Unruh, Steve - Two Little Awakenings

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Duct Tape And Bailing Wire Records
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 115:57:00

Steve Unruh is a multi-instrumentalist. Not just that he plays a variety of instruments, but often a variety at the same time. He is a one man band, and listening to this and knowing that, one can't help but be amazed at the texture and warmth that exudes from this double-disc release. There are no synthesized instruments here - the guitars are guitars, the drums are drums, the flute a flute, a keyboard functions as a keyboard ... it is a naturalistic recording, though Unruh admits to overdubbing by mentioning there was none on the improvised "Improvisation In Red" which concludes disc one. Similarly "Duet With The Wind" (which ends disc two) is also an improvised track. The first of these begins very subtly, easing into a long passage consisting of just drums and percussion that drifts into a very atmospheric, mysterious segment which itself melds into a slow-dance paced, Middle Eastern rhythm (violin and percussion). It's sinewy and seductive ... spinning itself into ever-tighter circles (like a whirling dervish). The instrument set up for this track is show in the tray card, implying that Unruh has more than two arms and feet. There is so much going on here in the song and on the album, that I can only give you a small taste.

The latter of these two improved tracks gives us Unruh musing thoughtfully on his flute, giving us a piece that begins in a classical mode, moves through something Eastern sounding, trills a bit in a Anderson/Jethro Tull kind of way. Throughout it's eight minute-plus length, it moves between these three styles.

The genre one would file this under -- if there were really a place to file it -- would be progressive folk rock. Unruh is an artist in the tradition of the singer-songwriters of yore, but would also fit snuggly in between Kevin Gilbert and John Wesley (the latter, the guitar tech turned Marillion prot?g? turned star in his own right). The Gilbert comparison comes not only in the lyrical and topical writing of Unruh but also in that he sounds a great deal like Gilbert. Another artist treading in this same territory is Guy Manning, who Unruh also sounds like. This is something that I didn't notice until I was listening to both Manning's latest Cascade and this successively (actually, much of what I was listening to for this issue falls into the same category, and all mere coincidence). We can also mention folks like Dan Fogelberg, Kenny Loggins (pre-Top Gun)... and, because of the extensive use of guitar, I can't help but think of the California Guitar Trio.

Unruh's sound draws from classical, Celtic, and folk, blending each of these together beautifully. "Rainsong" is wistful and thoughtful, violin adding a slight melancholic feel to the music. Unruh lives in Kansas and one can almost feel the vast open fields and farmland listening to this track, see the late fall afternoon, sun beaming through an overcast sky, giving everything it touches a reddish-gold glow. This piece has an energy that will appeal to fans of the Californian Celtic-rock band Tempest, if slightly countrified. "World, Awake" sounds like an acoustic ELP and topically makes me think of Bruce Hornsby and the Range ("The Way It Is," specifically, and mainly because a similar phrase appears in this song's chorus). America comes to mind, as do Spock's Beard in their mellow mood ("June," for example). Unruh's lyrics paint word pictures, commenting upon the incidents of life that many of us overlook but that, if observed, speaks volumes about our species.

"Two Little Awakenings," one of the albums two longest tracks at nearly 18 minutes, sounds so much out of time that it engenders feelings of nostalgia. Out of context, one might think it a lost Bread track. And yet, the production and instrumental texture is much broader than was possible or used in the 70s. Most certainly the richness of the production is very modern. Unruh recorded this at his new home studio and credits (blames) the delay in Two Little Awakenings release to working out the sound for the album. He got it right, and the reward is ours. The other long, epic track is "Scenes From The Mirror" which opens the album. It is a story song, as might be suggested by the title...as is true about the album, the song moves through mellow and energetic passages.

Onto disc two, we get more of the same textured stuff, but I will mention only the four part "Resolution" which spans tracks 2 - 5, and begins as a very, very sunny track. It has a high energy, rootsy feel, with part 2 turning things down to a very mellow, melancholy pace. Later this shifts to a heavy rock segment (again ELP comes to mind; though also some of the rougher hewn tunes that Michael Nesmith wrote while a member of the Monkees such as "Listen To The Band"). As elsewhere, we get a bit of a Celtic feel in an extremely high-energy passage. Jethro Tull comes to mind by way of Red Jasper. The part that comprises track 3 moves through all these moods, as well as a lyrical, subdued passage, that creates a great deal of tension in contrast to the rockier parts that precede and follow it. This whole suite comprises a nearly a full 35 minutes of the disc. Unruh's palette is wide, illustrating his lyrics with a palette that is influenced by a variety of music styles from a variety of eras. There's a section here (track 4) where Unruh really lets loose and jams, the bass getting down, dirty, and funky. This is contrasted by a lilting violin lead piece -- melancholy and slightly romantic, in a very mid-western way (and echoes "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" from The Wizard Of Oz -- we're back in Kansas, of course).

I can't recommend this CD enough as I am thoroughly enjoying listening to it. If there were any criticism, it is that the longer pieces, with all their tempo and mood changes, one can't really get settled into any one rhythm. In this respect, the shorter pieces work better as they have a complete cohesiveness. But, the longer pieces provide enough contrast to get their concept across. Contact Unruh directly to get your own copy.

EM>Disc One: Scenes From The Mirror (17:08) / Intro/Rainsong (1:24, 6:25) / World, Awake (6:57) / Two Little Awakenings (17:51) / Chimes (1:13) / After (2:30) / Improvisation In Red (9:25)

Disc Two: From The Flowered Chair (4:43) / Resolution (34:46) / Unromeo Mood (2:59) / Once In A While... (4:14) / Duet With The Wind (8:36)

Steve Unruh - acoustic, electric, and classical guitars, acoustic and electric violins, electric bass, drumkit, assorted percussion, mandolin, flute, and keyboard

Sign Of Saturn - Sign Of Saturn (1996)
Believe? (1997)
The Beginning Of A New Day (1998)
Egeria Jazz Trio - Egeria Jazz Trio (2000)
The Dayfly - Album (2000)
DT & BW Records Sampler (2001)
Two Little Awakenings (2001)
Invisible Symphony (2002)
Out Of The Ashes (2004)
Instrumental Retrospective (2004)
Song To The Sky (2005)
The Great Divide (2007)
Songs From The Flowered Chair (2008)
Challenging Gravity (2010)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: February 8th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.steveunruh.com
Hits: 986
Language: english


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