Listeners Review Torched

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Submitted by Romel Sanchez, Philippines:

When I first learned of Michael Hedges' death, I came face to face with the fact that nothing gold can really stay. He was a rare musical visionary who literally redefined the boundaries of guitar performance with his highly evolved technique and compositional skills.

Torched is Michael's most introspective and reflective album and at the same time eerily forward-looking. It is also his most accessible. His songwriting and arrangements here display a remarkable sense of maturity. This album could possibly fulfill Michael's dream to be regarded as not only a guitarist but also as an accomplished singer, songwriter, arranger and multi-instrumentalist. Although most of the songs are reportedly works in progress, each one has a finished sound that is a testament to Michael's skills as producer.

Michael played several different instruments aside here including flute, dumbek, and melodeon. The title track and "Gospel of Mary/Holy Flame" both feature distorted electric guitars alongside his usual arsenal of acoustic guitars.

With his signature instrumentals like "Aerial Boundaries" and "Rickover's Dream", Michael made one guitar sound like two or more instruments. His instrumentals here, especially "Fusion of the Five Elements", made several instruments sound like one single performance.

"Spring Buds" is profound in its simplicity. With Crosby and Nash on back-up vocals, it almost serves as a counterpoint to Taproot's "i carry your heart". "Promised Land" has a propelling, insistent rock feel driven by Michael's confident vocals. "Rough Wind in Oklahoma" is an emotionally charged acceptance of the finite-ness of life. "Free Swinging Soul", one of Michael's most memorable songs, features a haunting clarinet part. Without a single guitar track on this song, he still manages to connect. "Gospel of Mary/Holy Flame" is Michael's most poignant song. It speaks about breaking free and throwing away your own ball and chains, spiritual or otherwise. It has a gentle, swaying feel that is slightly reminiscent of "Sweet Baby James".

This album is filled with a stunning and senseless beauty. It is a fitting conclusion to Michael's career, and a necessary continuation of his musical vision. Like some of Robert Frost's best poems, Michael's songs yield something new each time I listen to them.

Torched, to me, is a pretty accurate portrayal of "heaven, translated to sound".

Romel N. Sanchez

Submitted by Jeff Connor, Deerfield, MA:

I love the fact that Michael was playing with so many musical elements. Without question, the recordings rendered on Road to Return and Torched do not resemble the punchy, rhythmic guitar recordings from earlier albums, and I understand that this fact has disappointed many hard core fans. I have frequently asked myself whether these "singer/songwriter" albums are just as special as the classic "deep tissue gladiator guitar" from earlier years...or even the recently released Oracle. In other words, is Michael Hedges a great writer of "normal" contemporary music?

Many have commented that, compared to the concert performances, songs such as "Arrowhead" and "Venus" have been overproduced (instrumentally, not engineering-wise). For my own money, I always enjoyed "Free Swingin Soul" without the keyboard, played simply with the small percussion instrument. Perhaps one of my criticisms of the work is that it doesn't sound smooth. It's a little dry and staggered, like demo albums frequently are. Watching My Life Go By, which contains some amazing tunes, [while] altogether not a better-composed album than Torched, does sound more consistent in concept and performance. Was Michael, like many artists, a stronger performer in his earlier days? I listen to recent Elton John performances and sometimes wonder if, in fact, Elton has gotten worse as he has grown. The performances lack the inspiration of the old Elton.

Yet I don't feel this is the case with Michael's Torched. We must remember a few things in listening: First, it was a demo. Second, he had already done albums like Watching, Aerial Boundries and Taproot, and had played a certain style and approach all [over] the country for many years. Whether he was branching into new territory or trying things that he didn't feel as confident with, if we love Michael, we must love all of his attempts and efforts. Finally, if all of these tunes were performed simply with Barbara, the Lowden or the Harp, they would have pleased the hard core fans just as much as the older tunes did. I remember hearing "Sapphire" on just the keyboards 5 years ago, and loving it.

The fact remains that these are excellent tunes. [Just] as Michael extended them in concert and played them in many different ways, so can we let our imaginations run free in listening to "Torched", "Fusion of the 5", "Promised Land", "Phoenix Fire", and the other uplifting tunes. If Michael is frustrated looking down and watching us feel unsatisfied with the incomplete Torched, we must allow for it to complete in our minds...our memories from the many concerts (10 years of them for me) can help us to do that.

All Hedges fans should buy Torched and give themselves to it.

Jeff Connor

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