Posts Tagged ‘Fingerpicked Folk’

Cameron Knowler & Eli Winter – “Strawberry Milk”

One of the LPs that snuck into the Raven rotation at the end of the year was from Eli Winter. His patient, paintely playing was a welcome source of solace in rough times and it comes as excellent news that he already has a new LP on the way. This time Winter pairs up with bluegrass player Cameron Knowler. Though to set the scene with Knowles bluegrass credentials is a bit of a false promise. The two find a middle ground, between brush-beat ramble of bluegrass and Winter’s dawnlight passages that owe a bit of their heart to Daniel Bachman and Jack Rose. Having played together along quiet stretches of the Texas borderlands, the pair created a bond that comes through on the record, with opener “Strawberry Milk” lulling the listener like highway lines stretching through the baked mountain vistas. The record arrives March 12th from American Dreams. Check out the video for “Strawberry Milk” above.



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Yasmin Williams – “Swift Breeze”

Just catching this single and with it the rest of the upcoming LP from Yasmin Williams and its a lovely way to start off 2021. Williams’ playing, while rooted in a knotted, fingerestyle folk, deviates from many of the trappings of the genre in welcome ways. She balances virtuosity and lyricism in a way that belies her age and years of experience — crafting songs that weave natural passages with rhythms that pull from fingertapping more associated with heavier electric guitar. The guitarist’s songs feel especially vital, and “Swift Breeze” exemplifies the joy and freedom of her playing. The song ripples like a stream with the knock of her feet playing off of instrument taps adding a bit of swing to the piece. The metal-reminiscent breakdown adds a wound bite to the piece, without ever knocking it off of is flow. While she’s certainly on par with any player coming down the Takoma pike, her playing feels like it shakes off the often dogmatic reverence to the old schools in an excellent way. Her album on Spinster arrives January 29th and is highly recommended!



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Matt Lajoie

So begins another year here at Raven and just as the early parts of 2020 were graced with the transformative meditations of Matt Lajoie, so too is 2021 lit awake with another solo venture. Where the last record was doused in an aqueous glow, Paraclete Tongue takes shape from the glow of embers and the pulse of stars. The album is Matt’s first solo LP to employ electrics throughout and while he’s still a master of delicate sighs even when the the current courses through the strings, there’s a new element to Paraclete Tongue that’s been hidden away from his past solo strikes. Aside the ripples and picks, there’s a gnawing growl of fuzz that crops up, especially on the album closer “Flame of Incarnation” — a sidelong stunner that loops Lajoie’s works through the halo of a distant sun.

Before we get there, though, the first side takes up a trio of pieces that prepare the listener for the voyage. “Kuchina’s Dance” and “Kandlebright Grotto” pirouette through candlelight, an extension of the rivulets of string work that populated Everlasting Spring, while a scarred sunrise opens the record with some of the most froth found in the solo Lajoie spectrum. The second side then opens into a cosmic echo of sound, bouncing Matt’s strings back and forth in the listener’s headspace — a dance of starlight sonar that’s entrancing as it pushes past the 24-minute mark.

Not to be capped at merely one LP’s worth of dazzling guitar glow, Paraclete Tongue boasts a companion piece also released this past week with 40 more minutes of sun-fired fretwork to bolster the album. Sun Language was recorded in one take focusing on Matt’s Fender Mustang as the tool of choice. The four pieces capture the same hazed glow of sunlight breaking through the dawn, acting as a pared-back comedown to ease on out of the shimmer of Paraclete’s shadow. Flower Room proves a beacon in any year, but they’re starting ’21 off strong.



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Eli Winter

There are still more corners of my listening pile to unearth and this one’s been popping to the top now and again. The latest LP by young string wrangler Eli Winter is a lovely, meditative record that’s rooted in the traditions of Basho and Rose, with a nod to the rise of Bachman before him as a player of promising talent who only continues to outdo himself. Opening strong on Unbecoming, Eli works his way through the nearly 23-minute “Either I Would Become Ash” — a dizzying display of fingerpicked folk with a tender touch. The song swirls like snow on the wind, dancing in the light and bringing a touch of lighthearted magic to the record.

The rest of the LP doesn’t flag in its warm embrace. “Maroon,” pales in length to the opener, but its marked by an immediacy that shines. With Sam Wagster (Mute Duo) on pedal steel guitar, Cameron Knowler is on nylon-string guitar, and Tyler Damon (Circuit Des Yeux) on drums, the quartet lets this one gather the rose glow of dawn. The song’s full of promise and a refreshed feeling that, frankly I could use more of in the coming months. He ends the record with a live cut, which expresses a more raw side. While the tonal shift pulls the listener out of the magic of “Maroon,” “Dark Light” still showcases exactly what makes Winter’s playing so vital. It’s technical, but woven with grace. Winter’s is a talent that’s certainly worth watching and the proof is woven into the bones of Unbecoming. Its a stitched together collection of highs that while disparate feel like they’re leading to bigger statements in the future.



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Matt Sowell

So many great records seem to have been born out of the folk nexus of 1,000 Incarnations of The Rose, the festival that brought together a wealth of classic fingerpicked talent like Peter Lang, Max Ochs, and Peter Walker with the more recent luminaries Glenn Jones, Marisa Anderson, Daniel Bachman, and Nathan Bowles. Yet what was great about the festival was that so many of the names flew much further below the horizon, letting the talent of those who’d not yet staked a reputation sit alongside revered legends. This is largely a testament to the booking of Elkhorn’s Jesse Sheppard, who’s years among players lead him to pack the three days with so many interesting players. Among the lesser known marquees lay Matt Sowell, who’d released a few low-key titles, but caught the ear of Feeding Tube during his set. A devoted union carpenter in addition to a stellar musician, the title Organize Or Die hits harder in these times of tension.

Among the weathered country blues, there’s a dissension that’s palpable through Sowell’s work. Alongside his nods to Fahey, and in turn Cotton, Patton, James and Johnson, there’s notes of Jack Rose’s intensity and Harry Tausig’s patience. There’s also a political fire that singes through the strings and stamps itself defiantly in titles like “Requiem For Democracy” and the title track. Like so many guitarists before him Sowell’s earthen medium is also a conduit for frustration, lament, and the weariness that’s laid on the American worker. It’s not all strife, though, there’s a joy that often simmers through the sadness of slide blues. The nights feel dark on Sowell’s record, but the days seem to come with an appreciation for the clear sky and the cool breeze. When a record like Organize Or Die comes your way, its a time to feel grateful for the collective spirit of folk players celebrating over three days in Maryland, and for chance meetings that lead to something that hits this hard.




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Andrew Tuttle

Sorely missing from the pages of RSTB has been any mention of Andrew Tuttle. That’s on me. Several albums deep at this point, he’s racked up stage time with Ryley Walker, Steve Gunn, Matmos, Julia Holter, and Daniel Bachman. His latest for Room 40 is a pastoral source of rejuvenation in parched times. Centering around his banjo and guitar work, the record enters a lot of the same eddies as Nathan Salsburg, a fellow picker who’s music tends not to overwhelm with flash, but who instead builds a world out of gently burbling patience and calm. Make no mistake, both have skill to spare, but knowing that there’s more to gain in shading and shifting tones is a particularly lovely persuasion within the world of fingerpicked guitar. Tuttle lets notes hang in the air and dissipate. Banjos waver on the winds, reverberated guitar soaks into the skin and underneath he sketches field recordings with a fine brush.

Cut through with an outdoor ambiance, and a communal backporch air, the record is incredibly unfussed at first blush. The stitches on the songs are barely visible, owing much to Tuttle’s ability to make his compositions feel like they might have been improvisations, but there’s more of a unified thread here than he first lets on. Tuttle plays like a quilter, weaving picture patterns that come into focus the further one backs away from the record. There’s a natural awe to the album, that’s expressed between the patient notes that Andrew and his collaborators concoct. Those collaborators play no small part in shaping Alexandra as well. The indelible color of Chuck Johnson’s pedal steel has been a part of many great 2020 LPs and he lends it to a couple of tracks here, as well as acting as producer for the record. Tony Dupe (Saddleback), Sarah Spencer (Blank Realm), Gwenifer Raymond (Tompkins Square), Joel Saunders (Spirit Bunny) and Joe Saxby (These Guy) also find their way into the ranks, fleshing out the tessellated universe that Tuttle constructs across these nine songs. 2020 has become a year for exploring quietude in deeper dimensions, and to that end, Alexandra is a welcome portal to a stiller set of sounds.




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Family Ravine

Another lovely entry to Round Bale’s roster and a high watermark for Kevin Cahill (East of the Valley Blues, Peripheral Living) shifting his focus from the roots / Americana of East of the Valley, who last had a solid sender for Astral Spirits, to lighter landing psychedelic folk streaked with rain. There’s still that ripple to the stringwork that burbles with the insistence of water, but on his own, without brother Patrick, he’s exploring more closely the greyed skies of UK folk this time. Leave Every Single You was informed by a lonesome separation. Cahill expressed a sudden interested in cults, and those who leave them behind. Perhaps a bit of that sneaks into the narrative of the strings — loss of faith, seclusion, disillusionment, shame, and shelter. Whether or not you bring that mindset to the record, the icy feeling of distance and isolation weighs heavy in these hymns.

Cahill’s picking lays in stark restraint to so many recent acoustic releases it comes as a sort of palette cleanser. His shading is all nuance, no flash. There’s a clear skill behind the playing but on Family Ravine’s debut Cahill never finds its necessary to flex. The closing track is the closest that the record comes to an outright stunner, but its more the composition than the playing that hits hard. While the rest of the record is stark, not bone dry, but certainly leaning that way, the final track moves from the hillsides of the UK to the German countryside, languishing in the cavern pastoral hues of Popul Vuh and Achim Reichel. The track bounces around the room in pulses and waves, letting the ripples that Cahill creates wash back and forth on one another in cascading obfuscation. It’s hard to know where one figure ends and the next begins. The disorientation is a perfect closer to an album about life change, shaky ground, and uncertain horizons.


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Sir Richard Bishop

On his latest album Sir Richard Bishop moves forward and backward simultaneously. The record slips away from the yoke of organic string sounds that have grounded Bishop throughout his career – roping in electronic pathways, less organic textures, and a trend towards the avant over the ethereal. It’s as forward moving and adventurous as anything you’d expect from an artist rooted in the winking world textures and chaotic burn of Sun City Girls. Yet it’s also an ambitious experiment from an artist comfortable enough in his own skin that he’s able to balance virtuosity with curiosity. The record gazes backward in its patchwork approach by becoming a sort of sister album to his excellent aughts installment Polytheistic Fragments. Like that album the tone shifts from track to track, along with the instrumentation, but the overall feeling is one of becoming a soundtrack to some unseen film. The songs are vignettes that drip with sadness, sanguine solitude, and anxious intrigue. The themes have long threaded themselves through Bishop’s work, but he ties the knots particularly well between the pieces here while keeping up his approach of utilizing different instrumentation for each track.

The latter angle doesn’t become a gimmick but rather a conduit to bring out new shadows and shades in the unseen history of Oneiric Formulary. Where before he’d simply switch the tone and tumble of his fingered phrasing, now he lets the caustic gnaw of electronics creep into the mix. His labelmate and contemporary Ben Chasny has done something similar on his latest for DC as well, but Chasny makes synths feel like they were always in the DNA of his songs. Bishop makes it clear that they’ve come to corrupt. This becomes particularly clear on “Graveyard Wanderers”, a scraping, hulking beast of a track that’s without any of Bishop’s typical fluidity, instead hounding the midsection of the album with an overbearing dread. Not to be outdone, he follows the itch of electronics with a bagpipe dirge that churns the dread in yet another way before letting the languid stringwork and zonked electric slides return. Any follower of Bishop through the years knows that abrasive is in his oeuvre and he lets it linger here alongside some of his most accomplished runs and lyrical picking. This far on, Bishop is still looking to stir the pot and succeeding nicely.



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Sir Richard Bishop – “The Coming of the Rats”

Another dark rivulet of folk pools out of the upcoming Sir Richard Bishop LP this week. “The Coming of the Rats” is decidedly tempered when it comes to string velocity, compared to the tangle on previous peek “Celerity,” but the measured pace doesn’t dull the impact. Creeping with the kind of menace that would befit that title, the song shows off contact burn electric leads dueling with the quiet lope of acoustic for a cut that’s etched with soul collapse and bile. The song reeks of an internal struggle against better instincts, succumbing to a darkness that threatens to consume. The album is on its way April 17th, and this only makes the wait harder.



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Sir Richard Bishop – “Celerity”

With so many great fingerpicked albums over the last couple of years its hard to believe that it’s been almost five years since there was a Sir Richard Bishop LP. Well, a proper LP that is. SRB doesn’t sit still for long and there have been countless collaborative LPs, split releases and mover over the interim, but its been since 2015’s Tangier Sessions that a true, dedicated solo venture has come down the path. Though to be fair, this one reaches back even further in his DC catalog for an anchor point, feeling very akin to his ’07 untouchable classic Polytheistic Fragments. Like that record he’s back to using a different instrument to approach each track. Though it seems like this one’s going to go deeper than that record ever did, dabbling in some digital splashes and music concrete. Check out the first cut “Celerity” from Oneiric Formulary out 4/17.

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