Ken Mahren, Silk Brocade: Acoustic Guitar Impressionism | Album Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Ken Mahren, Silk Brocade: Acoustic Guitar Impressionism


(Self-released, CD)

South Burlington guitarist Ken Mahren recently released a CD version of Silk Brocade, a collection of solo instrumentals originally issued on cassette back in 1984. Although this set is more than 20 years old, Mahren's talent is hardly dated.

Mahren describes the album as a "collection of new age, folk, jazz and classical guitar influences." The groundbreaking acoustic guitar work of the "Takoma Boys" -- of whom John Fahey, Leo Kottke and Peter Lang are the most well known -- is an obvious reference point. Open tunings and musical textures abound, but this project is more than just a bad copy of a mid-period Windham Hill album. And unlike other new age-y releases, contemporary or otherwise, the music on Silk Brocade doesn't induce slumber.

The disc's 10 original compositions range from the lush tone poems, such as the title track, to the 16th-note showers found on "Risky Business" and "Forsythia Interlude." Mahren's unabashed use of electronic gadgets not only adds color and character, but also helps to set his work apart from other six-string searchers. It's rare to hear an acoustic guitarist utilizing a flanger or phase shifter to augment tone or increase sustain. While the effects don't detract artistically, it's sometimes tough to hear the natural tone of his guitar. Still, Mahren's good taste and technical excellence make the combination work.

The artist explains that this re-release was inspired by requests from friends who had worn out the original tapes. He also claims that, after all these years, he stills plays guitar the same way. If that's the case, here's to a CD release party!