“Strings Of Infinite Delight” - The new album by Anthony Phillips, Strings Of Light, reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
A new album by Anthony is always good news, but when it is an album of music on guitar, then that is even more reason for rejoicing. Ant’s library music has kept him away from the domain of the guitar for way too long now and it is hard to believe that it has been TWENTY years since his last album, dedicated totally to the guitar: 1999’s Field Day.
Strings Of Light can rightly be viewed as that album’s successor, but this time the rationale is to showcase a series of individual instruments with each track being performed on one such. And with so many guitars and other stringed instruments for him to choose from these days, it must have been quite a struggle to narrow the field (pun intended) down but Ant has managed to do so admirably.
The album gets under way with the jaunty Jour De Fete and Diamond Meadows, the latter suitably bucolic but with echoes of past glories from the Private Parts & Pieces series in it to my ears.
Caprice In Three is a wonderfully elegiac piece, part lullaby but not in a somnolent sense! This one too, harks back to earlier days whilst Castle Ruins to me, has the echoes of some medieval troubadour strumming in an empty castle hall before a banquet or some such event. Quiet and reflective, and a total joy.
Mermaids And Wine Maidens ( a pun on the Rhine Maidens - or Lorelei as they are known, I suspect) , shimmers like the rippling waters of the Rhine on a summer’s day, before we are taken to the depths of winter for Winter Lights, has the feel of a Christmas scene as viewed through a frosted window, all brittle delicacy and delight but tinged with an element of sadness.
Song For Andy, is another introspective piece, and not being sure who the Andy in question is, it is hard to make any further judgement on it, I’m afraid. Pilgrimage Of Grace however, is instantly evocative of the simple faith and witness of those brave souls who fought for their beliefs, an homage to life’s casualties whatever their cause, simply beautiful, no more words are needed.
Skies Crying , does exactly what it says on the tin, a perfect description of a rainy day, sunshine and showers, autumn leaves and the smell of wood smoke, campfire music but of the highest quality. Mouse Trip (no, that is not a typo folks!) is one of those quirky pieces typical of Mr Phillips, here we have Mr or Mrs Mouse taking a trip around the house whilst its owner is away, a cartoon for the ears!
Restless Heart however, is majestically romantic, the aching of separation, and the anticipation of reunion are all met here in one , and there are echoes of a firm favourite within, see if you can guess which one when you listen yourselves folks….The first disc is brought to a close by Still Rain, another wistfully elegiac piece.
Disc Two gets under way with Into The Void and Andean Explorer both suitably dramatic and replete with South American sounds the former being little more than a prelude for the latter, the warmth, the drama and indeed the danger of the Andes is brought vividly to life here.
Mystery Tale, continues the South American theme being played on a Guitarina - a South American instrument - perhaps our Andean explorer’s regaling of his companions over a hearty supper around the campfire at the end of a day’s exploring, who knows? Sunset Riverbank meanwhile, takes us to a lazy summer’s day on a river in England, a picnic, wine and the company of the local wildlife, all picked out in typical detail by Ant’s guitar.
Tale Ender (a punning reference to the last man in to bat during a cricket match) is not, as you might expect, the last track on the album however, oh no, his tale does not end here. A haunting and ethereal use of the Guitarina on this one brings us eventually to Shoreline, almost as if we emerge from a smuggler’s cove into the bright sunlight at the seashore, waves crashing. Gulls crying.
Days Gone By is another wonderfully wistful piece, a reflection on life’s moments, some good, some bad, all part of that rich tapestry which is woven so beautifully here by Ant on classical guitar.
Crystalline is performed in Nashville Tuning (you can read more about that in the interview with Ant elsewhere in this edition) the end result is a bright, shimmery piece which is almost crystalline in nature.
Fleur De Lys another superbly evocative piece, brilliantly bringing the flower it describes to life in all its golden glory.
Grand Tour , they say that travel broadens the mind, the nobility knew this when they used to embark on such endeavours and here we are embarking on our own musical one with Anthony in this piece .
The album is brought to an end by Home Road and Life Story, the former is one of those instantly recognisable Ant moments a jangly light hearted interlude before we reach the album’s finale, and what a truly remarkable one it is , too. An epic etched out in granite like perfection a guitar concerto which the great Andres Segovia would be proud of, a master class in performance and composition - find your own superlatives and throw them at this one folks, I adore it!
And there you have it, another breathtaking collection of guitar music from one of the greatest exponents of the art. Ant is far too modest to say so himself, so I shall do it for him, this is the work of a master musician. Supremely well crafted and executed, a joy from start to finish, Strings Of Light more than lives up to its name and is a joy from the first note to the last.
Anthony Phillips: Strings of Light Cherry Red Records EANTCD31076.