Gardens of Hope
2007 / Open Tune Music
Review by Michael Debbage
So when you think of the word “hope” what images does it conjure? Is it a confident level of expectation? Certainly with Will Ackerman at the production board there is that certain level of anticipation. However, Gardens of Hope also represents a formidable guitarist capable of capturing the influences of Eric Tingstad, yet writing all of his own material with his own slant and style. Ackerman is simply there to groom the garden that Frank Smith has planted and grown over the years that has now bloomed into the Gardens of Hope.
Back in 2000, Smith released the less melodic Assemblance Of Rings followed up the next year with the vocally based I’m Coming Over. It was an unusual move but what they both had in common were meditative qualities that Gardens of Hope continues to focus on. While this spirit is maintained, Smith also conveys a little more structure, melody and non intrusive arrangements to his latest batch of compositions. This merges perfectly with his unique ambient approach, a perfect instrument in bringing comfort to the hospital patients he visits in his hometown of Naples, Florida.
Smith’s merging of ambient themes and light melodic structure can be heard on the opening track “Inspired By A True Story”. The intertwining of Smith’s acoustic work with Jill Haley’s English horn will certainly appeal to the Tingstad and Rumbel fans. This is countered with the bare, yet soulfully simple “Chasing The Shade” where Smith has the opportunity to play alongside Ackerman. There are no embellishments except for the “student” and the master on guitars. Though after you have finished this listening experience you may be left scratching your head wondering which one is the master. The guitar duet is repeated on “Out Of My Hands” where Smith counters with Jeff Pearce’s ambient guitar that gently weeps to an almost violin effect. Lightly driven by Michael Manring’s fretless bass “Out Of My Hands” will leave you breathless with its soft seduction.
Though clearly influenced by Ackerman’s subdued approach to music, Frank Smith has his own voice. This is best heard by the more colorful “Anything For A Smile” that has its simple joys paced evenly by the upright bass and percussion work of T-Bone Wolk and Derrick Jordan respectively. This time around the counter-play comes from the violin work of Steve Schuch alongside Smith on the classical guitar. This is certainly the albums most optimistic moment but does not intrude on the meditative and reflective qualities of the album. To find more of this skip forward to “Soothe” where similar themes are explored. Once again Schuch is featured on the violin with Michael Manring on the fretless bass and Noah Wilding on the wordless vocals. Though not quite as upbeat as “Anything For A Smile”, “Soothe” is evocative in a very smooth and restrained fashion.
Essentially, the cover photograph encapsulates the emotion and spirit of this album. Though colorful and in full bloom, the flower is bordered by an iron gate or fence. Much like the hope we need there is an expectation of confidence despite obstacles that may be in the way. Life is not always happy and joyful but always needs to be diligent and faithful. And from that aspect Gardens of Hope reflects an artist capable of being a storyteller without uttering a single word. Now that is magical.
March 15, 2012