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Music Under the Radar: New Age Acoustic

Stephanie DePrez | Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Situation: Music hunters seek, read, blog and cull music from radio, print and most often, the interwebs. Music gatherers collect mix CD’s, free digital downloads and whatever their friends happen to be listening to. If you are a gatherer, this space is for you. If you are a hunter, e-mail me your latest find, and I promise you’ll find it written up here. (Seriously. E-mail. Even if you’re not a student.)

There is an entire genre of sophisticated instrumental music that straddles the gap between Mozart, Enya and Yanni. Founded in the ‘70s, the album label Windham Hill has been subtly pushing “new age acoustic,” or “new classical.” Windham Hill artists can be found on late night classical stations and stocked next to the incense in your neighborhood new age store. The label specializes in acoustic and folk. It is often simple, always alluring and will calm you down no matter how horrible your orgo looks.

George Winston

This man is the grand ole granddaddy of new age classical. His “rural folk piano” burst onto the scene with the 1980 album “Autumn,” changing the face of new classical music and placing Windham Hill at the forefront of the genre. There is no one that sounds quite like Winston, and his seemingly simplistic arpeggios can change on a dime to become suddenly intricate and exciting. Winston is not ashamed to revel in the glory of a minimalistic piano lullaby, and equally unafraid to bust a move on the keys in a jazz progression lifted directly from Vince Guaraldi. One spin through any album he’s released will leave you a convert.

Tracks to Tap: “Colors/Dance,” “Dubuque,” “Carol of the Bells”

Michael Hedges

The guitar was reborn the day this man picked one up. There is really no genre in which to place Hedges, other than to say he did things to the guitar that no one had ever imagined, and left thousands awestruck from his mind-blowing techniques in the wake of his death in a car accident in 1997. Two phrases that attempt to place Hedges are “heavy mental” and “new edge.” His music is exploratory yet calming. He strums the guitar while plucking it, often making it sounds like there are two or more guitars at work. The only way to appreciate his playing is to YouTube it.

Tracks to Tap: “Ariel Boundaries,” “Java Man”


This gathering of individual Windham Hill artists led to one of the most boundary-pushing jazz groups in the last 50 years. They balance violin, piano, mandolin, guitar, bass and synthesizer into a sound that is sometimes new age, sometimes blues. Since each artist is so accomplished in his or her own field, the combination of Darol Anger, Barbara Higbie, Mike Marshall and Michael Manring creates music that is interesting enough to keep your mind awake but cohesive to the point that it won’t distract. If Mozart were alive, this is what his kids would be listening to.

Tracks to Tap: “Skywriting,” “To Be,” “Dolphins”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Stephanie DePrez at [email protected]