• Ken Totushek's album, Sweet Devotion, is a collection of acoustic guitar arrangements of hymns and spirituals as well as two originals by the artist. However, before you think this is "religious" music, please take the word of an agnostic music reviewer (a lapsed Catholic if you want to know the truth). These really are sublime and soul-warming instrumentals (there is no singing on this CD, although I think there is a vocal version of this album available). You'd have to have a heart of stone to not be comforted by Totushek's gentle and soothing way with these songs, as they gently unfurl with patience and unabashed open-hearted love. Sounds mushy, right? Not a chance, partner. Low-key, yes; easy to relax to, yes; soothing to the troubled heart, yes - but never ever sappy or saccharine-drenched. Heck, you'd be hard-pressed to identify these tunes (except for the always enjoyable "Amazing Grace" and "The Water is Wide"). For someone like me, who hasn't sang a hymn in who knows how long, pieces like the opening "Thou Art Worthy" and its follow-up, "My Jesus, I Love Thee" stand the test as simple unadorned solo acoustic guitar songs that speak simply yet soulfully. Totushek worked out the guitar arrangements on his own - kudos to him - and his playing alone qualifies as pure pleasure.

    There's the sunny "Give Me Jesus" (an African-American spiritual) which gets a Windham Hill-ish treatment, graced by careful nuance, and "I Surrender All" presents an interesting halted rhythm to the artist's playing. "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" showcases Totushek's way with pealing hits notes away slowly at first and then picking up a gradual head of steam, intermixing picking and strumming until a nice steady but slow burn is achieved. Turning his ear across the ocean, Totushek includes an Irish folk tune, "Be Thou My Vision" which sparkles and has a carefree feel to it.

    One "glitch" (barely worth mentioning) was that the track listing is mis-printed (for those that buy the CD). Track 8 (listed as "The Water Is Wide") is actually "The Word/Amazing Grace" (which according to liner notes is track 9). Hey, no one's perfect, and both tracks are excellent renditions of these traditional favorites.

    Totushek closes out the album with his two originals. "Christmas In The Air" (a rather sprightly tune, when contrasted with the rest of the album), and the opus-length (nearly fourteen-minutes) "Jesus, My Redeeemer" (a "four-part" suite which musically depicts four stages in Jesus Christ's life). Some of this gets pretty darn intense, almost Michael Hedges-like in the energy and "oomph" that Totushek puts into the music.

    As I have done before with other artists, it is worth mentioning that the artist is donating profits from the sale of Sweet Devotion to a charitable cause (a local shelter in Providence, Rhode Island). You're free to ascribe whatever you want to to the religious aspect of this recording. Ken Totushek makes no apologies for his devout faith and I say more power to him! But make no mistake, I don't endorse this album because of this, nor do I dismiss it. for the same reason. My job is music critic, pure and simple. This guy can flat out play guitar, folks. And since there is no way you can attach any overt spiritual significance to music without lyrics, you are safe in indulging in this excellent recording no matter what your religious afiiliations are, as far as as I can tell. However, I do think that the artist has poured a lot of love and kindness into the virtual grooves on this CD and, after all, who can't use a little of that in their lives, huh? As far as this agnostic reviewer is concerned, the album gets a big thumbs up and a pat on the back as well for donating the profits to charity.       
    review by Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire

  • KEN TOTUSHEK Pilgrim Song CD, Graceworks Music (2001)

    Featuring the artist playing an assortment of acoustic guitars, as well as percussion, drums, bass and mandolin (and on one cut, synth strings), Ken Totushek's CD, Pilgrim Song, is a most pleasant and enjoyable way to spend seventy minutes. The songs on this album unwind at a leisurely pace, yet are also varied in emotional impact, musical approach and tempo; the "leisurely pace" is more indicative of a mellow vibe that seems to run through the recording - nothing here is designed to get your blood racing too fast. Whether he is playing just guitar (sometimes overdubbing two kinds of acoustic guitars on a single track - one part playing lead and the other harmony) or accompanying himself on drums, bass or percussion, he shows a deft touch with both his primary instrument and enough virtuosity on the others that I had to recheck the liner notes to make sure it was just him.

    With seventy minutes of music spread over fifteen cuts, it's difficult to select favorites on this well-performed and friendly album. The opening track, "Bliss!," is a smooth easy-going beginning and is followed by the gently midtempo "Twilight Serenade" on which guitar and mandolin gracefully duet. Some of the ensemble pieces here may remind you of Jamie Bonk but they're a little less adult contemporary in feel and perhaps a little more Windham Hill-ish than the Canadian artist. Among the ensemble pieces, I like "Rebound," "Pressing On," and the jazzy "Higher Heights." I'm also a fan of "Questions," which is the track where he discretely uses synth strings to great effect in creating a more somber song than others here (the cut may bring to mind Eric Tingstad - it did for me).

    All but three songs here are originals. The others include a relatively staid version of "Greensleeves" (here referred to by its other title, "What Child Is This?") and two numbers penned by Jay Steele: "April Breeze" and "Rivers of My Heart." The latter is a lovely delicate piece played on solo acoustic guitar and may be the most impressionistic cut on Pilgrim Song. The former begins with environmental sounds (birds, running water) and has a pastoral quasi-Renaissance feel to it (just a smidgen of ole England perhaps?).

    The only misstep on the album comes on the final cut, " On Eagle's Wings," which is also the only vocal cut. There's nothing particularly bad about it, although I think Totushek is a much better guitarist than singer - he strains a bit to hit some notes. The lyrics are adapted from a passage in the Bible (Isaiah 40:31 per the liner notes), and I'll have to admit my anti-bias here (I'm not much for incorporating Biblical references in a contemporary vein). The song begins as rather low-key but the bridge section contains what may be the most rousing music on the album, which served to confuse me a bit and I found it ill-conceived, given the song's inspiration. However, since it's the last track and the song is not something I felt I had to hit the "skip" button during, I have no problem heartily recommending Pilgrim Song. After all, as I have stated many times before, it's the rare album that contains nothing but excellent tracks. If the only thing I can find to say bad about this CD is that I didn't like the last song, whereas the first fourteen tracks are all excellent acoustic guitar instrumentals, I would hope that lovers of guitar/small ensemble new acoustic/new age music will give this album some well-deserved attention.

    (As a curious aside, this final track also contains an "inner" hidden song. About a minute after you think the track is over - at the 8:30 mark - a whole new musical theme is struck up - that of a uptempo rural bayou-like piece, full of good cheer, followed later by a sprightly mandolin section - neither of which, of course, bears no resemblance to the actual "song" itself, and also having no vocals. I'm not sure what prompted Totushek to do this sly bit of trickery; maybe it's just meant as a secret bonus or as a curiosity - but if you buy the CD, make sure you allow this last track to play even after you hear silence).

    As a final sidenote, and without meaning to endorse it only from this perspective, Ken is donating proceeds from sales of this album to various relief efforts for victims of the September 11th attacks.     
    review by Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire

"Thanks for sending me "Pilgrim Song." I received it yesterday and listened to it all the way through. It's on as I write. Your music is beautifully performed and has a lot of depth. It's definitely an album to take the "ic" out of "Hect-ic" during these busy holidays. Encore!..."        --Bill Boykan  Business Affairs,  NorthSound Music Group

"...Let me tell you folks, this CD is a must have for any collection. I found myself soaring with eagles and sitting at the bank of the pond in Maine listening to the loons. The many guitars are well produced and well Played. I fell in love with track 5 and track 13 but you must listen to the Entire CD to find your favorites." --Steve Foust, Sonic Shores Studio, Stillwater, OK

" Ken has done a great job of songwriting, tasteful guitar playing and capturing the fine tones of some very nice guitars on this recording. Super easy listening and background music." --Stu Bowen, RimRidge Music, Laurel Springs, NC

"Man, this is a well recorded cd! It is acoustic guitar heaven. This is a cd full of rich acoustic guitar tone. There's almost nothing but picked and fingerpicked fine wood guitars on the cd. In the insert, Ken lists what guitar was used on each track. Very cool!...It worked it's magic on me..." --Doug Czajkowski, Clayton, CA

"I love the beautiful music from Ken's acoustic recordings! As a guitar player myself, I hope to listen and learn." --Ken Jones, Homerville, GA

"I just ordered 5 CD's from your website - pretty slick. The CD is Great!! The music is very addicting - can't tell you how many times I've already listened to it from start to finish." --Pete T. Buffalo, MN

"...Ken's music is melodic and uplifting, but never boring. That, is not an easy task.  He has a unique style and presentation that is warm and cozy....Very tasteful ideas and execution.  Twilight Serenade is a very, very pretty tune.  This track alone is worth buying the CD."  --Larry Rott, VSBiiglist

For The Rest of Your Life

"In 'For The Rest Of Your Life' Ken displays his love for his Creator with an inspirational style of Christian music. The light sounds and soft rock will have you singing and dancing...you'll love it." (Robin F.)

"Ken's intimate, many sided collection of songs rises from a mind and heart tuned to the indelible melody of the spirit. Here music is praise, and praise is music. Listening, you will find ideas stoked, emotions revealed, and faithpersisting through the everyday.  Not to mention a dance or two along the way." (Karen D.)

"Ken's music has blessed our whole family. My kids enjoyed it so much that they had to take turns listening to it each night so they wouldn't argue over it. I can tell that by listening to Ken's music that Ken puts his whole heart and soul into it" (John R.)

"Ken's eclectic mix of tunes alternatively soothes and challenges; his lyrics speak hope in the love and faithfulness of God." (Duenna K.)

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