“The Shade of the Sycamore” is Tony Sandate’s third solo acoustic guitar album to date, and what a beauty it is! The seventeen tracks, sixteen of which are original compositions, were inspired by the writings of Thomas Merton (1915-68), a Trappist Monk who is widely credited for being the conscience of the peace movement. The CD contains a variety of musical styles and moods from peaceful contemplation to blues, Spanish, and classical. None of the pieces are heavy-handed, and the contrasting styles are effective and work well together, demonstrating Sandate’s versatility. It comes as quite a surprise to learn that Sandate is an appliance repairman by trade who met producer/pianist Eric McCarl while on a service call to fix the ice maker in McCarl’s refrigerator several years back. McCarl noticed that Sandate was looking at a guitar he had leaning against the wall and asked him if he’d like to play it. The result was some of the most beautiful guitar music McCarl had ever heard, and he vowed to build a recording studio so he could share this music (as well as his own!) with the world. A few years later, this all came to fruition with McCarl’s Weaving Libra Records in Southern California.
The CD begins with “Danza #1,” an effervescent Spanish dance in. Playful and energetic, is sets the perfect tone for the album. “Humildes Gracias” is a graceful and serene traditional Spanish piece. “I Will Sing To the Lord” is humble, earnest, and full of grace. “Attitude,” written for Cannonball Adderley, is a tasty bit of laid-back jazzy blues. “Nostalgia” is one of my favorites. Reflective and soulful, it is almost achingly beautiful. I also really like “There Is a Rose,” a slow, easy folk song with a gentle, heartfelt melody. “I’m Goin’ Home” has a quiet gospel feeling. “Blues Improv” is some good down-home finger picking, spilling over with the joy of making music. The five-piece “Contemplative Suite” is specifically for Thomas Merton, and features Sandate’s daughter, Alba Sandate on piano on “My Identity.” My favorite piece in the Suite is “Distraction,” which is a bit darker and more experimental. The title track is also part of the Suite and clearly shows Sandate’s virtuosity with his instrument. “Memory of a Kiss” closes the CD with a haunting and deeply emotional piece that comes straight from the heart.
If you love acoustic guitar music that is on the soft-spoken side, “The Shade of the Sycamore” is a must-have recording. It is sure to soothe your tired soul, and I highly recommend it!