For the comparatively niche space it occupies, there’s just something about solo fingerstyle acoustic guitar music where literally no one I’ve met seems to actively dislike it. Sure, some may be disinterested in hearing music that involves nothing more than just a single acoustic guitar, but most people will happily admit that it sounds pretty good at the very least.
As originally popularized by Andy McKee‘s “Drifting”, the song that made him one of YouTube’s first breakout stars, this modern style of fingerstyle acoustic guitar is generally characterized by mind-blowing virtuosity, alternate tunings, and a whole lot of multitasking on the part of the artist. Since that original video, legions of guitar players have tried to emulate that style of playing, expanding the realm of what’s possible with the acoustic guitar to ever greater heights. That being said, the sheer volume of technicality-obsessed virtuosos in and around the genre can really be quite overwhelming for someone wanting to explore further, especially since — let’s face it — quite a bit of them stick to the same formula in their guitar heroics.
Enter Toronto-based guitarist Maneli Jamal, who breaks past that formula like few before him. Unlike much of the virtuosos fingerstyle guitar has spawned, he keeps the guitar heroics to a minimum on latest album The Mardom Movement — occasionally ripping out an unbelievably technical part, sure, but only when it serves the song as a whole. For the most part, the songs are fairly simple structure-wise, with recognizable motifs that he molds to his liking over the course of a given song in a way that seems unique to him. And yet his music manages to be beautiful, memorable, and sometimes downright catchy all the same, all without seeming excessive in its technicality or serving as nothing more than a guitar heroics showcase.
The other important thing to note about The Mardom Movement is Maneli’s wholesale embrace of collaborations and guest spots on the album. Hearing nothing but a single acoustic guitar for ten-plus tracks can make for a somewhat difficult listen (unless one is an avid guitarist themselves, perhaps); yet, nearly every other song here features a guest musician of some sort, whether it’s acclaimed nylon string guitarist Andrew York on “Southern Magnolia”, or wizard-like percussionist Marito Marques on “Depraved” as well as the awe-inspiring climactic closer “El Cielo en Zihua”. Even saxophone makes an appearance on the album in the form of “Zim Blues”, which is a fantastically catchy duet that’s easily my favourite from the songs on offer here.
The thing about Maneli’s music, in the end, is that it easily goes beyond sounding ‘pretty good’ — given the eclecticism to be found on The Mardom Movement, there’s something here anyone who enjoys a good tune will absolutely love. That being said, one last thing bears mentioning: having seen him perform in a small venue in Toronto just a few weeks ago, I can confirm he’s somehow even better live than in the studio.
The Mardom Movement is available now, and can be bought exclusively from Maneli’s website.