2014 Canadian Guitar Festival Champion, Bob McAlpine, blew the judges away with his performance aesthetic and fingerstyle virtuosity. This in-demand session guitarist just so happens to have released a full-length, all-acoustic album in this year called Energy Over Distance. For the discerning modern fingerstyle guitarist, listening to this album is no arduous journey of a great distance, but is, instead, an inspiring ascent to an elevated plateau of pure musicality rife with energy of the best kind.
In listening to Energy Over Distance, one thing (of many!) that makes Bob McAlpine such a pleasure to listen to is that which makes many great fingerstyle guitarist truly great: his use of incorporating aspects of a full band with only one pair of hands. McAlpine’s compositions on this album effortlessly enroll a bass player, a rhythm section, and a lead guitarist all at the same time and the effect, which sometimes can be lost on other composing guitarists, is wonderfully genuine. Convincing a listener that there is a full band performing when there is only a guitar isn’t the only mark of a great compositional guitarist, but executing techniques that make an instrument sing without bringing attention to itself as an instrument is a difficult feat to accomplish. Bob McAlpine does all of this, and to boot, his songs are all such beautiful mediations of audiation, each conveying its own finesse and life. McAlpine lets his compositions breath and live in themselves on this studio-produced album, a musical medium that, these days, can so easily leave music sounding soulless.
Beginning backward, the last track on the album, “Last Day of the Year,” grants the listener a peek inside McAlpine’s sensitive side. The gentle rolling rhythm and melody stick in the mind long after the song has ended, and seat nostalgic memories in the mind’s eye. It’s a soundtrack for those times in life when you’re unsure of where to turn next, but know that no matter where you turn, it means leaving so many good things along the road as you press onward.
“Summer’s Shadow” follows a groovy bass line that carries the entire song through with a gentle splash of plucked harmonic chords and a simple melody line which lead to a chorus of intensity. On another track, a rainy evening in West Virginia comes alive to the imagination with “West Virginia Rain.” And “Home to Stay” rests comfortably in the sunny side of music where many find hope.
Perhaps what makes this reviewer so fond of Bob McAlpine’s acoustic compositions is the language of his songs. Each one feels like a narrative, a story that we can enjoy over and over easily just by clicking the play button once more. Instrumental music can sometimes tell a story without words, granting our imaginations the key to molding deep meanings. Bob’s narratives take care to set flashy visual techniques aside, and the effect is guitar music in its purest and most accessible form.