Saturday, August 7, 2010

CD Review -- Arrival, by Devin Rice and Erin Aas

As an amateur guitarist, I love guitar albums. However, I hate guitar duet albums. Unless one person is playing steel string and the other nylon, or one is playing electric and the other acoustic, you never know who is playing what.

That having been said, Arrival is one of the best guitar albums I have ever heard, even though it is primarily an album of guitar duets. I say primarily because although many of the tunes are guitar duets, many tracks also contain guitar and piano duets as well as accompaniment by other instruments. Erin Aas focuses on guitars and also plays shakers on one or two songs, while fellow guitarist Devin Rice does double duty on piano, congas, and shakers. A couple of additional musicians add cello and other instruments to the mix here and there.

Aside from the numbers on which Rice plays piano and Aas plays guitar, and aside from a couple of notations regarding who plays a guitar solo on one or two tracks, it really doesn’t matter who’s playing what. The music is beautiful, owing to thoughtful, lyrical compositions and top-notch performances. This is true guitar heaven, a stellar achievement in the New Age genre wrought by six or twelve strings.

As a collection of songs, this CD is perfect from beginning to end, with no one track more memorable or outstanding than another. Every tune is exquisite, but if I had to pick a couple of absolute favorites, they would have to be the percussive and propulsive “Nevada” with its strong melodic hooks and “Whiskey in the Watertower” with its ringing guitar chords. There’s nary a lull on the album, unless you count the closing “Lullaby for Now,” but what do you expect from a lullaby? Plus, it’s a quietly stirring piece and an appropriate coda for the set.

Devon Rice and Erin Aas have strung together a guitar album of such high caliber that I could see this being released by Narada, Higher Octave Music, Guitar 9 Records, Steve Vai’s Favored Nations, or Windham Hill Records/Private Music, whose legendary founder, Will Ackerman, serves as the CD’s producer and contributes some of his own guitar brilliance to one track. Arrival is an appropriate title as it marks an auspicious debut for Rice and Aas. Hopefully it is just the first of several collaborations from these highly talented and expressive guitarists.

--Raj Manoharan

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