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Sounds like … skillful guitar noodling with a little of Will Ackerman's folksy New Age and a little of Eric Clapton's pop/blues improvisationAt a glance … Keaggy's a guitar master and there are some mesmerizing tracks on this instrumental effort, but as suggested by the title, much of Freehand is comprised of noodling instead of fully realized compositionsTrack ListingShigeoBelaSign LanguageCajon PassHatch of the MayfliesSchempp The DanceChester's TreeForerunnerMasaCinema ParadisoMaturityRenaissance BoyA Walk HomeBodhran BrawlRubix CubeDreamRed Beans and RiceCosmosSoakin'DriftwoodSolitudeThe Dew Blanube
In 1978, guitar master Phil Keaggy took his artistry in a new direction by releasing The Master and the Musician , considered by some to be CCM's first instrumental project. He's subsequently interspersed instrumental classics like 1987's The Wind and the Wheat and 1991's Beyond Nature amid his pop/rock releases. He even seems to prefer them more as he grows older, releasing more than a dozen through his website since 1996's Acoustic Sketches . That one remains a fan favorite, so it's no surprise that the virtuoso revisits that album's style with Freehand: Acoustic Sketches II .
Like its predecessor, this 70-minute effort plays similar to a collection of freeform poetry or drawings, allowing Keaggy to color the music with a variety of guitar sounds, styles, effects, and techniques as the Spirit moves him. The rhythmic "Hatch of the Mayflies" is particularly mesmerizing, as is "Shigeo," an appealing blend of percussion, and fancy fingerwork. "Schempp" is a lengthy improvisation set to a programmed loop, "Cinema Paradiso" evokes a European locale, and the simple "Maturity" carries itself with dignity.
But like a sketchbook, Freehand is comprised of several "abandoned" leftovers. Several tracks like the bluesy "The Dance" or the Irish "Bodhran Brawl" run a scant minute, sometimes less. These are supposedly intended as links and lead-ins to other pieces, but too much of the album sounds like experimental noodlings instead of fully realized compositions. It's always a pleasure to listen to this journeyman, but do we really need recordings of every note emitted from his guitars?
Hard to say if Freehand holds up to repeated listens, though it's certainly not unpleasant—the variety of sounds and styles almost play like a soundtrack recording, suitable for background music or imagining accompanying visuals. Fans of the first Acoustic Sketches may enjoy this, but I'd personally prefer 10 carefully constructed tracks to 23 hits-and-misses.