GuitarGarden - China Rose

Year of Release: 2005
Label: self-released
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 47:22:00

Don't let the comparison to "New Age" scare you - a term the sticker (that adorns this copy, at least) of GuitarGarden's China Rose states. To wit, and thus putting those two words in context, it says: "A fragrant blend of Asian-fusion grooves, lounge-pop, and soulful lead guitar for new age/ambient and contemporary instrumental programming." See, now that doesn't so scary does it? And if it does, one spin of this disk and you'll breathe a sigh of relief. The word "new age" here is not a dirty word... nor is "lounge-pop" for that matter.

What you get are nine tracks of silky smooth, relaxing instrumental music that truly does have a very Asian influence, but done in a very organic way... not as some affectation... Guitarist Pete Prown's tone is very clear, high and sweet, but he can also "dirty" the notes up a bit in a more fusiony way. He can impress with cascading riffs or set a mood with a series of sustained notes. I have no specific comparisons style-wise, though tonally, I thought sometimes of Craig Chaquico, as on his early to mid-90s solo releases on Higher Octave. But "Blue" made me think of solo Phil Collins, circa But Seriously..., the mellow pieces. Here we get shimmery waves of guitar over gentle, rounded percussion, sparse bass, and atmospheric keys. "Ehru," which opens (and closes) the album, made me think of Annie Lennox's "Why?," at least, once past the voice-cum-violin-cum-recorder element (harmonica?) that starts the track. Not that these pieces sound like... "Another Day In Paradise" (for example) or "Why?," but that there are similarities in mood, in some tonal qualities, and in their very mellowness. "Ehru" displays some very taut, crisp drumming (John Gannon), and a nice blend of electric and acoustic guitar textures (Rich Maloof) - including that sweet soloing from Prown. Actually, what you hear here for the most part are layers of guitars, shimmering and vibrating under the main lead.

China Rose does compare with what you might hear on the Narada, Miramar, or Windham Hill labels, in that you will hear pieces that are painted in pastels with airbrushes -- such as "Cloudburst" -- but there are also tracks with bolder colours. "Ehru," for example, or "Lotus," a piece that instantly made me think of fine ... uh, while china, intricately painted in a bright blue (that shade that I think is typical for china... tableware). The most fusiony moment, at least to me, is the mellow-fiery "Ashes Of The Pagoda" (and um, the term "fiery" came to me before I realized the title). Mellow is the backing instrumentation (something - keys possible - that sounds like a xylophone or vibraphone); fiery is, of course, Prown's guitar, searing and soaring all over this track, and for most of the length of this short track (2:45), drums and percussion... these have an almost electronic tone to them.

The most "Asian" sounding piece is the title track, including some koto like elements, lots of plucked - or fingerstyle - guitar (Maloof). My favorite moment here is when the tones darken, get... earthier, become orchestral in a way. Snappy percussion and water sounds begin the first few seconds of "Green Mountains" before warm, strummed acoustic guitars take over - in a piece that might be the most "new-agey/contemporary instrumental" (the later as genre versus fact...). We are also treated to more sonoring guitar soloing from Prown. This group isn't called GuitarGarden for nothing, as you get a fertile and lush garden of that very thing throughout the album.

The extended version of "Ehru" starts a bit Asian-militaristic, moves to a very dark, boomy passage filled with drama and suspense... then, after letting it build for some time... slowly blends into the piece we heard at the outset.

The musicians behind GuitarGarden are: Prown on lead guitar, keyboards, bass, and samples; Maloof on fingerstyle and electric guitar, and harmonica; Brett Bottomley on acoustic and electric bass; Steve Puglia on keyboards and Gannon on percussion.

This is a beautiful album, relaxing to listen to, but sleepy. It does feel a little dry at times, mainly due to some of the background atmospheres created by the keyboards. But mostly it is a warm and comfortable release. Prown's guitar playing rivals any of those who create mellow progressive rock - even if in a different style and tone. Though the arrangements are filled with instrumentation, each has room to breathe, which gives you room to breathe without feeling too light headed (as some of the more um...wimpy new age music can do).

Prown is music journalist writing for Vintage Guitar Magazine and Guitar Shop Magazine

Ehru (5:06) / China Rose (5:14) / Green Mountains (5:43) / Cloudburst (5:57) / Lotus (5:03) / Bird Of Paradise (5:37) / Blue (5:15) / Ashes Of The Pagoda (2:45) / Bonus Track: Ehru (extended remix) (6:23)

Pete Prown - lead guitar, keybards, bass and samples
Rich Maloof - fingerstyle and electric guitar, harmonica
Brett Bottomley - acoustic and electric bass
Steve Puglia - keyboards
John Gannon - percussion

China Rose (2005)

Genre: Other

Origin US

Added: January 20th 2006
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1350
Language: english


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