This is exquisite guitar music for those in love with lush and moody musicscapes a la the hallowed old ECM label giants (Connors, Towner, Gismonti, etc.). Andy McKee's magic is in chordal progressions which never fail to maintain an integrated vision, whether laconic, pensive, restrainedly elated, or just plain ol' descriptive. It's possible he's strictly a fingerpicker, but I'm pretty sure there's flatpicking in this highly engrossing CD as well, even though the attack on most of the notes doesn't indicate it. There's a high degree of repetition and variation, making for a lot of very absorbing interlocking weavery in the melody lines, music for the intellect rather than just the ears. If you like serial minimal composition—and I'm a huge fan of the mode—then you'll love the combination of that and floating top-lines.
More than a little of Michael Hedges, Alex DeGrassi,and William Ackerman inform his atmospheres, not to mention occasional Mark Egan-ish fretless bass work, which, since the CD is completely uncredited, I'll assume is McKee. The Gates of Gnomeria is not the sort of mindless string diddling you'll find in New Age Doo-Dah shops but an extremely mature collection of mostly solo guitar peregrinations revealing a top-flight player with a well-developed aesthetic…oddly enough cultivated in Tolkien, Dungeons & Dragons, and gamer mileus (I sympathize: I'm devoted to platform video games and lament that more adults can't appreciate that world of artistic thought and manifestation)!
The solo factor is what will be surprising to many. For just one guitar each time out (save for the track with the bass, only one cut, Venus as a Girl, has more), the profusion of directions, incidentals, inner melodies, and change-ups is amazing, not to mention how thick everything can get, sounding like two or three axes at time. On YouTube, he's gotten millions of hits, so I'm heading over there as soon as I finish this review. Lastly, the packaging is classy, as well, with a cover painting cleverly hybridizing Tolkein's personal graphic style with a kind of Chagall-ish twist—again, McKee's work? If so, very cool; if not, he really needs to learn to attribute properly.
Listening to music like this always makes me a tad lamentive about the many fine guitarists I've reviewed over the years who failed to achieve the audiences they so richly deserved (and, in this sort of category, Mila Gilbert stands out in extremis). I have to hope that guitarists like Andy McKee, Lawrence Blatt, Zeb Gould, Szabo & Kastning, Stephan Crump, and the many excellent fretmeisters I've critiqued in FAME don't suffer the same fate. Come what may, though, The Gates of Gnomeria gets very, very, very high marks all around. And if you want more of the same, hop over to the Antone DuFour Existence review—these guys are not only kindred but labelmates.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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