REVIEW My Life Bruce Mathiske
Tony Hillier The Australian March 2013
AT age 50 and with his 17th independent release Bruce Mathiske has made his magnum opus, an album that reflects not only his virtuosity and vision as an acoustic guitarist but also his under-acknowledged prowess as composer, interpreter and producer.
My Life hits the bull's eye on almost every score. First and foremost, it meets the criteria of any good album in terms of sonic quality and track flow. Linked by thematic commonalities and vintage craftsmanship, pieces related to the Australian musician's life story hang together like artworks in a gallery.
After a meditative synth-washed introduction, Mathiske reaffirms his love of Latin lilts with a rumba-inflected instrumental that contains subtle hints of Django Reinhardt and Hot Club de France. In Rhythm segues smoothly into an impressionistic South American tune with an edgy undercurrent that ebbs and flows a la Ennio Morricone's The Mission soundtrack. River Stories, in turn, morphs into an inspired rendition of the Rolling Stones' Paint It Black, in which Mathiske follows a seductively sedate intro with a flurry of flamenco-esque notes over a crisp strum.
In the album's only other cover, he deftly intertwines Is There Anybody Out There? and The Wall. Following on from that inventive Pink Floyd medley and armed with Fender Strat rather than more familiar acoustic guitar, Mathiske revisits the rock days of his youth and a traumatic shooting accident that nearly cost him his life.
The Close Call leads into a quirky but repetitive companion piece, Fifteen Frantic Miles, that perhaps runs a tad too long. In earlier consecutive tracks, the guitarist genuflects to two of his heroes and mentors: country boom-chicka king Chet Atkins, on an aptly named solo tour de force, Chet Mate; and jazz stylist Charlie Byrd, on First Flight, with a muted nod to the Cuban standard Guantanamera.
The preceding North African flavoured study Destination Morocco is top and tailed with a dark and mysterious didgeridoo earthed intro and outro. The set's two songs are clad in chirpy Caribbean and South African rhythms: Make Your Bed, sung by Mathiske; and the equally catchy I'm Not the Same, delivered in a deeper register by guest vocalist Rob Johnstone, sounding a bit like Bob Brozman.
The latter track's chorus, "Dream your dream, live your life/ Let the orchestra play the music inside," could stand as an apposite mission statement for its composer, who has put his heart and soul into an album that was three years in the making. In My Life, this string-bender for all seasons, who is equally adept on six and 12-string guitars, steel or nylon strings or using fingerstyle or plectrum, displays technical brilliance and mastery of genres with an admirable absence of ostentation.
Mathiske's latest and greatest album compares favourably with the best works put out by his contemporaries. While Australia is fortunate to have solo acoustic guitarists and entertainers of the standing of Michael Fix and Tommy Emmanuel, some aficionados may argue that Mathiske is the finest all-round guitarist this country has produced.
LABEL: Rhythm Hunter/MGM
RATING: 4.5 stars
- Last updated 01/04/2013 15:07:19
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