I grew up in a home with parents that greatly appreciated classical and opera, thus, it is clearly no wonder that my tastes for music run so wide and deep into the intricate. As I was venturing into modern jazz and progressive rock, the New Age genre was coined, much due to the work of Will Akerman of Windham Hill records. The beauty and expression of this particular genre has continued to embed itself in me, and this latest release from world renowned guitarist Walter Strauss touches deeply into that vein.
On his 2022 release, “For Melody, Wherever She May Find Me,” the isolation of the pandemic led the guitarist to immerse himself into the transcendent power of great melodies. Pulling from classical, jazz, and even some sentiments of traditional folk, the blend yields what I loosely call New Age, and one may conveniently classify as beautiful guitar pieces, or even modern classical. Regardless of any pigeonholes, it is the conveyance of solitude that offers solace, inspiration, and pure joy that makes this worth the listen.
For those not yet familiar with Strauss’s work, I think you will find it easy to hear why he is held in high regard across the various corners of the musical world. The album opens with “Fabara,” a traditional West African piece with Strauss plucking out a muted melody of notes that form into an arpeggiated pattern. He strikes out dual tones, simulating some of the kora’s tonal qualities that are defined by this 21 stringed gourd harp and found in that region of the world. While his playing is informed by the styles of practitioners of very old and cultural stringed instruments, the song dances along providing a distinctly close, yet airy feeling to the audio quality emanating as he fingerpicks his acoustic guitar.
The self-composed second track “Zamora” truly demonstrates the dexterity and incredible technique of this fabulous guitarist. From the stream of notes pouring down like rain to the tender touches of each note, he creates a musical pattern underneath the melodic range of peaks and valleys. His guitar has been placed among subtle reverberation, pushing the guitar forward in front of the two main speakers with the ambience falling nicely behind, making for a modest spread across the stereo field.
His next composition “Laughing Water” wades more into the pop-rock genre with both its melody and chords structures. The upbeat groove based rhythm is accentuate it by a freely flowing joyous melody that easily makes me smile. In all its acoustic glory it jams so much that I can even imagine an entire rock band performing this piece, yet it is nothing like that in actuality, as it is the bare-bones wonderful sound heard on this solo instrumental album.
Strauss truly embellishes the classic Stevie Wonder song “If it’s Magic.” His lovely interpretation and arrangement take this classic song into one of absolute familiarity, while providing something new along the way. His utterly original playing employs a rich blend of texture and syncopation, a finger technique like nothing I recall hearing from an acoustic guitar before.
The sounds of 18th century traditional Scottish music shine through on the poet and songwriter Robert Burns tune, “Afton Water” which leads into an AJ Roach piece called “Barrio Moon.” The pull-offs and sliding notes add Strauss’s unique characteristic style to these pieces that flow so well together.
Throughout the album I have appreciated the overall incredible clarity of the well-defined guitar. Each nuance from the distinct overtones to the intensity and sublime calmness. These absolutely provide a sense of enjoying a private performance right in my listening room.
As a long-time fan of Paul Simon, I especially love Strauss’ rendition of “Born at the Right Time.” Filled with abundant joy as he briskly moves through the melody, Strauss gives space for the rhythm centric bass parts. Of course, Strauss has infused the song with his own character and masterful embellishments, adding to an already richly orchestrated and belove piece from Simon’s vast catalogue.
Possibly the closest song to a direct cover on this album is the John Hartford tune “Presbyterian Guitar.” Although the original version features a bass and acoustic guitar, here Strauss maintains the solo craftwork brought on by the pandemic isolation in a wonderfully beautiful fashion that closely mirrors the original.
The closing track on the album “Bruce's Chimes,” peacefully offers a graceful melody that falls into sentiment, love, and beauty, all at the same time. With each segment of the song, I feel a sense of wonder, as he moves in and out of melody and chord structure, developing a tune which moves between satisfied somberness and pure happiness.
Recommended for collectors of the New Age genre, solo acoustic guitar works, and those intrigued by the melding of classical and other worldly styles, recorded with great care and fine clarity.
Released April 20, 2022
Lossless download and via streaming services.