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The Sounding Board by R J Lannan
RJ Lannan is the reviewer for The Sounding Board.
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Unlike the Stars
By Vin Downes
Label: Riverwide Records
Released 1/25/2014
Unlike the Stars tracks
1. Where I Began
2. Riverbend
3. Dark Blue Wind
4. Departure
5. All We Ever Wanted
6. Unlike the Stars
7. Skies and Openings
8. Window, Looking Back
9. Unweaving
10. What Falls Away
11. Turning Years
12. Window, Looking Back (solo)
13. Turning Years (alternate mix)
The Wizard of Bayonne, New Jersey
There are rare individuals who know things innately, as if they are part of their atomic structure or even better, part of their soul. I would say this for Steven Hawkins or Miguel de Cervantes or Nicola Tesla. I am adding Vin Downes to the list. For Vin Downes, his talent lies in composing for and playing the guitar. His unique brand of fingerstyle guitar is smoothly adroit, his composition style is somewhat folksy, but when he puts it all together, it comes out pure enjoyment.
Vin Downes traded in his electric guitar when he was exposed to the era I call the Windham Generation. It was a time when stars like Will Ackerman, Michael Hedges, and Alex De Grassi came on the music scene. The influence of then contemporary instrumental music is probably stronger today than ever. Downes has embraced this legacy with a gentle vengeance and offers up his latest work called Unlike the Stars. After listening to the album more times than I can count, I believe that this is a retrospective of Downes' trip so far. I really can’t say how many mountains he has climbed or how many rivers he has forded to get to this place, but I can tell you that the journey is fraught with beauty, color, and texture. Each of the thirteen vibrant tracks of his music are like the beginning of a new chapter, fresh and bold. Downes was fortunate to have the benefit of Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton from Imaginary Road Studios as well as several accomplished musicians lending their musical experiences to the album, but his singular style speaks for itself.

Where I Began appropriately opens the album with a tune that is light hearted and draws a clear picture of what is to be Downes' inevitable folksy style. It just might be the chronicle of miles of road travel, closed doors knocked on, and late nights in parlors and on porches with six strings and a pocketful of faith.

With a touch of bass guitar by Tony Levin and a modest accompaniment by Will Ackerman, Departure starts out as an "All aboard!" kind of rift and then segues into something that is a cousin to country music. As the song continues, I could feel that there was a sense of excitement at the beginning of the journey, but a glazing of sadness about missing the ones you love in the pursuit of success.

The title tune, Unlike the Stars is an unhurried ballad that drifts about for a time, but I could feel the approaching twilight and the blinking on of stars as they volunteered to light up the night sky. What we miss when the stars come out is the constant warmth and brilliance of the sun. It is like an absent companion. The song is highlighted with a gentle contribution by the cello of well-known artist, Eugene Friesen.

The tempo picks up in the tune, Unweaving. It was my favorite tune on the album. There was something melancholy about the descending chords and the recurring, but hopeful melody. It reminded me of a time when I was on the road a lot for the company I worked for, traveling away from my family. I thought that no matter how far away I was, I would take the straightest route back to them. Click the ruby slippers, and the facts remain.

Downes truly puts his wondrous fretwork on display on the tune on What Falls Away. As I considered the title and the strength of the music, I imagined that sometimes as a sculptor chips, cuts, grinds and molds at his/her medium, what is left on the floor may be just as precious and poignant as what is put on the pedestal.

Turning Years (Alternative Mix) with bassist Tony Levin is an easygoing, drowsy sort of tune. The intro saunters along and then we hear the flutes and it becomes a theme song, sounding almost cinematic at times. It is a blithe tune, a reminiscence of how the apex was reached, the goals achieved and about the well-deserved rest afterward.

I have to admit this is one of the first guitar albums I have listened to in the last ten years that did not have obvious classical elements hiding in the notes. It was contemporary music at its finest with a bit of whimsy thrown in. Vin Downes has a very practiced, but light touch on the fret board. I look forward to more from this Modern day Segovia (little irony there) and I highly recommend this album.
Rating: Excellent   Excellent
- reviewed by RJ Lannan on 9/14/2014
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