Fernwood — Arcadia
((Not on label) no#, 2015, CD/LP)
by Peter Thelen, Published 2015-03-07Fernwood is the duo of Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett, the latter better known as one of two guitarists (or is it three now?) from Djam Karet – but Fernwood is a very different animal, where the duo plays mostly acoustic stringed instruments made of wood from around the world (OK, the Mellotron is the exception – well, I guess they contain some wood), taking them out of the folk and traditional context that they would normally be played in, and applying the sounds to their own original pan-cultural compositions, which tend to take on a more cinematic approach. The sound is delicate and gentle in its approach, evoking bits of imagery to pique the listener’s imagination as one travels through this eleven track journey. No one instrument is dominant, other than possibly acoustic guitar, and that gives the material here plenty of variety. I could easily spend the rest of this review on Montgomery and Ellet’s instrument list, but I’ll limit it to some of my personal favorites: mandolin, Irish bouzouki, Greek bouzouki (yes, there is a difference, both in the structure of the instrument and the string tuning), dlectric mandola, tenor banjo, violin, dobro, upright bass, sitar, tenor ukulele, ruan, tanpura, harmonium, surmandal, bells, chimes and much more. There are no drums, per se, so the unique characters of the various stringed instruments stand out strong, providing their own rhythms, and don’t get buried in a mix of other sounds. The duo overdubs on most of the cuts, but the album was wisely recorded without any compression or sonic manipulation so the true dynamics of every sound in the mix can be heard clearly. A wonderful and exotic musical journey that needs to be heard.
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