Ian Melrose,
(Slow Motion Records, 1994)

Ian Melrose performs acoustic guitar on Wolves, a CD that is soothing but not soporific.

The nature of an acoustic guitar piece rather dictates that the music must convey the theme or story, if there is one, and certainly it should capture the listener's attention and interest. The structure should also resonate with the listener, and in this Melrose is successful.

The first track, "Collaborations," begins gently and reflectively, but then the tempo picks up as guest artist Peter Jakk adds bass and bodhran. A slide guitar in the background is subtle and effectively plays off the melodic progression. The next track, "Piper on the Hob," doesn't tell a story, but is based on the melody of jig of the same name. It is played at a slower tempo than one might expect, then takes off into a rippling variation with Melrose playing with the rhythm, adding a kind of Latin syncopation.

The third track combines two traditional Scottish tunes, "The Arran Boat/Highland Pibroch," the first an air and the second a pipe tune. Melrose's playing sounds a little muffled on the air and the melody seems to gets lost at times, but it asserts itself on the pipe tune which begins in a stately manner before running wild with accompaniment of Jakk's grinding double bass and Gaelic chanted/sung by Patsy Seddon and Mary McMaster. Melrose switches gears with "Dialogue," a lively musical conversation performed (presumably) on one guitar which effectively and dramatically conveys the two voices to a samba rhythm. It is followed by "Lady at the Lakeside," a lovely and romantic piece with a ballad-like sound.

The title track, "Wolves," as well as the whole album, is dedicated to the last Scottish wolf, killed in 1743. The music is at once playful and mournful and vividly evocative; you can see wolves prowling through the forests and running across the fields. There is a sense of urgency in the music -- listen closely and you may even hear the wolf's howl.

"Tango" is seductive but not slow; here the passion blazes rather than smolders. "Spring Moon," written as a lullaby for a friends daughter has a lovely melody weaving through it and a harp-like sound.

Melrose returns to the traditional in the next track with "Banish Misfortune/The Stroller." The second tune is his own composition, but it fits neatly with the traditional jig. He follows up with "Anticipation" -- not the song Carly Simon made famous, but rather a musical tease that tickles your expectations and expresses the way they build, sometime receding, sometimes surging with a pointed sharpness. Melrose lets the music fade, leaving the "anticipation" unsatisfied, a good choice. The final track, "Farewell," effectively conveys a sense of conclusion and parting.

There are a very few rough spots where the guitar sounds muffled or mushy, but for the most part, Melrose's playing is exquisitely precise with a good and expressive dynamic range. Admittedly, acoustic guitar music isn't to everyone's taste, but if it is, you might enjoy a run with Ian Melrose's Wolves.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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