Will Ackerman Then & Now: 5 Best CDs

Five Best Will Ackerman CDs

Will Ackerman @ Echoes

Will Ackerman @ Echoes

There are a few people of whom I can say, if not for them, I wouldn’t be here.  And that’s the case with Will Ackerman.  He founded Windham Hill Records, still a cornerstone of the music you hear on Echoes.  That would probably be enough, but he also launched the finger-style guitar renaissance.  It had already begun, as Will said in my liner notes to 41d1HFtQ2zL._SL500_AA240_A Quiet Revolution: 30 Years of Windham Hill Records: “You know there was a lot about that whole Takoma Records/John Fahey thing that was a beacon to me.” He meant that in terms of starting a label, but also, playing acoustic guitar. Fahey and Kottke opened the door, but Will Ackerman built the house.  His open-tuning approach is now dominant among finger-style guitar players.  But his influence has gone beyond that.  A new generation of rock musicians are listening to their parent’s record collections and bands like Balmorhea and Hammock cite him as an influence.

In Search of the Turtle's Navel I first heard Will Ackerman in 1975.  I was Music Director at WXPN in Philadelphia when I read a review of Will’s debut, The Search for the Turtle’s Navel in a radio trade sheet called Walrus.  I recall the album having a brown cover, before he changed it and the title for In Search of the Turtles’s Navel the next year. I’m not even sure it was even  Windham Hill Records yet.   Surprisingly, I didn’t meet Will until 1990 when we had the first of many extensive and wide-ranging interviews.  He’s been on Echoes many times since and has become a great friend of the show.

As we head toward our 20th anniversary, we’re listening back to some of the signature artists of Echoes.  On Friday, August 7, we’ll feature Will Ackerman: Then and Now.

Will has made a lot of records.  Surprisingly for an artist who has been recording for over three decades and whose early work is nothing if not seminal, I prefer his later and more mature recordings.  Sadly, most of his catalog is currently out of print, a criminal state of affairs for such a major artist.


Returning: Pieces for Guitar 1970-2004 1 Returning (2004)
In 2004, Will Ackerman went back and recorded many of his signature tunes.  And you know what?  They sound a lot better now.  Cynics might view this as a ploy to retain control of his catalog, which since it was his first non-Windham Hill recording, it kind of was.  But his playing and the recording quality are sharper here than on those old Windham Hill favorites and Ackerman’s compositions have rarely sounded more poignant.   Returning sounds like your memory of that music.

51e-Yg-Z9CL._SL500_AA240_2 Hearing Voices (2001)
As I said in my Billboard magazine review in 2001, this is a brave album.   Ackerman enlists a group of singers including Samite, Happy Rhodes, Curtis King and Heather Rankin, to intone his quiet meditations.  Sometimes with English lyrics, just as often in Native tongues and imaginary dialects, Hearing Voices has a hymn-like quality.  It also features Ackerman’s only electric guitar playing on record at the time.

R-150-1350675-12119164073 Past Light (1983)
This is the earliest album in my list and another departure for Ackerman.  He weaves his guitar between the yearning lyricon playing of the late-Chuck Greenberg from Shadowfax, the tone-bending bass of Michael Manring, guitarist Michael Hedges and a few other WH stalwarts as well as Kronos Quartet.  A CD of intimate ruminations and conversations.

The Opening of Doors 4 The Opening of Doors (1992)
I really liked Will Ackerman’s music from the beginning, but this was the album that made me a fan.  I was seduced by Ackerman’s plaintive songs and simple but ornamented motifs that come across like sky paintings.  Ackerman surrounds himself with keyboardist Tim Story, oboist Paul McCandless and it even features metal monster guitarist Buckethead (Guns ‘n’ Rose, Bill Laswell).

Sound of Wind Driven RainSound of Wind Driven Rain (1998)
Sound of Wind Driven Rain has the familiar earmarks of earlier Ackerman albums with wistful  melodies flowing over a finger-picked trellis of arpeggios.  In addition to the usual accomplices — violinist Charlie Bisharat, oboist Paul McCandless and bassist Michael Manring — is Ugandan musician, Samite. His soaring voice lifts Ackerman’s “Hawk Dreaming” into a soulful hymn.  “Unconditional,”  played on a parlor guitar given him by Michael Hedges, has that timeless introspection that has made his music so enduring.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

  4 comments for “Will Ackerman Then & Now: 5 Best CDs

  1. Agree with pretty much everything you’ve written here. I too am a fan but mostly of the older stuff. My only question now is … what the hell happened to this kind of music?

    Do we have to have the exact same atmosphere of the 80’s to bring it back?

  2. The Opening of Doors is my favorite Ackerman album. It was the first I heard, and had it not been for Buckethead being on the album. I doubt I would have listened to it. But thanks to Buckethead, I was introduced to a beautiful new world of sound and guitars. That album is so cinematic, as are all of Ackerman’s compositions. The guy really knows how to paint and picture with just a guitar and a heart.

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