22 October 2021 (released)
13 June 2022
Great tone comes from mastery. A lifelong relationship with an instrument whereby you learn every nuance, every nook and cranny. The time and dedication put in, the thousands of hours on stage. It develops an incredibly intimate relationship with the instrument. When you are that in sync with your musical tool, there's an integrity of tone that can't be bought or manipulated.
Chicago-based six-string guru Chris Forte has released Backyard Astronomy, a gorgeously layered ode to the guitar. The album runs the gamut from spacey atmospherics to blues fusion with detours through jazz, funk, and folk. The album was composed during lockdown which gave the musician even more time to explore another one of his passions, astronomy. The artist moves in and out of meditative states on the record trading off slick cosmopolitan chic for the natural contemplation of infinity.
Big, rich acoustic guitars open the album joined by a curious slide guitar on 'Searchin'. Those late-night pensive moments sitting under the stars are on full display in this warmly reflective number. The slide guitar has moments of Gilmour-esque transcendence. A cover of 'The Thrill Is Gone' popularized by BB King is one of three to feature the vocals of LaShera Moore. The rendition, though still appropriately wistful, has a pep in its step thanks to a mischievous bass line and poppin' drums.
'Quarantine Coronatones' takes on a fully contemplative tone using spaced-out delay and long, legato lines to reach out to the cosmos and back. This track has hints of ambient guitar master Daniel Lanois in its captivating, fluid lines. 'Covidy Blues' sits in that same achingly beautiful sway that Zeppelin's underrated 'Tea For One' occupies. Countless blues musicians attempt the slow 6/8 blues ballad but few can pull it off with the same melodic melancholy that Page does. Forte comes very close extending the solo to occupy the entirety of the instrumental lament. The title track closes out the album with delicate fingerpicking over bow-like guitar. A music box-like quality. Gorgeous playing over a well-crafted composition. Hypnotic and affecting.
Backyard Astronomy is an overarching display of Forte's many talents. His mastery of the instrument is unquestionable. As a blues/funk player, he hits all the right spots and the band is right there with him, rocksteady and in the pocket. However, his experimental ambient tracks are the star of the show. Fantastic mood-setting pieces that perfectly reflect the “unplug from the grind, tune in to the world around you” jolt that so many were given over the past two years. A single critique would be to split the album in two so that each hemisphere of his playing can be immersed in individually.