||Released in 2017 on Acoustic Shine
Produced by Shambhu and Todd Boston
Composed by Shambhu except “Prelude 2” (George Gershwin with arrangement by Shambhu) and “Gaia Sweet Divine” composed by Shambhu and Kristin Hoffmann
Mastered by Tom Eaton for Imaginary Road Studios
Shambhu: acoustic and electric guitars, 6-string ukulele, e-marimba, e-sitar, e-pads, vocals
Paul McCandless: English horn, soprano sax
Michael Manring: bass
Ravichandra Kulur: bansuri flute
Premik Russell Tubbs: soprano sax, wind synth
George Brooks: soprano sax
Kristin Hoffmann: vocals
Frank Martin: keyboards
Jeff Haynes: percussion
Gurumurthy V : tabla
Todd Boston:slide guitar
Perhaps there is a reason that “soothe” rhymes with “smooth,” but, at the very least, in the case of the latest album from guitar maestro Shambhu, the connection is more than a coincidental homonym. Soothe is absolutely smooth and not in an ersatz smooth jazz way, but in a way that conveys a smoothing out of rough edges, a smoothing of any jangled nerves, and a smooth path ahead for the remainder of your day after you listen to this great recording.
Shambhu wields his assorted guitars (electric, acoustic, ukulele) with deft artistry across a sizable sonic landscape of stylistic diversity but he always keeps things, well, smooth. Even on the occasion when the music crosses over into rhythmic uptempo territory, the mood is restrained and more “kick off your shoes” and less “kick up your heels.” You will hear everything from jazz to instrumental folk to breezy pop to world fusion and even a hint of new age on Soothe, and it all goes down silky smooth, refreshing as an ocean breeze on a sunset-lit beach, comforting as a pair of well-worn sneakers, and enjoyable as the company of friends and loved ones at an outdoor feast on a summer night.
The guitarist brought along some top notch talent, both in the recording booth and the engineering one as well. Todd Boston and Tom Eaton are among the best in the business behind the board in any genre, and when guest stars include folks like Paul McCandless, Michael Manring, Premik Russell Tubbs, Frank Martin, and Jeff Haynes (among others), it’s obvious Shambhu reached for the stars and brought them down to earth!
Sometimes during the umpteen playings of this album (I estimate more than ten) I would try to find a comparative group or artist to use in my review (as a “sounds like”), but it’s not easy. Yes, at times I thought of Spyro Gyra at their least urban, or Return to Forever at their least rambunctious or even Oregon minus the more overt world beat influences, but all of these miss the special musical magic with which Soothe overflows (which is not to minimize any of those three aforementioned groups but more to point out the special touches which distinguish this recording from theirs).
Soulfulness runs throughout each track on Soothe like a slow, lazy brook winding its way through a forest, at times burbling over rocks, and other times flowing serenely with sunlight shimmering off the gently rippling surface. “Knowingness” opens the album on a pensive yet beautiful note with acoustic guitar chords (and fingerstyle as well) under a delicate bansuri flute melody. “Time Travel” bursts gently into a sunshine feeling, percolating along on a bouncy hand percussion rhythm, softly sensual sax, and distinct feeling of movement – not too fast but not too slow, either. McCandless’ exquisite sax work on “Days Like Falling Stars” colors the song with a reflective feeling of romance lost, a missed chance at love perhaps? “Devotion Tears” hits with subtle somberness as bass, guitar, and Boston’s slide mesh together weaving a slightly sad mood via a killer refrain that is catchy despite its downcast stylings. I just love the sly bluesy jazz orientations of the cryptically-titled Gershwin-penned “Prelude 2,” with those delicious guitar notes matched by equally seductive sax (by George Brooks on this cut). “Through New Eyes” is the kind of song that could be seen as epitomizing the current era of instrumental pop/jazz music—with just a dash of world influence and an unforced liveliness. “Gaia Sweet Divine” departs the most from what has come before via both the more overt world music touches as well as Kristin Hoffmann’s pretty vocals which hover over the melody like a graceful seabird on gentle wind currents.
Soothe is not just meticulously crafted from every angle (composing, performing, engineering and mastering) but it also is clearly created and fashioned by artists in love with making music. It’s not just the details which are so evident throughout the 42 minute playing time, it’s the overall “whole” you are left with at its conclusion. One is left to feel sated, content, and hopefully seeing the world in a slightly better context, a friendlier light if you will, because if music this beautiful is still to be made and heard, perhaps there is hope for us after all.