People sometimes say a slide guitar “shimmers” or “glimmers.” In the hands of Ed Gerhard, a guitar’s sound glistens, like edges of ice on a stream bank – beautiful, fragile and natural.
His “House of Guitars” is a gem, a handful of finely crafted, almost ambiant original instrumentals coupled with five traditional songs and heartbreaking instrumental versions of “Let It Be Me,” and Paul McCartney’s “Junk” and “I Will.” His haunting composition “Promised Land” opens and closes the album.
What makes this recording so spectacular is that it takes David Grisman’s “Tone Poems” concept- using rare, vintage mandolins and guitars to create a soundscape – and applies it in reverse. Mr. Gerhard takes old starter guitars, the ones we politely call cheesy and on which most guitarists begin learning, and delivers some powerfully emotional music. This, from guitars that easily could have been bolted on the wall of your favorite chain theme saloon. One of the guitars is made of plastic, for crying out loud, and the sound is amazing. Mr. Gerhard says in his liner notes that he didn’t even change the strings.
It’s not that Mr. Gerhard was unable to afford a new instrument. Breedlove Guitars has issued a Gerhard signature model for the New Hampshire-based performer, who has a half-dozen earlier records. But from his collection of pawn shop dross, Mr. Gerhard has layered open-tuning fingerstyle and slide arrangements into a tonal work of art. It’s conceivable that these songs could not sound better on the best of guitars.
“House of Guitars” unashamedly deflates any intermediate-level guitarist’s delusions. If someone can get this quality of music from an instrument made of plywood or plastic, wannabe guitar players can save their money and spend more effort practicing.