El McMeen,
Amazing Grace
(Piney Ridge, 2006)

This CD is a guitar solo of spiritual arrangements that don't conform to the traditional. The arrangements give us that little spark of the familiar, but El McMeen always spins a new world out of an old song or tune.

The joyful quickness of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken/I Saw the Light" opens the CD. As the disc progresses, it's obvious there's a reserve and serenity underlying McMeen's music. He and his guitar share clear, crisp notes, but his style inserts unusual timing and gracing (if I can call it that) into the rhythms.

"Amazing Grace" is vibrant, and the graceful "Angel Bound" I liked even more once I read the old lyrics from 1860. "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" is a powerful number, but under McMeen's touch it's a soft conversation, not a piercing wail.

Other songs are arranged with a light spiritual flavour for easy listening, and deep guitar tones move the music beyond church and altar and into home, field and street to be enjoyed by a wide variety of guitar enthusiasts. Though the spirituality of some titles is obvious, the music has a full-sized, captivating sound and its undertones are contemplative, not acutely reverential.

The "Scottish Meditation" track, on guitar, is not as lingering and melancholy as on fiddle. However, "Neil Gow's Lament for the Death of His Second Wife" is a challenging tune that McMeen gives a bright new arrangement and distinguishing character as he cuts to the heart of the tune.

When I was first introduced to McMeen's finger-style guitar music in The Lea Rig, I wasn't convinced he was a Celtic player. Since then I've listened to Rambles to Cashel, and now this, Amazing Grace, and I'm convinced. He's not an imposter at all; the "Mc" in his name is real.

On this CD you can enjoy a touch of country, Scottish and Irish tunes, some old faithfuls, a Silesian folk song and a contemporary Christian tune. If you want to know the intricacies of McMeen's solo guitar, visit his website; he'll explain it much better than I can. All I can tell you is that when he makes this music, it feels like one end of his guitar strings is attached to your heart.

by Virginia MacIsaac
28 October 2006

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