Erik Wøllo, the Norwegian guitarist and keyboardist, seemingly can do no wrong. This is, I think, the fifth or sixth recording of his that I have reviewed and, once again, it's stunningly beautiful, expertly recorded, and showcases his apparently boundless talent for composing in a wide variety of styles, from cheery acoustic-guitar driven new age/adult contemporary (’Red Guitars’ which could be a Bruce BecVar track), to a more introspective Windham Hill-ish guitar-oriented soundscape (’Silent Nostalgia’), to an intense progressive fusion-like piece (’In The Hall of Mirrors). All of the songs on Blue Sky, Red Guitars feature Wøllo's guitar playing front and center (unlike his last recording for Groove Unltd., The Polar Drones, which contained a fair amount of his synth playing). While keyboards do play a part on this CD, they're used to add texture and depth to the music, not to detract from the main attraction - the artist's dexterous and outstanding guitar-playing (either solo or multi-tracked, on lead melody or lead and harmony). By the way ‘In The Hall of Mirrors’ and another song on the album, ‘Computerlove,’ are both covers of works originally recorded by Kraftwerk! How's that for displaying one's musical courage and innovation?
Ambient music fans should be warned that the opening short track, ‘Morning Dew’ is about as close as this CD gets to being ambient in sonic character. ‘Blue Sky’ the next song, is a fiery but dark number, with superb interplay between multi-tracked rhythm acoustic guitars and a sensual lead electric guitar, played in an ethereal and spacy style by Wøllo. The track builds up steam as it progresses and it has become one of my favorite songs from this artist. When the song hits its stride at around the two minute mark, I sure wish I could be behind the wheel of a fast car, cruising through the desert southwest under a full moon; the music has a frenetic pace but is laced with a haunting beauty. The combination evoke the sensation of needing to get somewhere in a hurry, as if one is being pursued not by something dark and scary but by the inevitability of time itself! Very cool image, that!
‘Sedona’ is another fantastic song, albeit a totally different mood than ‘Blue Sky.’ Here, the multi-tracked (left and rear channels) are occupied by rhythm acoustic guitars and the center channel houses the lead acoustic line. Wøllo plays with delicate grace and yet surprising emotional depth and passion. ‘Destiny’ begins very slowly and quietly but soon blasts off with some of the artist's most fiery and dexterous fingering, but again Wøllo laces the music with a darker shadowy presence so that the music has a pleasant albeit palpable sense of tension. This characteristic, while not exclusive to the Norwegian artist, is one of his strongest traits and he surely is one of the best in the business at melding dark with neutral so that even while the listener taps his or her foot, there is an undercurrent of emotional complexity in his/her reaction.
Whether the somber delicate quasi-Spanish ‘Rain Tree,’ the reverberating massed guitars of ‘Timeless’ which all seem to coalesce into one massed instrument, dancing around the lone electric lead, or the minimal reflective beauty of ‘Silent Nostalgia’ (the least adorned track on the album, with either just one or two guitars discernible), Erik Wøllo delivers the goods on yet another highly recommendable album. He now joins an elite group of artists I have reviewed (e.g. Kevin Kendle, Richard Bone, Llewellyn, Clarelynn Rose) whom I can almost unquestionably state ‘Anything you buy from him/her is gonna be impressive.’ Is this Wøllo's best guitar-oriented album so far? Perhaps it is. Fans of the six-stringed instrument owe it to themselves to buy this CD. They are going to love it!
- Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire