Acoustic Alchemy’s music makes me drive too fast. Over the years this has cost a few hundred dollars in speeding tickets and traffic school fees. So here comes another one as the cops that hide on the medians of I-95 get ready to hit the red and blue lights. Open and spacious from the first chords of "The Crossing," this one grabs you and keeps you captivated all the way through.
With American/English Acoustic Alchemy has returned to a more organic sound. The horn sections, sax solos and keyboard layers that were more upfront in "The Beautiful Game" and "AArt" are present but the melodic focus is on guitarists Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale. To the delight of fans who have followed the band since the beginning there are songs here that recall the earlier material. The reggae tinged "Trinity" is reminiscent of "Jamaica Heartbeat" and after a piano intro straight out of a Classic Soul hit, "Motown Shuffle" veers back into the acoustic sway of "The Rideout." "14 Carrot Cafe" recalls the textures of several songs on "Back On The Case," as does the use of vocal choruses on several songs. "Cherry Hill" is an unembellished guitar piece that once again proves you don’t need lyrics convey emotion.
American/English covers a lot of territory, from elegant and graceful to funky and fun, while touching on an amazing range of influences and trends. A Motown soul based piano line, a touch of reggae, trancey dance floor grooves and pristine acoustic ballads. Again they have widened the horizons and continued to amaze listeners with they can do with two acoustic guitars. This is a band that remains completely original, always innovative, and willing to bring in not just the usual R’n’B, world music, and jazz influences but also a generous dose of pop, rock and dance. "So Kiley," their tribute to pop/dance star Kylie Minogue, layers an infectious "na na na na na" chorus with electronica subtleties. The riff that provides the foundation for "Say Yeah" references the acoustic guitar line in Madonna’s "Don’t Tell Me" then leads into some Nathan East/Fourplay flavored scatting from Miles. A blazing rock guitar solo is layered between jazzy octaves on "Lilac Lane." "She Speaks American/English" has a bluesy Steely Dan funk attitude, "Get Up" veers between funk breakdowns and a soaring vocal chorus. Like Radio Contact’s "Venus Morena," this CD ends with an innovative gem. "The Moon and the Sun" is another adventurous mix of dance club loops and grooves, acoustic guitar leads and Latin flavored vocalese. This is territory that few Smooth Jazz artists have explored, much less expanded upon as AA is currently doing. Hopefully it will entice some other artists to explore the possibilities present in the energized side of the club music scene.
As they enter their 20th year Acoustic Alchemy has done something unprecedented. They have managed to stay true to the individuality that has been their hallmark while giving us memorable music that is commercial and accessible without defaulting to formula. At any point in time they could have created a comfortable and successful musical niche and stayed there. They never have. Instead they give us a set of music like this. American/English is one of their finest; 10 songs full of striking displays of musicianship and originality, evocative moods, and songs that just make ya wanna hit an open road and drive too fast.
- Shannon West