Carl Weingarten didn’t intend to follow-up his ensemble long player Panomorphia with another ensemble album but that’s how Life Under Stars — eight years in the making — turned out. That’s perfectly fine, by the way, because you can never have too much of a good thing.
The acoustic and slide guitarist who also plays dobro and keyboards as well as shapes ambient soundscapes, plays what he describes as “progressive underground music” a term that suggests jagged edges, bombastic noises and uninviting angularity, but Weingarten’s music is in fact the exact opposite of those things. I think of it as New Age without the boring, superficial side, replaced by a accomplished musicianship side, and Life Under Stars (April 2, Multiphase Records) provides an ample amount of that.
It’s not just Weingarten bringing the accomplished musicianship, but also long-time colleagues Jeff Oster (trumpet, flugelhorn) and electric bassist Michael Manring. They, along with drummer Celso Alberti, return after key appearances on the prior release and are joined this time by Kit Walker (keys), Robert Powell (pedal steel), Barbara Else (flutes) and several others. In particular, the constant presence of piano weaving the basic melody with Weingarten’s acoustic guitar forms a thicker bedrock over which all the other various instruments layer their parts. Most prominent of these layers remain Weingarten’s, whose slide and dobro naturally fit within these atmospheric settings.
Weingarten builds many of his songs around simple themes and proceeds to build a sonic imagery around those themes. His trickling rhythm guitar mimics the soft patter of a rain shower for “A Different Rain.” Powell’s pedal steel adds just the right amount of twang to “Western Overnight. “Little Island” has a calm, nocturnal vibe of a sleepy enclave at night, and “Nightwalk” evokes the sounds of a bustling city at evening time before settling into a laid-back groove articulated so soulfully by Manring and buttressed by the lively brush work of Alberti.
“Code Blues” is a temporary departure from the floating complexion that’s Weingarten’s stock in trade, an honest blues-rocker that his slide is of course perfectly suited for. Peculiarly, Oster’s trumpet is, too.
Colorful but calm, surface-simple but intricately deep, Life Under Stars is another Carl Weingarten record that’s great for chilling without any of the empty calories that often come with relaxing music.
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