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Still Voice

John Gregorius

Still Voice

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About Still Voice

Tracks:

1   Grounded in Mystery

2   Wonder of Grace

3   Fall into the Open

4   Benevolence

5   Trust

6   Still Voice

7   True Self

8   Let it Go

9   Salt and Light

10   The Dance

Following up on his debut Spotted Peccary release, Heaven and Earth, guitarist / composer John Gregorius returns with STILL VOICE, a poignant and very personal sacred offering of a somewhat darker, orchestrated blend of guitars, strings, voice, and drums, all melodically woven through tapestries of tonal colors and textures. Although abstract in theme and influence, this is predominately an elegantly composed guitar album viewed through a camera obscura, capturing visages of life’s mysteries and faithful beliefs.

Capitalizing on the nuanced performance possibilities of nylon string and melodic fingerstyle picking, championed by the likes of Phil Keaggy and Michael Hedges, Gregorius continues to finesse his own approach to a blend of orchestrated guitar and ambient textural guitar.

The tracks on STILL VOICE choreograph these lush experiences that range from alternating tonal clusters and sonorous chords, over which gentle melodies float, to even moments where gentle ¾ waltzes begin with only guitar and a thin haze of ambient strings, then build into cinematic forever-moments that eventually soften into what can only be described as a cosmic caress. In his comprehensive vision, Gregorius also explores a darker side, with passages of anxious, agitated moods facilitated by driving guitar ostinatos, layers of woodwinds and eastern scales punctuating the intensities, and building tensions finally resolving with brief exhalations of a moment’s reprieve and rest.

Throughout the album STILL VOICE is a sonic liturgy full of wordless spiritual reminders that bring both comfort and illumination. As an artist, Gregorius reflects on his own beliefs to create a foundation for his album. He states: “There’s definitely a spiritual aspect to the music. Silence, simplicity, service, communion, mystery and contemplative thought, are all inspirations for this work. STILL VOICE is the Voice that tells us who we are, beloved and sacred.”

Ultimately, however, it is the simplicity and understated beauty achieved in Gregorius’ pastoral settings that lifts all listeners to a universal plateau where ambient space can be appreciated for its expansive gifts. This album reminds us that there indeed exists a safe harbor of tranquility that we all secretly long to return to, and that we can always find our way back home by heeding the whispering still voice within.

Reviews

Such a stirringly beautiful recording from guitarist John Gregorius. The forty-seven-minute release documents the Southern Californian's exceptional gifts as a musician and composer, but Still Voice, his follow-up to his Spotted Peccary debut Heaven and Earth, also benefits from some invaluable guest contributions. Lending support to Gregorius's acoustic and electric guitar playing are vocalist/pianist Kimberly Daniels, cellist Irina Chirkova, clarinetist Keith Ward, upright bassist Eric Pittman, and violist Eric Brenton, among others. The guitarist's music eschews irony for straight-up sincerity, and the result is genuine music of depth, humanity, and character.

The typical album setting doesn't serve as a showcase for the leader's guitar playing, though one definitely comes away from the album cognizant of his considerable prowess on the instrument (revealed to wondrous effect on the solo acoustic spotlight “Salt and Light”). Instead, the ten pieces on Still Voice register first and foremost as compositional productions that do feature the guitar in a lead role but accompanied by other critical instrument voices, too. The album gets off to an entrancing start when “Grounded in Mystery” serenades the listener with generous helpings of his chiming guitar work, after which “Wonder of Grace” perpetuates the album's uplifting vibe with an enveloping dreamscape of its own.

Never, however, is the guitarist's music more affecting than on “Fall into the Open,” a lovely chamber-styled exercise in pastoralia whose arrangement complements Gregorius's acoustic fingerpicking with heartfelt vocal and instrumental enhancements by his guests. As Daniels' gentle voice coos “Just fall into the open,” it's hard not to be swept away by the quietly rapturous tone of the music. Her wordless hush also appears on “The Dance,” a gorgeous eight-minute testament to Gregorius's spiritually replenishing vision.

Indicative of just how grand an accomplishment Still Voice is, the wistful acoustic guitar theme gracing the title track suggests something Mike Oldfield might have composed early in his career; “True Self,” on the other hand, exudes a stately grandeur that one hears in Jonas Munk's best Manual work. There's at times an almost New Age quality to these soul-stirring tapestries, though I hesitate to use the term when it carries with it so many associations, not all of them complimentary. In the long run, Gregorius's productions are so spirit-nourishing that maybe it's best to set labels aside and simply celebrate music of such tranquil splendour on no other terms but its own.

- Ron Schepper, Textura

Wonderful ambient guitar pop

Veteran guitar player and producer Gregorius has found his niche with this collection of melodic, ambient guitar works that generates a warm and pastoral existence, uncluttered by trends or genre. The opener, “Grounded In Mystery” is simply a beautiful and gentle wisp of soft harmonics and fleeting guitar.

Gregorius’s songs are essentially heart-lifting soundtracks to films that don’t (yet) exist. His soft guitar melodies are placed simply atop beds of electronics and processed guitar, crafting an instrumental pillow of dreamily introspective ambient “pop”. “Benevolence” picks up a wafting rhythm, but remains a positive and reflective tone. “True Self” brings an almost droning post-rock, shoegaze vibe and works amazingly well.

“Still Voice” is a lovely, heartfelt, and emotive album of gentle ambient guitar compositions that I very much appreciate after too much angry noise and cluttered sounds. It’s the perfect album to wind down to, and Gregarius is a highly skilled composer who I’d love to hear more from. Bravo!

- Todd Zachritz, Goatsden

Gregorius’ second Spotted Peccary release captures the essence of stillness, beauty, and tranquility, often brimming with solitude and introspection, in ten highly melodic guitar based compositions. Gregorius plays all guitars (nylon string and electric, fingerpicked) as well as keyboards, bass, programming, and loops, bathing them generously in studio reverb type effects, but not to the point where the instrumetation takes a back seat to those effects. Guest players provide additional upright bass, cello, clarinet, viola, drums, voice and piano, accenting the compositions with additional coloration. This is one of those rare albums that captures the imagination, recalling the beauty and wonder of nature in a very cinematic way, providing simple yet compelling vignettes encompassing soothing and relaxed moods that make you want to keep pressing that replay button. Thirty years ago Still Voice might have been right at home on the Windham Hill label, along with artists like Michael Hedges, Alex DeGrassi, and Nightnoise. The key difference between this and so many other ‘ambient’ releases: this is driven by guitar, played openly in fingerstyle, not hidden behind synths, swells, effects, and textures. As a typical example of what’s here, the second cut “Wonder of Grace” opens with a simple guitar figure, repeating with additional layers of complimentary guitar added as it goes, underpinned by bass and understated drumming, with female voice and viola driving the main melody, before looping back around again. The title track opens with a shimmering guitar figure, again layering over itself, then presenting a positively unforgettable melody, backed by haunting strings and synths; not particularly complex, but beautiful and effective. Still Voice works superbly as it presents well defined melodies and orchestrations across all ten tracks, holding the listeners interest while soothing the soul.

- Peter Thelen, Exposé

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.

- John Shanahan, Hypnagogue

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