Is Famous Places the loveliest Goldmund recording yet to come from Keith Kenniff? It very well could be, even though it's up against the stiff competition of his previous full-length releases under the name, Corduroy Road (Type, 2005), Two Point Discrimination (Western Vinyl, 2007), and The Malady of Elegance (Type, 2008) (Kenniff also, of course, issues music under the Helios name). Those solo piano collections have exuded an elegiac character that is just as pronounced on the new album, no doubt attributable at least in part to the concept underlying the release: the song titles namecheck important locales in Kenniff's life—even down to specific street names—in such a way that the settings become memory agents that wistfully re-capture childhood experiences in the form of elegant piano vignettes.
The uncluttered Goldmund style is recognizable throughout. Kenniff brings the microphone up extremely close so that every aspect of the upright piano's action is captured; doing so also allows for the curious juxtaposition of pianissimo playing presented at loud volume (enhancing the music's intimacy are the occasional creaks produced by the bench and keys). While he presents the piano's sound in all its natural glory, he also dims the sharpness of that sound so that some of the playing seems muffled , and he also gently taps the instrument's strings in such a way that it suggests a harp more than piano. Kenniff often allows the subtle whiff of electronics to enter into the material as ambient sweetener.
While the fifteen pieces share a common theme, they still find room for subtle contrasts in tone and spirit. Naturally, some are nostalgic and ruminative (“Brown Creek,” “Safe Harbor”), others graceful (“Edale”), romantic (the lilting “Conestoga”), and even mysterious (the brooding “Havelock”). The brightness of “Bowen” evokes raindrops bouncing off a windowsill, while the breezy joy of “Dane Street” suggests Kenniff perhaps recalling it as one of his favourite boyhood spots. There's a slow entrancing waltz (“Grass Rides”), plus harp-like arpeggios that recall the core melody of Stevie Nicks' “Beautiful Child” (on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk ) (“Alberta”).That Kenniff graduated from the Berklee College of Music with a degree in percussion as opposed to piano has turned out to be a good thing in at least once sense. Had the degree been in piano, the Goldmund recordings might have ended up being more advanced on technical grounds, but a key part of their appeal is that the arrangements are relatively basic, which in turn helps keep the focus on Kenniff's considerable command of melody and composition. All of which helps make Famous Places another intoxicating chapter in Kenniff's ongoing Goldmund story.