Bill MacKay - Esker

by Nathan Fidler Rating:8 Release Date:2017-05-05

Bill MacKay has featured on a plethora of albums and compositions over the last decade, but his new album Esker sees him given more breathing space to do what he does best: improvise and noodle his way around a fretboard.

This is full guitar instrumental, with a dab of piano, so if that’s a turnoff for you then you can turn off lights and close the door behind you. However, if you’re willing to pay the man some attention, you’ll be treating yourself to an array of relaxed compositions.

Opener ‘Aster’ sounds like it belongs to the opening credits of a seedy HBO show, with a shivering electric guitar and a carousel-sounding piano run. Elsewhere there are touches of the blues (‘Candy’) and raw, swooning reverb (‘Wail’).

While it might feel like you have to wade through these tracks, the trick is to allow your imagination to formulate a picture in your mind and make this a soundtrack to landscapes and happenings. ‘Persona’ for example, feels like a creep along a railway line at night, with heated electric guitar wails and a plodding line keeping the whole thing moving.

‘Clementine Cotton’ sounds like something Dave Grohl might pull off on one of his acoustic whims. It features a melodic undercurrent with sleepy picking laid over the top. The tracks all have MacKay’s improvised style, with certain melodies looped and some lines plucked from thin air and it’s this feature which makes the album more enjoyable than a standard set of acoustic instrumentals - you’re never sure quite where he’s going.

It’s surely a niche category of music to enjoy - semi-improvised guitar - and it certainly has a sleepy pace to it, but the tracks never feel forced, they feel like swirling embers being brought to life with time and space.

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