Gordon Thomas Ward – Whispers From the Woods
At the onset, the music hinges on medieval-progressive rock (Amazing Blondel, Incredible String Band, Paul Winter Consort, Shawn Phillips) with a dash of Moody Blues narration. But the concept while borderline pretentious is played skillfully by Gordon Thomas Ward on his 4th LP. It’s presented with well-balanced shifts in music that have a pleasant gravitational pull on the ear.
But it’s not the era of the 11-minute ambitious piece anymore (as it was in the late 60s). The audience’s attention span today is questionable. No matter how ambitious. Not many “Tubular Bells,” being released today. With Twitter, a few sentences suffice. A short paragraph is considered long-winded.
However, “Whispers From the Woods” has breaks between sections as Procol Harum’s classic “In Held ‘Twas In I,” had. But that piece was unique. Ward’s piece deals with environmental issues & eventually slides away from its medieval underpinnings & a dynamic lead guitar cuts in. But it’s still a lot to consume. It takes a listener on a journey, but that listener would have to have patience.
There’s no vocal contrast – it’s all Gordon. Procol Harum had Gary Brooker’s commanding vocal & Matthew Fisher’s more innocent vocal. The 75-minute 12-cut Whispers From The Woods (Drops Sept 1–Independent) finds Gordon playing poignantly throughout. There’s nothing intense or bombastic. He’s a good storyteller but no Hemingway or Leonard Cohen.
Fortunately, his material isn’t candy-coated or pulp – he has the tradition of Jonathan Edwards (“Sunshine”) with an adept acoustic guitar that sparkles. He appeals to the conscience with the importance of roots, love letters to those we respect, nature, the environment, living good, being fulfilled, remembering happy times & being optimistic.
Not all are gripping, but maybe they weren’t meant to be. Ward does interesting work (lead vocals/acoustic 6-string guitar/8-string baritone guitar/nylon string guitar/electric guitar/bowed psaltery/clarinet/percussion/harmony vocals/spoken word/effects).
“Shine” comes off with a John Denver angle, if it were shorter. It progresses nicely but never lifts off during its full 6-minutes. “Common Ground” has an infectious rock guitar open & pays homage to varied famous artists. A good clever shift in musical gears at 4:25. Above all Ward is a musician not afraid to explore musical depths that were abandoned. That progressive-rock folk idiom that even Poco dabbled in (“Crazy Eyes”).
Highlights — “Brilliant,” & “There Was a Time,” with their Clifford T. Ward (no relation) type arrangements (“Gaye” “Wherewithal”). “Push,” “The Second Floor,” (similar to Harry Chapin) & “Evening Bell” – (with an Elton John-type piano).
Musicians: Kevin Barry (lap steel/electric guitar), Ronnie Bouffard (drums), Jud Caswell (backing guitars/ mandolin/banjo/penny whistle/percussion/effects/harmony), Robby Coffin (electric guitar), Scott Elliott (electric bass), Abbie Gardner (dobro/resonator guitar/harmony), William J. Hall (harmony), Andy Happel (violin/cello), Ben Hunsberger (piano), April Reed-Cox (cello), Kaleb Storm (electric guitar), Shakey Rice & Jean Slapperton (percussion) & Hermit Thrush (singing in the woods).
Produced by Gordon & Jud Caswell. Photo courtesy of Gordon’s website. CD @ https://gordonthomasward.com/home