Thursday, October 30, 2008

REVIEW: JEFF PEARCE - Rainshadow Sky

Rainshadow Sky
Jeff Pearce Music (2008)
12 tracks: 48:34
Rating: A+

Culled from direct-to-computer recordings made at assorted “house concerts” from 2007 and 2008, Jeff Pearce’s Rainshadow Sky stands as a notable achievement for two reasons. One is, as on Lingering Light, all the music here comes from a sole instrument, the Chapman Stick. Per the liner notes, no post-production fixing was done, no after-concert enhancement is heard throughout the CD’s twelve tracks. I’ve always considered Pearce a bit of a musical genius ever since first hearing The Hidden Rift (No synths on that album? Yeah, right!), and this stellar recording may be the final piece of the puzzle which illustrates clearly the artist’s brilliance (I can almost feel him grimace as Jeff is way too modest about his talent). The other aspect of Rainshadow Sky that bears mentioning is the music itself, which is damn bloody beautiful. I didn’t think he could top the gentle subdued nuance and deep-seated emotion of Lingering Light, but he has done so and with considerable ease. Without reading any further, if you loved LL, you’ll fall for this album from the first minute of the opening title song, a slightly jaunty affair with cascading notes “raining” down over a bed of naturally sustained Chapman textures. Gorgeous!

All but two songs here are originals. The two “reworked tunes” are the achingly sad “A Secret to Hide” and the gently minimalist “Through Tears.” One of the new tunes even harkens back to Pearce’s more ambient-ish “soundscape” era, the darkly droning “Harvest Storms.” I had to specifically ask Jeff, via email, if he didn’t sneak a guitar song onto this CD, but nope, this is still just Chapman Stick. I stand corrected and flabbergasted.

While Pearce, in his well-written and revealing liner notes, states that “The music on this release covers quite a few moods and textures…” I would offer a semi-contrary opinion, only to the degree that this is still very much late night music, a lot of it colored in grey and brown tones, much like the incredible cover photo of a wheat field beneath a stormcloud-filled sky. While nothing here is cheery, per se, in deference to the artist’s view, I admit that this is not the descent into melancholy that Lingering Light was or the aching grief of Bleed (neither of which is a bad thing since I loved both those albums, too).

“Autumn Clouds” has a lazy semi-blues thing going on while “The Last Warm Day in October” bears some resemblance to the autumnal minimalism of Will Ackerman’s solo work. “And we Prayed for Rain” is a gentle meditation on variations of a musical theme while “Ashes of Grace” has a delicate sense of beauty…fragile like crystal refracting a sunbeam. “Deluge” is inarguably the most “active” track on the CD, again featuring a cascading effect of notes shimmering against what sounds like a myriad of background textures (one Chapman Stick, one man…shaking my head in disbelief).

While Pearce fans who long for his previous more pastoral efforts (The Light Beyond or To The Shores Of Heaven) or his darker more foreboding textural works (Vestiges, Daylight Slowly) may muse “When is he gonna go back to his gee-tar?” I’m too busy luxuriating in Rainshadow Sky’s evocative sensitive wonders. Jeff Pearce is surely one of the most talented yet also most humble guys walking the Earth. While he himself mentions not being prolific when it comes to releasing music, I say “Better to uncover one diamond every three years than be unimpressed by numerous cubic zirconia found laying about!”

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