BY BOB GULLA
There's something about the sound of the tin whistle, beyond those blasted old Irish Spring ads, that truly speaks to the soul. There's a spiritual feel to the sound, a feel that holds within it a medieval sense of place, a place where troubadours and madrigals provide the only musical expression and where people were more intimate with their primal, inner selves. That may sound like a bunch of BS to those of you who spend time reading reviews of pop music in Blender and Rolling Stone, but when was the last time you listened to an album of Irish whistles and acoustic guitar?
Anyway, Phil Edmonds, an artist who has spent much of his musical career in the fold of the talented Pendragon, has certainly neared mastering whistles. He presents a fine demonstration of them on Under the Arch, a new album that deserves the attention of genuine fans of folk and acoustic music. Edmonds, with the major accompaniment of Otis Read on acoustic guitar, as well as Johnny Juxo on accordion, Dan Edinburg on bass, and Cathy Clasper-Torch on violin, sinks his teeth into 11 compositions, 10 of which are written by the very talented Read and one by Edmonds himself. Edmonds's whistle dominates all of the compositions, providing the melody line -- soaring, spiritual flights across the upper reaches of the tonal scale -- while Read's acoustic guitar establishes a solid base with which to keep the tunes, and Edmonds' soaring, closer to the ground. Songs like the opening "Along the Stone Walls" and the beautiful "Climate Change," feature Edmonds front and center, dancing across the acoustic foundation like a spry leprechaun on a soft bed of clover.
But a few songs on the record give the other musicians at the sessions a chance to step forward. All-around local music stud Johnny Juxo leads the way on accordion on the romantic closer, "Maura's Journey," (this is a gaff, Phil actually played button accordian on this tune with Cathy doing the Chinese Erhu violin) the only Edmonds tune on the record. Elsewhere, Read's mandolin serves up a nice change of pace -- the dynamic of the plucked mandolin string is decidedly different from the strummed sound of Read's guitar. All of these additions help to add slightly more subtle shades of color to the pieces, a real plus when you're talking about an entire album's worth of acoustic instrumentals.
Recorded at Sleeping Dog Studios and produced by Read and Steve Copel, the recording sounds pristine. The quality is excellent, with enough resonance on Edmonds's flute and enough bass on Read's guitar to provide an excellent range of tone. There's a lot to be impressed with on Under the Arch. But the best thing you can do, aside from picking this disc up for your lazy Sunday morning listening sessions, would be to see them live next week.
Otis Read, Johnny Juxo, and Phil Edmonds will perform at the Tinker's Nest on Metacom Avenue in Warren next Thursday, January 23 at 8 p.m. There is no cover.