August 31, 2008

William Ackerman - It Takes A Year

Review by Jim Esch
The lyrical strains of "The Bricklayer's Beautiful Daughter" (the memorable opener on William Ackerman's second album) confirm that the artist was on to something huge in popular music. Nobody knew what to call this new breed of gentle instrumental adventurism. It Takes a Year, like all the early Windham Hill albums, was a breath of pure air at a time when pop music was stuffed with commercialization and irrelevance. Ackerman adeptly blended folk, bluegrass, jazz, and classical influences into an accessible, mild-mannered hybrid style, strong on emotional expression and lyrical depth. Ackerman's solo technique is not showy, and others like Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges may have been more virtuosic in the chops department, yet Ackerman's trump card is his impressionist command of the acoustic guitar. His use of alternate tunings, overdubs, and a sensitive ear for melody helped to trademark this uncluttered sound, tuneful and rich in harmonic overtones. Some of the up-tempo numbers like "The Townshend Shuffle" have a bluegrassy flavor and, in general, the folk influences are readily apparent. But ultimately the music, much of it composed in the early '70s, stands out because it sheds the musical labels and carves its own space — deep emotional sentiments set into calm and reflective backgrounds. It's an open-ended sound, well suited to the spaces of California and the Western U.S. from whence it grew. Although the production quality varies from tune to tune making it a less consistent set than the follow-up Childhood and Memory, It Takes a Year is historically important for new age collectors because it built upon Ackerman's debut and set the mold for things to come.

Yeah, I know, wouldn't a little Blind Joe Death be better? Well this one by Ackerman is important to me because I hadn't learned to appreciate Fahey yet. Ackerman took Fahey's music and went off in his own direction, like it or not people it is true. When I heard this I thought it was amazing and like nothing I had ever heard. Fahey's music was so raw, Ackerman's stuff is well produced and I still like the sound of his early works. Eventually I worked my way back to Fahey, for that reason I suppose this work is important to me. Many people can't get past the New Age label and refuse to accept that Ackerman is a good artist. I prefer his first three works and then he clearly went off into his own music, as a musician should. You can't stay at the feet of your mentor forever. Give this one a shot!

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