Kenn Fox is a fingerstyle guitar veteran from Wisconsin, and his new CD Malakai’s Rainbow finds him working in an easy going, contemporary style. The tracks are all original instrumentals, alternately melancholy and breezy, and the sound of the disc has a modern acoustic sheen, with occasional reverbs and delays, and blended acoustic and pickup signals throughout.
This record is named for Fox’s grandson, who was born last June with a congenital heart condition. The opening title track is Fox’s tribute to the boy, who has already fought his way through multiple open heart surgeries. The song is bittersweet, mostly loping arpeggios with a few nice melodic turns. Second track “The Return” begins like an inverted “Layla”, and I mean that in a good way… Fox patiently lays down a sparse melody over a mix of picked and strummed chords, with a memorable melodic transition to the “B” section, and some nice descending notes in the bass. The middle of the song finds the guitarist digging into some down-tuned strumming, resulting in a less interesting, sort of Alice In Chains vibe, before returning to the initial themes.
As the album goes on, Fox mostly repeats the approach of the first two tracks, with only a little variation in tempo and feel. Songs like “Marion”, “Across The Sea”, “The Wisdom of Trees” and closer “Eyes of a Child” all mine the same emotional terrain, with slow, clean picking, and some skeletal melodies buried in the pretty arpeggios.
These compositions are all executed perfectly, and their serene nature certainly has a calming effect, but they can begin to sound repetitive if you’re not in a reflective mood.
As is the case with many instrumental guitar albums, when a few standout tracks take a different approach from the established mood, those tunes can become the most memorable. “The Many Lives of Fiona McLeod” takes the form of a jig, and the upbeat feel is a welcome change from the more solemn, contemplative material. “Every Grain of Sand” (not to be confused with the Dylan song of the same name) isn’t a solo, but is credited to The Midwest Guitar Trio, and the additional players bring a rich harmonic element to Fox’s somber composition. A lot of “Another Side of Sunday” is similar in feel to the rest of the record, but it also sports some compelling themes, rife with dissonant intervals.
Malakai’s Rainbow is a mellow, enjoyable modern fingerstyle record, but one that might have benefited from a little more variation in the tempos and dynamics of the songs. I’m looking forward to digging into Fox’s lengthy back catalog, as well as the upcoming full length by The Midwest Guitar Trio. If you would like to contribute to the Malakai Kaesermann fund, please contact Kenn via Spiritone Records.