Now familiar with Don Alder's work, I could hardly wait for this disc to issue, but, while I sat impatient, he had an honor accorded him, becoming the first Canadian winner of the Walnut Valley Festival International Fingerstyle Championship, a well respected guitar venue. This CD richly demonstrates the wisdom of the Walnut Valley judges, but it also opens a bit more widely what had previously been only an afterthought: his vocal work.
Alder's last disc was a trove of very considerable depth, and this continues that but with a difference: the time in between has bestowed an even easier confidence than was otherwise apparent. The first two cuts alone are almost cocksure, so breezily brimming with perfection that it takes merely the first few bars of The Wall (dedicated to his buddy, the astonishing wheelchair mega-athlete Rick Hansen) to completely arrest the listener. Then the second attribute hits: most of this is duet, trio, and group work, divinely indexed as such. The backing quartet sounds as though it's been a two-decade road ensemble for the guy (and Tim Tweedale's understatedly bittersweet slide work can be wrenching), foursquare in harmony in every manner.
Then comes 6ft. Tall, the first vocal cut, and Alder unwraps an upbeat almost David Wilcox-ish timbre of positivity, infectious and definitely ear-catching. There's a bit of Michael Tomlinson as well (and, man, wasn't that guy a wonder!) but none of this affects for a moment the guitarwork, which is sparkling, here underscored by Mark Olexson's spunky Hammond. Like Wilcox, Alder shifts tunings constantly from cut to cut, only once strictly standard. Sayonara.calm wafts through the speakers, and the bass player has to be instantly unmistakable. I grabbed the liner and, sure enough: Michael Manring. Only he and Mark Egan play a fretless quite that way, and his duet with Don is as solid as a chamber recital, a brilliant demonstration of melody and variation in a gauzily mellifluous vein, slow, every note a finely cut gem.
If you haven't yet had enough of the guys who sound like two to three players at once, the fourth cut, Mr. Anderson, is a bouncily swinging track that's exactly that. With just the guitarist isolated in this and three other cuts, the listener gets full doses of his acumen point blank, and they're stunning (hey, he hangs with Andy McKee, so this ain't jes' my opinion, Jeeter). Haunting Me shows up further on to unfold the folk-blues Alder's capable of, singing in a wistfully defiant fashion of love never had while remaining a frustrating and tantalizing possibility. It is, in fact, my favorite cut, and I'd never have thought that possible amid such a instrumental feast, yet…there's just something about it that glides between several levels and stays in the ear and mind.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles