Often times, those who most appreciate the deeply intricate work of master guitarists – and are quoted the most often - are their peers, mentors and idols. It makes sense, because those with the gift of channeling whatever universal pulse or muse to create string magic are the ones most in tune with where there subject is coming from.
Case in point, the ample promo material for acoustic fingerpicking innovator Trevor Gordon Hall’s latest album This Beautiful Chaos features effusive (and spot on) quotes about his playing, compositional skills and the extraordinary way he fulfilled his concept/vision - from the legendary likes of Phil Keaggy, Pierre Bensusan, Graham Nash and Will Ackerman. We also learn that Hall has earned the admiration of rock heroes Steve Miller and John Mayer.
All fine, brilliant and enticing, but what about us non guitarists, the fans who have streamed Hall’s gorgeous, soul stirring, contemplative and playfully grooving tracks millions of times and made it possible to tour the 17 countries whose experiences have largely inspired his latest sparkling and provocative work? The point is, the masters may “get” his artistry in a more knowing, intuitive way, but it’s the glorious storytelling, his compelling instrumental narratives that connect on an emotional/spiritual level beyond the detailed chords, sonic textures and technical precision of his strings.
Considering what we’ve collectively been through these past nearly two years, and our need to make peace with the anxiety and disarray we’ve felt, Hall’s title The Beautiful Chaos can’t help but compel us. That’s the open door, yet it’s the beautiful fluid expressions, the sensual melodies, the lilting rhythms that ultimately keep us engaged and inspired as we journey.
From the sparse, ambient opening meditation “Chase The Chills,” which Hall calls “sort of a life mantra when I feel not sure what decisions to make,” through “At Peace With The Struggle” – a haunting, dreamlike attempt at inner calm with elongated, resonant chords to chronicle the tension in getting to that place – The Beautiful Chaos rolls along as a fascinating chronicle of dual elements in the guitarist’s realms. Like all his albums beginning with Finding My Way (2008), it’s a “gathering up” of a season of his life, an expression of the good bad and everything in between.
While he didn’t set out to create a concept album, he later reflected that the project was the musical culmination of a multitude of experiences around the globe – the concerts he’s played, the people he’s met, the relationships he’s forged, the placed he’s visited, the cultures he’s explored, the food he’s eaten, the lessons he’s learned. In many ways, then This Beautiful Chaos is the musical equivalent of the late great Anthony Bourdain’s multi-faceted travel, food and culture show “Parts Unknown,” surveying life’s chaotic beauty as experienced in different locales.
There are two especially fascinating things to note as we further explore, and ease from the elegant, softspoken reflections of the title track to the hypnotic and sensual string dance exploring “Momentum and Meaning,” the plucky, folk-flavored strum of an attempt to “Know Thyself,” an immersion into the mystery of “The Presence of Absence” and a meaningful emotion-driven attempt to capture “A Daddy and His Daughter” in a single snapshot.
First, and this will indeed most excite the guitar gurus and their followings, Hall’s palette includes six different guitars – Standard Acoustic, Baritone Acoustic, Nylon String, High Strung Guitar, Electric Guitar and a Portuguese instrument called Viola Amarantina. Second, with all those trains of thoughts and experiences swirling in his head awaiting musical manifestation, he composed the pieces in the early morning hours in the shed in his backyard in Pennsylvania as his wife and baby daughter slept.
Well known for recordings featuring the “kalimbatar,” a hybrid instrument he and various engineers and master luthier Sheldon Schwartz created by combining the kalimba (African finger piano) and acoustic guitar), Hall made a conscious decision to make this his first album in years NOT to feature that or guitar percussion.
“I had some major limitations in my life for this album,” he says. “At the time I started writing, I had been waking up earlier in the morning while my new baby daughter slept so I could get some practice in. I tried to be quiet so I wouldn’t wake her. So all the songs took a very soft turn. The saying ‘freedom within limitations’ became my mantra. I had only a certain chunk of the early morning hours for a while, and only softer sounds. Those limitations turned out to be freedoms and I eventually got a separate office so volume wasn’t an issue, yet the songs needed that season to drive the textures and aesthetics that would define them.
“I maintained my focus of melody and harmony throughout,” Hall adds. “As Socrates says, ‘Follow the argument wherever it leads,’ which for me translates to ‘Follow the inspiration wherever it leads. It’s possible to choke the life out of something by trying to control it, so I try to write with an open mind and trust that it will go new places. Hopefully, as people hear these songs, the guitars just disappear and the songs can come to life for the listener the way they do for me!”
Listen to This Beautiful Chaos here: https://open.spotify.com/album/0RoJId9M3Fh6DBzWW84UA5