Polishing The Stone
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Because of the lower cost of recording today, many artists decide to skip the hassle of record labels and opt for the "do it yourself" approach. This is the choice that Rick Whitelaw has made on his debut album Polishing The Stone, performing and producing twelve songs for guitar.
Perhaps the first thing that grabbed my attention on the opening track, Train Train, was that Whitelaw had used two guitars, one playing rhythm, the other lead. I appreciated the fact that he didn't feel the need to stick to one guitar and create a virtuoso effect. Instead, on this and many other tracks, he uses one guitar to create a lively layer of sound that serves as a launching pad for a second guitar.
Perhaps my favorite piece is a short jaunt called Bottom Dollar, a swing jazz tune that, as Whitelaw himself points out, "invokes memories of Django . . ." Two guitars chug along creating the Hot Club rhythm while one guitar, and then another, trade leads (a fascinating idea, considering the same person is playing both leads!). Train Train begins as a straight-ahead Chet Atkins' romp, only to add a second guitar to play lead over the complex rhythm. Just when a song like Tea Time seems to fall into a comfortable groove, Whitelaw quickens the pace and adds an unexpected twist. Other standouts include Southern Call, an inspired Latin piece performed with two nylon string guitars. The minor key lends a darker hue to Whitelaw's playing than can be found on the rest of the album. High Ground tips its hat to newgrass and includes lively flat-picking with two steel string guitars. Both songs clock in at over four minutes, providing ample time for Whitelaw to develop his leads.
Two songs, Waltz for Fred and Whispers are lovely slow jazz pieces played on nylon string guitars. Both reminded me of the beautiful Kenny Burrell album, Moon and Sand, also partially recorded with acoustic guitar. Other slow songs work less well, such as Handy Man and She Walks, seeming to lack momentum. It isn't that these songs are bad or in danger of being referred to as New Age; only that they roll along too easily, lacking an edge.
Whitelaw's decision to record a debut album now seems to be a personal one. He describes the music as, "A collection of instrumental acoustic guitar pieces that come from the heart, presented in a straightforward and honest manner." Whitelaw has been involved in music for nearly thirty years, including performing and recording with artists such as Chris Whiteley, Ian Tyson, and Cindy Church. Perhaps it is this wide experience that creates the eclecticism of Polishing The Stone. The sheer range, including ballads, jazz, and finger picking, certainly adds to the enjoyment of this album. It should also be noted that Whitelaw wrote every piece.
Rick Whitelaw's debut album shows that all you need to make great music is several guitars, a recording studio, and a really talented guitar player. Hopefully Whitelaw will not choose to wait another thirty-years before recording his sophomore effort.
Edited by: Jonathan Colcord