Timeless: A Review of WaterSky – the album by Jeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy
WaterSky, the second collaboration of keyboardist Jeff Johnson and guitarist Phil Keaggy, proves the truth of what the poet George MacDonald once wrote: “there is great power in quiet.”
WaterSky is an album that deals much in subtlety. And it’s richly contemplative. Each brushstroke of this soundscape is well considered. To again invoke MacDonald’s imagery, each of the eight pieces are “as fluent as the waters” of the Frio River Canyon—the setting that inspired this song cycle.
Time and again, Johnson and Keaggy demonstrate mastery of their instruments. By turns, as in the opening track, “When We Were Young,” there are spare shadings of solo piano, complimented by gentle guitar textures—acoustic and electric. Rarely has a base guitar been played as movingly as it is for this piece.
Keaggy also plays the cümbüs on this recording. A fretless instrument that originated in Turkey, it features six sets of doubled-strings, and has a wonderfully atmospheric sound.
The title track for WaterSky resonates with ambient sounds—a wash of vocals here and there, over tranquil, yet deeply expressive phrasings of keyboard and guitar that evoke images of reflective, flowing water. All are wedded to a gorgeous melody with many variations on its theme. The combined effect seems to foster a deep sense of longing.
One especially noteworthy thing about WaterSky is the length of each track. They average about 7 minutes in length, a generous trait that allows for the full expression of musical thought.
“The Cody Incident” strikes a plaintive air at the outset, making one think of a homecoming. Pausing momentarily, it then pushes away from shore, and follows unexpected turns in a river of sound. It’s a piece that shows Johnson and Keaggy at their inventive best.
And that’s something that applies to the whole of this panoramic aural canvas. From start to finish, WaterSky is a fully realized soundscape. Few recordings can say as much. In a word, this album is a classic.