johnson keaggy waterskyJeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy take another trip down that river. Hop in the canoe, relax, and bask in the sound...
Jeff Johnson / Phil Keaggy
ARK Records
10 tracks 56:59
Rating: 9

Those that have followed the evolution of spiritually-oriented music from the early days of what - somewhere in the seventies - become known as Contemporary Christian Music, are well-familiar with the names Jeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy. Johnson and Keaggy, in essentially separate careers, were a hallmark of quality music that more often than not rose above the genre's sometimes questionable standards. Keaggy was the pop genius and guitar hero – Johnson, the introspective new age instrumentalist bridging the gap between spacey jazz, pop, and ambient sound. Many must have hoped that the two would someday collaborate and create something wonderful. Well, not only did it happen, but now it's happened twice. The eclectic duo finally got together in 2009 to create their landmark instrumental project, Frio Suite, and have produced the logical sequel, WaterSky, three years later.

These two artists are masters of instrumental music, a term that was anathema in those early CCM days – after all, how can you worship God without words? Well, listen and you'll find out – if you've got ears to hear. Inspired by the Frio River Canyon and its environs, the two musicians have created music that speaks volumes of the beauty of creation – instrumental voyages of the soul that are designed to transport you to a place of reflection and inspiration.

These eight musical soundscapes, each one lasting anywhere from five to a little over eight minutes in length, seem to pulse with a heartbeat of their own, creating patterns, textures and ornamental melodies that you can choose to glide into or ride on top of. Far from the dreaded 'elevator music' and certainly too inviting to be called 'wallpaper' music, the closer you listen, the more is revealed. Johnson's atmospheric washes of sound sometimes mimic nature but also employ electronics to evoke everything from a wash of strings or flutes to less identifiable tones, all underpinned by piano chords and melody lines. Keaggy plays acoustic and electric guitars, cumbus (a Turkish stringed instrument, adding an Eastern flavor to "When Cicadas Marched"), and bass, which he plays with enthusiastic and tasteful fluidity on many tracks.

The title-track itself is a dreamy exercise lasting eight minutes and ten seconds, starting with an acoustic piano figure joined by Phil's guitar and bass and featuring a wordless vocal by Johnson that creates a cathedral-like ambiance. Sounding like a combination of the best of Johnson's recent work and Keaggy's Master and the Musician period, WaterSky showcases the finesse and competence of these two players, with the music flowing as freely and effortlessly as the waters of the Frio River itself. Although the project has moments of perhaps becoming a little too 'ambient' for the listener expecting hooks and something closer to traditional pop songs, the last three pieces have stronger melodies and sound more structured compositionally than the balance of the album. Phil manages to get funky on "The Cody Incident" and has bursts of wonderfully fluid Dave Bainbridge-like runs throughout the album but don't expect a rock album by any means. The operative word here is
'atmospheric,' which WaterSky certainly is.

Let WaterSky speak to the deeper part of you.

Bert Saraco

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