It would be no mistake to assume that a touring member of the "acoustic warrior road tribe" is a very dangerous person on the guitar. Not dangerous as in running with scissors or mooning a werewolf, but dangerous as in tearing up six strings so euphoniously that the listener feels pleasure, awe and envy while witnessing his/her skills. Michael Mandrell is one such acoustic warrior, and the San Luis Valley will not be spared on his warpath.
Road image aside, Mandrell is actually quite distant from the fighting type. His blend of jazz, folk, classical and Celtic melodies has earned him the often scoffed-at title and categorization of New Age. His eclectic mix of harmonies blends into a guitar styling that plucks softly along the edges of contemporary spiritual music and the imagination of the great beyond. Michael's tunes sound straight out of the jungles, temples and yoga studios of the world -- perfectly relaxing and in touch with natural rhythms and the life cycles.
You may have heard a sampling of Mandrell's music on NPR or PRI, as he's oft been featured on "Echoes" for his unique composition of ethnic fusion that fits the dreamy soundscape of the program. He's usually accompanied by a handful of other talents, including the accomplished Uilleannist Charlie Rafferty. Rafferty will join Mandrell this Saturday in Alamosa to co-headline the Alamosa Live Music Association's Celtic Christmas Concert.
Rafferty's Uilleann pipes encompass much of what structures traditional Irish and Celtic music; they are a wind instrument made up of a bag, bellows, chanter, three drones and three regulators. Though their description sounds more like a car part or NASA project, the Uillean pipes are actually a fairly simple mechanism. Similar musical instruments exist in many cultures around the world, yet the Irish get most of the glory for the sound. The pipes exude an engaging, captivating whine that commands presence and flows particularly well with acoustic guitar.
What makes Mandrell and Rafferty's collaboration unique is their personal addition of many other world styles into the Celtic sound. Expect influences ranging from East Indian percussion and scales to Hindustani rhythms and native flutes. The two performers will collaborate on traditional, seasonal Celtic songs for this performance and Rafferty will also share some seasonal narratives between the music. Acoustic guitar and Uilleann pipes will not be the only instruments featured; the duo's Celtic fusion sound depends on a few more interesting noisemakers of modern and traditional descent.
If you've never experienced a New Age Christmas, now's your chance. Don't be turned off by the tie-dye, patchouli stereotype and don't sell short the influence of world music on the guitar. Mandrell and Rafferty offer strong musicianship and respectable mastery of their instruments and genre. The spirit of their music fits aptly with the holiday season, and hey, it's a great excuse to take in the gorgeous scenery of the San Luis Valley on the drive down.
-- Matthew Schniper
A Celtic Christmas Concert with Michael Mandrell and Charlie Rafferty
Presented by the Alamosa Live Music Association
Milagros Coffeehouse, 529 Main St.
Saturday, Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $8 for ALMA members, $9 in advance, $10 at the door.
For more call 719/589-9281 or go to www.almaonline.org.