, when a decidedly Spanish guitar line brings the catchy rhythm squarely into the multi-national world of Acoustic Alchemy.
Up next is the ballad Cherry Hill. “It seems like almost every city has a section known as ‘Cherry Hill’, “so almost everyone can call that tune their own”, says Gilderdale. The guitarist feels particularly close to thenext song, She Speaks American English, which borrows more than a bit of its flavor from the jazz-rock style of Steely Dan. “It’s an English take on a sound that is very American,with maybe a few Steely Dan quotes thrown in”, he says.
Coxhead says that “the band spends a lot of time in America, and consists of both American and English musicians, so there is a constant and often humorous dialog about how words are
pronounced and what should be the appropriate term for certain things. There is a lot of chat about how language is perceived, and this dialog forms the basis of the song that gives us the
Lilac Lane begins with the dark, earthy Fender Rhodes lick that inspired it’s formation, and is named after a sign that band manager Coxhead dreamed of then saw on holiday in York Harbor, Maine. Then,just when you might be getting the feeling that you know Acoustic
Alchemy pretty well, they throw a curveball in the form of The 14 Carrot Cafe. Named for a Seattle eatery where many jazz musicians eat breakfast after a night of gigging,
the tune’s acoustic double bass and ambiguous arrangement make it one of the group’s jazziest offerings. The song was recorded in a single take, just five musicians playing
together in a room without embellishment.
After the funk workout of Get Up (Levantar y Bailar) comes The Moon and the Sun. The song’s expansive feel brings the listener back to the beginning of the journey that
began at the disc’s onset. With any journey, however, comes a newfound sense of being, and this is represented by the infectious Latin rhythms and decidedly Spanish flavor that
pepper the track, echoing the cutting edge dance music that rages into the early hours in Spain’s dance clubs.
And then the journey that is American/English comes to an end. It is a musical voyage that is bound to entertain. Listen to American/English and let your mind wander – all you need is your imagination, and the magic of Acoustic Alchemy.