Though guitarist John Gregorius launched his solo recording career in the late 2000s with his debut album Heaven & Earth, the ever-evolving rock, electronica and ambience driven musical aesthetic that leads him to his new perfectly titled Spotted Peccary collection Full of Life feels – on multiple levels - like a warm, immersive time travel experience back to the early and mid-90s, a true heyday of contemporary instrumental music.
The multi-talented artist’s unique ability to modulate his melodic flow to create both stark ethereal atmospheres and dynamic simmering rock edges reminds me of when classic rockers like Craig Chaquico and Neal Schon shared the mellower, aging like fine wine side of their artistry as instrumentalists. As we ease gracefully on the new 12-track collection from the lilting, hypnotic, gently percussive sonic energies of the opening track “The Expansive Sky” through the deep haunting mysticism of the closer “Rincon Fading Light,” we can connect to another powerful inspirational aspect of that earlier era’s music – a passion for reflecting the stark yet glorious landscapes and rich ancient mysteries of the American Southwest.
Since releasing his second album Still Voice in 2016, Gregorius left his longtime home of Southern California and relocated to Tucson, AZ, the second largest city (behind Phoenix) in the vast Sonoran Desert, a 100,000 square mile stretch that includes parts of Arizona, California and Northwestern Mexico. This move gave rise to a unique creative renaissance in the musician’s life that infuses Full of Life with caressing melodies, gentle wide-space reflections, invigorating (and grooving) exploratory road trips and a reverence for native lands that harkens back to earlier Southwest inspired works by popular artists of that earlier era like Michael Gettel (Skywatching), Larry Cansler (Indian Paintbrush) and the still active multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Gunn, who launched his career with Afternoon in Sedona and recorded several Grand Canyon-centric works.
To fully grasp how the region transformed Gregorius – and thus, how the album’s stylistically eclectic moods can perhaps do some inner spiritual work on the listener – it seems appropriate to share a quote about his feelings about life there, his connections to a greater spiritual reality and how all this came to inspire him. “I have found the desert to be a deeply spiritual place,” he explains. “The solitude, openness, resilience, mystery and life in spite of the sometimes harsh and difficult landscape, leads one to contemplation of a bigger meaning and understanding our true selves. This meditation of creation and Creator is the unifying color and design of this recording. My hope is that it brings a sense of being awake and alive...Full of Life.”
As a celebration of all things dry (with a few monsoons), desert-y and red rock magical, Full of Life stands out as modern ambient music’s ultimate homage to the Southwest. With increasing tribal percussive strength, Gregorius and his gentle steely strum take us through a landscape of “Unfolding Beauty,” reflecting both its stillness and perhaps hidden activity. He concludes a particularly scorching day with a softly grooving lullaby under a “Blanket of Stars,” encouraging us to relax on the desert floor while he amps up into simmering rocker mode to encourage us to cast our gaze at the bright movement of the dome of constellations above.
Complementing our meditative reflections of sunlight and shadow filled “Painted Vistas,” Gregorius treats us to a rockin’, easy funk oasis (“Wellspring”) and slow, sultry ride through a “Monsoon Clearing” – complete with Mitch Ross’ seductive drumming, Rick Baptista’s moody basslines and lush wordless vocal textures by Kimberly Daniels.
Beyond all these glories, there is an added, unexpected thematic element to Full of Life that can help us meet our unique moment in time. Having recorded this album long before its April 24, 2020 release date, Gregorius released it into a very different world than he could have imagined. Yet the guitarist’s original intention of creating a personal musical reflection of his own life changing experience has led him to possibly change ours. He has created what we can appreciate as a consciousness shifting work that seems primed to help us through these challenging times.
A few tracks specifically work towards this deeper understanding and application: the hopeful “Path of Renewal,” which contrasts its hypnotic acoustic guitar line with the swirling violin and cello harmonies of Kayla Applegate; and the vibrant then peaceful and mysterious, thought-provoking title track, which serves as a reminder that sometimes the things that are most “Full of Life” are the simple ones we take for granted.
To listen to Full of Life: https://open.spotify.com/album/1gZEdL5QgyDFQVQK50LmRs