All Will Prosper

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None of the music Keith Kenniff makes under any of his guises -- as Helios, or as half of the duo Mint Julep -- is really the least bit difficult or demanding, but the solo piano-oriented Goldmund is probably the most anodyne of all of his projects, and this fifth release under that name may well be his most pleasantly unchallenging yet -- unless you're the sort of person who's easily riled up by hearing the melody of "Dixie." All Will Prosper is a collection of 14 Civil War-era folk songs (plus one more recently composed dead ringer, "Ashoken Farewell") rendered in sparse, minimalist arrangements featuring only delicate, close-miked acoustic guitar and reverberant upper-register piano. There's the occasional hint of simple, organic ambient techniques (such as one of these instruments being used in an atmospheric, drone-like or gently percussive fashion) but the focus is squarely, unabashedly on presenting these almost innately familiar melodies as simply and as beautifully as possible. And if anything can be said to be truly remarkable about this recording, it is precisely that sense of focus, with every detail of the sound carefully deployed and calibrated to maintain a sense of pure, unruffled calm. Kenniff is a past master of prettiness, and he certainly hasn't lost his touch here. At the same time, there's a thin line between tranquil aesthetic purity and emotionally empty sterility, and while this music makes a fine blank canvas for whatever you want to project onto it, it's ultimately pretty faceless stuff. For all the emotional potential of this source material, Kenniff does little to make it resonate more than literally; he certainly doesn't present the era in any sort of new, freshly relevant way (like, for instance Titus Andronicus on their similarly artworked The Monitor), but neither is there much palpable sense of nostalgia, except perhaps on the mournfully slow, somber closing rendition of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." Something about these simple old-fashioned melodies and the gently chiming quality of the sound makes this feel vaguely like a generic collection of instrumental Christmas carols (or perhaps it's that "All Quiet on the Potomac" bears a passing melodic similarity to "Greensleeves"). More to the point, it sounds like a souvenir CD you might pick up at the gift shop of a historic battlefield site. Actually, Kenniff should look into that -- it might be a great marketing opportunity.

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