Michael Mucklow,
(independent, 2006)

It is rare a CD lives up to its name as well as Michael Mucklow's Clearly.

I first listened to it on a quiet weekend afternoon at home and was immediately drawn to the wonderfully clear and resonant notes of the acoustic guitar that poured out. I turned the volume up, which is always a good sign, and hit repeat when the CD had finished, which is an even better one. Whether played quietly or loudly, on good speakers or mediocre ones, these 12 instrumental guitar tracks, united by Mucklow's supple fingerstyle guitar and attention to melody and mood, are easy to like.

Though not without its shortcomings, Clearly is an unpretentious, expressive and audibly joyful listen that may just be the perfect relaxation CD for people who hate relaxation CDs.

A little over half the tracks are played on acoustic guitar, minimally accompanied by light percussion and occasional piano, and it is on these unornamented pieces that Mucklow's command of the guitar really shines. The opening track, "Canyon Serenade," starts simply and doesn't so much build up as go deeper into its own melody to culminate in a surprising ending. "Cloud Shadows" has an easy, laidback sense of movement that fits its title perfectly. "Universe" is almost a lullaby with a tasteful touch of piano, while "Joy" and "Gone for a Walk" are, appropriately enough, more vivacious, slightly folksy pieces that sing of clean country air. A few of them sound rather similar on initial listens, but when they are all so beautifully evocative, it's hard to mind.

The electric guitar pieces tend to be less effective, and especially after the acoustic tracks they seem a bit cluttered and fussy in comparison. "Sunlit Mesas," a piece to saunter off into the sunset with if ever there was one, is the obvious exception. "Moonlight Sands" is pleasant enough in a mild-mannered, jazzy Latin way, but the synthesizer intro to the seven-minute-long "In the Temple" is an unwanted trip back to the 1980s, as is the beat in "Love's Way." Neither is offensive enough to skip, but it is at these points that Clearly inches towards elevator music and kitschiness.

But for all that, the album's virtues are much more memorable than its faults. Clearly is atmospheric enough to serve as soundtrack for quiet times, melodic enough to simply sit back and listen to, and altogether a promising solo guitar debut for Michael Mucklow. Just one question arises: why hasn't Windham Hill signed him up yet?

by Jennifer Mo
24 March 2007

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