So I'm listening to this Warren O'Neill album, the one I'm reviewing at this very moment in fact, and I'm looking at the rear insert and see this "Warren plays Maton Guitars", complete with logo, and I'm thinking endorsement deal. So I email O'Neill and ask about it and he says, no, he doesn't have an endorsement deal, but "a dream of mine is to one day be an endorser of their products. Maton guitars are beautiful, sound fantastic and are a pleasure to play. They really speak for themselves."
Know what? I can hear it. I have no idea how many different guitars O'Neill plays on Dreamspell, only that he plays them all and plays them very well. Following the album from track to track is like walking through a maze of sounds separated by walls of differing thicknesses. There is the simple classical approach of Teardrop Dreaming with its light Spanish influence. Under two minutes, it sets the stage for what I initially thought would be a Windham Hill fest, which is what I get for thinking. Reflections follows, another flowing and melodic example of what acoustic music can be when done right, O'Neill's light touch producing sounds which ring true and, yes, leaning toward Windham Hill.
But then, quite sharply, O'Neill turns a corner into territory inhabited by the likes of Amon Duul II—the softer and spacier side, of course. My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma (you gotta love that title) rolls over a solid bedrock of tabla, acoustic guitar and bass, driving spacy electronic guitar and possibly synthesizer through layers of melodic karma. Sounds corny, but the music is amazing. The next step is even deeper, a speech taken from the Dalia Lama audio book The Art of Happiness a core around which O'Neill weaves Amon Duul-ish threads. Anyone who knows Amon Duul II's Wolf City album cannot help but hear the comparisons.
Back to acoustic guitar on Soul Sister, a pretty but more mundane offering, which is not to say that it is lesser, just not as adventurous. Slot this in the acoustic instrumental category and it is perfectly solid. Albatross—Song For Sarah reaches toward the first two tracks, flowing classical guitar taking us on a carpet ride, O'Neill's fingers plucking each note with absolute precision.
Did I mention Amon Duul II? "Presence" encapsulates a lot of what space music was back in the seventies, and not just ADII, but bands like Ash Ra Tempel and Popol Vuh and a handful of others. Tabla-like percussion, drums and bass lay out a smooth, choogling rhythm, perfect for O'Neill's outstanding melodic guitar, chanting and the drone of studio monks (use your imagination). The 3:40 allotted this song seems like fifteen seconds to me and I have a hard time accepting such a short space for a movement this good. But then again, the best things I have ever heard I loved because they did not overstay their welcome.
You come down with Green, a very pleasant ride on the acoustic guitar (O'Neill has a touch with melody I find very captivating). It sets up the closer, Whispering Winds—The Passing, which would have done Windham Hill and ECM proud had this been recorded for those outstanding labels back in the day. Layered sounds are like whale voices beneath the ocean, music from another dimension, reaching toward the melody above. Flowery words not very well composed to describe a very musical and emotional composition. I call these compositions because they are a step above tunes or songs. They are structures created for a purpose and from what I can hear, a purpose attained.
While researching O'Neill, I kept coming across the name of Tommy Emmanuel. How I missed him I have no idea but I did, and from the little I've heard thus far, Emmanuel is a guitarist of no mean stature. Many critics think O'Neill is in the same class. From what I heard on Dreamspell, he is not far off. Not far at all.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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