Even More Reviews:
"Djam Karet main man Gayle Ellett's desire to find alternative horizons to plunder have resulted in many an obscure soundtrack project. Together with Todd Montgomery, the crux of this new recording surrounds two bouzoukis originating from geographicly dispersed locations. The subject matter comes from your trusty world map to find "Almeria", an exotic Old World vacation spot in Spain. The mood of the recording is non-invasive using traditional instrumentation to flesh out spirited jaunts and passive themes. Spanish bird observations pose a common thread from the opening "Sandpiper", bearing arppegiated passages with a few minor twists, while "Crane" lies in a Frisell vein of simple folk deconstructed themes relying on emotive chords and unsettled lead lines. In contrast "Pelican" is Indian sounding while "Nightingale" is a late night sensitive ballad, calming with a firm resolved ending. "Open Seas" is closer to some of the themes developed from early 1980's Metheny and Mays, maybe even a little "New Chautauqua".
Covering different ground are pieces such as "Hungarian Holiday" where the harmonium gives an Old World carnival feel and a Ukranian dance fade out. One of the best played pieces is "Makena" that uses that sustained open chord somewhat popularized by David Gilmour and Richard Leo Johnson's pastoral moments. The disc comes off like a musical tour where few things have changed due to modernization and natural surroundings remain intact. Overall it's a great headphone experience with a joyful balanced mix.
"Almeria" is a breath of fresh air and is a welcome alternative to today's electronic and synth dominated music."
"Fernwood est une nouvelle formation américaine qui se cantonne dans la musique instrumentale et acoustique. Il faut dire que les deux membres du groupe sont des musiciens aguerris qui ont tout simplement décidé de s'associer pour ce projet particulier. Todd Montgomery est un grand professionnel des instruments à cordes. Il a notamment étudié le sitar avec Harihar Rao, le plus ancien étudiant de Ravi Shankar. Gayle Ellett est plus connu des amateurs de prog : il est entre autres le guitariste de Djam Karet, groupe dont la réputation n'est plus à faire. Nos deux gaillards se sont sans doute fait plaisir, mais ils ont surtout réalisé un disque de grande qualité. En effet, utilisant une grande palette d'instruments, ils ont réussi à enregistrer une douzaine de pièces relativement courtes (de trois à cinq minutes) composées et interprétées avec une grande fi nesse. Même si la formule acoustique peut paraître limitée, elle ne les empêche pas de varier les styles, passant d'une atmosphère mélancolique à un style folklorique enjoué avec la même maestria. Chaque morceau est une petite perle fi ne et agréable. Bien entendu, ce disque n'est sans doute pas celui du siècle, mais il est tout à fait recommandable à ceux qui s'autorisent une ou l'autre escapade hors des sentiers battus."
"You guys all probably know by now that at Guitar Player Zen, we really like to emphasize finding your own voice, developing into an artist with your own sound and uniqueness, finding creative and subtle ways to set yourself apart from the crowd, etc. Well Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett have done a great job in finding their own niche. By playing traditional World instruments in new and exciting ways, they have created a new hybrid style that is uniquely their own. What I like about Fernwood and Todd and Gayle, is the fact that they don’t just classify themselves as putting out a guitar album. Rather, it is an eclectic instrumental album, featuring some very interesting instruments. The music on this album is so amazingly beautiful and peaceful. My advice for listening: Put it on your I-Pod, find a nice place outside (or inside) to lay down, close your eyes, and picture yourself on a European beach surrounded by the people you love most. A fun (and awesome) fact about these two is that they have scored numerous soundtracks for film, tv, animation, computer games, music libraries, and other corporate applications. Well enough talk. How about you listen to a few of their tracks, go to their website, and buy their album!"
"Merrily and easily mixing ethnic musical influences from all across the globe in compositional structures with a heritage belonging just as much to the world of jazz and rock as folk music, this skilled and talented duo has produced an album that should appeal to individuals enjoying many different musical styles. Followers of world music may find this just as interesting as fans of jazz-fusion and progressive rock. Indeed, if you enjoy acoustic instrumental music this release is worthwhile checking out no matter how you define your personal musical taste. There is an immediacy and sense of close proximity to the sound, like sitting in your living room with a couple of friends, who just happen to be incredible musicians, though you could also imagine a dozen different musicians were plucked from around the globe to bring their own regional flavors to the compositions. The blending of such disparate regional sounds could be disconcerting, but instead the blend is intriguing, inviting and beguiling. It could easily be a soundtrack from a fantasy/science fiction movie where various cultures have been brought together harmoniously, while retaining their own cultural heritages. Come to think of it, it is a bit analogous to the melting pot or stew pot that is America, at least the ideal that we desire the country to be. I happily recommend "Almeria" for those who enjoy acoustic instrumental music of the stringed variety."
“Fernwood is actually a duo (Todd Montgomery & Gayle Ellett) hailing from Southern California, and they have been working with exotic instruments for many years and in many different styles (Google them both to see where there musical history lies). Almeria is a graceful set of music that carry's you to many locals, and with great spirit. It makes you feel like you are traveling around the world, stopping to hear the local music everywhere you go. Exceptional sound and peaceable acoustic melodies prevail!
"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. 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. 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 Roman campsite.
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. 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. 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, 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."
"Fernwood è un’autentica nuova vita per Gayle Ellett, deus ex machina dei Djam Karet, un’istituzione nell’underground americano. La band per più di vent’anni ha issato la bandiera del no commercial potential con il suo infernale jam-rock, ma ultimamente il chitarrista si è concentrato sul progetto Fernwood con il collega Todd Montgomery. Una world music acustica e “cinematografica”, per soli strumenti di legno del bacino mediterraneo: a ben ascoltare, certe atmosfere lievi e sognanti non sono lontane dai raptus acustici dei DK di Ascension (2001). Sangita è un susseguirsi di quadri, di immagini esotiche e meditative, con chiari agganci all’opera omnia degli Oregon. Un excursus di ricami di oud, bouzuki, mandolini e swarmandal, talvolta punteggiati dai tocchi impalpabili del Fender Rhodes."
"Tucked away in the picturesque mountains towering above the Pacific ocean Topanga Canyon attracts artists of all kinds, each adding their own unique vibration. I've been delighted to discover Fernwood, the eclectic and inspirational music creation of Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett. The duo have released two albums,"Almeria" and "Sangita" which have gained recognition worldwide. Their acoustic, cinematic compositions take the listener on an epic journey colored by the traditional instrumental sounds of Morocco, India, Greece, Turkey, China, and Italy, to name a few. Theirs is the kind of music one can sail away on. It swirls and flows in unexpected and delightful harmonies. While painting, free writing, or journaling it provides the perfect soundscape to entice and encourage creativity."
"Projet plus qu’intéressant, FERNWOOD est constitué d’un duo : tout d’abord Gayle ELLETT connu pour son activité avec le groupe Djam KARET (Seize albums au compteur) et qui a joué sur plus de 50 cds à ce jour, joue et compose depuis plus de 35 ans. Il a écrit de la musique pour nombres de films, jeux vidéo, publicités, etc. Ensuite, Todd MONTGOMERY, un musicien qui a appris le sitar avec le maître Harihar RAO (le plus vieil élève de Ravi SHANKAR) et qui pratique nombre d’instruments traditionnels. Il a notamment joué du bouzouki irlandais et de la mandoline pour le film « Chasing The Dragon : The Veronica GUERIN Story ». Ces deux compères ont décidé de s’adjoindre les talents d’un producteur de renom, Wayne YENTIS, éditeur du magazine « Recording Engineer/Producer », inventeur du Clavitar, un contrôleur de synthétiseurs au look de guitare. Il a personnellement désigné et construit des instruments électroniques customisé pour des groupes aussi légendaires que PINK FLOYD, TOTO, Frank ZAPPA, SUPERTRAMP, Herbie HANCOCK, Lee RITENOUR, Joe ZAWINUL, George DUKE, Patrick MARAZ, Terry BOZZIO et beaucoup d’autres.
Avec FERNWOOD, les deux compères ont décidé de créer un groupe entièrement acoustique, jouant à la main sur des instruments faits de bois. Tout au long des douze morceaux composant l’album d’une durée de 48 minutes, c’est un véritable enchantement de tous les instants. L’inspiration est là, les instruments, qu’ils soient seuls ou très nombreux, sonnent tous comme s’ils étaient dans la même pièce que vous. Musique fondamentalement belle, chaude, exotique, elle développe des relents de folk américaine teintée d’exotisme (sans le chant, l’album est entièrement instrumental) et de
cinématique (on croirait entendre une bande son de film). Ainsi un morceau comme « Ruidoso » avec son banjo nous emmène vers des rivages pas si éloignés que ça de la mythique musique du film « Délivrance » (« Dueling Banjos » par Eric WEISSBERG Steve MANDELL). Gayle ELLETT raconte : « c’est une réaction à la musique moderne et vers où elle se dirige : des sons joués par des machines ou des ordinateurs. C’est mauvais et faux. Nous devrions éviter ça ». Etonnantes paroles de la part d’un musicien issu d’un groupe comme Djam KARET ! Todd MONTGOMERY déclare pour sa part : « Je voulais jouer de façon à ce que mon professeur, s’il était amené à m’entendre, ne soit pas offensé. Cela devait être assez indianisant pour qu’il ne se fâche pas, vous comprenez ? ». Ensemble, ils sont parvenus à une sorte d’americana matinée de musique de chambre inédite basé simplement sur des instruments faits de bois. Une musique parfaite pour se délasser le corps et l’esprit. De plus il est superbement packagé.
PROGRESSIVE AREA (France)
"Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett vervolgt met Sangita de weg die hij insloeg met het album Almeria en doet dit wederom samen met de specialist op folkloristische snaarinstrumenten Todd Montgomery en producer Wayne Yentis onder de groepsnaam Fernwood. Hoewel er opnieuw een karrenvracht aan instrumenten uit alle delen van de aardbol gebruikt worden, zijn de composities minder exotisch en divers als op het debuut, wat een meer coherent totaalplaatje oplevert. Dat neemt niet weg dat de oud in opener Kalyan direct Dhafer Youssef’s meest traditionele (Tunesische) werk in herinnering roept. Verder lijkt de sitar op Helen Island eerder naar de titel van de CD te verwijzen (Sangita-Ratnakarna is een eeuwenoud muziektheorieboek, waarin hoofdzakelijk muziekstijlen die in India gemaakt werden beschreven staan), maar als meer westerse snaren ingezet worden, die subtiel ondersteund worden door het ook bij deze opnames sporadisch opduikende orgel, wordt de verwijzing naar dit Canadese eiland duidelijker. Dat is sowieso het mooie van deze samenwerking: al die uit alle windstreken afkomstige houten instrumenten worden in diverse stukken ingezet, waardoor het normaal aan een streek gebonden geluid van een specifiek instrument nu opgaat in een soort wereld-americana-country-folk. Vergeleken met het vorige werkstuk is de algehele stemming wat ingetogener, hoewel de arrangementen nog steeds diverse melodielijnen naast elkaar laat horen. Dit laatste komt vooral goed tot zijn recht als er met een flink volume aandachtig geluisterd wordt; als achtergrondmuziek gaat de intrigerende spanningsboog die Ellett en Montgomery op Sangita hebben gecreëerd nagenoeg verloren."
iO PAGES (Holland)
"Deuxieme effort discographique de deux multi-instrumentistes de Malibu, Sangita incarne le reve Californnien d’aujord’hui. Loin des delires psychedeliques de l’ere hippie ou meme de l’effervescence numerique de la fin du siecle dernier, Fernwood propose un voyage boise et acoustique 100% naturel. L’etude attentive et l’assimilation des maitres du folk global ont remplace l’usage de psychotropes ou d’ordinateurs. Aguerris a l’art du bluegrass, du folk irlandais, familiers des techniques orientales, Todd Montgomery et Gayle Ellett savent faire sonner une multitude d’instruments. Les banjos, bouzoukis, violins, pianos, mandolines, guitares mais aussi harmonium, sitar, dilruba ou oud…n’ont plus de secrests pour eux, lis tirent profit de chacun et les combinent avec gout et talent. Souvent joutes tranquilles manquent toutefois par moment d’asperites."
MONDOMIX Magazine (France)
“Layers of guitars, bouzouki, even sitar mark this as an original amalgam of – what? Something different, that’s for sure. Todd Montgomery (sitar, tenor banjo, slide and plucked Irish bouzoukim mandolin, guitar and fiddle) and Gayle Ellett (Greek bouzouki, oud, harmonium, upright bass, and some downright unpronounceable things) are obviously accomplished musicians. Just as obvious, they are not content to ply the early music circuit exclusively. So they enliven things with a more modern approach that includes the occasion electric piano and organ by Ellett and a sense of fun not always experienced with early music. Those seeking something strikingly original will find it appealing.”
“Second album ("Sangita") from the all-acoustic instrumental duo and, while a lot of play is mentioned from the fact that all the instruments are made out of wood and its "world music" connotations, the most important thing about this duo's compositions are their mastery of emotion - throughout the album, there's always a human heart at the centre of operations. Take the opener, Kalyan" for example - the track begins with slow acoustic guitars and what sounds almost like a dobro in the backdrop (but isn't), while the presence of a sitar adds perfectly to the slowly rolling multi-layers, providing the western warmth with eastern exoticism to produce a positively heart-rending slice of instrumental yearning that makes you think of wide open spaces in countryside of great beauty - four minutes of absolute bliss. "White Oak" accelerates the tempo with a country-styled guitar onto which are added crisp guitar chords, soaring sitar and a cyclical acoustic guitar melody, as the whole thing coalesces, adds a touch of bouzouki, meanders through almost violin-like textures before the lead acoustic guitar returns to the riff, and the other instruments return to the source of the piece and build once more - magically constructed and cleverly arranged with so much going on but never overly busy. "Hobbs Bay" provides similar sounding strings from the opener, only here with a more rolling nature to the rhythm, as acoustic guitars, mandolin and other things I can't identify, all combine to produce a chunky five minute track that's solid and melodic, but constantly changing shape as it goes, the latter two things, the key secret to the overall appeal and success of this album. Using other instruments that include dilruba, oud, dotara, swarmandal, rmonium, piano and upright bass, the duo of Montgomery and Ellett give us a further 9 tracks that have at their heart, this wondrously charming sea of melody as well as conveying an emotional state of mind that really makes you want to listen to this music with intent, getting all the joy out of it as much as the musicians are putting in, if not more. As an acoustic instrumental album, its concentration on melody rather than technique, rhythm, musical cliches or conformity, makes it one of the most different, satisfying and gorgeous albums of its kind around today.”
DEAD EARNEST (Scotland)
"Gayle Ellett er her ute med sitt sideprosjekt Fernwood, som sikkert er en fin avveksling fra det velklingende moderskipet Djam Karet. Fernwood har et slagord som sier at alle instrumentene er spilt av hender, og alle instrumentene er laget av tre! Musikken en slik kontekst avleirer får vi nær innpå femti minutter av på ”Sangita”, som er skive nummer to fra Fernwood. Dette bandet består av nevnte Ellet men også av Todd Montgomery
som trakterer mange instrumenter herunder velkjente Irsk bouzouki som jo alle hjem med respekt for seg selv har flere avJ Gayle Ellett har enda flere eksotiske instrumenter som han spiller på, Gresk bouzouki, ruan, oud, dilruba, bulbul tarang, jal tarang, dotara, gopichand, swarsangam, cumbus, gimbri og rababa. Selvsagt skaper dette en musikks om er temmelig unik og som garantert ytterst få om noen har hørt fra andre band før. Det er jo
heller ikke å forakte at disse to musikerne oser av spilleglede og regelrett er ekstremt dyktig hvilket nå enn av de mange instrumentene de trakterer. Det er temmelig mange raske og usedvanelig dyktige fingre som står for musikken, og jammen klarer de ikke også å fremskaffe svært varierte musikalske landskap. Rått og riffbasert blir det aldri, men en svært finurlig, intelligent og fengslende musikk varter Fernwood opp med. Malibuduoen sørger for et fabelaktig samspill mellom de forskjellige instrumentene, og har en først blitt fengslet av sjarmen og den gripende musikken til Fernwood er det umulig og ikke å nyte den til det ytterste. Den iboende etnisiteten alle disse ”verdens” instrumentene skaper er pent er vellykket fusjonert med mer velkjente instrumenter og en samtids americana. Skiva krever en våken lytter for at alle de subtile detaljene som finnes skal avdekkes. Skrur en derimot på den musikalske radar, om en da har en slik? så er det en ganske så variert bukett med stemninger Ellet og Montgomery kreerer. Soundet til Fernwood er som nevnt kjemisk fritt for enhver manipulering og urørt av det digitale uhyretsJ tentakler. Bare purog delikat musisering i en organisk kontekst som er både frisk, freidig, sjelfull og livlig. Noen ganger er musikken nærmest skjør og skrøpelig, mens andre ganger er det et utall av instrumenter i samme låt noe som avleirer et tilnærmet orkestral sound. Albumtittelen ”Sangita” er en løselig hentydning til Sangita Ratnakarna som er en åtte hundre år gammel bok skrevet av musikk teoretikeren Sharngadeva. Oversatt betyr Sangita Ratnakarna noe sånt som hav av musikk, og boken tar for seg de mange og varierte musikkstilene og alle instrumentene som datidens India hadde. Selv om denne skiva ikke dveler særlig mye med India er den på mange måter en etterfølger hva estetikk gjelder. En estetikk som går på å skape vakker musikk av multiple stilarter og instrumenter. Det er hva denne skiva dreier seg om så vidt vi kan skjønne, og så vidt vi kan skjønne har den nok et noe smalt nedslagsfelt, og det er trist fordi dette er så knallbra. ”Sangita” er nok mest for den virkelig dedikerte musikkelsker, men selvsagt håper vi at vi tar grundig feil og at alle vi like musikken her! Uansett så er ”Sangita” er album som ikke er dusinvare, og har rikelig med egenart, fengslende instrumentering, spilleglede og ikke minst variasjon. Denne globale kammermusikken som er injisert med americana er utvilsomt et friskt pust i en verden av ofte likelydende musikk. De som vil ha noe temmelig genuint som også er ytterst velspillt bør kjenne sin besøkelsestid og anskaffe skiva."
“Sangita” is undoubtedly a very unusual album. Totally acoustic, and featuring only wooden stringed instruments – some of them with impossibly exotic, unpronounceable names – it has ‘niche release’ written all over it. However, the music showcased on the album proves to be much less unapproachable than one might expect at a superficial glance. “Sangita”, the Sanskrit name for a composite art consisting of melodic forms, drumming patterns and dance, would suggest a disc strongly pervaded by the influence of world music – an impression compounded by the awe-inspiring list of ethnic instruments played by the two Fernwood members. In fact, one definition I have come across – ‘Acoustic World Chamber Americana’ – would seem to fit the low-key, intimate feel of the music to a T. For someone not well-versed in the technical aspects of music, recognizing the sound of the various instruments can be an impossible task, and I do not believe that the main purpose of Fernwood is to engage the listener in a sort of guessing game. As intrigued as one may be by those exotic names, it is much more advisable to sit back and soak in the music, enjoying the subtlety and sophistication of compositions that are only apparently simple. The two musicians alternate moments of playful sparring with others in which they proceed in lockstep, dishing out a series of tracks that are often as multilayered as anything involving a much larger instrumentation - but that can easily become forgettable without any dedication on the part of the listener. This is the downside of music as distinctive as this – it needs attention, even more so than the average progressive rock record, as the risk of turning into glorified background music is always behind the corner. On “Sangita”, just like on their debut effort, Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery delve deep into both Western and Eastern musical traditions. The 12 resulting tracks may at first sound remarkably similar, but the distinctive nature of each item will slowly unfold at every successive listen. Obviously, any detailed description of any of the tracks will be beyond anyone familiar with the individual instruments involved. “Sangita” is rooted in the eclecticism of the two artists, their in-depth knowledge of world music, and their search for the most effective ways to blend these often disparate traditions in an original whole. At any rate, the structure of the individual compositions is as complex as anything conventionally labelled as ‘progressive’, even though this is not immediately evident. As it is to be expected from a completely acoustic recording, the music is laid-back, devoid of sharp edges, and quite soothing to the ear. The tracks where the upright bass is prominently featured possess a fuller, almost ‘orchestral’ sound, as do those where the violin is present. This is particularly true of Rings Waltz and Dor Country, the latter a slow, dreamy composition enriched by the lilting sound of the mandolin, and of something sounding very much like an accordion. The full, almost booming chords of the upright bass, underlying the intricate interaction between the other instruments, bring to mind The Pentangle, a seminal prog-folk outfit that, much like Fernwood, merged European and American folk traditions in their musical output. More Pentangle comparisons crop up in Mistral, where the instruments seem to create subtle layers of sound, while Cimarron is a lively variation on one of the staples of European folk music, the Irish jig. On the other hand, the Eastern-influenced side of Fernwood’s music makes its appearance in the rarefied, sitar-led Sargoza, which may recall at times the likes of John McLaughlin’s Shakti project, and especially album closer August, a slow, evocative piece that might have come straight out of a Ravi Shankar album. An album that is both accessible and demanding, “Sangita” is a beautiful slice of eclectic, wide-ranging music, a finely-crafted album, born of the staunch dedication of Ellett and Montgomery to their art."
"Arcadia" is the third album by the Folk-Prog-World music duo Fernwood and I have, until a few days ago, not even noticed the existence of this band until now.
Fernwood is composed of music for guitars, bouzoukis, banjo, sitar, violin, and the group consists of Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett, who Progfans will know is the multi-instrumentalist from the band Djam Karet, who accordingly plays a wide variety of string and keyboard instruments.
The results are presented here played on instruments from many regions, with echoes of folk music from halfway around the world (from the British Isles, over North America, and to Greece, India, and beyond) but that should not obscure the fact that the compositions owe as much to Classical music, as it does to the traditions of progressive rock. And with all this there are even a few Jazzy sprinklings as well.
The harmonic ideas are put together with a Folky and progressive style, that creates engaging melodic structures. This is done with the aim - as is revealed in the info sheet - to create a sense of musical calmness, with a relaxing stress-free vibe.
"Arcadia” is absolutely excellent, deep and melodic, but at the same time they have mature compositions filled with natural sounds. Such albums are truly rare indeed!"
BABY BLUE (Germany)
"Don’t you just feel like hiding away from the world sometimes, getting out of the rat race and jumping of that never-ending treadmill? I know I do, I don’t necessarily mean in a bad way either, sometimes you just like to have some time to yourself and relax, forget about the worries of the world and bask in a quasi-hypnotic state where nothing matters. To me this can be achieved by immersing yourself in some simple, ethereal music that takes you away to a dream world, a place of contemplation and reflection and this state of grace is easiest achieved by letting instrumental music wash over you and seep into your cerebral cortex. Don’t worry about having to understand words, just enjoy the sounds. Last year I reviewed an album by veteran Californian progressive rock band Djam Karet and it is through that that I became friends with guitarist Gayle Ellett and learned of his instrumental acoustical music project Fernwood on which he is joined by renowned sitar player Todd Montgomery. Even the name evokes memories of backwoods America and the first two albums, ‘Almeria’ and ‘Sangita’ were centred on American a motifs and moods, with the release of ‘Arcadia’ they have taken their music out further into the folk and world music scene that encompasses the whole globe. On ‘Arcadia’ these two impressive musicians play up to twenty five wooden instruments and the majority hail from before the mid nineteenth century. With influences ranging as far afield as Ireland, Greece, India, China, Turkey and Morocco, all melded with the sound of the Appalachian Hills in America, this cinematic and dramatic soundscape takes you on a journey full of mystery and Eastern promise. Throughout this enchanting album you will find an east-west combination that, at times, compliments each other and, at others, fights for control. From the gentle Americana of Bells Spring, The Pan Chaser, and Vision At Vasquez Rocks, tinged with a hint of the mediaeval and classical, through the eastern hints on red Hill Trail and exotic hues that are painted all over The Lost Night, Gayle and Todd create an all-encompassing global sound from the traditional instruments and methods they employ. To achieve a more natural and dynamic sound there is no tinkering or computer manipulation used in the making of their albums and this lends a raw, unfiltered note to songs like Crossing The Divide and Owens Hideaway, an innocence that the elemental instrumentation only enhances. The sophistication and masterful composition is apparent throughout and the sparing use of electronic instrumentation like Moogs, electric guitars and mellotrons is only used to add a sparse lustre to the mix. Some of the songs take the old world music and give it a thoroughly modern upgrade, like a nod to the past, Young Mountain Memory is indicative of this with its urgency filtered in to the bare essentials of the sound. The extended family of world instruments can only enhance and augment the lush melodies and exotic musical landscape on songs like After The Big Sky Falls and Escape Down Sycamore Canyon where the simplicity of the acoustic instrumentation is all that is need to convey the strong multi-cultural ties that underlay every song. Winter Way is intelligent and haunting and symbolic of the amazing skill, patience and understanding that these two extremely talented musicians have. If you could take forty-five minutes out of your busy life and just sit down, relax and enjoy the thought of doing absolutely nothing, ‘Arcadia’ should be the soundtrack to that peaceful moment in your life. By stripping things back to basics without losing the beauty deep at the core of the music, Fernwood have produced a rare thing of natural and elemental wisdom and grace that is an antidote to the cluttered and hectic modern world we live in. My advice to you is to take a step away from it all and closet yourself somewhere quiet with this instrumental masterpiece."
LADY OBSCURE (Turkey)
“All music played by hand on instruments made out of wood” say the notes, which are quite brief, as I think this review can be. Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery have returned with their third instrumental Fernwood album, “Arcadia”. The Fernwood albums are like traveling to another country where the music is different, the product of another cultural history. Ellett & Montgomery take the listener to another place, not other worldly, but like some forgotten place on Earth, perhaps deep in a forest somewhere. Together they create a sort of progressive world music that is altogether pleasant and engaging, energetic in places, but also relaxing. Contemplative. “Arcadia” is like a continuance of what was produced in the previous two albums, rather than breaking any new musical ground. However, what continues to be harvested from the same creative soil is still very pleasant."
5 out of 6 stars
"Fernwood is a unique acoustic duo having formed in 2006. The players are Gayle Ellett (Djam Karet) and Todd Montgomery. What makes this tandem a little different is that all the instruments are made of wood and played by hand. The result is a mostly acoustic album rich in exotic sounds and beautiful melodies.
The variety of instruments is impressive: Greek bouzouki, dilruba, charango, surmandal, harmonium, Rhodes, ruan, dobro, upright bass, guitar, piano, tenor ukulele, bells/chimes, Moog, Mellotron, organ, electric guitar, Irish bouzouki, sitar, baritone guitar, mandolin, violin, bowed guitar, plus a few more I neglected to list.
Looking at the above instruments it is easy to imagine a world vibe in the songs and that would be true. The duo have created an acoustic tapestry of sounds from various cultures that is both relaxing and melodic.
Folk, classical, ambient and even a little prog crops up occasionally. The arrangements are sophisticated and with enough complexity to certainly attract fans of mellow progressive rock. Of course, fans of acoustic music should find Arcadia an absolute joy to listen to."
SEA OF TRANQUILITY
"I really like Arcadia by Fernwood. Consisting of eleven 3 to 4 minutes instrumental tracks, offering a "métissage" of many folklorique musical genres (Irish, Middle Eastern, Americana...) and featuring a collection of acoustic instruments (Sitar, Mandolin, Banjo, Harmonium...) this album lets the listener go on a mellow and moving journey around the world.
Excellently performed and produced, Arcadia is an album that will find my CD player many many times, and for a long while to come. All the compositions are beautifull. Fans of the mellower side of California Guitar Trio (and even more of Montreal Guitar Trio) or the early Private Parts & Pieces albums by Anthony Phillips should really check Fernwood out. The band has two previous albums (available on CD Baby and Bandcamp). I will most certainly purchase them asap.
Arcadia by Fernwood gets my highest recommendation indeed."
"Fernwood are the acoustic duo of Todd Montgomery and Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett and Arcadia is their third album since forming in 2006. Check out the list of instruments employed by these guys: Greek, Irish and slide bouzouki, sitar, dilruba, charango, tanpura, surmandal, rhodes, harmonium, ruan, dobro, upright bass, guitar, piano, tenor ukulele, bells/chimes, moog, mellotron, organ, electric guitar, field recordings, banjo, baritone guitar, mandolin, violin, bowed guitar, EBow, electric mandola, and baritone electric guitar… damn!
The core theme is two guys with an arsenal of acoustic instruments performing beautifully composed, lyrically melodic, image inducing instrumentals. I love the subtle blend of styles and instrumentation which makes the music, on a certain level, simple and accessible to all, yet elusively complex. We have a bouncy mixture of Americana and traditional Italian restaurant serenade, accented with a droning sitar undertone. There’s a Classical tinged blend of Greek wedding celebration and filmic chase scene narrative. I love the Indian influenced Irish jig, dancing on a serenely flowing drone. The music conjures up all kinds of confoundingly contrasting analogies. Some of the songs bring to mind Anthony Phillips’ Private Parts & Pieces albums and that Renaissance/Medieval Prog quality. But there’s rarely one identifiable style occurring in a single track, or even a single moment for that matter. Montgomery and Ellett nimbly segue to and from and synthesize multiple styles, with East, West and more coexisting harmoniously throughout single songs. The moog, mellotron, organ and electric guitars are used sparingly and only to add atmosphere, a light Prog shade, and occasional freaky effect.
In short, this is a thoroughly enjoyable set of subtly sophisticated yet universally accessible acoustic driven instrumentals. The promo sheet encourages to “Listen with headphones, you’ll be glad you did!”. I did, and I was!"
"If it wasn’t for Martin Mull’s 1970s TV series, Fernwood T2 Night, the name Fernwood would more instantly conjure up pastoral images of a backwoods town from a time gone by. The band called Fernwood does that, only their backwoods could be in Bangalore, Senegal or in the Appalachian hills. It’s not that the music sounds antiquated. It sounds completely out of phase, flowing in it’s own timeline, creating a global music that could only come from a 21st century imagination.
Gayle Ellett is one half of Fernwood. I’ve been following a progressive rock band out of California called Djam Karet for about 30 years now and Ellett is one of their founding members. But when he isn’t burning up the fretboard in strange time signatures, he unplugs and plays an acoustic brand of music that seems to emerge from the Appalachian Hills, Tuscan orchards and Irish moors. Todd Montgomery is the other half of Fernwood. He’s a sitarist and that brought him to all kinds of stringed instruments like the dilruba, bouzouki and mandolin. They bring all these instruments and more together in their band, Fernwood. Their second album, Sangita was an Echoes CD of the Month five years ago and now they have new album, Arcadia that continues their global chamber fusion. Ellett and Montgomery orchestrate 25 or so acoustic stringed instruments drawn from ancient cultures. Greek and Irish bouzouki, sitar, dilruba, quirquincho, Chinese ruan, Turkish cumbus, Moroccan oud, harmonium, gimbri, rababa, bulbul tarang, jal tarang, dotara, surmandal, tambura, manjira, tumbi, bugchu, gopich are some of their more exotic instruments.
With that instrumental array, you can expect a rainbow of different timbral hues from Fernwood and they deliver on their third album, Arcadia, where the colors shift like a kaleidoscope on speed. They don’t just change modes from song to song, they alter them from bar to bar within each piece. On “Bells Spring,” they take you from Appalachian Hills to a Venetian gondola to an Indian temple – all in about 30 seconds. That might sound like a whiplash change, but Fernwood weaves these styles together seamlessly and serenely, playing as a unified global chamber group more than a cobbled together smorgasbord.
On their first two CDs, Almeria and Sangita, their sound was centered on Americana motifs and moods. With Arcadia, that element is still there, but the focus is on a world music sound that’s often hard to pin down, but is mostly drawn from eastern modalities. On “Red Hill Trail,” dilruba, guitar and sitar sit on a backwoods porch like they were always played together, a Deliverance duel of the east-west imagination; a sound steeped in traditions dating back centuries.
Fernwood aren’t world music purists. In fact, “purists” is something of a non sequitur in this context given that they’re already mixing cultures and instruments. They’ve got Moogs, mellotrons and electric guitar in the mix as well. Those electronic sounds are used sparingly, as a brush-stroked shading, like the mellotron strings that emerge for just a moment on “The Lost Night,” or the synth drone that creates a moment of tension on “Winter Way.”
On Fernwood’s website, they say that the title Arcadia is loosely based on a narrative that suggests an endless search for an unspoiled wilderness of great beauty, a utopian paradise. I think their sound more closely aligns with the original Arcadia in Greece: an isolated region in the middle of the country where ancient Greek culture was reputedly maintained during the Dark Ages. Like Arcadia, Fernwood is preserving an ancient sound; but they’re accomplishing that by making it new, even a bit surreal, with a sound that could only be made in the 21st century of musical globalism."
ECHOES / John Diliberto
Bells SpringThere are some great melodies built into this. It has a lot of world music and is rather folk oriented. Still, it has some classical music and a bit of a space rock edge at the same time. There are links to the kind of acoustic stuff Led Zeppelin sometimes did, too.The Pan ChaserThe first part of this is more reflective and intricate. It works out to a more rocking kind of jam later, though.Vision At Vasquez RocksAs much as I liked the first two songs, this is even stronger. It has a definite progressive rock edge. Some of the intricate guitar makes me think of the acoustic stuff from early Genesis. I’m also reminded of Steve Howe at times. Yet, there is world music and psychedelia built into this, too.Red Hill TrailThere is a bit of blues and some bluegrass here. It’s folk oriented, but there is a lot more going on, too. This is another that’s among the best of the set. Nothing is a huge change, but this just works so well.The Lost NightPsychedelia and folk prog seem to merge on this number. It’s another especially strong one. I really love some of the lush arrangements.Crossing the DivideRock, folk and world music merge here. This has some progressive rock elements, particularly in the melding of everything. It’s an energetic and entertaining piece with a real old-world sound.Owens HideawayThere are some great melodies here. It has some real drama and beauty, too.Young Mountain MemoryThis is more complex than a lot of the stuff here. It’s definitely acoustic based prog. It’s also one of my favorites of the set. It has some of the best musical passages of the whole album. I think I’d recommend this as the song to put forward to get people interested. It’s just so tasty.After the Big Sky FallsThis shorter piece is quite pretty.Escape from SycamoreThere is a great driving melody to this. The piece combines psychedelia, folk and more into another effective number. I really love some of the intricacies here.Winter Way - CanyonSlower and mellower, this is still quite pretty."
"Featuring Gayle Ellett of Djam Karet fame, this album would land under that heading based entirely on that connection. The thing is, there is plenty of prog here, too. Yes, this is acoustic based music, played entirely on such instruments. That doesn’t mean it can’t be prog, though. Whatever you call it, though, this is a solid release that works well start to finish.
MUSIC STREET JOURNAL
"Certainly not the kind of music you would think of as being recorded in a Malibu home studio, these cats can be explained in two words---Norman Blake. If you've ever dug those 70s cats that would turn up on mighty sessions and seem to not let it go to their heads as their solo albums made John Fahey seem mainstream, this is certainly for you if you still have your vinyl Takoma sets. Exotic instruments, off beat signatures and strange tunings that all come together in a wildly glorious fashion is what's on display here. You might have to be a hard core, pre-Windham Hill acoustic music fan to get it, but Toulouse Englehardt could jam with these cats anytime and a good time would be had by all. Utterly killer stuff for ears of a certain age."
"Acoustic music takes a turn for the strange with the 2015 CD release of Arcadia by the California based band known as Fernwood. As indicated on the back of the CD art, “All music played by hand, on instruments made out of wood.” Essentially the brainchild of Gayle Ellett (guitarist of the legendary instrumental prog-rock band Djam Karet) and Todd Montgomery, this third album by Fernwood sounds like it might have been written and performed in a different century, yet the quality of the recording is very much state of the art. Just about every known acoustic instrument under the sun seems to have been included on the making of Arcadia, with the accent clearly being on World Beat instruments from exotic countries including Greek and Irish bouzouki, the Indian sitar, Chinese Ruan, Turkish cumbus, Moroccan oud. Interestingly, all these instruments seem to sit well with good old acoustic guitars, banjo, mandolin, acoustic piano, upright bass and much more. Also blended in for effects are field recordings and other sounds. Gayle Ellett is renowned for his jazz-rock and avant gard fusion sounds with Djam Karet so it’s a little surprising hearing him in such a blissful acoustic, World Beat moment on this third Fernwood album. With Ellett and Montgomery joined together in such a harmonious sonic moment, Fernwood’s Arcadia redefines the essence of acoustic, World Groove inspired music. Audio buffs can either choose between the CD and vinyl LP to hear Fernwood’s Arcadia."
"At The Explorer Mag, we like to introduce deserving artists and brand new music to your ears for you to discover ! Today, we had the chance to interview a very unique band from Hollywood: Fernwood.
Through soothing tonalities and captivating melodies, Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery (Fernwood) manage to create in their new Album, Arcadia, a unique kind of acoustic music mixing traditional and modern sounds. We could go on and on about the incredible level of musical technicality in their music, but we believe that a much better way to describe Fernwood’s music is to do it through emotions. The melodies are beautiful, surprising and will take you on an incredible musical journey through many cultures, but always with this unique touch of Americana influences that testifies of the band’s roots. We challenge you not to think of gorgeous landscapes while listening to Fernwood’s music. Each track seems to display its own signature, differentiating itself from the previous ones; the music is timeless and never heard before. The instruments are all made of wood and played by two passionate and experienced musicians and composers, bringing a feeling of authenticity to the band’s music.
I will add just one thing : it is always a great pleasure to interview someone and see something light up in his eyes while talking about his music. That’s how you identify a real artist. We want to thank Gayle for showing us that through this interview."
THE EXPLORER MAGAZINE (France)
"Not often do you get sent an album that is purely acoustic, and not related to any so-called Unplugged concert. Fernwood is another side project by Gayle Ellett (Djam Karet). Along with Todd Montgomery they create a sound world of acoustic guitar and other instruments. On the album we hear instruments such as Irish bouzouki, Greek bouzouki, sitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin, ukulele, as well as the exotic Dilruba, charango, tanpura, Surmandal etc. in addition to known instruments such as acoustic and electric guitar, violin, a little harmonium, piano, mellotron and organ. The criterion of the tools used is that everything was made of wood.
The result is an album that in its sound design creates all its own tones that triggers a certain fascination in me. Of course, you might think based on the instrumentation that at times it would sound like Folk or Country, and to some degree that is true. But if you know a little bit about Gayle Ellett, and his many projects, and the sound of this Djam Karet wizard, then you'll also know that the jam and flow and its resulting soundscapes are in the foreground. So this album offers up much more, then is first apparent. I just love this combination of acoustic instruments and the diversity of ideas that lie behind. Arcadia is already the third album by the duo.
Conclusion: This is something different. Arcadia stands out, and is very different from all of the other instrumental albums I’ve heard, and I welcome that very much. These 42 minutes have passed very quickly and left a me with a good stress-free feeling."
"Fernwood is a group that's hard to pin down. They mix Americana elements with Appalachian strings along with bouzouki's from the Middle East and Ireland and sitars from India. Headed up by Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett who also plays guitar in the ultra-progressive rock band, Djam Karet, Fernwood creates a global chamber music with Americana accents and cinematically inclined melodies." DJ John Diliberto described their music as "Acoustic Americana World Chamber Music".
"#4 Album Of The Year"