The story of Acoustic Alchemy has always been about innovation and adaptability. In the nearly 25 years since their first recording, the UK-based group has crafted a sound that maximizes the potential of not only the acoustic guitar but also its electric counterpart – and in so doing they’ve explored the subtle corners where jazz, pop, world music and other genres intersect. Along the way – with the help of a massive worldwide following created by consistent touring – they’ve weathered personal setbacks, dramatic shifts in musical trends, and in recent years, sweeping changes in the music industry.
The next step in this ongoing journey is Roseland, their new recording on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group. The 13-song recording – licensed to Heads Up by Acoustic Alchemy’s newly formed label, Onside Records – is set for release on September 27, 2011.
“We’re very excited about this recording,” says Acoustic Alchemy co-founder Greg Carmichael, who specializes in nylon string guitar. “It represents an entirely new chapter for the band. By establishing a new label, we’re taking more control of our own direction, and by partnering with Heads Up and their resources, we can reach the broadest possible audience worldwide.”
While they may call themselves Acoustic Alchemy, Carmichael and his creative partner and co-pilot, Miles Gilderdale, exercise plenty of creative license by injecting generous elements of electric guitar into the mix on Roseland. This sonic edge comes courtesy of Gilderdale, who was an electric player first and foremost before joining the band in 1996. Together, Carmichael and Gilderdale explore elements of jazz, rock, country and reggae – all of which makes for an album that’s both eclectic and yet cohesive at the same time.
Also along for the ride is the band’s usual touring lineup: keyboardist Fred White, bassists Gary Grainger and Julian Crampton, and drummer Greg Grainger. Other assistance in the sessions comes from Hammond organist Ricky Peterson (Bonnie Raitt, David Sanborn, Joe Sample), pedal steel player Frank Mizen, drummers Dan Mizen and Sam Hobbs and a full complement of horn players.
Roseland was recorded in Gilderdale’s newly constructed home studio in York, England, a place where the band could be creative without the pressure of a ticking clock. “We used the studio as a place to write,” says Carmichael. “We would just throw ideas at each other. You try things as you go along. That’s the beauty of having your own studio. You can try an electric guitar solo here, a steel-string solo there, a trombone solo somewhere else, whatever you like. It may have taken us a little longer, but if something didn’t work, it didn’t matter. We just tried things until we found what did work.”
In the end, it all works very well, beginning with “Marrakesh,” the breezy and uptempo opener that positions Carmichael’s catchy steel-string melody front and center. The followup, “One for Shorty,” is a jaunty shuffle that balances the guitar work with tasty lines from Peterson’s Hammond organ.
The quiet and contemplative “Templemeads” is Carmichael’s ode to the scholar in his family and the things he has learned from her. “Templemeads is an area in Bristol, not far from Wales,” he says. “My daughter just finished studying there. She has a masters degree in chemistry. She has introduced me to quite a bit of music over the years, so I wanted to write a song that gave her a bit of recognition.”
Further in, the band heads for the islands – in a technologically enhanced sort of way – with the reggae-flavored “Ebor Sound System,” a track that includes some intriguing synthesized guitar sounds. The hypnotic “Sand on Her Toes” settles into a Latin rhythm with a sparse arrangement that allows plenty of room for both the acoustic and electric guitar work to shine through. The title track picks up the tempo, with an energized backbeat.
“Stealing Hearts” veers toward country music, thanks in large part to Frank Mizen’s work on pedal steel. “Frank absolutely seals that track,” says Carmichael. “He’s a British guy, but he really captures that American country sound.”
“Right Place – Wrong Time” leans toward straightahead jazz, followed by “A Kinder Loving,” a ballad that starts quietly and eventually evolves into a more rhythmic piece full of optimism and promise – the kind of thing one would expect to hear from a musical collective with decades of experience and still plenty of open territory ahead.
“For a lot of people, instrumental music is just a sound that plays in the background,” says Carmichael. “But we put a lot into it – not just with this record but with every record we’ve ever made. I’d like to think that after all these years, we’ve learned how to take people on a journey. A lot of our fans have said that we do that for them. As long as they keep coming back, and as long as they want to stay on that journey, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing.”