There’s been a dearth of Vermont-produced finger-style guitar albums in recent years, so it’s nice when a new album from a musician we haven’t heard before releases their debut album. It’s just as encouraging when the album contains 18 hymns, spirituals and religious songs arranged by the performer.
Rutland’s Ron Pulcer will release “Uplifting Guitar Hymns” at Grace Church in Rutland at 2 p.m. on Sunday, January 30 in a concert of music from the album that will benefit the Church’s Mission and Service programs. The church was the recording studio for the album recorded between September 2020 and May last year.
Pulcer joins a few finger-style guitarists we know who have dedicated an album to Christian music. It is preceded by El McMeen’s “Of Soul and Spirit” from 1991 and Jim Earp’s “Be Thou My Vision”, recorded in 2002.
Pulcer is a multi-instrumentalist who has added harmonica, bass guitar and ukulele to his guitar arrangements. He also sings on several tracks on the 46-minute album. He was joined by Linda MacFarlane on mountain dulcimer, Anna Pulcer on flute and Phil Henry, the sound engineer, on djembe for a piece.
Pulcer and his wife moved to Vermont in 1995 from Michigan where he joined the Grace Church Choir. He also played guitar in the pit band for the church productions “Godspell” (2001), “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (2002), and “Jesus Christ Superstar” (2003).
He was a music teacher for 30 years, teaching guitar and harmonica for community education and recreation programs in Michigan and Vermont. His performing credits include the Winter Farmers Market and Art Hops in Rutland. Interestingly, he currently plays bass in a local klezmer band.
Like many local musicians, the pandemic and its closure of live venues gave Pulcer time to record the album. After a career in information technology, Pulcer’s free time gave him the opportunity to release an album featuring his finger-style guitar arrangements. Pulcer selected 18 hymns, spirituals and religious songs from a variety he had arranged over three decades.
The album was recorded in a room upstairs in the church under the bell tower, which Pulcer said “provided amazing acoustics”.
The 18 tracks encompass a variety of religiously themed music ranging from “Silent Night”, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” and “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, to more universal songs of hope and praise such as ” We Shall Overcome”, “Amazing Grace”, and “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”. One of the most popular melodies of this genre is “Be Thou My Vision”, also recorded by McMeen and Earp. Some may have be heard the melody of the Irish song “The Banks of the Bann”.
Pulcer enhanced the melodies with the addition of other instruments. Although the harmonica may seem strange for an album of this type, it is very effective because Pulcer has a very melodic approach to the instrument. We enjoyed the mountain dulcimer additions by MacFarlane and would have liked to hear more of this sweet-sounding instrument. Anna Pulcer’s four-track flute was also an improvement on the guitar-centric music.
We were impressed with Pulcer’s guitar arrangements. Only “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, arranged by Bartolome Calatayud and “Just As I Am Without One Plea” arranged by Chet Atkins do not carry the imprimatur Pulcer.
Ron Pulcer is a talented guitarist and arranger whose first recording shows his strong musical chops and dedication to the music he recorded. He says he has a lot more guitar arrangements and we hope to hear them on future albums.