Instrumental music pioneer Will Ackerman has not exactly been in hiding for the last ten years or so. Whether he was producing scores upon scores of albums by the constant parade of artists visiting his Imaginary Road Studios in rural Vermont, making guest appearances on some of those same artists' albums, or recording works as part of an ensemble (two albums with FLOW, plus as part of the ensemble releases Four Guitars and Brothers) he maintained a vibrant presence in the musical scene. However, Will's last album on which he performed his original compositions and as lead artist was eleven years ago. So, it was high time, at least in this reviewer's opinion, for him to return and step into the spotlight, a spotlight he rightfully deserves.
When he launched the Windham Hill label, Ackerman began popularizing the fingerstyle method of acoustic guitar playing. That subgenre is now almost as well-populated as solo piano. However, while many people play guitar in that style, Ackerman is a true original. If you listened to his earlier works, and then played Positano Songs (without knowing it was his work), a well-trained ear for music would almost certainly recognize it as his work. Over my many years of reviewing, only a handful of artists have a clear and unmistakable signature sound, and Ackerman resides in that select group.
long wait for Positano Songs was well worth it as the album flows non-stop,
one melodic gem after the other. The story behind the why and wherefore of the
album is too lengthy to recount here (buy the CD and read it for yourself, as
it will prove insightful), but this project is, arguably, the most personal
recording of Ackerman's lengthy career. This makes sense since the seedling of Positano
Songs was planted during a trip to that small Italian town seven years ago.
I think his legion of fans would've been more than happy with a full album of
solo guitar music, Ackerman did include some of the Imaginary Road "usual
suspects" on all but two of the ten tracks (the opening "Nighttime In
The Chapel" and the closing "I Had To Go There"), and that's apropos,
in a way, since when he started producing other artists at Imaginary Road, it
began a new chapter in his life. It only seems fitting to feature those folks
who have traveled this road with him over the last decade or more to "drop
in" and contribute to this fantastic album.
it is, of course, fantastic. Yes, at times, it does resemble some other albums
that have hatched from IR by other artists, but Ackerman is the sole guitarist
here, so that special, identifiable performing method of his dominates the
overall sound throughout, thereby elevating this album to a particularly lofty
summit. Ackerman has always excelled at guitar playing which lets a few notes
do a lot of "talking." I have no doubt that Will could go all out and
yield fireworks if he wanted to, but his music is about the soft glow of
embers, not the roar of a fire. I applaud him for that, and that element is the
driving force here. I sometimes use the term "elegant simplicity" to
describe a choice few artists' oeuvre and that term is well-deserved for Will
Ackerman. The songs on Positano Songs are gentle, reflective, warm, and
rich with a subdued sensation of deep emotions (but only the pleasant ones, no
somberness or sorrow here). Serving as a tribute to the town and people of
Positano, Italy, which Will Ackerman has visited for decades (and where he and
his wife, Susan, were married), one can go so far as stating outright that this
album is a musical love letter to Positano, brimming affection and suffused
with many memories that are dear to the artist.
The only downside to this album is, I imagine, how poor Will Ackerman is going to be hounded by his fans to record another album…and not wait eleven years this time! Sorry, Will, but that's the price of greatness!