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Acoustic Alchemy: This Way

Longtime Acoustic Alchemy followers may be jarred by the opening of the band’s new album, a dreamy track that sounds like one long musical bridge. But after 14 albums in 20 years, and with the backing of powerhouse jazz label Blue Note, leaders Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale chose judiciously with “Love Is All There Is.” It’s suggestive of Acoustic Alchemy’s halcyon beginnings, yet the effortless vocalese and sitar licks hint at the diversity to come.

Acoustic Alchemy has dabbled with horns and different sounds in the recent past, but their musical beating heart will forever be linked by its name. Repeat after me: two guitars can make magic. There’s plenty of it here; This Way is every bit as good as 2005’s American/English and demonstrates that not all bands lose their creative sparks as the years wear on.

A few observations: Gilderdale, a rock guitarist by trade, is set free with several crunchy, aggressive electric guitar solos. On “Slampop,” AA’s archetypal chordal strums segue into bouncy acoustic guitar pickings, while Gilderdale’s electric soloing charges in to prop up an aggressive wall of sound that wouldn’t have come close to the mixing board on their early-1990s CDs. Likewise, the title track “This Way,” one of the most memorable tunes in the band’s history, shifts from stroll-in-the-park six-string sweetness to a swelling apex in the bridge, Gilderdale’s axe blazing away in rock-god glory.

There’s tons of room for soloing and stretching, notably articulated in the perky-quirky “Out of Nowhere.” “Tied Up” and “Carlos King” further loosen the smooth jazz rules with their jazz-inspired, quirky time signatures on the rhythm section. And fans who enjoyed the reggae of AA’s classic “Jamaican Heartbeat” in 1991 will sway to the sound of “Ernie,” a midtempo tune dedicated to reggae guitar great Ernest Ranglin, with impressive rapping, or toasting as they call it on de islands.

Originally Published