Album: Follow The River Home
Artist: Jeff Pearce

Follow the River HomeFor many, the electric guitar has been a symbol of rock & roll and not usually thought of in terms of dreamy ambient soundscapes. But that is exactly what award winning recording artist Jeff Pearce has been creating with the instrument over the last 23 years. While it would be easy to assume that the ethereal layers of sound originate from synthesizers, they all indeed emanate from six strings, channeled through a variety of electronic effects. This latest release includes two live concert recordings and five studio compositions that reflect structured and improvised works, and some with a bit of both. Sonic cloud formations, shimmering arpeggiated chords, and stellar lead guitar take the listener on a musical magic carpet ride. Jeff’s albums have garnered a variety awards, nominations, critical acclaim, and radio airplay, and Follow The River Home, will certainly not be an exception. In fact, it is one of Jeff’s best releases yet.


I’ve enjoyed Jeff’s music for many years and have had the pleasure of writing about his last two releases: With Evening Above and In The Season of Fading Light. I also had the rare opportunity to see this Indiana resident in concert in 2013 at AMBIcon, an ambient music mega-event in the San Francisco Bay area sponsored by Hearts Of Space. I say rare, because like many new age and ambient musicians, touring in other parts of the country is not as prevalent as it is in other music genres. But as an ambient guitarist myself, I will say that it was truly inspiring, and for me, one of the highlights of this gala event. The connection formed there has led to a number of interesting email discussions comparing notes about guitars, the latest electronic gear, and the like.


Rather than repeat the details of Jeff’s musical background here, I’ll refer readers who may be interested to thejeff-pearce1 above-mentioned In The Season of Fading Light feature article. However, some interesting new information has come to light in my recent interview with Jeff for this article. Among the things I like to focus on with an artist is their creative process, and Jeff shared quite a bit in relationship to this new album. In his words: “The fact that I’ve been releasing my music into the world for 23 years would probably imply that I at least have a set approach or workflow when it comes to composing- but nothing could be further from the truth.  Each project is something new, and requires something new for the creation of the music.  Having said THAT, from a composing point of view, my songs (like all songs, actually), always fall somewhere along a sort of scale, with ‘improvisation’ on one end, and “structured” at the other, with (hopefully) ‘inspiration’ informing the music regardless of where it falls on that line.”


Jeff also shared: “Follow the River Home has some songs that are structured, some that are improvisations, and some that fall in between – ‘Under Summer Stars’ is written more as a structured piece, and became something of a wonderful puzzle for me to figure out, while ‘Downstream I’ was an improvisation that almost seemed to be created on its own.  ‘Outpost,’ ‘Snowfall,’ and ‘Downstream II,’ however, occupy a sort of fascinating ‘middle ground’ for me- there’s structure in the loops I created in those songs, but everything after that was an improvisation.”


ceu_estrelado_1361a087e3daacc1251eb831c3ee6f8f_ceu com estrelasThe album opens with one of the structured pieces Jeff mentioned, “Under Summer Stars.” The music perfectly fits the title as Jeff’s highly processed electric guitar notes glisten and twinkle like stars in the sky. It’s a lovely chiming sound that creates an air of enchantment, drifting over ambient clouds of sound in the background. From there we flow into “Downstream I,” a totally improvised track. This is one of those in particular that if you didn’t know, you’d never guess that is was created on guitar, rather than keyboard synthesizers. It’s a totally atmospheric soundscape with no melodic element – just layers of deep space textures that transport the listener into celestial realms.


If there was ever music that was made for listening with headphones, it is Jeff’s music. On a song called “Outpost,” the stereo imaging is expansive with dreamy echoed guitar notes and trippy sonic snippets bouncing back and forth between the left and right side, creating what is known in some circles as “ear candy.” It’s beautiful-landscape-winter-sunset-boon-meedefinitely a sweet treat for your synapses. For me, the biggest surprise on the album was on track 4, “Snowfall.” Starting out with a similar chiming guitar sound as on the first song, Jeff uses a variety of sound shaping effects and in particular, rhythmic delays, in which the echoes of his guitar notes repeat in a measured pattern, adding a sense of movement to this dreamscape. The surprise came when, after the stage was set, Jeff took off on a breathtaking stratospheric lead guitar solo that made me realize his rock roots are still alive and well. The combination of this sometimes soaring, sometimes blistering extended lead was something I wasn’t expecting in this atmospheric context, at least from Jeff, although it quite reminded me of Tangerine Dream. But Jeff’s playing on this was off the charts and I loved every minute of it!


On “Downstream II,” Jeff acknowledges Tom Eaton for the inspiration in creating this sweeping soundtrack. Tom is a well-known producer and engineer at the iconic Imaginary Road Studios owned by Windham Hill Records founder, Will Ackerman. In addition to mastering this release by Jeff, Tom is also a recording artist in his own right, whose latest album, Abendromen, I’ve had the pleasure of writing about here. And speaking of sweeping 01+Cosmos+Consciousnesssoundtracks, the next song, “Gathering Stars” stretches out over 20 minutes in length. As Jeff explains: “’Gathering Stars’ is one song made from two live recordings – one recorded at the Gathering Concert series in Philadelphia, PA on October 11, 2014, and the other recorded at WXPN Studios in Philadelphia for a live over-the-air concert for the Star’s End radio program, in the early morning hours of October 12, 2014.” This is another piece that absolutely seems like it was created on synthesizers, sonically spinning majestic evolving celestial vistas and vast galaxies of sound. That Jeff is able to evoke such exquisite textural beauty from a guitar is quite amazing.


The final song is the album’s title track and has an endearing story behind it. According to Jeff: “Around two years ago, my youngest daughter, Fiona, informed me that the creek which runs through our property empties into the Wabash River, which empties into the Ohio River, which empties into the Mississippi River. She told me if I was ever lost, all I needed to do was to find the Mississippi River and then follow the river home.” He goes on to say: “For me, the process of writing music is one of following a sort of river home – starting out ‘lost’ in unfamiliar territory and navigating through twists and changes.” The song does have meandering, slow-rolling ambiance with a river-like feel to it, and makes a perfect track to come back to earth on after the extended space opera of “Gathering Stars.”


Although Jeff says that he often starts out being musically “lost,” he certainly seems to find his way home quitese14jeffpearce05 well. Every song shows his mastery of the instrument and his innovation with electronic effects and playing techniques. One of the most fascinating of these techniques is his use of paint brushes to gently strum the strings of his guitar, creating soft washes of sound rather than clearly defined notes as you would get using a guitar pick.


Jeff’s music comes from a place of pure artistry and creativity, and he is little concerned with the “business” side of the “music business.” As he explained in our interview: “I’ve noticed, as the years go on, that there is much more thought being given, by many musicians in this new age/ambient genre, to the things we see in the more mainstream music world- marketing plans, release schedules, social media promotions- the list goes on. When I release music into the world, I only have one thought:  it has to be the absolute best music that I am capable of releasing; that it represents what was in my heart at that specific point in time. I have never seen music as a ‘stepping stone’ to anything ‘more.’ It is enough, for me, to create music, and see what happens when it is released into the world.”


Even though these type of things are not a motivating factor for him, the awards, nominations, critical acclaim, radio airplay, and chart success Jeff has received over the years reflect the level of quality and purity in his music and is a testament to the appreciation listeners have for the effort and artistic energy he puts into it. Follow The River Home continues the legacy Jeff has created and is a shining example of why he is considered one of the foremost artists in the ambient music genre.


Click the links below to hear samples and/or purchase this album:



CD Baby


A live version of “Snowfall” recorded in an Echoes Living Room Concert. This video provides a good view of Jeff using his electronic effects and a looper to add his layers of sound and play over them: