||I have to preface this review of Dr. Fernando Siles' The Flute Doctor with the stipulation that the liner notes in the digipack are such a small font (and not an easy font to read to begin with) that, to be honest, I didn't even try to get through them. What's worse though, from a reviewer's standpoint, is that ALL the album credits, most importantly who plays what, is in the same font and font size AND compounding that difficulty, those notes are UNDER the clear plastic CD tray itself, so it's almost impossible to read them at all. As a result, I apologize to anyone who played on or had a hand in the album that I don't mention. Note to any artists reading this review – DON'T SACRIFICE READABILITY FOR "ART" when it comes to your album's layout.
Dr. Fernando Siles is a practicing psychiatrist, originally from Peru and now residing in Dallas, who also performs and records relaxation music on the quena, a wooden flute with a distinctive sound instantly familiar as being Peruvian in nature. As on his debut CD, Peruvian Soul, he is joined by producer and multi-instrumentalist Kyle Shaffer (who handles the keyboards, drum programming and bass) as well as some other musicians (see my disclaimer above). I reviewed and enjoyed Peruvian Soul but The Flute Doctor is a noticeable leap forward, as Siles and Shaffer incorporate a myriad of world fusion and electronica influences into Siles' Peruvian flute playing resulting in a varied and enjoyable tapestry.
The Flute Doctor is structured as a literal musical voyage, conveyed though both song titles and the sound effects and spoken word narration which accompany some tracks. The Prologue features little music except a flowing synth pad over which a female voice (multi-tracked) invites you on the journey into your own mind where you will visit a variety of places (the locales of which are tied to the song titles). The first actual track is Under the Waterfall and, obviously, opens with that very sound effect over which Siles' flute hovers and flits. After a soothing opening, mid-tempo ethnic tribal beats and synth tones (kalimba-like) join the flute, pirouetting gracefully while a sultry female wordless vocal now and then joins in. Tranquility features waves lapping at a beach with accompanying sultry trap kit drums, flute, guitar and violin - the mood is unabashedly romantic and tropical. Ambient Ocean does start off in a quasi-ambient vein, with minimal and forlorn piano set against the sound of waves and gulls, eventually joined by flute. At the halfway point of the track (about 3 minutes in) a mellow chill-out rhythm track is introduced (which, while it's well done, I think disturbs the previously established mood).
Variety is the watchword on this CD, as further tracks explore nuevo-flamenco (Spanish Trance), electronica "lite" (Mountain Train), and even a rhythm and blues/jazz hybrid (Rain Clouds). Since Siles' flute playing is present throughout the CD, he is the unifying factor here, along with Shaffer's expert wielding of keyboards which add a lot to the album.
One track I would've discarded, though, without hesitation is Into the Light, with some truly cringe-worthy spoken word narration by Siles. The backing music is a gentle meditative guitar-keyboard mixture, but the well-intended yet ham-fisted lyrics come across as a trite attempt at pseudo-therapy. Now, don't get all up in my face - I am not demeaning the fields of therapy or psychiatry believe me (I'm a huge proponent of the former, in fact). It's just that this is, first and foremost, a music album so dropping a guided meditation piece in amongst the other music selections on the CD strikes me as bad judgment. While a number of tracks do feature a woman's voice acting as your "tour guide," her words are confined to painting a visual image of the music's intended "picture." "Into the Light" (despite Siles' obvious sincere intention) is jarring to say the least.
On balance, though, I certainly liked The Flute Doctor, considerably more, in fact, than Peruvian Soul, owing to Kyle Shaffer's wizardly work on keyboards and drum programming (at times, I thought this was a Waveform label release, which is meant as praise), as well as Siles' playing which sounds more self-assured here than on his first disc. Other than the one track mentioned above, I think this is a solidly enjoyable release and bodes well for future efforts from the pair, provided they let the music do the "talking."