Goldmund: Corduroy Road

Boston-based Keith Kenniff takes a remarkable left turn from his Helios style on Corduroy Road, a gorgeous set of piano pieces issued under the Goldmund guise. In some respects, the move doesn't come as a complete surprise, as his acclaimed Helios debut Unomia emphasizes a measured yet deeply affecting melodic dimension to a degree not commonly heard on the prototypical electronic release from Merck. In its own quiet way, Corduroy Road is a radically bold gesture, a work of haunting beauty dominated by elegiac and poignant moods. The project is not about virtuosity—no Art Tatum pyrotechnics here—but instead Satie-like simplicity and resonant, elegantly etched wells of emotion.

There's a bright, oriental feel to the opener “Ba,” the music so quiet the sounds of the piano action itself can be heard alongside his playing. That the album begins with that oriental suggestion is telling, as the album as a whole is as beautiful in its well-tended simplicity as a Japanese garden. Guided by soft arpeggios in the left hand, the pensive, elegiac mood in “Door Of Our Home” recalls Philip Glass's The Hours, as does the later “My Neighborhood.” “Provenance” is slow, ruminative, and stately, while dulcimer-like cymbal shadings distinguish “Parhelia” as Kenniff strums the piano's innards to generate percussive effects. “On Extended Wings” assumes gradual flight, its gentle ostinato base joined first by querulous playing layered overtop and then faint shadows of acoustic guitar. The piece turns more dramatic and insistent with the addition of a repeating three-note motif and subtle electronic enhancements until it eventually crystallizes into a stirring composition.

Much of the album is rooted in Kenniff's love of American Civil War folk music and it shows. A waltz-like lilt pervades the lovely “Marching Through Georgia,” which certainly sounds like a centuries-old folk song passed down through the ages and is in fact a Civil War era classic. A similar waltz feel emerges in “Methusela Tree” and again one is captivated by the song's irresistible folk melodies, with audible creaks giving it a homey ambiance. A timeless folk feel likewise surfaces in the funereal “The One Acre,” its piano sweetened by acoustic guitar strums and gentle cascades of soft electronic hum.

Admittedly, by the time the tenth or eleventh song appears, the listener might find the album's preoccupation with ponderous, slow tempi wearisome; Kenniff might have been wise to encore the opening song's animated spirit one more time during the latter moments of the album. But that sole caveat does nothing to dispel the fact that Corduroy Road is a special recording, its music so beautiful it sounds almost entirely anomalous in the context of our present era.

March 2005