We may not be able to travel the Mediterranean at the moment, but Hackett gives us an impressionistic tour with this acoustic-and-strings project as he continues to broaden his scope gradually.

Label: InsideOut
Time: 11 Tracks / 51 mins

I often find it fascinating to hear an artist’s work and catch the bits that are intrinsically ‘them’ and this release has Hackett’s DNA running right through it.

On “Mdina (The Walled City)” and ”Adriatic Blue” I can hear bits that could have been on acoustic live shows such as Hungarian Horizons; melodic progressions that he has used over his career re-emerge; while “Sirocco” has that minor key Eastern feel that he has added to each recent release as he broadens his stylistic palette.

Just as he has employed strings on recent albums, Hackett creates an almost classical feel across this project. Free of drums, there are spells where the music almost stops and hangs in the air. The plaintive violin opening to “The Memory of Myth” only deepens that sense – and the only non-original piece on the album is classical: the delightful “Scarlatti Sonata” representing Italy in this impressionistic travelogue around the Mediterranean.

Speaking of ‘classical’, I dare you to listen to the sprightly Francophile “Joie de Vivre” without thinking of Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas.” That takes nothing away from it, only giving it some merit by association. The piece reflects its title well.

The mood comes more up-to-date with “Casa del Fauno,” a track inspired by a statue in the gardens of Pompeii’s House of the Faun. Hackett is joined by his brother John and regular bandmate Rob Townsend on flute, the former’s sound as familiar as ever, having first appeared on Hackett’s solo album Voyage of the Acolyte.

Townsend also appears playing sax in “The Dervish and the Djinn,” which continues the guitarist’s policy of bringing in musicians from warring nations to work together and add exotic world sounds – in this case, Malik Mansurov on ar and Aresen Petrosyan on duduk. It has lovely tones, but is not the most absorbing melodically.

“Lorato” sees him play his nylon guitar solo, exploring the shades of attack and softness that it allows.

Strings – arranged by long term collaborator Roger King – re-appear on the beautiful “Andalusian Heart,” where he employs a few tricks (cross-string trills) taught by one of the flamenco guitarists from the region. Strings also accompany him on the gentle “The Call of the Sea,” which sums up the album’s theme and eases us out of the voyage as it gradually slows down along the way.

This is Hackett’s first solo acoustic studio album for 13 years and it feels like he has built up a lot of tracks just waiting for their chance to get out there. So there is no real filler. The album begins with strings as part of a track that represents the lively history of a city and ends with the sea. The collection is best put on as a whole, setting a beautiful mood, and that slowing down will make you feel good at the end of it.  

Derek Walker