Readers who follow me on Facebook may know I often take my review listens in the company of wine. Sometimes I also refer to music in terms of wine. For example, I have unrepentantly referred to some lighter New Age as “Chardonnay music.” In listening to Erik Scott’s In the Company of Clouds, I find myself thinking that for me it’s like a Riesling. I enjoy it although it sometimes borders of being a little too sweet, but under the right conditions and in the right mood it’s perfectly refreshing. On this beautifully produced album, everything is built around two dominant sounds: the sensual, round tones of Scott’s bass guitar and the saucy drawl of pedal steel guitar from John Pirruccello. If you’re not a fan of pedal steel, you may want to take this album in smaller sips, because it’s everywhere. It swaps between its familiar heart-tugging country-music feel, as in the opening track, “Nine Lives” and the closer, “The Long View,” and something a bit more bouncy and island-flavored, as on “Waves” where it comes in like an ocean breeze. Scott rolls in a host of side players, including ambient guitar maestro Jeff Pearce, who appears on “Breathing Room,” a piece that shimmers and yawns beautifully against a backing of light hand percussion. The players get their moments behind the bass and steel, and every track has a rich and full ensemble feel thanks to superb mastering and production from Tom Eaton. Chris Cameron brings piano lines that skip from the swelling romance of neo-classical to the riffs and trills of borderline honky-tonk on “Open Door.” Cameron and Scott swap phrases over big clouds of string pads. A lovely piece. Scott’s bass takes on a lyrical voice on “Seven Veils,” and I fall totally into the complex lines of his incredible playing. I can just envision his fingers zipping across the strings as he pulls this speaking/singing quality out of the instrument. I’m a sucker for good bass to begin with, so this lands precisely in my wheelhouse. The speedy joy of “First Cup” loads up on feel-good to get the heart racing. A tapping, dopplered percussion line adds character and keeps the pace up. I do have to say that not all of In the Company of Clouds is entirely to my liking. The “ooo-ooo” vocals on “Women of Avalon” are where this charming Riesling ups the sugar content a bit too much for me, and there’s an odd moment in it where we’re suddenly thrust smack into the middle of an Ennio Morricone western soundtrack. As much as I dig its sound, I could have used a break from the steel here and there. Plus, between the steel and the bass track after track, there are points where the album can suffer from a touch of sameness.
In the Company of Clouds recently nabbed Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Instrumental Album of the year at the Zone Music Reporter Awards, a prestigious competition in the New Age/ambient world. So my opinion, that it’s not superlative throughout, clearly comes with a few pinches of salt at the least. I enjoy it very, very much under the right circumstances–which is to say, mixed into my playlists, where I can enjoy Pirruccello’s fantastic and emotive steel without taking in too much at once and I don’t notice the sameness. I want to say that New Age fans should definitely have this in their collection, but that pigeonholes this refreshingly unique album. Rather: people who enjoy good, well-produced, catchy, engaging contemporary instrumental music should absolutely own this.
Available from CD Baby.