Sometimes, even a grumpy old pessimist like me finds music that is so beautiful that I can’t help but be inspired and uplifted by it.

The music that is the subject of this review, in CD form, was actually a gift from our Intrepid and Fearless Leader at Echoes and Dust (*blush* – Ed). Usually, when I sign up to do a review, I get a digital copy of the album and send a digital copy of my review back. This time, only the physical CD and the accompanying materials would do.

Intrigued? Me too! I didn’t entirely know what to expect, but when I heard ‘…something special, and I have to send it to you via postal mail…’ I was really excited.

When the package finally arrived, I couldn’t help but agree that this CD is something very special.

The CD, by Gary Bruce, is called ‘Maps’, and is accompanied by a 20+ page booklet of photographs and written word, musings and observations by Bruce. It may be cliche’ or an overused term, but it’s obvious even to a hardened cynic like Your Old Onkel Jake that this CD and booklet are a labor (or labour in English) of love, and intended to be inextricably paired, to immerse the listener in Bruce’s art. Apparently the album was over ten years in the making, now that’s commitment to your cause.

The music itself is instrumental, almost orchestral, and really beautiful and serene. I have been listening to ‘Maps’ a lot at work when I need to really concentrate. It has taken the place of the standard Mozart or Vivaldi classical that I normally listen to. I also find that when I listen to ‘Maps’ on my commute, I tend to feel less murderous and angry on arrival (I jest of course!).

The CD is 19 tracks long, and each track fits seamlessly and really has a great flow. When I hear albums like this, I become an even bigger fan of instrumental artists like Bruce. I know almost nothing about him, except that he is a talented guitar and keyboard player and songwriter.

The tracks range from pastoral and tinkly to darker or melancholy and back to upbeat and joyous. ‘Maps’ is music that evokes memories of carefree teenage summers with friends, the peaceful and contented moments before falling asleep knowing everything is in its place, and even maybe of longing for people or places long since left behind. It runs the gamut, so to speak! The tempo of the music is definitely on the slower side, but for the most part is satisfyingly upbeat and positive, with those few cloudier moments mixed in.

In the booklet, each picture and written passage corresponds to a song, and makes me nostalgic for the LPs of my childhood. With vinyl records, I studied every word, every picture and every inch of the cover and the liner notes; Gary Bruce’s ‘Maps’ reminded me of those days and that feeling of connectedness with the musician. After vinyl was supplanted by cassettes and CDs, I never spent the time studying those like I did with LPs. Sure, a lot of CDs come with booklets, liner notes and photos, so Bruce is not breaking new ground here; but there is an organic feel and look to his (DIY I assume) CD. Like I stated before, a labor of love.

I don’t really have a standout favorite on ‘Maps’ but if I had to choose, the ethereal piano on ‘A Sheep in Sheep’s Clothing’ is really good, although the song is very short. Bruce seems to be fond of incorporating various sounds (birds, kids playing) in to his music, and for this type of music.

So, if you have gotten this far, and haven’t realized it yet, I love this album and the way it makes me smile when I listen to it. Gary Bruce has the music tracks and the pictures available on his Bandcamp page, but I recommend buying the CD for the whole package. Listen, enjoy and share ‘Maps’ with a friend.

Available now throughBandcamp

Posted by Jake Gillen

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