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A close friend, who I viewed as an expert on the band Emeralds and their related projects, once told me that former member Mark McGuire’s solo work is ‘just Emeralds missing two thirds of the sound’. On this basis, I had previously avoided listening to any of McGuire’s solo albums, as there was such a surplus of excellent Emeralds material I was yet to dive into. So, listening to McGuire’s latest solo effort Along the Way I was pleasantly but incredibly surprised. Whilst not quite hitting the immense highs of Emerald’s pinnacle Does It Look Like I’m Here?, this new offering is a close second.

The most surprising thing about Along the Way is the plethora of styles and techniques McGuire employs throughout the tracks. Based around McGuire’s (usually) instrumental guitar tracks, the album recalls sounds from drone, piano ballads, country, and to the intricate electronica that might be more familiar to fans of Emeralds. His greatest strength when manipulating these styles is his attempt to tackle each particular genre individually. The album could have very easily become a clustered mess, had he tried to shove clashing sounds into the same song, but the clear divisions between tracks that have very different ambitions avoid this potential pitfall. Considering this, the fact that the album works so well as a cohesive unit suddenly becomes all the more impressive.

I mentioned earlier that Mark McGuire mainly sticks to instrumental music but there are a few tracks here that deviate away from this formula. Album highlight “The Human Condition (Song For My Father)” is one of these, incorporating samples of conversations in a move reminiscent of sound collage masters The Books. Slightly out of reach of the listener is the content of each conversation, though the joyous mood of these exchanges shines through and the music matches them perfectly.

The one flaw with the album is its length, coming close to eighty minutes. Despite the eclectic mix of styles between tracks there are a few retreads that could have been cut out. Without them, McGuire could have made the album a more succinct and powerful experience. Along the Way is the most calming album I’ve listened to in a long time, and I feel it will be able to take on different, but incredibly personal, roles in the lives for each different listener.

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