Acoustic Alchemy: Redefining the Rules
Gilderdale had never heard of Acoustic Alchemy before being invited to audition in 1996. As an electric guitarist, he was reluctant to try out for a smoothly oriented band, but agreed to sit in for four songs. “I was sorta prepared to dismiss [it] . . . realized by the second and third tune that his was pretty good stuff,” said Gilderdale. The band had recently decided to experiment by removing the keyboards and replacing them with a layer of electric guitar. Gilderdale landed the job and began touring. His first official recording would be the Positive Thinking CD.
Recording this album was a lasting experience for everyone, as Webb was very ill. While undergoing chemotherapy treatments, the band chose to live with him in order to write and record the songs for Positive Thinking. On February 5, 1998, Nick Webb died before the final sessions of the album. In his honor, the band finalized this work and continued to tour.
After the death of Webb, John Parsons stepped in and covered Webb’s acoustic part during touring. However, Parsons had his own full-time gig in Spain and left in 1999 to pursue that career. This left another opening in the band. “I wasn’t an acoustic player at all. But, by this point I was a member of the family,” said Gilderdale. Rather than look outside for another musician, he decided to “lock” himself away and learn to play the acoustic guitar with steel strings. Much to the delight of fans everywhere, Gilderdale and Carmichael would mold the new image of Acoustic Alchemy.
It was an amazing experience to watch the two of them together on stage in St. Louis on September 10, 2003. The connection they share is beyond words. Where Gilderdale has a more edgy style with a pick and steel strings, Carmichael has a soft touch with fingers and nylon. Where one stops, the other follows by pure intuition. There doesn’t appear to be any competition for space. Melodies and harmony flow effortlessly.
Gilderdale appears to be the most outgoing of the duo while onstage. In an offbeat standup routine, Gilderdale gave vivid descriptions of each band member. He introduced Carmichael by saying, “This guy here needs no introduction. This here is Mr. Acoustic Alchemy himself” and wittingly made reference to the original band gig as being before motorized transport. Carmichael would simply introduce Gilderdale by asking that everyone give his “friend” a hand.
The crowd at the local theater, The Pageant, enjoyed tunes from their new CD, Radio Contact. The eager audience was treated to an extended rendition of “No Messin.” An unplugged version of this song was played earlier in the day on local radio station, WSSM. It was interesting to hear the contrasts between this solely acoustic version and the electrified number that was featured in the evening. The acoustic version seemed to have a more organic feel. The nighttime version was exuberantly unbridled. Bassist Frank Felix commented, “We love that tune . . . can’t you tell?”
Gilderdale took the lead on “Milo,” which was written for his son. As a side note, jazz guitarist Chuck Loeb helped produce “Milo,” “No Messin,” “Shelter Island Drive,” and “Urban Cowboy” for the album. Gilderdale spoke about how touring the country on a bus helped influence the song writing for Radio Contact. It was after they “went to a placed called Texas” that “Urban Cowboy” was written. Flavors of places visited have often been a topic of previous Acoustic Alchemy songs.
Colors and textures appear to be a key ingredient to the fourteen-year success of this group. Rather than let themselves stagnate, they ebb and flow with change. Where the previous CD, AArt was filled with horn textures, Radio Contact concentrates more heavily on the acoustic feel to the group. However, this is not necessarily a complete return to the original Acoustic Alchemy sound. The song writing is fresh and the arrangements have a purely modern vibe. Perhaps Radio Contact will be seen a well-organized effort to extend the existing boundaries of the smooth jazz market. When asked about the future of smooth jazz, Carmichael stated, “I don’t think it will ever go away. It will evolve.” Redefining the rules is what Acoustic Alchemy does best.