Ollive Tree Reviewed in the Phantom TollboothSpicer seems wary of straying too far from his doorstep on this jazzy, (almost) instrumental guitar album.

Olive Tree
Artist: Sean Spicer
Label:  City of Peace
Time: 11 Tracks / 43 minutes

When I was first learning to swim, I’d kick off and try to get some way into the pool, but within seconds, fearful of gulping water, I would either thrust my floundering body to the edge of the pool or put a foot on the floor. That is what Spicer’s generally very pleasant album often reminds me of.

What initially drew me to the album was the promise of David Gilmour’s influence and there is phrasing on the opening track that reflects his work, but the rock stylings are few compared to the light jazz feel of most of the collection.

His guitar is more often reminiscent of Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, particularly on “Transcending Barriers,” where its rich and ringing tones could have come straight from _Voyage of the Acolyte_, and “Grace”, which has a stronger melody than most (and a possible nod to the synth-work on “Cinema Show”). Where he uses a rock guitar framework for trumpet or himself to solo over, the tracks succeed.

Spicer won the 2010 Gospel Music Association (GMA Canada) Jazz/Blues Song of the Year with “No Compromise,” which was apparently inspired by the Keith Green album of the same name (not that there is any musical similarity). It has a more Muzak-like or Larry Carlton feel, and his guitar solos confidently in an ambient fashion. The frustrations I mentioned at the start come from his attempt and failure to take the music in a much stronger jazz-ward direction. “Diaspora” spends a lot of time without changing chord and it screams out for a more adventurous approach.

One other track annoys. “Thousand Generations” is the only piece to use words (“He is faithful to a thousand generations”), which the singer (unaccredited on the pre-release) repeats frequently between more scat-like wordless vocals. It is as if they thought a specific Christian line would get the otherwise instrumental disc further through Christian media, and as well as being repetitive and intrusive the line’s possible political origins are a heavy distraction.

These two aside, the disc is very pleasant (I hesitate to use that word in case artists see it as an accusation of blandness, but the sound really is very enjoyable). This works well as background and several tracks have lovely moments, such as the oboe on “Perseverance.”

There are audio previews available on www.galileeofthenations.com.

Download: Transcending Barriers, Grace.

Derek Walker