2007 / Cheshire Records
Review by Michael Debbage
Eternally linked to the very successful duo Tingstad & Rumbel, acoustic guitarist Eric Tingstad has quietly been composing and releasing his solo material over the last twenty seven years. Running at a rate of one solo album every five and half years the quantitative results have been trivial, however the qualitative results have been crucial His latest creation, Southwest, continues that trend while it ups the ante and represents Tingstad’s most descriptive and colorful solo project to date.
Even prior to the mainstreaming of the compact disc, back in 1981 Eric Tingstad released his freshman effort On The Links closely followed by 1984’s Urban Guitar. Around the same time Tingstad and Nancy Rumbel began their musical collaboration that peaked with the Grammy Award winning Acoustic Garden back in 2002. With their significant success, Eric’s solo material took a back seat. Nevertheless, he found time to release Renewal in 1992 that essentially represented a compilation of his first two albums. It was also followed up by the 1995 solo effort A Sense Of Place also released on the Narada label. While Tingstad and Rumbel continued to record vibrant material, Eric maintained exploring his own musical avenue. Five years ago he released A Trip To Tuscany that was followed by the most inspiring Southwest.
Actually, Southwest has been in the making for nearly a decade when Eric began recording some short sequences of frame drum ideas. Since then, with assistance from the likes of Nancy Rumbel, David Lanz and Gary Stroutsos to name just a few, inspired by the landscape and sacredness of North America’s Southwest, Eric’s project began to take shape. However, the shape defies normal expectations as Tingstad interwove a multitude of musical genres including Americana, folk, Native Indian, bluegrass and ambient themes. The instrumentation is just as comprehensive which include the acoustic and pedal steel guitar, frame drums, clay pots, oboe, English horn, native flute, accordion, piano and wordless vocals.
Speaking of wordless vocals courtesy of Petra Stahl, the underlying Native Indian themes are more obvious on “Voices Of The Ancient Ones” that also included Gary Stroutsos’ mystical meandering flute work. Petra also collaborates with Nancy Rumbel on oboe via “Kiva (Hear The Wind Blow)”. In contrast there is the more mainstream folksy “Walking In Two Worlds” that includes the eclectic fusion of an accordion with a pedal steel guitar.
Although Tingstad has no hesitation to give up the spotlight, this is still a Tingstad recording and all of the songs are penned by him. Search for “The Last Caballero” where his distinct guitar finger style can be heard. But always remember that his ability for a melody is never sacrificed in lieu of his technique. This is best heard on the shimmering “Taos Hum” or even better yet the superb “Trails End” that focuses on Tingstad and Rumbel supported by David Lanz’s gentle piano embellishments. What a great way to close out this diverse album.
Though Southwest defies any specific category, Tingstad’s diligent efforts were recognized at the 50th Grammy Awards when it was nominated for Best New Age album. This honor was bestowed on this sometimes overlooked guitarist despite the album being independently released. This would suggest that a commercially viable label is not needed when you have the ability to record such a wonder that effectively encapsulates the mystery and beauty of North America’s southwest.
August 8, 2015