At times it is easy to forget that ambient music can consist of more than droning, ambling, drifting electronic textures; that conventional instruments and musical concepts can be used to an effective degree to create ambient atmospheres. Such is the case with the very highly personal offering by guitarist Chris Natoli from down under.
One Soul's Journey is a collection of mostly acoustic guitar pieces. Some of the tunes on this CD are Natoli playing unaccompanied guitar, others feature a small backup band consisting of bass, piano, strings and percussion. When I put this CD on the player, the impression that comes to me is that of a small, dark coffee house, where people cluster around small tables and converse in hushed murmurs while the band, on a stage just barely lighted, cranks out tune after tune to mold the atmosphere. One can mentally move the music into the background, but if one chooses to listen closely, will find well-crafted and articulate tunes, played with feeling and grace.
Take, for example, the song Lenny. Written by the late guitar legend, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Natoli and his bandmates transform this piece into a sublime mixture of oozing jazz and melancholy. While sitting at the table, hunched over one's thick expresso, this song might be enough to make one raise one's head as if questioning one's own ears.
Other titles endow this album with its personal character: Song For Arvi, When Darkness Falls, with its plaintive refrain, "Can you feel the pain," and my favorite, Jaron's Lullaby. My wife's son--and thus my stepson--is named Jaron, so this piece resonates with me especially.
I confess, my first listen to the CD left me less than impressed. But subsequent playings have allowed the music to grow on me. I don't habituate coffee houses, but if I did, I would feel right at home if the music of Chris Natoli was being played.
Reviewed by Fred Puhan for Ambient Visions