Reviews


Autumn Reflections CD review


South Dakota is a stark land full of contrasts. Natural wonders such as plains, prairies, rushing waters, craggy hills, and extensive caves vie for attention along with Mash Potato wrestling, the Corn Palace and the Flaming Fountain. It is also the home of an extraordinary guitarist named Ken Verheecke. As the poplar tree leaves take on their first coating of yellow in the hills of the Smokey Mountains where I live, I am listening to his appropriately titled release called Autumn Reflections. His calming, contemporary guitar pieces are the perfect musical harbinger to a season that I love the most. It is a time when Mother Nature winds down a bit in preparation of her winter sleep and offers some of her most colorful and awe-inspiring displays just like Ken’s beautiful ballads.

Ken Verheecke has a bio about two sentences long. He’s from South Dakota, he was inspired by Will Ackerman, and he loves contemporary music and he is a man of great faith. When you hear Ken’’s wondrous ten-track album, his past will be of little consequence. What you really want to know is where is he heading next and can I get a ticket.

Autumn Reflections’ theme is the changing season, the cooling breezes, and the colors that delight the eyes. It is golden trees, lazy afternoons and a place where even time takes a vacation. Just about a dozen miles out of Deadwood nestled in the Black Hills is sleepy Cheyenne Crossing. It is fork in the road that can take you just about anywhere and Ken’s song Cheyenne Crossing is your guide. The music is bright and hopeful. It suggests that just around the curve is the place you have been looking for.

In The Morning is slow and peaceful. It is the sound of the amber sun peeking out over the hills, hinting at the warmth to come. It is the call of the magpies as they flitter to the gatepost and the crystal tears of morning dew that drop from the goldenrod. The calming melody shuns alarm clocks, keeps the coffee hot, and promises a wonderful day ahead. Soon the shadows will have their way.

There’s a miracle in the next room. At least that is the sense I get when I listen to While Aubrey Sleeps. The tune is not just a simple lullaby, but also a complex suite of polyphonic guitar voices. Sometimes you are so happy or so grateful or so in love that you don’t know what to do with yourself. Ken puts his heart on his sleeve and lets it flow into his fingertips.

One of my favorites on the album is called Falling Leaves. Ken’s tune hints at just a breath of wind, a dry, sunny day, and the migration of tawny sun catchers that know when their time is up. I can almost imagine the slow spiral of the leaves, some of them quite ambivalent, gliding solo. And others, giving in to the fate, and falling like rain.

Ken’s rendition of Indian Summer has all the warmth you would ever need on an October day. It is a celebration of just one more trip to the lake, one more hike up to hills in search of gold nuggets the size of a BB or arrowheads made by a Native craftsman. It is the pleasure of a fire just at twilight and the few lost fireflies finding their way. It is the glimmer of a million stars in the sky that remind you how big your world really is.

The recording closes with the title tune, Autumn Reflections. As I write this, the wind is stirring in the trees, the air is cooling off, and Mother Nature is teasing me with a blush of color on the foothills. Luckily, I now have Ken Verheecke’s placid fantasia to remind me about the days that lose their light to a change in the tilt of the earth, the landscape that transforms on a daily basis and the coming of another winter. I have come to a point in my life where I measure time in not hours or days or months, but in seasons. Thanks to Ken, I know I always have wondrous music to keep me company during my favorite time.

– reviewed by RJ Lannan Zone Music Reporter


The Gathering

West River Records (2012)

What Goes Around...

Twenty years ago compilation albums were de rigueur. Labels like Narada, Windham Hills and Higher Octave all had occasional offerings of their artists' best works. Some were seasonal like Winter Solstice and some were collections by instrument or subject e.g. The Bach Variations and Passion - Music of The Guitar. It was a way for listeners to get a good sampling and make choices while being entertained. The tradition lives on in producer Will Ackerman's recording, The Gathering. The legendary guitarist and founder of Windham Hills present twenty two extraordinary musicians on various instruments to delight the new listener as well as the old. I was fortunate to review many of these fine artists, so I will stick to the ones I have not. Every track is worth hearing as they represent the contemporary instrumental music genre at its best. This is Ackerman's freshman debut of the West River Records label and frankly, he could not have chosen any better. I am not sure if this album is purely acoustic, but there are not a lot of electric-powered instruments involved. Another plus.

Glastenbury, VT by Masako is delightful glimpse into the Norman Rockwell age of America using solo piano as the medium. With a nod to George Gershwin, Masako's composition wipes away the years and takes you to a place at the foot of the Green Mountains. It is a bygone era when dusty back roads got you from here to there, neighbors invited you in for iced tea and evenings were an opportunity to visit and talk without the use of electronic devices. Masako's rendering is sharp and clear.

One of my immediate favorites on The Gathering is a song by guitarist Rudy Perrone called The Prophet. It is one of those tunes that, once you have heard it, just do not fade into memory and I for one really want to know the story behind it. Perhaps it is a tune of disbelief as in "I once met a man who said I would", kind of thing. The easy going tune is beautiful in its simplicity, but the principal behind it remains complex. I love a good mystery.

Todd Boston contributes a lighthearted tune called The Brightest Night. He uses gentle guitar and a sweet serving of violin, and the song sparkles intensely. It is a tale of the warmest breeze, the darkest sky, and the most dazzling stars that Nature could muster all in the name of eternal romance.

Pianist Rocky Fretz weighs in with a heartfelt tune titled Kim's Song. The solo piano ballad gently rolls along in your mind like an old time vignette. It is a walk along the path with hands held and fingers laced. It is the smile that lingers and that makes the earnest impression on the heart. This is the sound of a memory being born.

Livia's Song by solo pianist Denise Young is a lento waltz that uses baby steps for the most part. Gentle, sweet and warm this song is a dance on daddy’s shoes kind of song with pretty ballerinas and afternoon teas with friends that are stuffed rather than animated. The song is also somewhat nostalgic in its melody, but that is a good thing as it brings back memories of the superlative kind.

I could easily learn to play Forever, a song by guitarist Ken Verheecke. I say that because the tune is quite simple, but the implications are astounding. I have to admit that I found the song to be sad, but not in a way created by despair, but rather by melancholy. There is a subdued sweetness to the tune that suggests promises made and love formed in the deepest place of the heart. The song would be right at home as a theme to a love story or a daytime drama. I listened to this song so many times that I think I could play it the way it was meant to be…by heart.

And finally blessed with abundant innate talent, producer Will Ackerman contributes a tune from his New England Roads album called The Wheel. I always thought that the wheel is the part that touches the road and carries you endlessly to places uncharted. Ackerman extraordinary guitar playing paired with a lush violin score by Steve Schuch allows the mind make endless discoveries. This album is highly recommended.

- reviewed by RJ Lannan on 1/20/2013

A Place Called Home

Seldom does the re-mastering of an already enjoyable recording yield such a rich and vibrant result as it does with acoustic guitarist Ken Verheecke’s outstanding re-release of a place called home(originally released in 2004). Verheecke's gentle and heartfelt guitar playing is literally reborn on this CD, enhanced by new clarity and depth of sound. In addition to the new engineering aspects, the graphics were likewise upgraded (the original artwork was already pretty good). The new cover art, a farmhouse surrounded by a wheat field in the warm glow of a setting sun, merges with the music, both of them resonating feelings of peace, contentment, and genuine friendliness. Hearth and home, profound beauty disguised as utter simplicity, are heard throughout this exemplary recording. Verheecke’s adroit technique (sometimes solo, sometimes multi-tracked) and artist's soul are amply demonstrated on every song.

In an earlier review, I wrote "It's hard to not be touched by the opening Dawn's Embrace which manages to be both affirming and laid-back at the same time, or the gentle minimalism of the closing title track, which 'feels' like walking up the lane to your house after a long day and catching sight of loved ones through a window, secure in the knowledge that a warm hearth, delicious meal, and good company await you inside." All of that praise is amplified and underscored on the re-release, especially on the closing number, which has become one of my absolute favorite acoustic guitar pieces, period. I would put it up against anything by anyone (yes, even Will Ackerman). It is simply drop dead gorgeous and so heartfelt that it may even bring tears to your eyes if you are as sentimental as I am.

Another fact that I was reminded of when I played this new version of a place called home is how, much like Ackerman, Verheecke is able retain a soft gentle "candle in the window" mood throughout the album without being either repetitive or straying so far as to disturb the smooth flow of the album in its entirety. Nothing here will make you kick up your heels, granted, but you’re not going to get bored either (if you love acoustic guitar, that is). The pace of the entire album is slow and measured but not in a morose or somber way. It’s an instantly inviting, friendly, and engaging CD, and may strike you that it seems strangely familiar, but not in the way of imitation, but more like the feel of a well-worn shirt or sweater. It just "feels good".

I referred to a place called home as "an acoustic ambient album" in my earlier review and I stand by that statement. The music would easily fill a room with peace, calm, and invite the listener to indulge in reflection or remembrance of a most pleasant variety. Of course, direct listening would allow you to delve into Verheecke's talent and this new re-mastering is ideal for just that since now the tone and clarity of his guitar sparkles like dew on morning grass. a place called home may be the perfect CD to play while driving the back roads of rural America in the early evening with the sun tinting the western sky orange, then pink, then deep violet-blue. If you have to restrict your traveling to the armchair type, though, the album will still serve you in excellent stead, guiding you in your mind’s eye through a landscape of rolling hills, wheat fields glowing golden in the sun, and the day's end promise of arriving home, a tasty dinner waiting on the table, and good cheer from loved ones to greet you. Simply put, it doesn’t get any better than this CD. I have fallen in love with a place called home all over again and with this newly spiffed-up version, the recording wins my highest recommendation and is nigh essential for all lovers of acoustic guitar music.