Keith Kenniff’s last album under his Goldmund moniker, 2010’s Famous Places, created its own atmosphere and geography. The solo piano pieces were spare but reached out and made the space around them part of their sound. For his follow-up, however, Kenniff has shifted to representing an existing time and place in lieu of creating his own.
The 15 songs that comprise All Will Prosper are all Civil War-era tunes, with the exception of the more contemporary “Ashoken Farewell.” Kenniff, himself a Civil War buff, seeks to represent some of the quieter emotions around war, and does so with a clear deference to the history he’s representing here. The songs, here using guitar and other flourishes over his signature piano, evoke the tired melancholy and deep loss that follows war. If his take on “Amazing Grace” sounds hushed and sweet, it also sounds threadbare, about to crumble at any moment. “Battle Cry of Freedom” feels not like a triumphant shout, but more like a lullaby to the new dead. Even the brief “Yellow Rose of Texas,” which features only piano, mixes the resilience of soldiers with that bone-deep fatigue in a affecting if overly hushed way.
As a document of war songs, All Will Prosper works well. Kenniff recorded these over a five-year period, and has created meticulous and pristine recordings here, and his fascination with the material comes through on every note. The trouble, though, is that perhaps he’s too close to this history, too interested in it. Because, as lovely and bittersweet as the songs can be, it’s hard to see what’s new about these renditions. They are, mostly, faithful versions that play with mood and the effect of volume (or lack there of), so while the insistent hush of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” or the cascading pianos on “Shenandoah” make for intriguing twists, songs that play it straight like “All Quiet on the Potomac” or “Dixie” feel like covers and nothing more.
Famous Places was exciting because, somewhere in the quiet notes and endless space, Kenniff’s personality came shining through. You got the feeling that this was his sound. On All Will Prosper, you never quite get the same feeling. Instead, you get a clear version of Kenniff’s interest, but he puts it on display rather than telling us anything about it. So while this new set of Civil War-era songs is an often beautiful listen, they end up obscuring Kenniff’s musical vision rather than illuminating it.