Music reviews: Acoustic albums from Hordinski and Kaivama, Rundman retrospective
Written by Brian Q. Newcomb
January 10, 2012
Hordinski first came to our attention as the original guitarist in Over the
Rhine, but more recently has produced works out of his own recording studio,
The Monastery, for folk like Ellery, David Wilcox and Phil Keaggy. Hordinski
has carved out a unique musical space, and his own definitions for the sounds
on this album are the following tags: "ambient awesome indie instrumental
shoegaze Cincinnati." I'm sure that's helpful.
first exposure to these compositions was hearing them live at his studio for
the "Arthur's Garden" release concert/holiday party, which found him
surrounded by two other guitarists, a bassist and a guy who added various
minimal percussion, vibe and piano parts.
he plugged in for the second half, and played some rockin' Christmas songs, the
first set found Hordinski playing acoustically without the aid or a p.a., the audience
all leaning forward quietly to hear all the parts. At the very least, in
comparison to all the loud live music settings we often experience, "Arthur's
Garden" was presented in an intimate, reflective environment, quite
conducive to the music's gentle tones.
admit, I'm more prone to enjoy the guitar heroics that show up in the electric
side of Hordinski's musical explorations. Earlier last year I reviewed a Mike
Roe Concert at the Monastery, where Hordinski opened with a fiery set that
featured a great, fun version of Tom Waits' "Clap Hands," and
concluded with a duet with Roe on the Hendrix classic "Little Wing."
I have great memories of the energy from that little jam. And I'm grateful for
the moments when my friend David Burris was able to convince Hordinski to shred
some blistering solos for his "Bad Sines" project that Hordinski
produced and arranged.
left to his own devices, as he is on "Arthur's Garden," Ric Hordinski
chooses a more gentle, soothing and harmonically interesting path. As he was
introducing the songs to the room of fans who'd come knowing they'd have to sit
quietly and listen hard to hear all that was going on, he made light of the
songs' titles. "The Penultimate Waltz" opens even though the title
suggests it's going to be next to last, and "Pre-Amble" comes near
the end of the record. There is one song with vocal, a collaboration with
songwriter and singer Daniel Martin Moore, on "Time Enough."
Master Musician," the one song for which he played an electric guitar with
an e-bow to simulate the bowing of a violin or cello, he said is an homage to
his time working with Phil Keaggy, who's early monumental instrumental work was
called "The Master & The Musician."
"Arthur's Garden," Hordinski is playing with modern variations on neo
or faux Renaissance chamber guitar music, sometimes with an old world Celtic
feel, at others embracing a more precise tempo and a Classical vibe. In all, it's
a delightful sonic journey that emphasizes the nuance and vitality of unique
tunings and old world melodic sensibilities.
Rundman has done a lot of great pop and rock music both inside and outside the
church over the last twelve years or so (see next review), but together with violinist
Sara Pajunen they are Kaivama, a band of Finnish-American instrumental folk
the 1972 movie, "The New Land," featuring Max Von Sydow and Liv
Ullmann, about immigrants moving to Minnesota from Sweden? Wow, why do I remember
that movie? Well, anyway this music would be the kind of stark, open acoustic
folk music you'd use if making the film today.
folk rhythms, mostly on acoustic guitar, provide the base for Pajunen's melodic
playing, emphasizing older northern European and Celtic folk sounds, which
occasionally hits a polka rhythm or on some of their own compositions like "Edina
Speedtrap" and "Chicago Waltz" a more modern flavor. There's a
bit of banjo in the gypsy romp that is "Pirun Polska" and throughout
there's a healthy mix of old world energy and a unique sense of urban modernity
conveyed in the stark open sound in the recording.
Rundman (Salt Lady/jonathanrundman.com)
course, Jonathan Rundman's main gig is being himself – working that fine line
between garage-y pop/rock singer/songwriter and youth worker/church musician. Can
you imagine Paul Westerberg as the contemporary worship band leader at the ELCA
congregation, who'd rather write smart, fun songs than sing the usual praise
choruses out of the Vineyard songbook?
result is better, more progressive theology and great, sing-along songs that
sound more like Cheap Trick than the standard campfire fare.
what we get here is a 20 song retrospective from the last decade, essentially
the artist sharing the high spots from his four full-length recordings, with a
few new songs, alternative versions and remixes to sweeten the deal for
long-time fans. In short, if you've not heard JR before, this is a simple
introduction to one of the better left-of-center Christian pop rock artists
youth worker wants to tell boys to pay more attention to the "Smart Girls,"
while celebrating that church is the best place to fall in love ("Carol of
a liturgically minded Lutheran, he throws in a Lenten reflection in "Ashes,"
and a celebration of the Church coming together in meaningful ways in the "Narthex."
Which means grace comes first and foremost in "Forgiveness Waltz,"
but there's good we can do when we're "Workin' My Committee."
unlike so much conventional CCM (contemporary Christian music, coming from more
conservative theological traditions), with Rundman you never get that
anti-cultural bias, which says doubt is sin. Rather in "If You Have a Question,"
there's room with those of us who live with faith and doubt, experience and
All of which makes Jonathan Rundman an excellent
candidate for mainline/mainstream progressive minded churches youth and young
adult ministries. Frankly, I'm not sure why this guy is not a huge rock star around
our side of the church. But maybe that will happen with this album…
The Rev. Brian Q. Newcomb is Senior Minister at David's UCC in Kettering, Ohio,
and a long-time music critic published in Billboard, CCM Magazine,
Paste, The Riverfront Times and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others.
Additional content from Brian is available in his Quincessentials blog.