Posts Tagged ‘Fingerpicked Folk’

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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Elkhorn – “Electric Two (Part B)”

Elkhorn’s latest is a longform exploration of improvisation, set to tape with the band’s friend and collaborator Turner Wiliams one snowy night, shut in from the outside. The band’s releasing bits of the two sidelong pieces in the runup to the album release and they’ve let out one of my favorite portions today. Paired with a dizzying time-lapse, “Electric Two (Part B) locks the duo’s guitars with a sonorous drone — with the strings playing against one another like overlapping winds in the storm that raged outside the windows, the biting cold as constant as the oscillating tone underneath. As acoustics give way to the chemical burn of electric fuzz, the track brings on that familiar feeling of doom that’s woven between the bars of Elkhorn’s works from last year. This is vital, raw piece of work that’s among their best. Check out the video above and look out for that LP on 2/7.

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Joseph Allred

The last outing from Joseph Allred, 2019’s O Meadowlark solidified Allred’s reputation as a consummate picker, one whose style moved with an effortless grace from slippery Fahey runs through the more buttoned up blisters of Kotke and the spiritual slants of Basho. Like the latter player in that triumvirate, Allred takes a swipe at vocal blues on his latest, Traveler. While the majority of the record still showcases his chameleonic stringwork, on the album opener and title track, he lends his voice to an emotionally fraught tale that proves out of the gate that he’s not just a master of the strings. Over the next few songs Allred works his way through brambles and rabbles of notes that, while certainly virtuosic, also serve to salve and calm. It’s a pastoral, primal record that’s knotted with tangled roots and torn soil. Allred wears the mantle of natural conduit well, lending Traveler a soiled grace that’s hard to shake.

When his blues pop through once more, they don’t break the spell, instead giving the earthen rambles an anchor of humanity that tills the topsoil of the instrumental odes. “The Crown” feels sung by moonlight – a barn song that rings through the rafters with a pang of sadness. Allred swaps between banjo and guitar with such admirable ease that the change in instruments doesn’t jar in the least, letting the two timbres weave together into a tapestry of sound, looping lustrous thread through the earth tones of his sonic fabric. He caps off the vocal offerings with “O Columbia” a song that snags a few loose Fahey ends (specifically “In Christ There Is No East or West,”) and ties them to a sighing track that slips beneath the horizon as the record lopes into the last lap. The record finally fads away with a touching tribute to Glen Jones that tips a hat to one of Allred’s more modern influences. This may very well be his finest, and hopefully opens the door for more vocal offerings from the songwriter.



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Willie Lane – A Pine Tree Shilling’s Worth

Starting in 2009 guitarist Willie Lane issued a run of albums on his own Cord-Art label, ranging from fingerpicked folk to ragged blues. The albums, Known Quantity, Guitar Army of One and A Pine Tree Shilling’s Worth all seeped out quietly and went out of print quickly. Thankfully Feeding Tube have sought to correct the scarcity of the originals with a run of reissues over the last couple years and they’re now drawing that to a close with a new version of Pine Tree, which might be the best of the bunch. The LP is far more electric than the other two in the trilogy, leaning in heavily to the ragged blues and experimental feel of the series. The record isn’t tied to genre or feeling, but explores a shifting sense of sound that’s as rooted in the Takoma take on folk as it is in the dirt-caked Philly scene that would surface years later. Lane acts as a bridge between eras and does so without any whiff of overthinking. The pieces on A Pine Tree Shilling’s Worth flow with a loose ramble that weaves between the roots of the now snow-soaked Pioneer Valley.

Lane has been an integral part of the latest wave of psych-folk froth, not to mention the one before it, having collaborated with Elkhorn, Matt Valentine, Meg Baird, Samara Lubelski, Specrte Folk, and Espers over the years. Having this trilogy of releases back in print is a vital link between where Lane has been and where he’s headed. There’s word that another LP is on the way, so perhaps this last reissue will be preamble to the next node of his songwriting. Personally, I’m quite interested in what’s next, though 2019 itself is packed with Lane hallmarks. Besides this reissue, you can hear him on Elkhorn’s Sun Cycle/Elk Jam and Valentine’s Preserves album. If you’re just starting in on his works, I’d recommend beginning with this one and then diving backwards.



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Ten Years Gone: A Tribute To Jack Rose

I didn’t have a chance to mention this one yesterday, but essential news nontheless. Its been ten years since Jack Rose vanished from this earth too soon and its still the decade hasn’t lessened the tragedy one bit. My fondest memory is of seeing him and Wooden Wand in the back of a small bar in Greenpoint. Jack’s presence was magnetic and made any venue come alive with the movement of his strings. Tompkins Square has released a touching tribute to Jack, curated by Buck Curran and it features “original instrumentals made as tribute to Jack by a few of his friends (Mike Gangloff, Sir Richard Bishop, Helena Espvall, Buck Curran, Micah Blue Smaldone, Nick Schillace) and by a group of emerging artists inspired by his music (Andy McLeod, Simone Romei, Matt Sowell, Joseph Allred, Prana Crafter, Paolo Laboule Novellino, Mariano Rodriguez).”

There are a ton of RSTB favorites in this list, and the album carries on the spirit of Jack Rose with beauty and grace. I’d highly recommend tucking into this one on a crisp winter’s morning and letting it wash over you for the rest of the day.



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Zachary Hay

Zachary Hay’s the latest to join up with the excellent Scissor Tail stable and his debut is a case study in American Primitive full of vulnerability, patience, and careful contemplation. Where some fingerpickers dash through runs and flash a virtuoso’s brand, Hay’s a more restrained player. His songs pick out a path through the forest that’s purposeful and meditative. He doesn’t ripple n’ run so much as saunter, eyes on the grey skies and a hint of rain already in the air. With the muted hiss of tape spooling in the background, Hay’s eponymous long player gives the feeling of having been recorded in the field, the soft wisp of wind bringing smells of autumn decay flooding to the senses. His dissonance gives a sense of unease, a quality of feeling lost that rings anxious through the records, perhaps feeding into that need to slow down and weigh the options lest doom befall the listener. There is joy too, but, again, Hay keeps the emotions close to his chest with each new offering as the needle winds its way around the plate.

There are plenty of touchstones that Hay hits upon with this record, his first fully under his name after years spent playing as Bronze Age and The Dove Azima. Hay maps out the same doomed terrain as Steven R. Smith (albeit more with a more barebones approach). There are touches of Tashi Dorji, Bill Orcutt, and Scott Tuma filtering through the stringwork. Hangovers from the Tacoma class, of course, but Hay seems to reflect them off of the more modern players’ continuations of its legacy. Hay finds footing in Roy Montgomery’s sense of wonder in the face of foreboding odds. Over the top of all of these touches there’s more than a slight shadow of Loren Connors’ tectonic pacing. More than any other, this seems to be Hay’s rudder, building atmospheres of ash and letting them slowly wind away on the wind. While this is certainly not Hay’s debut, it’s a great new chapter in his work and one that fits well among the vaunted stringwork at Scissor Tail.



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Lake Mary & Ranch Family Band

A hushed and tempered new record arrives from Chaz Prymek’s Lake Mary, this time adding in the “Ranch Family Band” to the fold. The record is sun-dappled and full of spring air — a verdant addition to his growing catalog of releases. Rooted in a rambling fingerpick that recalls contemporaries William Tyler and Nathan Salsburg, Sun Dogs‘ prowess lies in deploying buttered slides throughout the entire record that yearn for a perennial peace. The record seamlessly folds in psych-touches on the album’s title track, finding the common crannies between fingerpicked folk and Kosmiche float. The standout track engulfs Prymek’s strings in an early morning fog that bends the light in every direction before burning off into crisp golds and greens that flood the rest of the record. The songs are heavy with the scent of earth, humid in the way that mornings hold onto the last night’s rainfall before stretching into the perfect yawn of midday.

Pinned on the languorous and lingering title track and closer, “Blue Spruce,” which opts for more entrancing and classic vision of fingerpicked fodder, the album is almost gone too soon. It certainly leaves the listener wanting more, hoping to hang forever in between the vibrating air of Lake Mary’s strings. The album is a gorgeous, late 2019 addition, so don’t go tallying up the best of the year just yet. The album is easy to return to time and again as a respite, a rejuvenation, a true gem peeking out from the folk pile at the end of the decade. I’d definitely recommend letting this one sink in and grow roots.




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