The most gratifying thing about the post-smooth era has been hearing bands who established themselves before the formatic restrictions of smooth jazz were imposed return to their core musical identities. Acoustic Alchemy was not one of the bands that significantly altered their sound but during that time very few musicians had the freedom to do what they want without record companies looking over their shoulders and the pressure to deliver a radio hit. In 1994, the year before smooth took over, they released one of my all time favorite albums – Against The Grain. There was a song on it called “A Different Kind of Freedom.” Twelve years later they have delivered Roseland, an album that celebrates just that freedom.
Co-founder Greg Carmichael said “we are very excited about this recording, it represents an entirely new chapter for the band.” They have established their own label, which allows them to take more control of their direction and guitarist Miles Gilderdale has built a home studio which gives them the freedom to work without the ticking clock and schedule restrictions imposed by paying for studio time. They had the time and space to create the music and flow with what happens in the process. What happens is absolutely delicious. Here is a 13 track melting pot of blues, jazz fusion, country/folk, reggae, funk, pop, meditative, and rock influenced songs held together by Carmichael and Gilderdale's guitars and a some melody lines that will remind you of the band's earlier releases on the GRP label. This is an evolution, not a throwback, though. It's a case of that evolution bringing a signature sound to the forefront and expanding on it.
The CD liner notes feature a groovy, weavy follow-the-lines diagram of who plays on which songs. Following the lines can make for a fun interlude but to translate, Carmichael and Gilderdale are joined by the core touring band – long time Keyboardist Fred White, Drummer Greg Grainger and bassist Julian Crompton. Snake Davis, who has been on previous albums, shows up on sax. There is also a full horn section and the addition of Ricky Peterson (David Sanborn, Joe Sample, Bonnie Raitt and many others) on Hammond Organ (aka Hammond B-3) adds a whole layer of retro jazz/rock flavor to several tracks. The opener, “Marrakesh,” is just joyous – a soaring, spacious burner with flamenco folk-rock shadings and speedy guitar lines. “Templemeades” is a lovely ballad filled with both gentle guitar textures and power chords, “World Stage” and “A Kinder Loving” are similar – both meditative but taken into rock anthem territory by Gilderdale's guitar work. They step into fusion territory on “Right Place, Wrong Time,” taking chord progressions traditionally delivered in the shred-zone and turning them into powerful acoustic riffs. “The Ebor Sound System” has a reggae flavor similar to their classic “Jamaica Heartbeat,” “State of the Ark” is minor key moody without being gloomy, “Stealing Hearts” adds a touch of pedal steel and country rock, “Marcus” sounds a lot like their early mid tempo shuffles, this time topped off by a a funky riff from Carmichael on acoustic and a fired up rock solo from Gilderdale. There are no soundalikes here, no covers, vocals, or throwaway tracks. I don't like to reduce music to cost efficiency terms but the bottom line is that you are getting a lot of bang for your buck when you buy this one. No need to cherry pick, every song is worth it.
This is a mellow album, not in the way that lulls you into a passive snooze but in that kinda dreamy way that gives space to escape the everyday and let your imagination play. One thing this band has always been able to do brilliantly is capture and evoke a mood to the point where you can feel it as you listen to. What mood?What feeling? It will be different for each of you. That is the space that songs without words give us to play in. Carmichael said 'I'd like to think that after all these years we've learned to take people on a journey.” With this beautiful and diverse collection of songs they have done exactly that.