1996, Music

Oracle (1996) by Michael Hedges

Michael Hedges is undoubtedly a great guitarist; his technique is incredible and his use of various alternative tunings and approaches to playing is also incredible. Apparently he was also extremely innovative; in the early ’80s he pioneered this style of heavily percussive playing. (There is some controversy over whether he was the first person to play like this, or whether he was he first one to play like this on a steel string acoustic guitar. The latter is likely the more accurate version.) And of course it is a tragedy when anyone, especially a talented musician like this, dies young.

But, like so many extraordinarily talented guitar players, Michael Hedges often has terrible taste. I am thinking of someone like Yngwie Malmsteen, a man who wouldn’t know restraint if it refused to slap him in the face. Or someone like Eric Johnson, who uses his prodigious abilities to make terrible soft rock. Or someone like John Pizzarelli, who wishes the last five decades had never come to pass. To be (un?)fair to Hedges, he’s more like Johnson or Pizzarrelli, than Malmsteen.

When Hedges is playing by himself, he is fantastic. But he just can’t seem to help himself – he has to add all these effects and additional instruments that horribly date this recording to the ’90s. Sometimes the fretless bass comes off as horribly cliche, but sometimes it works. That’s not the problem.

The problem is Hedges’ own contributions: brutal synthesizer parts that end any internal debate I was having about whether or not this was truly “new age” music and, perhaps worse, flutes!!! If only the South Park episode “Pandemic” had existed when Hedges was still alive. And the effects he uses on his playing also date the recording rather horribly.

But he’s still an awesome player and the unadorned tracks – as well as a few with just the bass – work very well and have convinced me not only of his talent, but of my need to hear what he was doing in the early ’80s.

But man, get someone else to produce your records.


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