William Ackerman

Although persistently tagged as new age, the appeal of Ackerman's best recordings goes far beyond the music's undeniable prettiness. Looking back now, his best albums exhibit intelligence, grace and an intriguing cosmic aura; they stand among the finest downtempo acoustic instrumental releases of the era.

artist:
William Ackerman

country of origin:
USA

style(s):
New acoustic, ambient folk, adult alternative

decades active:
70's - 10's

essential releases:

  • In Search Of The Turtle's Navel (1976, Windham Hill)
  • Past Light (1983, Windham Hill)
  • Imaginary Roads (1990, Windham Hill)
  • A Windham Hill Retrospective (1993, Windham Hill)
  • Returning (2004, Decca)

Reviewed by Mike G

Guitarist William Ackerman was the founder of iconic alternative label Windham Hill Records, a label that in its heyday was devoted mostly to "new acoustic" music (although it often ended up being filed under new age, much to Ackerman's displeasure). Under his guidance, Windham Hill became both a creative beacon and market heavyweight in adult alternative music in the 70’s and 80's. Perhaps inevitability, the quality of its releases blanded out under the ownership of corporate music giant BMG/Sony after Ackerman sold his share of the label in 1992.

Despite the connotations of the new age tag - which are not all bad my any means - the appeal of Ackerman's best recordings goes far beyond the music's undeniable prettiness. Looking back now, his best albums exhibit intelligence, grace and an intriguing cosmic aura; they stand among the finest downtempo acoustic instrumental releases of the era. Along with Leo Kottke, he’s heir to a rich tradition of impressionistic folk guitar instrumentals popularised by American musician John Fahey. You can hear Fahey’s influence everywhere on these records, albeit with consistently better sound quality than much of Fahey's back catalogue.

Ackerman's debut album In Search Of The Turtle's Navel (1976) is a purely solo guitar record and still a favourite among fans. Past Light (1983) and Imaginary Roads (1990) are his best ensemble albums and feature support on some tracks from various sidemen and Windham Hill stable mates like trumpeter/synthesist Mark Isham and guitarist Michael Hedges. Ackerman’s frequent use of alternative tunings and his clean, chiming guitar sound make his music very distinctive and his instinct for beauty (“A Region Of Clouds” from Imaginary Roads, for instance) can be breathtaking.

The two compilation albums listed above are also excellent; Retrospective (1993) offers some of his best pieces in their originally-recorded form, while Returning (2004) is a tasteful collection of new recordings of selected older pieces.

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