Andrew Riches' 12 String Monster is a refreshingly raw and simple collection of acoustic instrumentals. The album includes nine original compositions, all played on 12 string guitars.
Acoustic guitar virtuosos and percussive style players are often seen playing six string instruments or sometimes harp guitars, and that is where Riches appears to have seen things a little differently. Though his playing may be largely influenced by some of the seminal greats, he brings this approach to the world of the 12 string guitar, which presents both intrigue and challenge. This project is a reflection of that fact.
Though it is apparent that this project was not recorded in a world-class studio, to say that it does not have any production value would be a misnomer. The good part about simple production is that it does not overshadow the central focus of this album, which is clearly Riches' guitar playing.
Unlike highly polished mainstream releases, there are no overdubs, there are very few traces of editing, and there isn't any accompaniment to the guitar tracks. That's part of what makes this project a refreshing one.
There is a certain appeal to masterful acoustic guitar playing. Players like Michael Hedges, Andy McKee and Don Ross have helped to forge a niche that guitarists everywhere marvel at and even non-players can appreciate due to its technical and highly visual nature.
Riches himself uses a variety of interesting techniques - from tapped harmonics to percussive style playing - to keep the listener engaged. He even uses a slide on the final track, "Mud From The River".
There is a certain rawness to his playing, which is one of the charming aspects of Monster. Riches demonstrates that he is willing to take risks, and this shows through on this release. It definitely works in his favor.
The music on this album is often folky, evoking mental images of the rolling countryside. Riches' playing style may be aggressive at times ("Harmonic Chemistry" features slapped harmonics prominently), and it might even grow in intensity at other times ("12 String Monster" or "Weighted Down"), but overall the music tends to have a calming effect on the listener. The album title might be a little misleading in that sense; or maybe it's just tongue-in-cheek.
It is definitely an enjoyable compilation of compositions, though Riches' songs tend to stay pretty similar thematically throughout. They don't take too many unexpected twists and turns, though they do vary dynamically.
Though there is a certain level of technical proficiency that usually serves as the background to a guitar-centric project like this, on Monster it is subservient to the music. Oftentimes, skilled players will overplay to a song's detriment, and though there is certainly a time and place for fast and even highly technical playing, Riches doesn't go overboard in this regard. The structure and the theme of each song is preserved throughout.
Another merit of a project like this is that the 12 string guitar is the principal focus. Though 12 string guitars have been used on a variety of different recordings, both old and new, legendary and obscure, its purest essence is often mired in the mix of other instruments. This albums allows you to enjoy the purity and richness of these instruments on their own.
This is a simple and raw project by nature, but it may have benefited from a little more variety. As was noted earlier, Riches doesn't take too many trips down the scenic route with his compositions, and that could have served to keep the listener on their toes a little more.
However, all in all, Monster is a fun project that shows a lot of promise. It should be interesting to watch how Riches evolves as a player and composer as he prepares for another recording project.