It should come as no surprise that Dragonflies, Frogs and Bumblebees, the new album by Dorset guitarist Will McNicol, contains a set of exquisitely played and beautifully recorded tunes. As one of the most technically accomplished young players in Britain, Will treats us to a range of his new compositions in his trademark acoustic folk/classical style, with its hints of blues, Americana and European influences. The playing is crisp, precise and played with a light touch; he achieves beautiful tones on often intricate and challenging compositions.
With this album of 11 instrumentals, Will returns to a solo context, after his collaborations with percussionist Luke Selby. As a bonus, there is one track, Emma backed by Innotet, the Glasgow-based string quartet with whom Will has recently been collaborating, and with whom he is planning to record a full album in the near future. Emma is clearly a favourite of Will's - he recorded it on his solo album Snapshots, and in a duo version with Luke on Hitchhiker. It evokes a wistful, Celtic feel which is subtly enhanced by the gentle, mournful strings backing.
The other tracks very much create a mood - which Will is obviously aware of from his comment in the sleeve-notes : "put the kettle on and relax…". This is both a strength and a weakness of this album. As has been said, the tracks are all individually beautiful - both in sound and execution. They are mostly quite short - rarely longer than 4 minutes - which can mean that individual tunes tend to lack dynamic range. There is considerable variety of style and tempo from track to track; however, perhaps the solo guitar, without voice or other instruments, can be a little too relaxing at times. I would like to see Will take a few more risks and, occasionally, to try to grab the listener's attention with something unexpected.
Every track on this album is a gem. The title track (Dragonflies, Frogs and Bumblebees) has a gentle, pastoral feel, and is followed by the slower, romantic Lighthouse, which has an Italian air about it. Both are standout tracks, and form an excellent start to the sequence. Other interesting tracks include A Thousand Paper Cranes, which has jaunty banjo-picking style, Fluff Ball (another up-tempo piece with hints of Americana), and Humphrey's Hat - a particularly melodic piece, with a catchy back-riff. I also like the bluesy Blindsided - which could be a Richard Thompson backing track. Most of the other tracks on the album are slow, gentle tunes, each charming in itself, but somewhat similar to the rest of the album. The gems form a cluster - but, personally, I would like to see them presented in a more intricate and carefully-crafted setting; the addition of voice or other instruments could help them to shimmer like real jewels!
Will's tunes follow his own tastes in gently complex writing. He does not seem to be currently exploring jazz improvisation in his style - sometimes it would be great to see him stretch out more. I hope Will continues to play more with other musicians, in a group setting, to develop the breadth and originality of his playing and composition. I find his style reminds me much of 1970's American guitar maestro John Fahey - rather than Will's own favourite, Antonio Forcioni. The latter has a range and dynamism in his playing which Will doesn't quite achieve with this album. He probably wasn't aiming for this; however, he risks the same fate as players such as Fahey - beloved of his aficionado audience, but failing to reach the wider public that his superb playing deserves.
This album is recommended to anyone who loves world-class guitar playing in a folk/classical style. I look forward to following Will's solo work as it develops in future. Even more, I am looking forward to the album with Innotet, and to seeing how Will develops his ensemble work and his improvisation skills, in this and other future collaborations.
|Windborne: Song Of The Times||Jack The Lad: Rough Diamonds|
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