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Eight Winds
By Bob Ardern
Label: Self Released
Released 10/1/2015
Eight Winds tracks
1. Zephyr
2. Matilda's Dance
3. Timing Is Everything
4. Mistral
5. Crusaders and Jesters
6. Cascading
7. 50 Not Out
8. Another Time Maybe
9. Three Years On
10. Matushka
11. Sangiovese
12. 50 Not Out (Bonus Track: Full Band Version)
Bob Ardern - Eight Winds
Producer and frequent collaborator (on this and previous recordings) David Findlay told guitarist Bob Ardern that he considered Eight Winds to be his best album to date and I am inclined to agree with Findlay. This is Ardern's third release and like the first two (Wires Rosewood & Roots, 2012, and Craftsman, 2014), he brings a unique musical twist to fingerstyle guitar. Without sounding anything like him, Ardern and Damon Buxton both exhibit an individualistic composing and performing manner which is hard to convey in words. I have referred to it as an infusion of dramatic tension when describing Buxton's work, and perhaps that can also apply to Ardern here at times. However, some of the tracks here are just good old-fashioned pickin' and strummin,' the kind of guitar music which is so comfortable and easy to slip into from the first playing that you may catch yourself thinking "I have heard this before, right?" but what you are "hearing" is a warm, friendly sense of approachability. Ardern seldom has any agenda on his songs, no subterfuge of any kind. It's straight up solid musicianship playing tunes that can be enjoyed as background music or listened to intently, depending on your mood and what's going on at the time.

I listened to Eight Winds at least eight times before beginning this review, and even now, I am flummoxed to summarize what is the most appealing aspect of Bob Ardern's music, except what I referenced above, i.e. it's just so damned easy to like. On the other hand, I don't mean to portray this as "simple" music because the care and attention to detail that both Ardern and David Findlay (who plays bass, piano, accordion, synth, percussion, cello, and glockenspiel) bring to the affair is anything but "throwaway." Findlay (and this is referenced in Ardern's liner notes) knows just when to add instruments and which ones to bring along when he does. Sometimes, his contributions are subdued and you need to listen for them, other times they are more front and center, e.g. the accordion riffs on "Matilda's Dance" add a level of whimsy to the track. By the way, besides Findlay's many contributions, guitarist Duncan Woodcock (who introduced Ardern to the fingerstyle way of playing) also makes appearances on three songs.

"Zephyr," which opens the album, is one of those "dramatic tension" pieces I mentioned earlier. Ardern plays a 12-string guitar on this track and its unique sound, alongside Findlay's piano and bass, paints an uptempo but haunting picture. The aforementioned "Matilda's Dance" moves the mood into a considerably lighter vein, with just an echo of the traditional "Waltzing Matilda" popping up now and then. "Timing Is Everything" has an optimistic (although not outright cheery) feel to it with Findlay laying down a solid bass line underneath Ardern's lead melody. "Mistral," is a pleasantly meandering piece (by meandering I don't mean unfocused but more like the way a river can meander through a countryside), featuring a subdued mood and the occasional strummed chord, not just fingerstyle playing. "Crusaders and Jesters" co-written by Ardern and Woodcock back in 1973, has an (obviously from its title) pronounced Renaissance-era music influence with a hint of mystery and, perhaps, court intrigue. Findlay goes all out on "Cascading," playing piano, bass, percussion, cello, and synth. Yet, none of those instruments get in the way of Ardern's lead 6-string melody, which has a kick up yer heels attitude starting at about the 30 second mark. Definite toe-tapping stuff here! Findlay's piano accompaniment is spot-on as well. That's the first half of the album's twelve great tracks and I will leave you to discover the musical charms of the second half selections. And there are abundant charms to be sure.

I met Bob Ardern at the first Zone Music Reporter gathering in New Orleans in 2013 and he is, in person, what you would expect from his music: casual, good-natured, a little mischievous, and one helluva nice guy. But you don't have to meet him in the flesh to "know him." Just queue up Eight Winds on your CD player, sit back, and listen. He's there in the "virtual grooves," pickin' away and entertaining you with his adept technique, his breezy way with a melody, and his artistic integrity combined with a homespun charm.
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 2/24/2016
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