Phil Keaggy is one of those guitarists who are regularly listed in Guitar Player magazine in a "Best Guitarist" list or as someone's influence, and yet he has never achieved national recognition. On the guitar, he is more than good. He is a legend. Guitarists hear his music and openly drool at his impressive array of styles and techniques.
His latest release, the all-instrumental Acoustic Sketches, was originally offered as a fan club special. Recorded in his digital studio, the majority of the selections feature Phil improvising over rhythmic tape loops, much like he does in his solo concerts. Other selections are carefully multi-tracked excursions into flowing arrangements or jaunty Celtic melodies. While it is true that Keaggy can machine-gun out a flurry of notes, most of the pieces on this disc are on the mellow side, meditative without sacrificing musical content (John Tesh this is not). The pieces are tasteful, pleasant offerings that are free from the restraints of having to meet some commercial goal. And perhaps that is why I didn't like it as much as I'd hoped. While Keaggy can produce more musical colors out of an acoustic guitar than anyone I've ever heard, after an hour of ONLY acoustic guitar, my ear yearns to hear a different color. This is only a personal preference, however, as I've known guitarists and non-guitarists alike who happily immerse themselves into hour after hour of Keaggy's music.
Personal favorites include "Paka" with it's mind-blowing, playful picking; "Metamorphosis", a warm and friendly journey with Celtic overtones; and the jazzy "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" which contains the only other instrument on the CD, a tuba. Through the years, I have given many Keaggy CD's as gifts and this one will be no exception. Guitarists will enjoy the detailed liner notes, indicating the guitar and tunings used and non-guitarists enjoy the free, restful melodies. The only difficult part is finding it! I have found Keaggy's music categorized in the classical section, the rock section, and even in the inspirational section. But the music is well worth the search.
This article first appeared in WhatzUp, November 1998.