1999 / Windham Hill
Review by Kathy Parsons
I’m very late in writing a review of George Winston’s latest album for the simple reason that I was very disappointed in his 1994 release, Forest, and didn’t expect much from Plains. Lowered expectations can be very helpful at times, as I found Plains to be a very pleasant surprise. Winston isn’t breaking any new ground here, but the selection of pieces is a blending of his original music and covers from a diverse group of sources including Hawaiian slack key guitar, Philip Aaberg, Chet Atkins, and Sarah McLachlan. Winston often claims to be a “folk musician,” and this album seems to be more clearly in that direction than some of his previous releases. In keeping with the title of the album, many of the pieces have that open expansive feel that Winston is so good at without some of the repetition that drives me nuts on some earlier work (“Okay! We get it! Let’s get onto another note!!!”). This collection also contains some bluesier work that Winston is noted for in concert but hasn’t been recorded much.
Of the original pieces, I like “Rainsong (Fortune’s Lullaby)” the best. The introduction sets an introspective tone, and then the flowing main part of the song comes in - gently rolling and easy-going. “Plains (Eastern Montana Blues)” is also especially nice with lots of open space between the phrases of the melody. Though not particularly bluesy, there is a melancholy mood. On second thought, maybe this IS the blues out on the plains with nothing and no one around.
Winston makes no bones about his admiration for Phil Aaberg’s music (I’m a big fan, too!), and while he does an admirable cover of Aaberg’s “Before Barbed Wire,” Aaberg’s wistful sadness and masterful subtlety aren’t there. “The Dance” by Tony Arata was featured on Garth Brooks’ first album. I‘m not familiar with the Brooks version, but Winston makes this one his own.
While I’m not jumping up and down over Plains, it is a very good album, and I’ve enjoyed listening to it a lot. Not terribly challenging or radical in any way, it’s still a very pleasant experience and I can see why it was such a huge commercial success.
June 20, 2000