With an established reputation among Christian circles as an accomplished - even legendary - guitarist Phil Keaggy releases Roundabout, a purely instrumental album designed to highlight Keaggy's versatile skills as a player and arranger. Predominantly acoustic in nature, the album's 18 tracks were constructed by looping multiple guitar parts together, achieving an intricately layered sound that feels almost orchestral in parts.
Overall, Roundabout is well played, showcasing Keaggy as an exemplary musician. It also manages to wear its influences well, as ample strains of blues, funk and jazz are woven throughout each track, giving Roundabout a much needed sense of character that instrumental albums must possess in order to remain listenable. Keaggy's arrangement skills are also greatly displayed here; each guitar track is layered thoughtfully and beautifully within the mix without it sounding too cluttered.
Although it is sonically intriguing, Roundabout is, in the end, a novel concept that appears more interesting than it actually is. The album's 18 tracks feel less like separate compositions than they do different variations on essentially the same theme, giving Roundabout a scattershot and unfinished vibe at times. Most of the songs are too short, fading out before accomplishing anything interesting, and the ones that do take their time lack a strong sense of direction or melody, sounding more like structureless acoustic noodling than they do actual songs. Some of the compositions sound promising (like the multi-part opener "Skipping Stones" and a cover of the jazz standard "Blue Moon") but the rest are mostly a pretty-sounding jumble of seemingly half-baked ideas and incomplete songs.
Ultimately, Roundabout is an idea that sounds brilliant on paper but less so in execution. Fans of Phil Keaggy's instrumental work will still no doubt want to check out this release (and perhaps even those whose interests were piqued by his guest appearance on the instrumental "Eternal" on P.O.D.'s 2003 release Payable on Death). Though not great, Roundabout is still a fairly listenable album from one of Christian music's truly gifted musicians.- Review date: 10/7/06 by Sherwin Frias
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