Fernwood is the name of an acoustic band from southern California, but that’s about the only geographical data on this group that’s easy to nail down. Consisting of multi-instrumentalists, Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery, Fernwood’s music is an undefinable sound, a kind of Americana world chamber music. Following up their debut, Almeria, Fernwood’s new CD, Sangita continues their mix of banjo and bouzouki, sitar and mandolin into a soundscape that’s as sweet as a country fiddle tune and as beguiling as a raga.
Gayle Ellett plays pyrotechnic guitar solos with the progressive rock group, Djam Karet, but with Fernwood he’s looking for something different.
Gayle Ellett: We’re trying to make music that’s overtly beautiful and not be afraid of that and make music that doesn’t show off our technical skills or how fast we can play. Which is hard to be mature enough to chill out and not turn it into a shredfest and look what I can do.
Todd Montgomery is a scholar of world instruments.
Todd Montgomery: Over time I realized I was always learning another cultural style of music and I finally realized doing Fernwood, it wasn’t the culture I was interested in. It was the instrument. So that’s really the main drive, to blend all these beautiful sounds and have everyone hear them.
Fernwood carve out an Americana world music full of sonic details and plaintive melodies. Indian ambiences, Appalachian picking and an elegant European nostalgia converge on “Cimarron.” It’s like a Nino Rota score for a Fellini film, played by a bluegrass band.
On both their album covers, Fernwood prints the statement:
All music played by hand, on instruments made out of wood.
Gayle Ellett: Our music just about loving the sound that comes out of the instruments and just trying to serve that, the instrument and the love of the tone. So it is kind of a manifesto.
Fernwood have the antique charm of a gentle but surreal music box cranked in the Ozarks on tines from India. Their new album is Sangita and it’s the Echoes CD of the Month for September. I’ll be featuring it on Monday’s show. This has been an Echo Location.
John Diliberto ((( echoes )))