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All Natural Music by Fernwood

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Together, Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett (from Djam Karet) are Fernwood. They exclusively play instruments made of wood, by hand, with no electronic enhancement. It’s all very environmental, as is the music that results from this approach. Environmentally delightful.

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FERNWOOD: Almeria (CD on Fernwood Music)

This CD from 2008 offers 48 minutes of enjoyable tuneage.

Fernwood is: Todd Montgomery on Irish bouzouki (slide, plucked and bowed), sitar, mandolin, and guitar (also slide); and Gayle Ellett on Greek bouzouki, ruan, harmonium, oud, guitar (also slide and E-bow), bulbul tarang, gobijen, dotara. organ, Rhodes piano, electric 5-string bass, and upright bass.

With all these ethnic instruments, you’d expect a Middle Eastern or Far Eastern sound--but you’d be way off base. Okay, there’s a European flavor to some of the pieces, and a mournful Russian flair in one, but the majority of the music is distinctly Western. And don’t expect the tunes to be strictly folksy, either, because they’re rich with progressive sensibilities.

Wild strumming is keynote here, combined with complex picking and passionate strumming. Stringed virtuosity abounds. Diverse instruments are blended to produce exotic resonance. A bouncy sentiment is applied that often transcends the instruments, achieving animated melodies that reek with a decidedly modern sound.

The contrast of such various strings produces a lush pastiche that infuses each track with creative exuberance. Yet this contrast frequently turns around and accomplishes a wondrous amalgamation between ethnic and conventional instruments, resulting in a unique cadence as foreign sound fuse with traditional ones to produce thrilling sonic expressions.

No percussion is employed here. A rhythmic presence is approximated by the sprightly performances, using starkly plucked strings to achieve tempos of seductive character.

Keyboard contributions can be found in some instances. The Rhodes piano injects a very progressive sound to the lilting tuneage, while the harmonium offers the melancholic mood of a Romany campsite.

These compositions seethe with passion, whether it’s overt buoyancy or romantic heartstrings. The pieces possess a cerebral character that is often overwhelmed by their innate enthusiasm, commingling serious intentions with a carefree cheeriness.

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FERNWOOD: Sangita (CD on Fernwood Music)

This CD from 2009 offers 50 minutes of soul-stirring music.

Fernwood is: Todd Montgomery on sitar, tenor banjo, slide and plucked Irish bouzouki, mandolin, guitar, and fiddle; and Gayle Ellett on Greek bouzouki, dilruba, ruan, bulbul tarang, jal tarang, guitar, oud, cumbus, dotara, tambura, swarmandal, gobijen, harmonium, organ, Rhodes piano, and upright bass.

Again, the ethnicity of the instruments is trumped by the performers’ Contemporary Americana and Old World sensibilities, resulting in music that applies modern character to the foreign strings used.

Plucked, strummed, picked, sawed, slid--there’s an abundance of nimble-fingering going on here. The diverse strings contribute a versatile range of sounds which merge to form enchanting tunes. The interplay of different instruments produces an alluring charm that transcends all preconceived notions, uniting nationalities and genres with compelling sonic elation.

The moods generated by this music are quite diverse. One track (“Hobbs Bay”) excellently conveys a salty sea breeze, while another (“White Oak”) majestically evokes the grandeur of ancient trees that dwarf human perception. A lot of these tracks capture the mood of geological locations, most of them coastal regions thick with noble woodlands.

Again, no percussion.

Again, keyboards are incidental, well-hidden, but masterful in their subliminal effects, establishing amiable resonance underlying the spry string presence.

These compositions are remarkably bewitching, whether the song is expressing cerebral introspection or frivolous exuberance. An agility is found here, not just in the performance but in the melodies, communicating a joyous celebration of life with brisk effervescence.

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