(Sonic Alchemyst Productions)
Scott Huckabay's self-description as a "sonic alchemyst" may seem like a stroke of promotional embellishment, yet the tag genuinely captures his inventive approach to crafting acoustic-trance soundscapes. Musically, Huckabay lives and breathes as a one-man-band on stage, where he communes with his lovingly battered Taylor K20 acoustic guitar, looping and layering acoustic rhythms and percussive textures into a rich, holistic union.
Huckabay dabs from an extensive sonic palette, incorporating lush modal voicings, two-hand tapping, harmonics, helixing rhythms, percussive pounding, ankle-bell foot percussion, E-bow, and gobs of other effects-soaked string ambience. Picture a blend of Michael Hedges, fingerstylist Billy McLaughlin, and Michael Kelsey, with a splash of Robert Fripp. Huckabay's passionate performance rituals emit a shamanistic spiritual vibe as well, often culminating with his spinning like a cosmic dervish, his hands a fleshy blur around his guitar.
Considering Huckabay's "live" multi-tasking approach, the notion of hatching an album in the hermetic environs of a recording studio runs the risk of masking Huckabay's unique strengths. Fortunately, he enlisted ace producer/engineers Sylvia Massy Shivy and Rich Veltrop (Tool, Red Hot Chili Peppers, System of a Down), who understood how to harness Huckabay's creative spirit. Recorded at Massy Shivy's RadioStar Studios near Mt. Shasta, California, the crew set up as if it were a live performance and recorded the album over three days, in single takes with no overdubs. It's an impressive feat, given the amount of auto interplay involved in each song.
Huckabay's tricked-out acoustics manage to sound both organic and other-worldly. One can imagine a rapturous crowd at Burning Man gyrating to the trancelike title track, as a supple lead line snakes through a hypnotic Middle Eastern dance groove.
Angular harmonics and fluid tapping add color to the melodic contours of "Spirit Wind", while the fast-churning "Solar Flare" blends aggressive tapping and percussive turbo-strumming. From the trippy atmospherics of "Sweet Intuition" to the exotic, dreamy headspace of "Spiral Eclipse", Huckabay's latticework strikes a dynamic balance between reflective and energetic moods, in a way that's neither sleepy nor gratuitously self-indulgent.
Ultimately, looping tools in the hands (and feet) of an innovative sonic craftsman like Huckabay afford him incredible expressiveness as a solo artist. The deeply felt, uplifting songs on Secret Portal dramatically showcase the expanded possibilities of solo performance, and guide the listener on a musical journey that reveals Huckabay to be an inspired mystical pilot.