Contagious album showcases a guitarist playing through his pain

Published November 1, 2003

From incredible pain often comes the most important art, be it painting, prose, music, or any other medium. Don Ross is a well-respected acoustic guitarist – the first person to ever win the prestigious U.S. National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship on two separate occasions. He first started experimenting with the solo possibilities of the acoustic guitar at the age of eight. By age 10 he was playing in alternate tunings and exploring fingerstyle technique, a right-hand discipline similar to classical guitar playing. [pullquote]Mr. Ross spent the next three decades honing a unique style that borrows from jazz, folk, rock and classical music which he pigeon holes as “Heavy Wood” and releasing exquisite, often-ignored albums. By 1999, he had released Passion Session, his first effort as a charter member of the Narada label, and wider acclaim seemed to beckon. Married with three children, he had moved out of Toronto , where he had been an active member of St. Matthias parish, and was living with his family in southern Ontario . Things seemed to be looking up for him. However, Mr. Ross’s wife was diagnosed with cancer within days of that album’s release. The next two years were a painful, profound journey. Kelly Ross died in June 2001 at age 43. After an understandable hiatus from writing and recording during the times of illness and mourning, the music has started pouring from Mr. Ross again. The just-released Robot Monster is a stunning primer of technique, skill, and grace. Well over half of the tracks are solo acoustic numbers, and it is nothing short of unbelievable that music which is so tuneful, virtuosic, involved, and contagious comes from one man in one take. Highlights in this realm include the rhythmic Elevation Music, the newgrass for the masses Bubble Radio, and the hypnotic title track Robot Monster, where he moves with energy, subtlety, and charm along a one-chord skeleton. Variety is provided by some collaboration with others, most notably the shuffle funk of So Much Time, and the heart-wrenching live cut Goodbye Kelly Goodbye. Don Ross is tuneful and virtuosic both consistently and simultaneously. One would be hard pressed to imagine any more beautiful, musically sound instrumental material. The circumstances behind its creation just add to the poignancy and power of it all. In my mind’s eye and ear, it is elevator music for heaven. Wilfred Langmaid, a priest in the diocese of Fredericton, is employed by the University of New Bruswick . Since 1981, he has been music critic for the Fredericton Daily Gleaner


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