Record labels that have a long history and a good roster of artists enjoy putting compilations together from time to time to show off their talent. It's fun for the listener too, because it allows her or him to hear a variety of artists in fresh settings. String Alchemy: From Eclectic to Electric brings together eight guitarists who have recorded for Vanguard, most of them from the early 60s to the mid-70s. This is a diverse album, with styles ranging from the jazz of Larry Coryell to the folk of Mimi & Richard Fariña, to the new age of John Fahey. |
Larry Coryell opens this album, appearing in several different settings. You Don't Know What Love Is is a lovely instrumental, with Coryell playing lead electric over an acoustic guitar. Rene's Theme teams him with John McLaughlin, where both guitarists seem to be in a contest over who can execute the quickest runs. There's also a previously unreleased version of, Ann Arbor, with Ralph Towner, on twelve-string guitar and Colin Walcott playing sitar. This all-acoustic setting creates a complex and dynamic instrumental. The five instrumentals by Coryell and exquisite contribution by the group Oregon comprise the jazz of this collection, and are a highlight of the disc.
John McEuen from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fame offers three tracks, including the charming Keep Walking, and the South American tinged, Moonlight Dancing. Both display fuller arrangements than other contributions on String Alchemy, and offer a good contrast to the quieter and more Eastern influenced music of Sandy Bull and Peter Walker. Also fascinating is McEuen's Andante, a Bach duet that is performed on guitar and banjo. Mimi & Richard Fariña offer three contributions that showcase their instrumental talent instead of their singing.
While this collection is stylistically "eclectic," there are also many common threads holding it together. All tracks, except for the first track by Coryell, are acoustic; and with the exception of one or two of the Coryell pieces, there is a great deal of Eastern and Third Stream (jazz mixed with classical) influences evident on this recording. Much of this music could be loosely described as new age or world music, or as the forerunner of what today's listener would think of as new age and world music.
String Alchemy is a relaxed collection that provides a sampling of known and lesser-known guitarists in the jazz and folk genres. The diverse assortment of artists and arrangements keep this collection intriguing, and the quality of all the material is high. Fans of individual artists on this compilation will also enjoy the previously unreleased tracks. This rewarding trip into Vanguard's vaults has produced an enjoyable anthology for those who love acoustic music.