Ralph Towner is a superb contemporary guitarist, one of the few to focus entirely on acoustic playing. While inconsistent - his 1974 album Solstice is a dark, wintry wonder, while some of his albums come off as pleasant yet meandering - Anthem is a what film & art critics would call a "masterpiece." Towner's approach has always included folk and classical as well as jazz influences - imagine what a cross betwixt Bill Evans (or maybe Paul Bley) and Julian Bream may've sounded like on the 12-string guitar. (Or the classical model, which, along with the 12-string, are R.T.'s axes of choice.)
With Anthem, the patent-pending Towner sound - an amalgam of jazz, classical, folk & new age - reaches its peak. While not "swinging" in the trad sense, the jazz side of his music quietly asserts itself - "The Prowler," "Solitary Woman" and especially Mingus' "Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat" feature playing that is imaginative, supple, resolute and vigorous. His "folk" side provides the heartfelt sense of melody and rhythm, and the "classical" the technique. His performances are deftly entrancing but are free of any pastel-colored mushiness or blandness. The recording quality (bravo, ECM!) provides not only crystal-clarity but depth as well (while avoiding sterility - watch it, ECM).
Acoustic guitar enthusiasts, lovers of rainy-day music and those who believe that quiet, refined music need not be insipid should seek out Anthem A.S.A.P.