The first music review for 2009 will be an album from a Christian musician I have been a fan of since the middle 70’s. The musician known as Phil Keaggy is also noted as one of the best guitarists in the world. To know Phil Keaggy is to also know some of the many urban legends created about him. Several rumors have circulated about Phil Keaggy and whether or not he had been observed by the guitar god Jimi Hendrix. The rumor begins with an interview of Hendrix on Johnny Carson or Dick Cavett where he was asked what it’s like to be considered the greatest guitarist in the world. The rumored response from Hendrix was “I don’t know, you should go ask Phil Keaggy.” Keaggy has stated that even though he did record with his old band Glass Harp at Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios, it was well after Hendrix’s death in England. Another rumor that has circulated about Keaggy is the one about the middle finger on his left hand. If you’ve ever seen Keaggy perform you would notice that half of this middle finger is missing. The wildest rumor supposedly occured prior to his conversion to Christianity. The legend says that in a drunken stupor he wanted to prove he was the world’s best guitarist and cut the finger off himself. There are many variations as to just how he did this finger execution. Keaggy busted all those rumors many years ago. I found this video the other day where he describes what really happened to his middle finger.
Phillip Tyler Keaggy began playing guitar at age ten in his parents small farmhouse in Hubbard, Ohio on a Sears Silvertone guitar. He has frequently been listed as the top 3 “fingerstyle” as well as “fingerpicking” guitarist by Guitar Player Magazine. I received my first exposure to this masterful virtuoso guitarist while listening to a live recording of The Second Chapter of Acts, a contemporary Christian group that consisted of Matthew Ward and his sisters Ann and Nelly. Phil Keaggy has recorded, by Wikipedia count, 47 records spanning over 35 years. When I purchased his 1978 album “The Master and the Musician” I was totally hooked on Phil Keaggy. Since then I have collected only a small portion of his many recordings.
The newest album in that long line of recordings is “Phantasmagorical: Master & Musician 2“. It was released August 19th, 2008 and is an instrumental album. The “Master & Musician 2” part of the album title was added to the original name just prior to it’s release. “Phantasmagorica” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as:
a constantly shifting complex succession of things seen or imagined
This definition describes the pieces of work on this album. They begin one way and constantly change as the piece progresses. Now the reason for the additional album title. Early last year Keaggy had just returned from a tour to commemorate the 30th anniversary release date of the original “Master and the Musician” album when he noted some similarities between the past album and his newly complete project. His management team ran with the idea that this new project should be titled as a sequel of sorts. Hence the title “Phantasmagorical: Master & Musician 2“.
The album begins with a tune called “Like Snow Before the Sun.” The piece starts with a dobro guitar, quickly changes to some fine fingerpicking guitar and fascilates between the two guitars and between two tempos. This changing of tempos and texture is the standard (if it can be called that) established here in this first song. The next tune is called “The Journey Home” and is a nice velvety duet with Keaggy’s fingerpicking acoustic guitar accompanied by a cello. “Cascading” is the next piece and this time it begins with horns then transitions into a quickened tempo of fingerpicking chord progressions on guitar. Later in the song the piece is enhanced with some electric lead guitar. The fourth piece is called “The Wind and the Beat.” It is a play on words for a previous album release “The Wind and the Wheat“. After you’ve listened to the song the title will be more fitting with transitions between the smooth wind like acoustic guitar and the more electric sounds accompanied by bongos for the beat. The combination and variations work so well.
The albums highlights are many. I have already mentioned the first four tracks above and I would like to include a few more but not all. The duet of guitar and clarinet on “Lazy K” is quite a nostalgic sounding piece it could belong on the English folkish style of the original “M and M” album. “Waltz” is a nice piece with mixtures of classic guitar, cello, piano, flute and Keaggy’s patented Les Paul lead guitar. “In My Father’s Time” is another great piece that is reminiscent of the original “M and M” work with its inventive guitar and flute. “Forever To Joy” is a very light-hearted piece that begins with a guitar and flute duet, then transitions into a full four piece tune with drums and piano added. The classic guitar fills throughout the song are classic Phil Keaggy. I will admit since the “Master and Musician” are part of the album title the expectations for the album were very high. After the first listen I was somewhat disappointed. But after the second and third listens the album begins to take it’s own shape and character. I don’t know why the powers-to-be tacked the “M and M” sequel on to the title. “Phantasmagorical” can definitely stand on it’s own as a wonderful Phil Keaggy instrumental album. I am once again introduced to Phil Keaggy the musician and artist as I sit and listen to this compilation of tunes. It can be listened to as you sit and day dream or as you study and meditate on God’s word. I rate it five guitars out of five.
Please check out the video to one of my favorite pieces of work. This is Fare Thee Well from the album “Beyond Nature.”