Clarelynn Rose,
Elegant Tern
(Heartwood, 2002)

Clarelynn Rose's career path probably would not be held up as an example by one of those "how to be a successful musician" guides. To start with, she is a self-taught guitarist. Rose's career as a forester and her Buddhism are other keystones for her music that would likely be sold short by the conventional view of musical success. In any case, Rose's career path seems to be working so far because her second album Elegant Tern is a lovely collection of guitar solos.

The CD is on the short side, with 11 tracks clocking in at slightly less than 40 minutes. The advantage to this is that there isn't any filler. Most of the pieces are deliberately paced, but there are some more up-tempo numbers scattered through; I would've liked a few more of these though their absence is not a weakness. Rose composed all of the pieces, except for a medley of two traditional tunes ("Monk's Gate/I Saw Three Ships"), which she arranged. Rose includes the tunings she uses in the liner notes.

It is easy to get lost in the music but this is not guitar noodling. Rose's pieces feature strong melodies and interesting changes on those melodies, not to mention excellent fingerpicking. This means that Elegant Tern works equally well as background music or as music that merits attention. To my ear, much of it recalls a sunny summer afternoon when the first refreshing evening breeze springs up. It is a comforting and mellow feeling that is built on more than the nebulous washes of pretty sound that often pass for new age music. Rose acknowledges Celtic music, John Renbourn and Alex de Grassi as influences, and this has stood her well.

It is hard to single out highlights because the standard of Rose's playing is uniformly high, but I especially liked the first track, "Sunshower," because of its inviting ambience and haunting open-chord accents. "Damnation Trail" is a slightly darker tune that is reminiscent of "We Three Kings." "Su Lu (Sweet Dew)" is pretty without being cloying. Another strength of this album is that despite the calmness of the music it does not get tedious with repeated listenings, which can be an occupational hazard of new age music.

Rose named this album for a seabird native to California; a photo of elegant terns in flight graces the album cover. She is donating 10 percent of the album's proceeds to environmental education. Nice as it is to know that this album is benefiting a worthy cause, it is well worth getting for the music alone. I know I will be enjoying it for a long time to come.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 5 July 2003

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