October 22, 2021 (published)
Chicago-based six-string guru Chris Forte released Backyard Astronomy, a beautifully layered guitar ode. The album runs the gamut from spatial atmospheres to blues fusion with detours through jazz, funk and folk. The album was composed during confinement, which gave the musician even more time to explore another of his passions, astronomy. The artist enters and exits meditative states on the record, trading cosmopolitan chic for a natural contemplation of infinity.
Big and rich acoustic guitars open the album joined by a curious slide guitar on ‘Searchin’. Those late-night reflective moments sitting under the stars are on full display in this warmly reflective issue. The slide guitar has moments of Gilmour-like transcendence. A cover of “The Thrill Is Gone” popularized by B.B. King is one of three to feature LaShera Moore’s vocals. The rendition, while still suitably melancholy, has pep in its step thanks to a playful bassline and blazing drums.
“Quarantine Coronatones” strikes an entirely contemplative tone using spaced delay and long legato lines to reach out to the cosmos and back. This track has hints of ambient guitar master Daniel Lanois in its captivating, flowing lines. ‘Covidy Blues’ sits in the same achingly beautiful influence that Zeppelin’s underrated ‘Tea For One’ occupies. Countless blues musicians attempt the slow 6/8 blues ballad but few can achieve it with the same melodic melancholy as Page. Forte comes very close to extending the solo to occupy the entirety of the instrumental lament. The title track closes the album with delicate fingering on a bow-shaped guitar. Music box quality. Magnificent game on a well-worked composition. Hypnotic and moving.
Backyard Astronomy is a comprehensive display of Forte’s many talents. His mastery of the instrument is undeniable. As a blues/funk player he hits all the right spots and the band is right there with him, rocksteady and in the pocket. However, his experimental ambient tracks are the star of the show. Fantastic pieces that create a vibe that perfectly captures the “unplug from the grind, tune into the world around you” jolt that so many have received over the past two years. Only one criticism would be to split the album in two so that each hemisphere of his playing could be immersed individually.