Peabody grad Hedges takes his own untraveled 'Road'

October 28, 1994|By J. Doug Gill | J. Doug Gill,Special to the Sun

The next time you get into a conversation about what's wrong with modern music, drop the name of guitarist Michael Hedges and watch the blank stare on the face of your verbal sparring partner.

You see, Michael Hedges defies categorization, except when it comes to his instrumental virtuosity. As far as his repertoire is concerned, that's when the guessing game begins. After all, how many classically trained guitarists would choose to cover Madonna's "Like A Virgin"?

"One has to be open to all sorts of self-discovery," the string master says with tongue not so firmly in cheek. "That's what music is about: self-discovery. Especially this music."

The music of which he speaks is "The Road To Return," the multi-instrumentalist/composer's first studio recording in four years.

"This is the first record I've ever really done by myself," Hedges explains. "I had to produce when it was time to produce and engineer when it was time to engineer. This recording involved wearing a lot of different hats."

Based on the results, each of those hats fit like a fine Italian fedora.

Hedges, originally from Enid, Okla., entered the seemingly endless world of solo guitarists with the release of 1981's "Breakfast in the Field." Although "Breakfast" (and quite honestly, all subsequent releases) never achieved mainstream success, Hedges set the standard by which all future non-traditional acoustic guitar sounds should be measured.

With various string-pulling techniques and "hammering" rather than strumming, the guitarist's experimental approach distanced him from the rest of the pack. One has to wonder if it was his Peabody Conservatory background that led to his pioneering spirit. Hedges, an "adopted" Baltimorean, got his degree in composition from this city's prestigious musical institute.

"Not really," he clarifies. "In college I studied the classical organization of the music -- the harmony and the intellectual stuff. And although it enlightened me to what music really is, it left me a little weak in the rhythm area. Rhythmic energy is a little lower -- down in your guts -- and that's what I'm working toward."

Not surprisingly, and in keeping with his ever-evolving manner, "The Road to Return" offers a few unexpected twists, such as his lack of reliance on the guitar. The latest recording finds him playing all of the instruments (Hedges is also an accomplished flute player), and except for "Prelude" and "Midwinter Night's Dream," singing all the songs.

"I find that my guitar playing gets richer with each new area I explore," Hedges says. "Both my flute playing and my singing help my guitar playing a lot. You become aware during a guitar solo of the characteristics that make something voice-like or flute-like. It exposes my instrumental musicality to a different light."

Although there's been quite a gap between albums, some characteristics present on the 1990 release, "Taproot," have been carried forward to his latest effort. Both recordings are triumphs of sound and scope, and both highlight Hedges' talent as an innovative, compelling songwriter.

Whereas his last record was built on the story of man and his relationship with nature, "Road To Return" tells the tale of man's relationship with himself. It is a journey of self-awareness and spirit.

"There's a lot of emotion in this record," the guitarist concludes. "What I'm trying to do is explore those emotions through reflection. The road to return is actually my description of looking inward, and once you're on that road there's no turning back."

In other words, Madonna notwithstanding, a one-way expedition into self-discovery.

The Road to Hedges

To hear excerpts from Michael Hedges' "The Road to Return," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6235 after you hear the greeting.

Michael Hedges

Where: Shriver Hall, the Johns Hopkins University

When: Today , 8 p.m.

Tickets: $23.25

Call: (410) 481-SEAT

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