Released in October 1996, Oracle was a return to Hedges’ guitar-centric compositions. There were at least two driving forces behind this album. The first was spiritual. He had written the title track, “Oracle,” (originally called “Fusion of the Five Elements”) from a desert retreat in Oracle, Arizona in 1995.
At the time, he was studying the five elements in ancient Chinese philosophy. Hedges explained in late 1997, “Oracle represented a catalyst that is helping me in my life right now. I’m into the study of elemental energies. In ancient China, there were five energies that were the basis of their philosophy. Oracle is divided into five sections. Each of these sections tried to emulate those energies. It was a brand-new way of composing for me.”
A second catalyst for this album was the return of a stolen guitar. Around 1978, Hedges purchased a hand-made guitar built by Ken duBourg of Maryland. Michael wrote and recorded some of the pieces from his first album on this guitar. It was very special to him. In 1982 the guitar was stolen after he opened a show for the Jerry Garcia Band; but the guitar was later returned around 1995. After Hedges had it restored, the returned guitar inspired him to remember older tunes he had written on this instrument, and also inspired new fingerstyle tunes. The result was one of his best albums.
The album was mostly solo guitar compositions, with some instrumentation and one vocal tune (a riveting cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”). Oracle also included a diversity of instrumental covers pieces: Henry Mancini’s “Theme from HARTARI!”; Frank Zappa’s “Sofa #1”; and an untraditional version of “Greensleeves/What Child Is This?”. In 1997, Billboard magazine called Oracle Hedges’s “strongest album to date.”
In 1998, Oracle won the Grammy® Award for Best New Age Album. The award was posthumously accepted by Michael’s family. As the final studio album released in his lifetime, Oracle is an incredible representation of Michael’s vast compositional abilities.
Words by Jake White, biographer
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