Acoustic Alchemy's appealing mix of subtle world rhythms, improvisational steel and nylon string textures, and crisp pop and new agey melodies practically defined smooth jazz in the genre's early days. When co-founder Nick Webb -- who passed away in February 1998 from pancreatic cancer -- took his final turn for the worse just as recording was about to begin, longtime band accompanist John Parsons, a steel string master in his own right, stepped in. Fortunately, Parsons and Carmichael work up a striking chemistry of their own on Positive Thinking. Webb and Carmichael's final compositions feature recall some of their most beloved songs; the opener "Passionelle" begins with a sparse, gently percussive dual-strumming segment, building gradually in intensity before the rhythm section joins in for a soaring chorus, much like the title cut from 1990's Reference Point. Simple, caressing ballads like "Rainwatching W.I." and "Vapour Trails" recall two of AA's most memorable melodies, "Caravan of Dreams" and "Sarah Victoria." The colorful reggae and Latin rhythms and snappy repartee of "The Five Card Trick" recalls their first hit "Mr. Chow," but also incorporates a dash of wah-wah. "The Better Shoes'" slick production carries its '70s soul vibe to the extreme, emphasizing Carmichael and Parsons' punchy repartee. The album also features Webb and Carmichael's flamenco and classical guitar stylings; the elegiac title track (featuring a crying cello solo by Caroline Dale) and the fiery jungle percussion-driven jam "Limited Excess" incorporate both. "Limited Excess'" energetic spirit finds Carmichael expressing to his late partner that he will be sad for some time but will focus celebrating Webb's life forever.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran