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ATLAS TRAVEL (Black Hen) • Don Rooke

Sublime. It might have been called Astral Travel, because that's where it takes you.

This man is top 5, acoustic slide, on the planet. As a slide composer, he's in a class by himself. And though he's played in some illustrious concert halls, festivals, and TV shows globally, his gifts are not yet widely known. Not widely enough for this reviewer, at any rate.

The concept of Atlas Travel is to take faraway unknown places on world maps, and imagine the music that might go on in such a place. Sounds like Don Rooke to me. The genius of the Hawaiian kona (a koa wood instrument from the 20s) and Weissenborn guitars (and lap steel) and the mastermind behind the Canadian wonder band The Henrys (see our review of their most recent release) pushes the sonic and harmonic envelopes in a very acoustic fashion, with a few new cohorts in the mix. If we introduce the players, it will give you an idea what this record is about.

Johan Hedin is a Swedish virtuoso who plays the nyckelharpa, described in the liner notes as a keyed Swedish violin first made in the 14th century, having melody and drone strings and played with a short bow. Ron Allen plays two transverse flutes, the bawu from China and the bansuri from India. He also contributes on an Armenian reed instrument of olive wood called the duduk. Jørn Anderson plays an adapted drum kit, percussion, and bass kalimba (must get one of those). I believe that George Meanwell on cello (must get a name like that) and George Koller on acoustic and electric upright bass are new to the fold. Fellow Canadian luminaries Zubot and Dawson pop up on a few tracks, Jesse Zubot on mandolin and fiddle, and Steve Dawson on ukulele. More familiar Rooke partners are Rob Piltch on nylon string and electric and sustainiac guitars, Michael White on trumpet, and John Sheard on pump organ (the kind with the mouse-proof pedal, which is, thankfully, pictured in the booklet--can’t have the mice chewing on the bellows, can we) and piano, and Hugh Marsh on borrowed violin.

So, casting the players gives you a certain idea what you’re in for here. But you must add to that list winged angelic creatures outside the studio windows. There is a humbling magic to these fourteen tracks that truly mystifies. • FG

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