You'd likely have sky-high expectations for an album which featured instrumental music pioneer and Grammy winning guitarist Will Ackerman, joined by three of today's brightest stars in the same genre (acoustic guitar instrumentals). Four Guitars unites Ackerman with Vin Downes, Todd Mosby, and Trevor Gordon Hall (all of whom recorded solo albums produced by Ackerman) bringing together their collective talents and artistic visions. Even if you do hold those sky-high expectations, prepare to have them not just met, but exceeded with ease. This is an album that even fulfills stratospheric expectations. I suspect that you can't bring four virtuosos together and achieve better results than what Ackerman, Downes, Mosby, and Hall have wrought with this fantastic recording.
All but one of the songs here is previously released as a solo effort by the composing artist (the original is the opening track, "August Light," composed by Todd Mosby and featuring all four playing together) but each of the "covers" is reworked, rearranged for one, two, three, or all four musicians. Because of this, there is no reason to consider these songs as being mere carbons of the previously released versions. Each of the ten covers reveals new aspects, new points of appreciation, and an overall exploration of nooks and crannies that were heretofore unheard. As he has shown whenever he has guest starred on an artist's album, Ackerman (despite his stature) does not assume the spotlight any more than the other three players do. Instead, what the listener hears is a four-way symbiosis of talent, passion, deftness, and mastery of technique.
The overall mood of the album varies, although the more pensive aspect tends to dominate (which is typical for most of the recordings which Ackerman has helmed since opening Imaginary Road Studios many years ago). Ackerman's iconic "The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit" is one of more powerful moments on the album, while the opening "August Light" (penned by Mosby and featuring all four guitarists) has a light-hearted feel to it, buoyed by a warm mid-tempo pace. Downes' "Departure" (with he and Hall play) does indeed sound like a musical image of walking out the front door towards a new adventure, but not in a rush, instead a laid back journey where the destination is less important the trip itself. "The Blue Hour" (penned by Hall and played by he, Downes, and Ackerman) combines fingerstyle with some well-played strummed chords and, at times, it sounds like the guitars are birds circling each other in flight. "The Meeting at the Window" is solo Hall and among the more reflective pieces on the album, while Mosby's "The Dolphin Song" (with Mosby, Ackerman, and Hall) sparkles with sunny notes yet maintains a mellow vibe as well, as if capturing (in music) an early morning stroll on a tropical beach and maybe even spotting one of the titular creatures off cavorting in the waves. Another one of Ackerman's well known songs, "Hawk Circle," features all four of the players, and the tune never sounded fresher with the quartet finding new angles to both the quiet passages and more fiery eruptions of passion.
With ace engineer Tom Eaton performing his usual feats of engineering and mastering magic*, you just know that Four Guitars will sound exemplary, which only underscores the four guitarists' width, breadth, and depth of talent as well as their commitment to making the best possible recording that each of them has in them. They have succeeded, not just admirably (after all, what else would one expect with this pedigree?) but to a degree that we can only hope/pray/cajole that this is merely the tip of the iceberg with many more wonders from these four preeminent composers and performers. As Oliver Twist implored, "More sir, please?"
* Track 4, "The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit" was produced and engineered by Corin Nelsen