"Fernwood is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalists Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett. The two have scored numerous film soundtracks both together and individually, and it shows. The songs are wonderfully melodic and emotionally direct, the diverse instruments are expertly layered, and dynamics are an essential aspect of the orchestrations. Acoustic stringed instruments constructed of wood predominate, and timbre and sonority suggest place and idiom as strongly as the actual compositional structures. Middle Eastern, Asian, African, and European motifs are masterfully interwoven with Americana to form a luscious yet rootsy imaginary idiom that is intriguing, uplifting, and at once familiar and exotic."
GUITAR PLAYER Magazine
"The backwoods of American music may be the last hidden realm of exotica left in the world. Brian Eno collaborator Leo Abrahams, Beck producer Tom Rothrock, ambient artist Kaya Project and jazz guitarist Bill Frisell have all tapped into a bucolic Americana, from country to rural blues, Appalachian banjo music to bluegrass fiddle cadences. But few have embraced this concept more than Fernwood, a band led by multi-instrumentalists Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery. They play stringed instruments from around the world whether it's a dilruba or banjo, sitar or guitar.
On their debut Almeria, they established the template for a global Americana music, mixing banjo and bouzouki, sitar and mandolin into a soundscape that's as sweet as a country fiddle tune and as beguiling as a raga. In a way, they're the American version of Iceland's Amiina, creating a gentle, slightly surreal sound like a music box with Indian tines being cranked in the Ozarks. Sangita takes a while to work its charms. Melodies are embedded in an intricate interplay of strings, like the strumming mandolins of "Mistral," which are topped by a melody that alternates between sitar and fiddle. Indian ambiences, Appalachian picking and an elegant European nostalgia converge on "Cimarron," which sounds like a Nino Rota soundtrack for Fellini, played by a bluegrass band.
Sangita is like an undiscovered musical tributary, a meeting of the Ganges River with the Swanee River. It's a CD full of sonic details and plaintive melodies."
John Diliberto of ECHOES RADIO
“All music played by hand, on instruments made out of wood,” says the back cover of Sangita. Fernwood conjure up an image of a Sitar-toting Chinese cowboy wandering through the Appalachian mountains, sailing the seven seas, and fighting dragons. The music isn’t as confused as my imagination, but it is evocative, and much more cinematic than most world music out there.”
SOUND ON SOUND Magazine
"This month’s Spotlight is a beautiful acoustic based track featuring a combination of instruments that we rarely hear. While the writing, arranging and performances are of the highest order, it is the blend of the various instruments in the mix that really makes this release something special to our ears. Gayle and Todd have skillfully managed to combine numerous stringed instruments, many with competing frequency ranges, into an open, airy mix that leaves space for each individual sound source, while maintaining a full cohesive feel, free of artifact and digital “nasties.” Relax and enjoy! Well done!"
“A really nice, rather amazing CD of instrumental pieces done on a wide assortment of acoustic, mainly stringed instruments. The songs are complex and thoughtful enough that they don’t venture into New Age drivel, and the musicians, Gayle Ellet and Todd Montgomery, are obviously extremely talented, but use their talents at the service of the compositions, rather than showing off their chops. It’s subtle, but it gets under your skin.”
AMOEBA MUSIC Music We Like
"Fernwood is a musical entity of two musicians who feel each other's essence for such cooperation well. This acoustic cooperation is rather descriptive in a very moody way, with pickings and notes in different rhythmical speeds, spinning around, with some lovely tunes. The listing in my 'acidfolk' section does not completely do justice to the release. Especially young people often tend to look for something with a hype factor, with "weird" or strange or modern associations, while the mature composer also recognises better things that last longer, or that reflect harmonic balances. For record companies, harmonic results are also harder to sell or categorise, when the music does not follow any of the mainstream tendencies. Fernwood's music reflects harmonic pulses and melodies, arranged by the inspirations of a duo playing together with interactions and melted ideas of compositions, and a whole diversity of instruments."
"Californians Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery bring a mastery of instruments ranging from bouzoukis and sitars to harmonium, oud, Chinese ruan and mandolin, to a series of captivating original compositions. Each piece has a cinematic feel but is complete in itself, the sounds all slot satisfyingly into place, and the album makes a cohesive, diverse and very rewarding listen."
fROOTS (Folk Roots) Magazine (Ireland)
"The concept behind this album should be enough to tempt any lover of acoustic music to click straight across to CDBaby and grab a copy of this album for a mere $12. The idea is beautiful in its simplicity: All the music is played by hand, on instruments made out of wood. The exhaustive mix of instruments is what separates this album from any acoustic instrumental record I’ve ever heard. The instruments are used in different combinations across the 12 songs. As a result there is a such a wide range of sounds, textures and energies that each stands as a wholly individual listening experience. As a listener I was kept enthralled, as each track opened new possibilities. An enchanting, beautiful and captivating aural pleasure."
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
DUTCH PROGRESSIVE ROCK PAGES (Holland)
“Majestätisch in ihrer Ruhe und Demut, kraftvoll in ihrer Sanftmut, inspirierend in ihrer Bescheidenheit und Einfachheit. Dass Instrumentalmusik, die unter gleichsam esoterischen Aspekten wie „handgemacht“ und „Instrumente ausschließlich aus Holz“ produziert und vermarktet wird, nicht nach Frömmelei riecht – wer hätte das gedacht? Dafür stehen Gayle Ellett und Todd Montgomery offenbar einfach zu fest auf dem Boden der Tatsachen ihres heimatlichen Malibu: Wenn sie nicht alle Arten von Gebrauchsmusik für Filme oder Computerspiele produzieren oder sich Progressive Rock, Folk oder Jazz spielen, gehen sie gern surfen oder Drachenfliegen. Vielleicht kommt der ausgeprägte Sinn für Organik und Harmonie, der das Debütalbum ihres Fernwood-Projektes durchzieht ja aus dieser Art Erdung in der wirklichen Welt? Sanft bauen sich die vor allem auf Bouzoukis, Sitars, Mandolinen, Gitarren, Bässen und dergleichen gespielten Stücke meist auf, schwellen gelegentlich wie Philip Glass’ „Koyaanisqatsi“ oder „Powaqqatsi“ ein Stück an und vergehen wieder. Dabei haben sie einen Sinn für Rhythmik, der sie über Geflirre erhebt, einen Sinn für Dynamik, Struktur und Proportion. Und natürlich sind auch Instrumente wie ein Rhodes Piano mit am Start – aus Holz? Kleine Lüge gelegentlich gehört dazu.”
FOLKER! Magazine (Germany)
"Almeria pervades often the same sphere as records from The Penguin Café Orchestra: broad orchestrations full of strumming and diverse melody-lines which occur simultaneous and are played on many instruments, with rhythmic bass-patterns which create a certain link with rock. The latter is also accomplished by the effective deploy of organ and Fender Rhodes and the use of slide and E-bow. The songs are sometimes cheerful and bright, sometimes modest and sober. There are plenty of folkloristic elements present, because of which the listener feels as if he’s on a musical world-trip or hearing a sound-track from a culture-documentary, although he’s not getting the feeling of being dished up all kind of separate elements. Besides Penguin Café, the fans of the solo-work of Anthony Phillips will also find plenty of recognition, while the closing track Nightingale has the same desolate atmosphere as Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. Solemn, progressive and crystal-clear produced world-music."
iO PAGES (Holland)
"Projet plus qu’intéressant, FERNWOOD est constitué d’un duo : tout d’abord Gayle ELLETT connu pour son activité avec le groupe Djam KARET (Seize albums au compteur) et qui a joué sur plus de 50 cds à ce jour, joue et compose depuis plus de 35 ans. Il a écrit de la musique pour nombres de films, jeux vidéo, publicités, etc. Ensuite, Todd MONTGOMERY, un musicien qui a appris le sitar avec le maître Harihar RAO (le plus vieil élève de Ravi SHANKAR) et qui pratique nombre d’instruments traditionnels. Il a notamment joué du bouzouki irlandais et de la mandoline pour le film « Chasing The Dragon : The Veronica GUERIN Story ». Ces deux compères ont décidé de s’adjoindre les talents d’un producteur de renom, Wayne YENTIS, éditeur du magazine « Recording Engineer/Producer », inventeur du Clavitar, un contrôleur de synthétiseurs au look de guitare. Il a personnellement désigné et construit des instruments électroniques customisé pour des groupes aussi légendaires que PINK FLOYD, TOTO, Frank ZAPPA, SUPERTRAMP, Herbie HANCOCK, Lee RITENOUR, Joe ZAWINUL, George DUKE, Patrick MARAZ, Terry BOZZIO et beaucoup d’autres.
Avec FERNWOOD, les deux compères ont décidé de créer un groupe entièrement acoustique, jouant à la main sur des instruments faits de bois. Tout au long des douze morceaux composant l’album d’une durée de 48 minutes, c’est un véritable enchantement de tous les instants. L’inspiration est là, les instruments, qu’ils soient seuls ou très nombreux, sonnent tous comme s’ils étaient dans la même pièce que vous.
Musique fondamentalement belle, chaude, exotique, elle développe des relents de folk américaine teintée d’exotisme (sans le chant, l’album est entièrement instrumental) et de cinématique (on croirait entendre une bande son de film). Ainsi un morceau comme « Ruidoso » avec son banjo nous emmène vers des rivages pas si éloignés que ça de la mythique musique du film « Délivrance » (« Dueling Banjos » par Eric WEISSBERG et Steve MANDELL). Gayle ELLETT raconte : « c’est une réaction à la musique moderne et vers où elle se dirige : des sons joués par des machines ou des ordinateurs. C’est mauvais et faux. Nous devrions éviter ça ». Etonnantes paroles de la part d’un musicien issu d’un groupe comme Djam KARET ! Todd MONTGOMERY déclare pour sa part : « Je voulais jouer de façon à ce que mon professeur, s’il était amené à m’entendre, ne soit pas offensé. Cela devait être assez indianisant pour qu’il ne se fâche pas, vous comprenez ? ». Ensemble, ils sont parvenus à une sorte d’americana matinée de musique de chambre inédite basé simplement sur des instruments faits de bois. Une musique parfaite pour se délasser le corps et l’esprit. De plus il est superbement packagé."
PROGRESSIVE AREA (France)
“Djam Karet main man Gayle Ellett’s desire to find alternative horizons to plunder have resulted in many an obscure soundtrack project. Together with Todd Montgomery, the crux of this new recording surrounds two bouzoukis originating from geographicly dispersed locations. The subject matter comes from your trusty world map to find “Almeria”, an exotic Old World vacation spot in Spain. The mood of the recording is non-invasive using traditional instrumentation to flesh out spirited jaunts and passive themes. Spanish bird observations pose a common thread from the opening “Sandpiper”, bearing arppegiated passages with a few minor twists, while “Crane” lies in a Frisell vein of simple folk deconstructed themes relying on emotive chords and unsettled lead lines. In contrast “Pelican” is Indian sounding while “Nightingale” is a late night sensitive ballad, calming with a firm resolved ending. “Open Seas” is closer to some of the themes developed from early 1980’s Metheny and Mays, maybe even a little “New Chautauqua”. Covering different ground are pieces such as “Hungarian Holiday” where the harmonium gives an Old World carnival feel and a Ukranian dance fade out. One of the best played pieces is “Makena” that uses that sustained open chord somewhat popularized by David Gilmour and Richard Leo Johnson’s pastoral moments. The disc comes off like a musical tour where few things have changed due to modernization and natural surroundings remain intact. Overall it’s a great headphone experience with a joyful balanced mix.
“Almeria” is a breath of fresh air and is a welcome alternative to today’s electronic and synth dominated music.”
"Without going out of my door, I can see the things on Earth"... ricordate "The inner light" di George Harrison? Senza andare fuori di casa, posso vedere le cose della terra... E ricordo anche la Alice di "Visioni" - con firma di Camisasca - quando cantava "E più lontano vai, sempre meno conosci"... Probabilmente alla base del duo Fernwood c'è la più mistica, sensibile e estatica delle visioni: quella causata dalla musica, dalla composizione in totale e incontrollabile libertà artistica, dal viaggio inteso come condizione dello spirito.
E pensare che il 50% del duo, ovvero il grande Gayle Ellett, proviene dalla leggenda Djam Karet, quasi 30 anni di potenziale non commerciale e di radicale jam-rock. Eppure, come già dicevamo ai tempi del loro primo disco "Almeira", i Fernwood recuperano una bella parte del patrimonio Djam Karet: quello acustico e meditativo, che nel loro progetto viene valorizzato a dovere. "Sangita" è il secondo tassello di un affascinante mosaico che Gayle e Todd Montgomery hanno creato con cura e dedizione.
World music "immaginaria", con numerosi strumenti acustici, come se i due fossero un'orchestrina innamorata di Oregon e Third Ear Band. Al di là delle definizioni, Fernwood è una grande tavolozza acustica che prende da diverse parti del mondo, o meglio utilizza strumenti etnici come il bouzuki, il sitar e l'oud, e ne tira fuori umori e fragranze. Qualche concessione all'organo, al piano rhodes e all'harmonium, ma il disco è un labirinto di strumenti a corda e percussioni, suonati con grazie ed eleganza, a partire dalla dolce "Kalyan" al minimalismo ipnotico e maliardo di "Dor County", passando per le danze di "Hobbs Bay" e "Helen Island" fino all'incanto di "Mistral", probabilmente il pezzo più dinamico e cangiante del lotto.
Pur non cambiando rispetto al primo album e rivelando stucchevoli reminiscenze new age, "Sangita" approfondisce la personalità del duo e si mostra un album accattivante, tra i migliori lavori acustici degli ultimi tempi."
8 out ot 8 Stars
“Fernwood is actually a duo (Todd Montgomery & Gayle Ellett) hailing from Southern California, and they have been working with exotic instruments for many years and in many different styles (Google them both to see where there musical history lies). Almeria is a graceful set of music that carry's you to many locals, and with great spirit. It makes you feel like you are traveling around the world, stopping to hear the local music everywhere you go. Exceptional sound and peaceable acoustic melodies prevail!"
"Tucked away in the picturesque mountains towering above the Pacific ocean Topanga Canyon attracts artists of all kinds, each adding their own unique vibration. I've been delighted to discover Fernwood, the eclectic and inspirational music creation of Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett. The duo have released two albums,"Almeria" and "Sangita" which have gained recognition worldwide. Their acoustic, cinematic compositions take the listener on an epic journey colored by the traditional instrumental sounds of Morocco, India, Greece, Turkey, China, and Italy, to name a few. Theirs is the kind of music one can sail away on. It swirls and flows in unexpected and delightful harmonies. While painting, free writing, or journaling it provides the perfect sound scape to entice and encourage creativity."
"There are wonders around each corner along the instrumental, peaceful journey of Sangita. Sometimes you get lost in a moment - happily. Often, audible treats jog your memory of life's simple joys while appreciating their sophisticated undertones spiced with hints of magic. The sitar and banjo complement each other like two very interesting and insightful story tellers who unite around the camp fire just for you. Each song has it's own sense of enchantment that keeps you guessing until the very end. There's nothing typical about the harmonious quality of this album - a sophisticated listener's delight."
TMAC444 (iTunes review)
"Gayle Ellett er her ute med sitt sideprosjekt Fernwood, som sikkert er en fin avveksling fra det velklingende moderskipet Djam Karet. Fernwood har et slagord som sier at alle instrumentene er spilt av hender, og alle instrumentene er laget av tre! Musikken en slik kontekst avleirer får vi nær innpå femti minutter av på ”Sangita”, som er skive nummer to fra Fernwood. Dette bandet består av nevnte Ellet men også av Todd Montgomery som trakterer mange instrumenter herunder velkjente Irsk bouzouki som jo alle hjem med respekt for seg selv har flere avJ Gayle Ellett har enda flere eksotiske instrumenter som han spiller på, Gresk bouzouki, ruan, oud, dilruba, bulbul tarang, jal tarang, dotara, gopichand, swarsangam, cumbus, gimbri og rababa. Selvsagt skaper dette en musikks om er temmelig unik og som garantert ytterst få om noen har hørt fra andre band før. Det er jo heller ikke å forakte at disse to musikerne oser av spilleglede og regelrett er ekstremt dyktig hvilket nå enn av de mange instrumentene de trakterer. Det er temmelig mange raske og usedvanelig dyktige fingre som står for musikken, og jammen klarer de ikke også å fremskaffe svært varierte musikalske landskap. Rått og riffbasert blir det aldri, men en svært finurlig, intelligent og fengslende musikk varter Fernwood opp med. Malibuduoen sørger for et fabelaktig samspill mellom de forskjellige instrumentene, og har en først blitt fengslet av sjarmen og den gripende musikken til Fernwood er det umulig og ikke å nyte den til det ytterste. Den iboende etnisiteten alle disse ”verdens” instrumentene skaper er pent er vellykket fusjonert med mer velkjente instrumenter og en samtids americana. Skiva krever en våken lytter for at alle de subtile detaljene som finnes skal avdekkes. Skrur en derimot på den musikalske radar, om en da har en slik? så er det en ganske så variert bukett med stemninger Ellet og Montgomery kreerer. Soundet til Fernwood er som nevnt kjemisk fritt for enhver manipulering og urørt av det digitale uhyretsJ tentakler. Bare pur og delikat musisering i en organisk kontekst som er både frisk, freidig, sjelfull og livlig. Noen ganger er musikken nærmest skjør og skrøpelig, mens andre ganger er det et utall av instrumenter i samme låt noe som avleirer et tilnærmet orkestral sound. Albumtittelen ”Sangita” er en løselig hentydning til Sangita Ratnakarna som er en åtte hundre år gammel bok skrevet av musikk teoretikeren Sharngadeva. Oversatt betyr Sangita Ratnakarna noe sånt som hav av musikk, og boken tar for seg de mange og varierte musikkstilene og alle instrumentene som datidens India hadde. Selv om denne skiva ikke dveler særlig mye med India er den på mange måter en etterfølger hva estetikk gjelder. En estetikk som går på å skape vakker musikk av multiple stilarter og instrumenter. Det er hva denne skiva dreier seg om så vidt vi kan skjønne, og så vidt vi kan skjønne har den nok et noe smalt nedslagsfelt, og det er trist fordi dette er så knallbra. ”Sangita” er nok mest for den virkelig dedikerte musikkelsker, men selvsagt håper vi at vi tar grundig feil og at alle vi like musikken her! Uansett så er ”Sangita” er album som ikke er dusinvare, og har rikelig med egenart, fengslende instrumentering, spilleglede og ikke minst variasjon. Denne globale kammermusikken som er injisert med americana er utvilsomt et friskt pust i en verden av ofte likelydende musikk. De som vil ha noe temmelig genuint som også er ytterst velspillt bør kjenne sin besøkelsestid og anskaffe skiva."
"Fernwood is a group that's hard to pin down. They mix Americana elements with Appalachian strings along with bouzouki's from the Middle East and Ireland and sitars from India. Headed up by Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett who also plays guitar in the ultra-progressive rock band, Djam Karet, Fernwood creates a global chamber music with Americana accents and cinematically inclined melodies.
DJ John Diliberto described their music as "Acoustic Americana World Chamber Music".
"Number 4 ALBUM OF THE YEAR"
"Don’t you just feel like hiding away from the world sometimes, getting out of the rat race and jumping of that never-ending treadmill? I know I do, I don’t necessarily mean in a bad way either, sometimes you just like to have some time to yourself and relax, forget about the worries of the world and bask in a quasi-hypnotic state where nothing matters. To me this can be achieved by immersing yourself in some simple, ethereal music that takes you away to a dream world, a place of contemplation and reflection and this state of grace is easiest achieved by letting instrumental music wash over you and seep into your cerebral cortex. Don’t worry about having to understand words, just enjoy the sounds. Last year I reviewed an album by veteran Californian progressive rock band Djam Karet and it is through that that I became friends with guitarist Gayle Ellett and learned of his instrumental acoustical music project Fernwood on which he is joined by renowned sitar player Todd Montgomery. Even the name evokes memories of backwoods America and the first two albums, ‘Almeria’ and ‘Sangita’ were centred on American a motifs and moods, with the release of ‘Arcadia’ they have taken their music out further into the folk and world music scene that encompasses the whole globe. On ‘Arcadia’ these two impressive musicians play up to twenty five wooden instruments and the majority hail from before the mid nineteenth century. With influences ranging as far afield as Ireland, Greece, India, China, Turkey and Morocco, all melded with the sound of the Appalachian Hills in America, this cinematic and dramatic soundscape takes you on a journey full of mystery and Eastern promise. Throughout this enchanting album you will find an east-west combination that, at times, compliments each other and, at others, fights for control. From the gentle Americana of Bells Spring, The Pan Chaser, and Vision At Vasquez Rocks, tinged with a hint of the mediaeval and classical, through the eastern hints on red Hill Trail and exotic hues that are painted all over The Lost Night, Gayle and Todd create an all-encompassing global sound from the traditional instruments and methods they employ. To achieve a more natural and dynamic sound there is no tinkering or computer manipulation used in the making of their albums and this lends a raw, unfiltered note to songs like Crossing The Divide and Owens Hideaway, an innocence that the elemental instrumentation only enhances. The sophistication and masterful composition is apparent throughout and the sparing use of electronic instrumentation like Moogs, electric guitars and mellotrons is only used to add a sparse lustre to the mix. Some of the songs take the old world music and give it a thoroughly modern upgrade, like a nod to the past, Young Mountain Memory is indicative of this with its urgency filtered in to the bare essentials of the sound. The extended family of world instruments can only enhance and augment the lush melodies and exotic musical landscape on songs like After The Big Sky Falls and Escape Down Sycamore Canyon where the simplicity of the acoustic instrumentation is all that is need to convey the strong multi-cultural ties that underlay every song. Winter Way is intelligent and haunting and symbolic of the amazing skill, patience and understanding that these two extremely talented musicians have. If you could take forty-five minutes out of your busy life and just sit down, relax and enjoy the thought of doing absolutely nothing, ‘Arcadia’ should be the soundtrack to that peaceful moment in your life. By stripping things back to basics without losing the beauty deep at the core of the music, Fernwood have produced a rare thing of natural and elemental wisdom and grace that is an antidote to the cluttered and hectic modern world we live in. My advice to you is to take a step away from it all and closet yourself somewhere quiet with this instrumental masterpiece."
LADY OBSCURE (Turkey)
“All music played by hand on instruments made out of wood” say the notes, which are quite brief, as I think this review can be. Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery have returned with their third instrumental Fernwood album, “Arcadia”. The Fernwood albums are like traveling to another country where the music is different, the product of another cultural history. Ellett & Montgomery take the listener to another place, not other worldly, but like some forgotten place on Earth, perhaps deep in a forest somewhere. Together they create a sort of progressive world music that is altogether pleasant and engaging, energetic in places, but also relaxing. Contemplative. “Arcadia” is like a continuance of what was produced in the previous two albums, rather than breaking any new musical ground. However, what continues to be harvested from the same creative soil is still very pleasant."
5 out of 6 stars
"Fernwood is a unique acoustic duo having formed in 2006. The players are Gayle Ellett (Djam Karet) and Todd Montgomery. What makes this tandem a little different is that all the instruments are made of wood and played by hand. The result is a mostly acoustic album rich in exotic sounds and beautiful melodies.
The variety of instruments is impressive: Greek bouzouki, dilruba, charango, surmandal, harmonium, Rhodes, ruan, dobro, upright bass, guitar, piano, tenor ukulele, bells/chimes, Moog, Mellotron, organ, electric guitar, Irish bouzouki, sitar, baritone guitar, mandolin, violin, bowed guitar, plus a few more I neglected to list.
Looking at the above instruments it is easy to imagine a world vibe in the songs and that would be true. The duo have created an acoustic tapestry of sounds from various cultures that is both relaxing and melodic.
Folk, classical, ambient and even a little prog crops up occasionally. The arrangements are sophisticated and with enough complexity to certainly attract fans of mellow progressive rock. Of course, fans of acoustic music should find Arcadia an absolute joy to listen to."
SEA OF TRANQUILITY
"I really like Arcadia by Fernwood. Consisting of eleven 3 to 4 minutes instrumental tracks, offering a "métissage" of many folklorique musical genres (Irish, Middle Eastern, Americana...) and featuring a collection of acoustic instruments (Sitar, Mandolin, Banjo, Harmonium...) this album lets the listener go on a mellow and moving journey around the world.
Excellently performed and produced, Arcadia is an album that will find my CD player many many times, and for a long while to come. All the compositions are beautifull. Fans of the mellower side of California Guitar Trio (and even more of Montreal Guitar Trio) or the early Private Parts & Pieces albums by Anthony Phillips should really check Fernwood out. The band has two previous albums (available on CD Baby and Bandcamp). I will most certainly purchase them asap.
Arcadia by Fernwood gets my highest recommendation indeed."
"Arcadia" is the third album by the Folk-Prog-World music duo Fernwood and I have, until a few days ago, not even noticed the existence of this band until now.
Fernwood is composed of music for guitars, bouzoukis, banjo, sitar, violin, and the group consists of Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett, who Progfans will know is the multi-instrumentalist from the band Djam Karet, who accordingly plays a wide variety of string and keyboard instruments.
The results are presented here played on instruments from many regions, with echoes of folk music from halfway around the world (from the British Isles, over North America, and to Greece, India, and beyond) but that should not obscure the fact that the compositions owe as much to Classical music, as it does to the traditions of progressive rock. And with all this there are even a few Jazzy sprinklings as well.
The harmonic ideas are put together with a Folky and progressive style, that creates engaging melodic structures. This is done with the aim - as is revealed in the info sheet - to create a sense of musical calmness, with a relaxing stress-free vibe.
"Arcadia” is absolutely excellent, deep and melodic, but at the same time they have mature compositions filled with natural sounds. Such albums are truly rare indeed!"
BABY BLUE (Germany)
"Fernwood are the acoustic duo of Todd Montgomery and Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett and Arcadia is their third album since forming in 2006. Check out the list of instruments employed by these guys: Greek, Irish and slide bouzouki, sitar, dilruba, charango, tanpura, surmandal, rhodes, harmonium, ruan, dobro, upright bass, guitar, piano, tenor ukulele, bells/chimes, moog, mellotron, organ, electric guitar, field recordings, banjo, baritone guitar, mandolin, violin, bowed guitar, EBow, electric mandola, and baritone electric guitar… damn!
The core theme is two guys with an arsenal of acoustic instruments performing beautifully composed, lyrically melodic, image inducing instrumentals. I love the subtle blend of styles and instrumentation which makes the music, on a certain level, simple and accessible to all, yet elusively complex. We have a bouncy mixture of Americana and traditional Italian restaurant serenade, accented with a droning sitar undertone. There’s a Classical tinged blend of Greek wedding celebration and filmic chase scene narrative. I love the Indian influenced Irish jig, dancing on a serenely flowing drone. The music conjures up all kinds of confoundingly contrasting analogies. Some of the songs bring to mind Anthony Phillips’ Private Parts & Pieces albums and that Renaissance/Medieval Prog quality. But there’s rarely one identifiable style occurring in a single track, or even a single moment for that matter. Montgomery and Ellett nimbly segue to and from and synthesize multiple styles, with East, West and more coexisting harmoniously throughout single songs. The moog, mellotron, organ and electric guitars are used sparingly and only to add atmosphere, a light Prog shade, and occasional freaky effect.
In short, this is a thoroughly enjoyable set of subtly sophisticated yet universally accessible acoustic driven instrumentals. The promo sheet encourages to “Listen with headphones, you’ll be glad you did!”. I did, and I was!"
"If it wasn’t for Martin Mull’s 1970s TV series, Fernwood T2 Night, the name Fernwood would more instantly conjure up pastoral images of a backwoods town from a time gone by. The band called Fernwood does that, only their backwoods could be in Bangalore, Senegal or in the Appalachian hills. It’s not that the music sounds antiquated. It sounds completely out of phase, flowing in it’s own timeline, creating a global music that could only come from a 21st century imagination.
Gayle Ellett is one half of Fernwood. I’ve been following a progressive rock band out of California called Djam Karet for about 30 years now and Ellett is one of their founding members. But when he isn’t burning up the fretboard in strange time signatures, he unplugs and plays an acoustic brand of music that seems to emerge from the Appalachian Hills, Tuscan orchards and Irish moors. Todd Montgomery is the other half of Fernwood. He’s a sitarist and that brought him to all kinds of stringed instruments like the dilruba, bouzouki and mandolin. They bring all these instruments and more together in their band, Fernwood. Their second album, Sangita was an Echoes CD of the Month five years ago and now they have new album, Arcadia that continues their global chamber fusion. Ellett and Montgomery orchestrate 25 or so acoustic stringed instruments drawn from ancient cultures. Greek and Irish bouzouki, sitar, dilruba, quirquincho, Chinese ruan, Turkish cumbus, Moroccan oud, harmonium, gimbri, rababa, bulbul tarang, jal tarang, dotara, surmandal, tambura, manjira, tumbi, bugchu, gopich are some of their more exotic instruments.
With that instrumental array, you can expect a rainbow of different timbral hues from Fernwood and they deliver on their third album, Arcadia, where the colors shift like a kaleidoscope on speed. They don’t just change modes from song to song, they alter them from bar to bar within each piece. On “Bells Spring,” they take you from Appalachian Hills to a Venetian gondola to an Indian temple – all in about 30 seconds. That might sound like a whiplash change, but Fernwood weaves these styles together seamlessly and serenely, playing as a unified global chamber group more than a cobbled together smorgasbord.
On their first two CDs, Almeria and Sangita, their sound was centered on Americana motifs and moods. With Arcadia, that element is still there, but the focus is on a world music sound that’s often hard to pin down, but is mostly drawn from eastern modalities. On “Red Hill Trail,” dilruba, guitar and sitar sit on a backwoods porch like they were always played together, a Deliverance duel of the east-west imagination; a sound steeped in traditions dating back centuries.
Fernwood aren’t world music purists. In fact, “purists” is something of a non sequitur in this context given that they’re already mixing cultures and instruments. They’ve got Moogs, mellotrons and electric guitar in the mix as well. Those electronic sounds are used sparingly, as a brush-stroked shading, like the mellotron strings that emerge for just a moment on “The Lost Night,” or the synth drone that creates a moment of tension on “Winter Way.”
On Fernwood’s website, they say that the title Arcadia is loosely based on a narrative that suggests an endless search for an unspoiled wilderness of great beauty, a utopian paradise. I think their sound more closely aligns with the original Arcadia in Greece: an isolated region in the middle of the country where ancient Greek culture was reputedly maintained during the Dark Ages. Like Arcadia, Fernwood is preserving an ancient sound; but they’re accomplishing that by making it new, even a bit surreal, with a sound that could only be made in the 21st century of musical globalism."
ECHOES / John Diliberto
"Featuring Gayle Ellett of Djam Karet fame, this album would land under that heading based entirely on that connection. The thing is, there is plenty of prog here, too. Yes, this is acoustic based music, played entirely on such instruments. That doesn’t mean it can’t be prog, though. Whatever you call it, though, this is a solid release that works well start to finish.
Bells Spring:There are some great melodies built into this. It has a lot of world music and is rather folk oriented. Still, it has some classical music and a bit of a space rock edge at the same time. There are links to the kind of acoustic stuff Led Zeppelin sometimes did, too.The Pan Chaser:The first part of this is more reflective and intricate. It works out to a more rocking kind of jam later, though.Vision At Vasquez Rocks: As much as I liked the first two songs, this is even stronger. It has a definite progressive rock edge. Some of the intricate guitar makes me think of the acoustic stuff from early Genesis. I’m also reminded of Steve Howe at times. Yet, there is world music and psychedelia built into this, too.Red Hill Trail: There is a bit of blues and some bluegrass here. It’s folk oriented, but there is a lot more going on, too. This is another that’s among the best of the set. Nothing is a huge change, but this just works so well.The Lost Night: Psychedelia and folk prog seem to merge on this number. It’s another especially strong one. I really love some of the lush arrangements.Crossing the Divide: Rock, folk and world music merge here. This has some progressive rock elements, particularly in the melding of everything. It’s an energetic and entertaining piece with a real old-world sound.Owens Hideaway: There are some great melodies here. It has some real drama and beauty, too.Young Mountain Memory: This is more complex than a lot of the stuff here. It’s definitely acoustic based prog. It’s also one of my favorites of the set. It has some of the best musical passages of the whole album. I think I’d recommend this as the song to put forward to get people interested. It’s just so tasty.After the Big Sky Falls: This shorter piece is quite pretty.Escape from Sycamore Canyon: There is a great driving melody to this. The piece combines psychedelia, folk and more into another effective number. I really love some of the intricacies here.Winter Way: Slower and mellower, this is still quite pretty."
MUSIC STREET JOURNAL
"Certainly not the kind of music you would think of as being recorded in a Malibu home studio, these cats can be explained in two words---Norman Blake. If you've ever dug those 70s cats that would turn up on mighty sessions and seem to not let it go to their heads as their solo albums made John Fahey seem mainstream, this is certainly for you if you still have your vinyl Takoma sets. Exotic instruments, off beat signatures and strange tunings that all come together in a wildly glorious fashion is what's on display here. You might have to be a hard core, pre-Windham Hill acoustic music fan to get it, but Toulouse Englehardt could jam with these cats anytime and a good time would be had by all. Utterly killer stuff for ears of a certain age."
"Acoustic music takes a turn for the strange with the 2015 CD release of Arcadia by the California based band known as Fernwood. As indicated on the back of the CD art, “All music played by hand, on instruments made out of wood.” Essentially the brainchild of Gayle Ellett (guitarist of the legendary instrumental prog-rock band Djam Karet) and Todd Montgomery, this third album by Fernwood sounds like it might have been written and performed in a different century, yet the quality of the recording is very much state of the art. Just about every known acoustic instrument under the sun seems to have been included on the making of Arcadia, with the accent clearly being on World Beat instruments from exotic countries including Greek and Irish bouzouki, the Indian sitar, Chinese Ruan, Turkish cumbus, Moroccan oud. Interestingly, all these instruments seem to sit well with good old acoustic guitars, banjo, mandolin, acoustic piano, upright bass and much more. Also blended in for effects are field recordings and other sounds. Gayle Ellett is renowned for his jazz-rock and avant gard fusion sounds with Djam Karet so it’s a little surprising hearing him in such a blissful acoustic, World Beat moment on this third Fernwood album. With Ellett and Montgomery joined together in such a harmonious sonic moment, Fernwood’s Arcadia redefines the essence of acoustic, World Groove inspired music. Audio buffs can either choose between the CD and vinyl LP to hear Fernwood’s Arcadia."
"Among the various projects related to the world of Djam Karet, one of the most interesting and extravagant is definitely that of Fernwood. It is a duo formed by Gayle Ellett (Djam Karet) and Todd Montgomery and is mainly intended as an exploration of acoustic sound, with guitars in evidence, but also with numerous exotic instruments such as the bouzouki, the sitar, the dilruba, the charango, the tanpura, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, etc. "Arcadia" is Fernwood’s third album and it confirms the good things they have done on their previous two albums. It contains eleven songs that are delicious and beautifully arranged, with intriguing melodies and fascinating sounds that push in different directions, with a surprising air of the Mediterranean sun and the dreamy West Coast, from world music to new-age, from folk to jazz explorations. The forty-two minutes and a half of this CD flow with great relaxation and offer quite a few emotions thanks to sound paths undertaken with great skill, by the duo of Ellett-Montgomery. "Bells Spring" opens the disc with airy melodies led by the strings, and transmits a great serenity and can be seen as one of the tracks that best represents the spirit of the project. There are many songs that will appeal to those who love the acoustic music of Anthony Phillips, such as "The Pan Chaser", "Vision at Vasquesz Rocks" and "Owens Hideaway". Basically, however, it is this combination of different styles that shows the skill and talent of Fernwood, both in terms of composition, and their high level of commitment, through such evocative music can also be framed as a soundtrack to an imaginary film. Some sporadic moments of Moog, Mellotron and electric guitars makes things a bit more lively from time to time, along with harmonies of great class (particularly intriguing is "The Lost Night"), but basically there is always maintained a consistent sound, caressing in a languid manner, that maintains a certain fascination for the duration of the entire album. If the record was much longer, then we might find ourselves a little tired, but we applaud the duo for concisely putting every single note in its proper place, and for avoiding any useless or excessive playing. We conclude with a technical note, indicating that the Fernwood decided to record "Arcadia" without any compression and without the use of computer manipulation, in order to maintain as much of a dynamic sound as possible.”
"At The Explorer Mag, we like to introduce deserving artists and brand new music to your ears for you to discover ! Today, we had the chance to interview a very unique band from Hollywood: Fernwood.
Through soothing tonalities and captivating melodies, Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery (Fernwood) manage to create in their new Album, Arcadia, a unique kind of acoustic music mixing traditional and modern sounds. We could go on and on about the incredible level of musical technicality in their music, but we believe that a much better way to describe Fernwood’s music is to do it through emotions. The melodies are beautiful, surprising and will take you on an incredible musical journey through many cultures, but always with this unique touch of Americana influences that testifies of the band’s roots. We challenge you not to think of gorgeous landscapes while listening to Fernwood’s music. Each track seems to display its own signature, differentiating itself from the previous ones; the music is timeless and never heard before. The instruments are all made of wood and played by two passionate and experienced musicians and composers, bringing a feeling of authenticity to the band’s music.
I will add just one thing : it is always a great pleasure to interview someone and see something light up in his eyes while talking about his music. That’s how you identify a real artist. We want to thank Gayle for showing us that through this interview."
THE EXPLORER MAGAZINE (France)
"Interesting story on how this album got into my possession in the first place. Gayle Ellett had reached out to see if I had a chance to hear the Arcadia CD he had sent. Umm... well... uh... What CD was that again? LOL. Turns out there is a print magazine called Under the Radar that they had sent a promo copy to. They're like all professional and stuff. Obviously not my Under the Radar, the textbook definition of Amateur Hour. After a few laughs, Gayle was kind enough to send me the CD anyway (and is housed in a very nice digi-pak). It's a little outside of our normal UTR fare, but I'm glad to say it's a very good album that I'm looking forward to soaking more with.
Fernwood are the California based duo of Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett, the latter most known to progressive fans as a member of Djam Karet. They each play a tremendous amount of (primarily stringed) instruments, including but not limited to, Greek and Irish bouzouki, sitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin, tenor ukelele, violin, and... Moog, Mellotron, organ, Rhodes, and electric guitar. Despite the presence of these latter instruments, the music is always calm and peaceful. In fact, I would like to use a term that Fernwood best represents. Unfortunately it has become somewhat of a pejorative, but shouldn't be regarded as such. And that term would be New Age.
35 years ago, the New Age movement had just begun and offered up a promising style of music that promoted music from around the world, generally in a tranquil, cosmic, and meditative manner. But it didn't take long for labels such as Windham Hill and Narada to turn the style into an almost Adult Contemporary pop music, perfect for bored rich housewives sipping sangria before their next yoga class.
Fernwood returns us to the original spirit of the genre, recalling pioneers such as Popol Vuh, but taking it to the next level. There are 11 tracks here, each as spellbinding as the next. Typically, I'm not fond of music such as this as I generally hear it, quite frankly, as dull. And yet I found myself transfixed and swept away by the blend of sounds created here. The production is stunning, and provides the crystal clear sound music like this needs to breathe. I see this as an album that is likely to grow in stature, and my initial rating is conservative (Gnosis 10 / RYM 3.5 which means Very Good and well worth owning)!"
UNDER THE RADAR
"Not often do you get sent an album that is purely acoustic, and not related to any so-called Unplugged concert. Fernwood is another side project by Gayle Ellett (Djam Karet). Along with Todd Montgomery they create a sound world of acoustic guitar and other instruments. On the album we hear instruments such as Irish bouzouki, Greek bouzouki, sitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin, ukulele, as well as the exotic Dilruba, charango, tanpura, Surmandal etc. in addition to known instruments such as acoustic and electric guitar, violin, a little harmonium, piano, mellotron and organ. The criterion of the tools used is that everything was made of wood.
The result is an album that in its sound design creates all its own tones that triggers a certain fascination in me. Of course, you might think based on the instrumentation that at times it would sound like Folk or Country, and to some degree that is true. But if you know a little bit about Gayle Ellett, and his many projects, and the sound of this Djam Karet wizard, then you'll also know that the jam and flow and its resulting soundscapes are in the foreground. So this album offers up much more, then is first apparent. I just love this combination of acoustic instruments and the diversity of ideas that lie behind. Arcadia is already the third album by the duo.
Conclusion: This is something different. Arcadia stands out, and is very different from all of the other instrumental albums I’ve heard, and I welcome that very much. These 42 minutes have passed very quickly and left a me with a good stress-free feeling."
"It's refreshing and magical at the same time. This is an entirely acoustic disc, 100% natural, the fruit of a collaboration between two quite exceptional musicians, namely Gayle Ellett, a member of the progressive group DJAM KARET and Todd Montgomery, a strings specialist who studied sitar with Ravi SHANKAR’s oldest student Harihar Rao (1927-2013). FERNWOOD is an acoustic duo formed in 2006 having already released three albums: Almeria (2008), Sangita (2009) and the youngest Arcadia published this year.
So we have two musicians with extensive experience but also with multi-instrumentalists skills, based in Southern California. They have a wide knowledge of music whether its rock, pop, progressive but also folk, world and jazz; they are also comfortable with bluegrass and Irish folk music and oriental techniques. For the release of their previous albums, FERNWOOD was presented like an encounter with a "cowboy with the world of jazz and of Eastern music." What a program, you say! But this definition seems most appropriate to talk about their singular universe.Arcadia quickly surprised me by its spirit of sonic purity that bathes the entire disk, but also by its originality that can be explained by the wide variety of instruments used (about thirty between them), mostly strings (we count at least twenty-five, largely invented well before the mid-nineteenth century) ... Essentially folk instruments, made from wood and from all horizons (Asia, India, South America, Europe) that will amaze the connoisseurs of good music. The list is long and impressive: for example, Gayle Ellett plays the Greek bouzouki, the dilruba, the charango, the tanpura, the surmandal, the ruan (Chinese lute), bass, piano, guitar, tenor ukulele but also the organ, mellotron and moog. Todd Montgomery is also generous in his choice of instruments with the Irish bouzouki, sitar, banjo, mandolin, electric mandolin, violin, various guitars, the EBow etc. FERNWOOD is more than a duo; it evokes a true small orchestra!We discover eleven compositions full of that fusion between different styles from the Old World, Americana, and New World music. And this creates an ever changing scenery with this acoustic soundscape that is both classic, contemporary, intense and very exotic. Arcadia proves to be the perfect soundtrack for an excursion into the heart of nature: imagine a setting with vast forests that stretch to the horizon, offering unique landscapes and woody scents. It's the perfect antidote against the stress of daily life, an incitement to travel and dream. It's an inspired music, filled with this feeling of calmness, carefree, and a sense of freedom but also nostalgia. FERNWOOD offers us melancholic tones, but also folk, and we can even add more styles, gliding through their minimalist compostions. There are pieces that have the force to transport the listener into what seems like another world (the nostalgic grace of The Pan Chaser or Vision at Vasquez Rocks with its harmonious tones from another time). It's simple and beautiful at the same time (Crossing the Divide), with also many oriental atmospheres: the mysteries of the sitar and other Indian instruments like the harp (surmandal) or fiddle (dilruba) is revealed here and there, with a rare sense of subtlety.The album starts with spring (the light Bells Spring which gives the impression of flying!) And ends with the arrival of winter (Winter Way). Such seasons that pass, are hymns of escapism where the instruments vibrate their strings like telling stories ... Short stories, never exceeding five minutes, where we can imagine some travelers searching for a utopian paradise. A journey which is long and probably dangerous. But who cares! FERNWOOD promises to accompany you and make you live a thousand sonic journeys, all filled with wonder.This album was recorded in Topanga and Malibu, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and was recorded without compression or computer manipulation, in order to maintain a natural and dynamic sound. The musicians have not neglected their painstaking work on the arrangements and orchestration either, which thereby enhances the natural timbres of their own instruments.Arcadia emerges as a real charm. It is deliciously melodic and it is intended for fans of folk, roots progressive (as exemplified by the richness of sonic details on Escape From Sycamore Canyon), traditional music and world music. The compositions are filled with a sense of airiness, and skillfully blend Americana with the musical traditions of Europe and the Orient."
Check it out for yourself!