I love music that helps me mentally visit places I’ve never been, and places I hope to see someday. Steve Hackett is getting ready to release his reserved, yet stylish new album “Under a Mediterranean Sky”, and the music evokes so many cultures and locales that it is truly a diverse and beautiful work. The album releases on January 22nd through Inside Out Music.
Steve Hackett has long been one of my favorite guitarists, though he is much more than just a guitar player. His compositions are often frighteningly magnificent in scope, sweeping me off my feet in unexpected ways. For this album, Steve partnered primarily with keyboardist Roger King, though his wife, Jo Hackett, is also featured in the credits.
This is Steve’s first acoustic album in over ten years, so you won’t hear his unmistakable signature sound. However, Steve’s acoustic playing happens to be some of my favorite, as he plays with such fluid deftness and dreamy precision that it sounds mesmerizing. This acoustic sound is the foundation for his exploration of Mediterranean sounds, inspired by his travels. You will hear keys and orchestrations that often sound mighty in particularly Gothic or Baroque fashion, but you will also hear Middle Eastern and other ethnic inspirations throughout the record. As usual, Steve is an eclectic composer.
Under a Mediterranean Sky is a weird album. though. Much of it feels very specific to geographical locations and humanities, and so feels folksy and immersed in cultural sounds much of the time. But, for some reason, again and again I was reminded of melodies from the Carpenters, which is something I didn’t expect. Perhaps this is a testament to the wholesome, classical sound of the songwriting, I can’t be sure. All I know is that when I was listening to “Casa del Fauno”, I think it was, I started singing “Goodbye to Love” in my head more than once. Maybe I’m simply out of whack, though this happened several times on the record.
Because of this, “Under a Mediterranean Sky” has a comforting, nostalgic sound to it, even as it explores places I have never been. I really like that, though, because acoustic albums can sometimes sound vanilla, and this one certainly does not. Steve may noodle a bit more than needed here and there, but for the most part there is very little filler, and his fingerwork is so vivid and masterful that I can almost close my eyes and see him playing it. There are some incredibly technical passages on this record, ones that I don’t think many players would dare to attempt. Steve accomplishes them with ease.
I enjoy all eleven tracks, though some are more memorable than others. “Mdina (The Walled City)”, for example, was one of the singles, and it still sticks out in my mind because of the way Roger’s colossal keys surge and flow up against Steve’s amazing licks. It almost feels like the score to a film. “Sirocco” is another single, only this one falls more in step with the whimsical acoustic pieces featuring an incredibly catchy central melody. So, some songs are technical feats, while others are fanciful pleasures.
Besides “Mdina”, I think my favorites are “Joie de Vivre”, an imaginative tune with a great melody, “The Memory of Myth” for its extensive keys, the aforementioned “Casa del Fauno” for its nostalgic and golden qualities, and “The Dervish and the Djin”, a slightly unnerving song with heavy Middle Eastern vibes, plenty of atmosphere, and even some percussive elements. In fact, that last one might be my favorite overall. Steve certainly takes us on a trip, one that I hope to take in person some day.
“Under a Mediterranean Sky” will never be considered Steve’s best album, but it certainly lives up to the quality and eclecticism I have come to expect from him. He never makes a dull album; he always pushes ideas and is unashamed of taking inspiration from history and the world at large. This album is a real treat for those of us who love his hypnotic acoustic style, and I know that fans will get lost inside its earthly beauty.
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