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Thursday, November 03, 2016

CD Review: Stuart McCallum & Mike Walker - The Space Between

Stuart McCallum (acoustic guitar, electronics), Mike Walker (electric guitar).
Tracks 1,3,6,7: Laura Senior, Gemma South (violins), Lucy Nolan (viola), Peggy Nolan (cello).
(Review by Steve T)
I'm already familiar with Mike Walker in the excellent Impossible Gentlemen and he's amazing. Not (knowingly) familiar with Stuart McCallum but, in a different way he's equally amazing, at least insomuch as they play different guitars here. In fact he's one of the most complete, precise acoustic guitarists I've heard in a long while, with none of the squeaking and sliding so many are prone to.
The album title celebrates what's not played as much as what is. The fast fingers seem to have fallen out of fashion again, perhaps as a local guitar teacher told me that everybody's a virtuoso nowadays or, as one non-guitarist musician said to me, 'guitarists play fast, that's what they do'.

Walker at least can play as fast as you like but here they're exploring the spaces and demonstrating taste as well as that abstract, enigmatic, subjective notion of 'soul.'
Two guitars and electronics sounds like a recipe for 'mood music' and 'ambient soundscapes' and there's plenty of that here but much more besides.
I believe the songs of Bacharach/ David to be the most likely contender for a latter day inclusion in the Great American Songbook. With Bob Dylan, the mismatch between music and myth is too stark and two of his best were comprehensively Hendrixed more or less on release, and for my generation Bobs greatest contribution was convincing Hendrix it didn't matter that he wasn't a great singer.
Moreover, the songs of genre writers like Curtis Mayfield, Dan Penn and Holland, Dozier Holland, were already transformed beyond mere catchy pop songs, now recognised as a skill in itself though it still takes thirty years for them to be recognised. 
Like the Gershwins and Cole Porter before, the likes of Miles and Gil or Frank and Nelson respectively got hold of them, Bacharach/David songs encapsulate an impersonal neutrality which renders them rife for interpretation.
Two of the North Easts' leading guitarists - James Birkett and Bradley Johnson - have performed and recorded Alfie to great affect but the version here scores from the interplay between acoustic and electric.
Moment Us takes me back to Earl Klugh before he became 'smooth' Jazz or at least before it became a dirty word, and The Yewfield sounds like he's been joined by his old mentor and regular collaborator George Benson.
Some Debussy and, as one of only half a dozen or so classical composers I ever listen to, it's always welcome.
The title track sounds like something Pink Floyd would have recorded but with keyboards and benefits enormously from the string quartet, sounding to me like a full orchestral string section.
Best track is saved until the end which McCallum holds on acoustic, some wood-slapping and simultaneously reminiscent of McLaughlins immense acoustic trios and his Indian Fusion band Shakti, raising tension to fever pitch, particularly on repeated listens when you anticipate the arrival of Walker, plugged in and turned up for the first time, but you don't quite know when it's going to happen.
An album of many moods and great contrasts comprising a very satisfying whole.  
Steve T.

Release date: November 25 on Edition Records.

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