Phil Keaggy
220 / Acoustic Sketches
Sparrow / Phil Keaggy Club

A review by Dave Urbanski for CCM Magazine, September 1996.

Reprinted by permission of CCM Communications, copyright 1996---all rights reserved.

Since his childlike yet prodigious first steps (1973's What a Day) into an even more embryonic "Jesus Rock" community, Phil Keaggy has long been among the most beloved and revered singer/songwriters in Christian music.

But Keaggy is also the one artist who regularly says more with a 30-second improvised guitar flourish than others say with their most inspired, witty poems-put-to-music. Catch any of his solo acoustic shows, and you'll agree that Keaggy's imaginative, stretched-out jams are what set him apart from all other musicians.

And fans who've likewise loved Keaggy's all-instrumental studio efforts (The Master and the Musician, The Wind and the Wheat, and Beyond Nature) will be doubly pleased with his newest, non-vocal creations-the electric, full-band foray, 220, and the humble, almost living room-like, Acoustic Sketches.

After what sounds like a variation on Eric Clapton's "Had to Cry Today" riff (from Clapton's band, Blind Faith), Keaggy sets a strong, bluesy tone in the opening seconds of 220's "Animal." So if you're expecting another rapturous canvas of sound as per The Wind and the Wheat, sorry. 220 ain't no lullaby. But don't worry--Keaggy, even when he rocks hardest, is incurably melodic.

And incurably eclectic. You may as well count sheep if you want to tally his (and his combo's) tonal experiments. While Keaggy stretches out with blues-rock, fusion, jazz, acoustic, and country flavors (along with dabs of backwards guitar, amplifier feedback, bass-y leads, and his signature volume-knob swells), his bandmates set a nice mix of tempos while adding brush strokes of their own--Hammond organ, clavinet, fiddle, harmonica and even Scottish Warpipes and tin whistles.

One might call this effort 220 (Kitchen Sinks)--all, by the way, with fine plumbing, custom ceramic craftsmanship and handy water filters to boot.

Acoustic Sketches (available only through Keaggy's fan club, 800/664-8482) sports a more unified feel than 220. To the naked ear, the songs sound as if they were improvised and recorded back-to-back in his living room. They weren't, of course, but that's the feel--and that's what Keaggy fans love best. So relaxed and carefree is Keaggy's mixture of rough structures and brilliant improvisations, one could easily let the disc play to the end without noticing the breaks in between the 19 songs.

While these textures closely resemble those found on his first all-acoustic effort, Beyond Nature (you might catch a few nanoseconds of notes from his 1991 release and other albums), Acoustic Sketches is quite a bit looser sounding. But this project isn't informal sounding. The six-string reproduction is stellar, with a fine blend of single-and multiple-guitar tracks. Keaggy, even more than when he pushes the envelope with the amp, exerts total command and complete companionship with the spruce and bronze. Whether he's tapping out harmonics while improvising ditties with monikers such as "Rivulets" and "On Second Thought"--or breathing new life into an old tune such as "Spend My Life with You"--Acoustic Sketches showcases Keaggy's ability to create a warm space where no words are necessary.

If human audio receptors continue working correctly and the sun continues to rise, Acoustic Sketches and 220 will stand the test of time the way Keaggy has.

--Dave Urbanski

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