Saturday, August 7, 2010

CD Review -- One Day in a Life, by Bill Wren

It’s unusual to come across an album credited to a composer and musician who plays not one note on said album. Such is the case with One Day in a Life, written by Bill Wren, who plays bass, guitar, and piano but does not perform at all on the CD.

However, this oddity does not get in the way of the enjoyment of this album. While it would have been nice to hear Wren display his instrumental abilities, it is certainly clear that he has quite an ear for striking compositions fusing a wide variety of eclectic styles.

The CD, which is arranged, conducted, and performed by Frank Ralls and his orchestra, is enjoyable from beginning to end. Most of the pieces feature acoustic guitar leads with acoustic guitar backings, which is not a surprise considering that the acoustic guitar is Wren’s instrument of choice and probably the instrument with which he composed most of the tunes. A couple of tracks feature acoustic guitar paired with cello. Horns, strings, and Northumbrian pipes also feature prominently throughout the album.

The two most memorable and outstanding songs on the CD are “Old Friend,” a buoyant, rollicking ballad anchored by acoustic rhythm guitar and a solid backbeat behind lead flutes, and “Nightfall,” which is pure smooth jazz heaven led by a sultry sax. This is easily the most complex and dynamic track on the album.

It’s nice to have another Texan musician/songwriter, in the vein of Michael Nesmith and Eric Johnson, whose tastes and influences extend far beyond the reach of the Lone Star State. As good as this CD is, though, it would be nice to hear Bill Wren make a more direct connection with his audience by playing on a future album, even if it’s only acoustic guitar backings and rhythms.

--Raj Manoharan

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