Take the clean, honest, up-close-and-personal feel and technical playing excellence of your favorite Windham Hill-era acoustic guitarists and add a light touch of electronic strings. Now you have Nocturnality from Philadelphia-based artist Sundaug (aka Stephen Bonitatibus). On his second outing, Bonitatibus lays down pieces that just make me want to kick back with a Sauvignon Blanc and watch the sun go down. He’s found a great, relaxing match-up here, keeping the crisp fingerstyle guitar front and center, as it should be, and relegating the other sounds to the background where they become a smoothly shifting scrim for our mental imagery. Comparisons are naturally going to arise, so let me suggest that Sundaug’s style blends the laid-back, rocker-on-the-porch folksiness of Will Ackerman with moments of Michael Hedges’ “let’s use the whole guitar” approach. Harmonics ring and body taps bring in moments of well-placed percussion. Piano finds its way into the mix here and there, as on the bright and cheerful “Chasing Angels.” The piano is given a couple of spots to come toward the front, but never takes over. It just adds its voice, says what it needs to say, then steps back. It plays a solid role in “Desert Oasis” as well, a song that has a rich ensemble feel to it while showing off Bonitatibus’ ability to nail the flairs and flurries of this style. On “Mount Olympus,” we get a feel for his hand at crafting big, full pieces that take advantage of the symphonic side of the electronic part of the equation. It swells in spots to fill the air, and the guitar rises in intensity to meet it. The real joy in this album is listening for the trills and runs and acoustic pyrotechnics of a talented artist at play–like the little twisting scales and the punctuating ping of harmonics that made me smile when listening to “Summer Rain.”
There are 14 tracks in all on Nocturnality, and it must be said that there is some similarity track to track. After all, it’s a guy, a guitar, and some electronics. But Bonitatibus’ playing is so strong and smooth, I tend to overlook it and just savor the wow moments. The album also shines quite brightly when it’s tucked into a mix. Its homey feel, smiling attitude, and ear-catching technical work are effective attention-grabbers. In just one album, Sundaug has placed himself firmly among my favorite guitarists. I’m looking forward to more.
Available from CD Baby.