The warm and welcoming tones of fingerpicked nylon-string guitar are at the forefront of Still Voice from John Gregorius, and that’s just one of the many good things going on here. In 10 light and laid-back tracks, Gregorius pulls in a number of ensemble players to lay down a style that brings in folk touches, hints of Windham Hill influence, and a very soulful feel. It’s unabashedly music for wine by the fire (and sometimes for solitary contemplation), but it’s got real depth and emotion that’s played up by engaging arrangements and a fantastic production job. The opening track, “Grounded in Mystery” brings in Gregorius’ side players, adding bass from Eric Pittman, and vocals and piano from Kimberly Daniels. It’s a tight combo, with each instrument stepping gingerly into place around the central core of guitar.It’s a smooth introduction that sets the tone for the album. Other players fold in to other tracks just as seamlessly. Daniels takes the vocal lead on “Fall Into the Open,” a hazy dream of a piece with lyrical clarinet work from Keith Ward. A light touch of drums from Mitch Ross rounds it out. This song is as warm and safe as a mother’s hug; the washed-through, pleasantly indecipherable lyrics pack a reassuring tone. Gregorius pops a surprising moment into “Benevolence” by suddenly tossing in a bit of raw guitar. It’s just a small snarl, but its gritty coarseness briefly takes this mildly uptempo piece over toward the gates of post-rock. A nice wake-up call in a flow that’s easy to over-relax to. There’s a little shot of that, but with less grit, in “True Self.” It may be the gentle funk from Ross’ small-kit shuffle, and something of a beat drop that happens, but this is one of those songs that feels like it would be happy to get some lyrics of its own. The album close with “The Dance,” which starts as a delicate waltz quietly accented with strings. For several minutes it’s content to be just that, and then Gregorius’ players step in to fill out the tone. More prayer-like vocals from Daniels, and the sweet sighs of Cherkova’s strings lightly drizzle memories and emotions all over it. The only minor mis-step for me on Still Voice is “Wonder of Grace.” Don’t get me wrong; it’s a lovely song, but it just gets a little too sugary for me, too big and melodramatic and New-Age-obvious. I like Daniels’ vocals everywhere but here. Again, they’re still good, but here they’re just a little too Enya-meets-an-angel for my tastes.
If Still Voice was just Gregorius’ guitar playing alone, it would merit your attention. Take that playing and lace it around a strong ensemble, and you’ve got 45 minutes of wine-ready easy listening that has a lot to say. Still Voice leaves me ready for more from John Gregorius. If your tastes run to quiet acoustic instrumentals, this has an immediate place in your collection.
Available from Spotted Peccary.