Thursday, November 17, 2022


Positano Songs 
West River Records

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. 

The 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.

While 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.

And 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!

Positano Songs is available directly from the artist here 


All music written by Will Ackerman 
Produced by Tom Eaton and Will Ackerman 
Recorded at Imaginary Road Studios, Windham County, Vermont 
Mixed and mastered by Tom Eaton at Universal Noise Storage, Newburyport, MA 
Cover and back cover art: "Etchings of Positano" by Anna Rita Fattori 
Booklet cover photo by Inge Johnsson 
Design by Cynthia Reed

All guitars: Will Ackerman 
Charlie Bisharat: Violin 
Noah Wilding: Voices 
Tom Eaton: Bass and piano 
Eugene Friesen: Cello 
Jeff Oster: Flugelhorn

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