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Ralph Towner: My Foolish Heart

Geno Thackara By

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Ralph Towner has occasionally said that he considers himself less a musician than a sort of audio novelist. An album or concert might not tell a single strict narrative, exactly, but dynamic flow is central to his compositions as much as his marvelously expressive fretting and plucking. Unsurprisingly from a player so known for picturesque sensibility (though always a delight to hear), My Foolish Heart paints another lovely series of aural images with a rich depth of experience behind it all.

Like his previous solo outing Time Line (ECM, 2006), this affair spans the spectrum of his influences (e.g. classical, Spanish, folk and that amorphous range inadequately called "world music") with a small dip into jazz-standard history. The title track represents his roots but doesn't indicate a collection of old chestnuts; it's actually the only non-Towner piece here. It serves more as a thematic touchstone for the rest of the program, which he cites as an attempt to evoke "how it felt to inhabit such a reverent musical space" when the song first significantly affected him.

But you don't need to know that background to sit back and get lost in the flowing lines of a master at work. The mood is beautifully contemplative and the pictures, even all in the mind, are never less than vivid. He makes positive use of space and quietude, occasionally keeping a rhythmic base by weaving around steady chords, and often spinning single-note streams into partita-like structures. A couple pieces here are rendered on steel twelve-string guitar, where its tinnier chiming (with picking and natural sustain somewhat evocative of Leo Kottke) makes a tangy tonal seasoning to complement the subtler twang of nylon. Nonetheless, it's still the classical guitar where he's arguably always been most at home.

The selections include a couple chestnuts from Towner's early days with Oregon and a subtly twisty Spanish-flavored tribute to good friend Paul Bley, who passed away two weeks before the recording. Spots like "Two Poets" are willing to add a little slower thoughtfulness to the flow, while the sprightly "Dolomiti Dance" could almost serve as a moderate jig for woodland fairies. Meditative, lightly jaunty or anywhere in between, each part of My Foolish Heart tumbles from the strings with eloquence and heart.

Track Listing: Pilgrim; I’ll Sing To You; Saunter; My Foolish Heart; Dolomiti Dance; Clarion Call; Two Poets; Shard; Ubi Sunt; Biding Time; Blue As In Bley; Rewind.

Personnel: Ralph Towner: classical guitar and 12–string guitars

Title: My Foolish Heart | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: ECM Records

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