David Cortello,
Through an Open Window
(independent, 2006)

Composer and one-man-show musician David Cortello provides 10 original instrumentals and one classic hymn for our listening pleasure on Through an Open Window.

Reviewing an album of music by a relatively unknown artist can be a challenge. You want to give the individual the benefit of the doubt and do the pieces as much justice as he did in creating them. You want to judge the CD on its own merit, but you also have to find the hook. What defines this work? What makes it special? Is it the subject matter, the musical style or the artist's individual talent? Are the melodies memorable enough to stay with the listener after a few play-throughs? Does an occasion or circumstance come to mind for which these selections would provide the most appropriate accompaniment? What additional information can you learn about the artist, either from his website or, as a last resort, by what others have written about him? Does he have a clear connection with a hometown or region that's unique enough to focus on?

Music CDs are relatively easy to record these days, so almost anyone can produce one. But even the most lackluster effort must have some redeeming quality. What would compel Jane and Joe Listener to run out and buy this disc as soon as they're done reading your review?

For this album, I have no idea. It's surprisingly average on all counts. There is no discernable hook and nothing remarkable to attract repeated play. No informational clues appear on the CD packaging, and the text on the artist's website is minimal as well. At least we learn he's based in New Orleans, he used to play in local bands and Through an Open Window "is a collection of acoustic guitar and piano arrangements that evolved from his improvisations." He dedicates it to "the people of the Gulf Coast." A lot of people are doing that these days.

David's 10 original tracks are titled "For Trish," "Angie's Theme," "Louisiana Suite," "Thanksgiving Day," "Luna," "Fly Away," "Spiritsong," "Through an Open Window," "Canon" and "The Potter." He wrote the pieces and performs them on a variety of instruments, including piano or guitar or, with the magic of the recording process, both at once. The pieces can be classified as new age, and a sentence or two about the genesis of each tune appears on the website. Cortello's technique is basic, no matter what instrument he's playing. In general, his music is simple and somewhat soothing. At any moment, I expected a voice to pipe in with: "All of our personnel are currently serving other customers. Please stay on the line, and a representative will be with you shortly." Or maybe even, "Currently in your area, it's 41 degrees, under mostly cloudy skies." I suppose businesses in the market for "hold music" could use this CD. That's not to say that the music isn't decent. It's generally just OK. It might make a nice accompaniment to a rainy day, when the fluid melodies could merge with the patter of raindrops on the roof or window pane. Popped into your car stereo, it would add a dreamlike quality to your commute, which may or may not be a good thing. Certainly, you should avoid driving with this album if you're the kind of person who needs a bouncy early-morning pick-me-up that even a stop at Starbucks cannot completely initiate.

The only interesting and quite different track here is Cortello's version of "Amazing Grace." Imagine the tune being played on a set of bagpipes, complete with that distinctive and steady bottom drone. Now translate all of those sounds instead into those made by a slide guitar. That's what David does here. The subtle melody line is a tad difficult to find within the arrangement itself, but if you've already looked at the set list, you'll know what you should be listening for. This selection does its best to save the disc from achieving total obscurity.

So if you're in the market for music that's deliberately non-intrusive and that can remain thoughtlessly and effortlessly in the background, this CD could serve your needs. If you are an "Amazing Grace" aficionado, you may want to hear Cortello's interpretation. Otherwise, there's not much here to recommend.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Corinne H. Smith

5 July 2008

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