In 1981, Simon James and Nick Webb formed the instrumental jazz-pop guitar duo Acoustic Alchemy. If you hear the words “instrumental jazz-pop” and want to run and hide, that’s understandable. The truth is, it’s been thirty years, and while change is a given when you’re talking about that kind of time, the duo does still sound stuck in the eighties. Neither of the original members is in it anymore. James left early on, and Webb died in ’98 of pancreatic cancer. Greg Carmichael has been in the duo for years, and Miles Gilderdale became Webb’s replacement in ’96. Acoustic Alchemy’s new album, Roseland, marks its thirtieth anniversary.
As Alex Henderson of AllMusic notes, there’s a line between light and lightweight, and with instrumental jazz-pop that line gets mighty fine. Unashamedly pretty, goofily sonically varied (check out the guitar sound on “Ebor Sound System”), one might even say cheesy, this album is absolutely lightweight. Maybe it’s your dad’s music; more likely it’s your weather channel’s music.
But on a rainy day it’s nice to sit inside with the weather channel on, huh? You’re not watching the channel, you’ve just got it on; what you’re doing is watching the rain. This is cool weather station music, and I like it a lot. Most listeners won’t regard this as anything more than background music, but perhaps some will agree that it’s such nice background music. These songs couldn’t hurt a fly.
Last month I criticized Cosmin TRG’s debut full-length, Simulat, for being soulless, saying it lacked an undercurrent of feeling or humanity. You could easily make the argument that this album lacks the same and that I’m being a biased chump. But at least in my mind this is no generic double-standard. This album sounds good to me because of its resemblance to weather channel music, which, strange as it may seem, calls to mind rainy days at home when I was a kid. Maybe it does something similar for you. Plus, the music is charming in its unassumingness. It doesn’t try to be anything more than pretty.
It’s not just the album’s beautiful songs, like “Templemeads” and “World Stage” that can take the edge off whatever you’re feeling; every song soothes stress and sadness, makes you feel a-okay. In other words, where Simulat lacked humanity, Roseland is almost humanistic.
The Feelies’ recent album, Here Before, had the same feeling as this one. Both were recorded by old pros doing what they love. That neither band’s sound has changed all that much since the eighties isn’t a big deal. That neither album has much of an emotional impact or even a clear focus doesn’t matter. We should just be grateful that these artists are still together and sharing their love and happiness with us.