Spencer Lewis, Green Mountain Suite
(Quartz Recordings, CD)
Local musician Spencer Lewis is the king of pastoral acoustic guitar. His playing is buttery and articulate, full of spacious melodies and possessed of a contemplative disposition. He's also a fine violinist who often colors his recordings with elegant string arrangements. Lewis' latest, Green Mountain Suite, is a picture-postcard of an album that conjures images of covered bridges and freshly tapped maple trees.
I've always gone back and forth with this kind of stuff. Much of the time, I find it schmaltzy and more than a little insincere. Still, I'm perfectly susceptible to the bucolic charms of a few well-played acoustic arpeggios. Call it the Brokeback soundtrack syndrome. Lewis' compositions sometimes win me over despite their sentimentality. He's committed to crafting serene music, and it helps that he's got a strong ear for melody. But too many of his tunes are the musical equivalent of a Bob Ross landscape painting.
Opener "Ballad of Tom French" features several irritating clichés, including monumental snare hits, gurgling organ pads and wide-open strums. The song plays like an ad for a geriatric supplement. You can practically hear the voiceover: "Ask your doctor if Green Mountain Suite is right for you."
Things improve with "Home Inside," a chugging yet delicate number with a few choice melodies. Better still is "June," which brings back the organ and augments it with some dignified violin lines.
"Tinmouth" is comforting in its simplicity, with homespun picking and lovely guitar trills. Lewis has a knack for weaving multiple melodic passages into a seamless, if soporific, whole.
By the time "Suite - 2nd Movement" rolls around, you might experience an affability overdose. There's only so much meditative mood music a body can handle. Well, this body, anyway.
Still, there's some engaging stuff on the disc's second half. "Balance" features crafty percussion and thoughtful harmonies, while "Original Suite" sounds like it was played from atop a majestic mountain peak. I'm thinking Camel's Hump.
The disc closes with "Requiem," which must be the ten-thousandth piece of music to bear that title. Like many of the tunes on the album, it features sumptuous strings and reflective guitars.
If you own a small business that caters to tourist fantasies of Vermont, you might want to play this disc during peak season. Otherwise, enjoy Green Mountain Suite with the understanding that not everything about the state is as pretty as Lewis' songs.