Acoustic-based music has always been the backbone of popular music, especially rock. If you go back and listen to classic Beatles albums like Revolver and Rubber Soul, youll be surprised at how unplugged the Fab Four were. During the 80s, new age music emerged, giving us piano soloists like George Winston and a bona fide acoustic guitar hero in the person of Michael Hedges. Sadly, Hedges died an untimely death in 1997, just as he was reaching a new peak in creativity. Hedges passing must have weighed heavily on Michael Kelsey, as his music bares traces of Hedges nouveau impressionism, a fact which Kelsey himself readily acknowledges. But like any creative artist, he has used that influence as a jumping off point into his own unique musical territory.
Falling Into Place finds Kelsey presenting an equal number of solid, well crafted vocal tunes with impressive fingerstyle guitar instrumentals. He also acts as his own producer on the recording, which offers his music in detailed arrangements that sound fresh and lush in texture. There is however a dichotomy to be heard between his vocal tunes and the instrumental
numbers. When Kelsey writes a vocal song, he sticks to fairly clear verse/chorus structures, while his instrumentals have a somewhat improvised, free-form feel. This makes for good contrast between the two types of compositions, but his instrumental pieces seem vague in structure and without a distinct musical theme to hold on to.
The song So Complicate has visual lyrics reminiscent of psychedelic era Byrds/Beatles accompanied by Kelseys chiming open tuned guitar. This is followed by Falling, a laid-back instrumental that features bluesy, bent-note guitar licks over a quasi African drum groove. Sarah chronicles the terrain of a difficult love relationship. Charade offers a plaintive harmonica line (a la Neil Young) and develops into one of the most revealing confessional songs Ive heard in a long time. The fact that all the vocal tunes on this CD sound so radio friendly without being commercially transparent is testament to Kelseys songwriting ability. On the other hand, realizing that there is probably no commercial radio station that would program this kind of music is, well, a depressing observation on the state of the music industry in the 21st century.
The CD ends with the instrumental New Day, which in my opinion is the best composition on the whole disc. It features a melodic theme that seems to lend coherence to the whole composition and lingers in the ears once its over. Kelseys guitar playing is full of delicate jazz-inflected lines. In fact, his emphasis on melodic, electric guitar-type playing is what sets him apart from many other new age finger pickers.
If you like acoustic-based music and crave to hear guitar playing and songwriting that is a cut above the alternative rockers who dabble in the form, you would be well rewarded while listening to Kelseys Falling Into Place. I also suggest checking him out at one of his increasingly more frequent club performances here in Fort Wayne as his music benefits from his onstage persona. For CD availability go to www.MichaelKelsey.com on the internet.
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