Posts Tagged ‘Fingerpicked Guitar’

Sacred Lamp

Familiarity with Canada’s psychedelic noise conduit Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn may have come to you in quite a few ways over the last year or so. Despite having been the eye of the storm when it comes to Canada’s more experimental core, Dunn also proved that he’s got a tender tear in him as well with his solo album, Lightbourn, last year. The album saw Dunn slinking towards more traditional songforms, finding solace in Northern Lights country and flaying open his heart. While he did occasionally break out the burn on a few of this songs, the album a fairly different animal from the CD-r stock pile of an artist who’s spent time in the trenches with MV & EE, Woods and the more outre end of the psych-folk spectrum. Even more unlikely, Dunn was integral to coalescing the band that would back up Meg Remy on U.S. Girls’ In A Poem Unlimited last year, straying even further from his comfortable soil with a blend of ‘70s pop twists and jazz-scratched disco that led to one of her most invigorating albums.

He’s proved a versatile artists who can’t be underestimated, or pinned down. So naturally, his collaboration with longtime cohort Ayal Senior as Sacred Lamp is akin to none of these things. If these are your entry points to Dunn, then the duo’s eponymous LP is something more ephemeral. Built on an interplay of guitars that run between the blues ballasted acoustic and twilight divining electric runs that feel haunted by the memories of something just beyond the folds of the horizon. The record is forever chasing the feeling of peace. The LP luxuriates in the guitar, touching on moments that recall Bishop and Chasney, Basho and the collaborative combos of Steve Gunn.

Its a rose-hued gem of a record that should appeal to any fans of those respective camps or the long tendrils that tie them to several schools of fingerpicked and potent psych-folk. This one feels like it has the capacity to slip through the the most slender of cracks. I’d advise grabbing hold before it does.



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Elkhorn – “To See Darkness”

For the past couple of years psych-folk duo Elkhorn has been amassing a catalog of burnt-cinder and toasted molasses guitar gems on labels like Beyond Beyond is Beyond, Debacle, and Eiderdown. Now they stand ready to stun with a two LP set on the way from Feeding Tube that’s packed with their best burners yet. I’m happy to premiere the video for one of the set’s absolute standouts, “To See Darkness.” The track’s steeped in soul-scarred smolder, carrying weight of apocalyptic magnitude in its wounded fuzz leads. The duo’s interplay of fingerpicked runs and high-plains sonic pestilence is peaked and prowling on this track. Should the gods of the small screen ever get around to working out a cinematic vision of Jonathan Hickman’s East of West a wise seeker should tap the duo to soundtrack the menace of Death spreading across the salted plain.

The pair rightly accompany the cut with an austere video of them live in the room with just a somber backdrop of blue to buoy the track’s sonic slash. Captured by Eric Silver (photography) and Josh Johnson (sound) the clip shifts the focus to the power of the music without looking to flood the viewer with anything except the awe and menace the song rightly inspires on its own. The album set, Sun Cycle + Elk Jam, recorded by Jason Meagher at Black Dirt, is out April 12th on Feeding Tube, I’d feel inclined to mention how necessary these are, but I feel like that video might have just made my case for me.



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Michael Chapman

For those already combing through the tributaries of seminal UK folk – running into the likes of Jansch, Harper and John Martyn – Michael Chapman is already dug in as a hero. For those less inclined to dig the history of British strings, perhaps he needs yet another introduction. Like Harper he’s more a product of mythical inspiration than a staple of the stereo shelf, but as he eases into his status as an elder statesman of the form, he should be carving out that space in your stacks more than ever. For every kid that learned about Roy Harper from the back cover of a Led Zep album, there’s an ever more introverted version of that kid tracking Chapman through connections to Mick Ronson or Thurston Moore. As of late the connection has spun out to seasoned and now indie anointed slinger Steve Gunn. Gunn produced Chapman’s last album 50 and likewise pulled in a slew of his own collaborators to give the songwriter a fitting accompaniment – everyone from Nathan Bowles to James Elkington and Jimmy SeiTang. Chapman’s longtime friend, Bridget St. John lent her voice to the record as well, knitting the folk family ever tighter.

That album was a rebirth for Chapman, a resetting of the map that had long gone askew. Chapman had by no means been quiet in the interim, but it gave a new notoriety to an artist that should have been ranking heavy on the radar of those who have been haunted by Gunn, Scott Hirsch, Wooden Wand, or Elkington’s solo works. For True North, Gunn returns to guide the gears, but leaves behind the ringers, though the accomplished slide work of BJ Cole finds its way in to the mix and St. John returns to add her signature touch. The album stands as an even stronger testament to Chapman’s enduring light. Largely just the songwriter and his guitar, the album is hung heavy with the wisdom of age – cut deep with the scars of decades, cascading like rings through wood and lacquered thick with the bar rag whiff of backrooms, green rooms, and broken mirror bathrooms that dot the stages of what passes as fitting for a folk career now and forever.

Chapman has a pathos, a humor, and a heft that doesn’t come cheap. There’s only one way to get the grey-eyed gut punch of truth into one’s music, and its not by avoiding the hard moments. Chapman is a conduit for pain and perseverance, standing on the edge of what society increasingly sees as mortality’s precipice, but while some of that baggage has hung about the artists shoulders there’s hardly a sense that he finds it a burden. True North is an album about not easing gently into anything, let along the night. Chapman, at just shy of 80 is still a beacon – grizzled, sure, but gleaming nonetheless. Whether this is your first step into Chapman’s view or pushing double digits, the record cuts deep, but sticks around to clean the wounds.



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William Tyler

For Goes West William Tyler presents the clearest vision for his Cosmic Country yet. He’s taken a stab in the past and begun to build the mythology, but it’s here that he’s found a way to capture just how the sun dips low on the horizon. Though they appear on the album, Tyler himself doesn’t pick up the electric guitar, focusing solely on the fluid ramble of the acoustic strings to evoke the endless expanse of the American West. He does so with the touch of a craftsman. Within the wilds of fingerpicked guitar there are many guises – the virtuoso, the devout (ragas), the folk hero, the convert – but Tyler approaches picking with a storyteller’s grace. Without so much as a cough the album lays out emotional tales that seem universal – heart swells and salt flats rung through with the pluck of warm strings.

Though he’s clearly quite adept, Tyler steers clear of the virtuoso palette. He’s not working to stun listeners into submission, but rather to lull them into bliss. The album is a warm companion, a sense memory, a feeling of loss just off the tip of the tongue. There are moments that shudder to life like someone just stepped on your grave, but left a flower in passing. There’s something about the record that seems to slow time entirely, rolling by with the white line hypnotism of a desert highway, letting the scenery unfold in a panorama that’s too big to hold onto from a seat not big enough to stretch your legs. In that way its both too big to fathom and so intimately close that Tyler’s strings wrap around you and hold you safe like a seatbelt.

The pace of modern life is regrettably rushed, if it’s not necessarily always frantic, it’s at least overwhelming in its grab for our attentions. Goes West is a magnetic pull away from that feeling. Even when the record is on in the background it slows the listener down and adds a few more colors to the day. With this Tyler has made a statement about slow living, staring just a touch longer, and letting the ache of life burrow in a little deeper.



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Nathan Salsburg

First things first, that Salsburg’s day gig is managing the Alan Lomax Archives already puts him heads above other guitarists in terms of credibility. That’s not a collection that hands over the reigns lightly, and given the historical breadth inherent in the collection, its bound to be expected that the man has leveraged it to lend a little context to his own folk. Above and beyond his administrative credentials though, Salsburg is a sought after sideman who has found himself on records from Wooden Wand and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy to Joan Shelley and The Weather Station. Its with good reason that songwriters seek out his deft hand. Salsburg has a velvet touch on the strings – tender and teeming with emotion. Unlike some finigerpicked impresarios he doesn’t attack the guitar with his prowess. He coaxes sounds from his guitar as if it were a timid bird waiting to sing. That bird is good spirits on Third.

The album is relaxed, but only because Salsburg makes skill seem to flow through his fingers so easily. The record ripples like a stream in the sun, melting images into one another with the touch of a trained painter or seasoned cinematographer. Though his palette is auditory its hard not to let the mind slip through blissful moments and warm hues in ones mind while Salsburg controls the atmosphere. The brilliance that Salsburg pulls off is in making the album absorb into the moment and then take it over. Its built on the soft lap of notes, but Third never fades to become background, rather it becomes the soundtrack to the day and in turn immediately improves that day’s outlook and softens the impact of what anxieties eat at the mind.

At a time when we could all use some sort of levity from day after day of nail-bitten intensity, Third is a gorgeous, intimate, and masterful respite. The album pulls the listener into its arms and cradles it for thirty-five minutes of joy and that’s no small feat. Salsburg’s resume reads like a audible brag, but with this album he’s putting a highwater mark front and center in his current workload. Flashier albums will try to steal attention in 2018, but few will be felt as hard as this one.




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Buck Curran

Guitarist Buck Curran, has woven his way deep into the folk and psych-folk worlds over the past decade. He’s best known for his work with Arborea, but just as instrumental is his organizing of the compilation Leaves of Life which included Devendra Banhart, Marissa Nadler and Alela Diane, and two Robbie Basho tributes that have helped to shed light on the vital artist in the past few years. He’s also given new life to live Basho recordings via his imprint Obsolete Recordings this year. In 2016 he broke out from Arborea to play solo works, though they leaned harder on the psych than the folk element. On his second solo outing he fully embraces his acoustic persona, drawing from a well of Takoma ‘60s and ‘70s inspirations, especially on the first side that plays out the full extent of the Afternoon Ragas referenced in the album’s title.

He blends the wandering psych troubadour influences and mournful guitar divinations with some electric rumble as the record ekes into the second side, and though Curran still pulls stark sadness from the strings he marries his fingerpicked heartache to a spectral blues form on “Taurus.” The clouds part on the wistful “Dirt Floor,” in no small part due to the lilting vocals from Adele Papparlardo. She injects bit of sun to the album’s largely overcast emotions, though it’s easy to see how someone invested in Basho’s legacy would run a thread of somber sincerity through their own works. A lovely collection for those interested in the aforementioned Takoma period or latter-day pickers like Chasney, Bishop or Rose. Curran’s crafted a record that easily slots itself on the shelf next to any of those three.




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Wet Tuna

Doesn’t take much more than the lineup here to peak my interest in Wet Tuna. The duo is comprised of longtime psych flayers Matt “M.V.” Valentine and Pat Gubler, better known to the double spool grind as P.G. Six. The pair have been living the Wet Tuna lifestyle live for a while now and posting some tantalizing sets up on their Bandcamp, but now they’ve wrestled the expansive experience down to a debut full length and it sees them flesh out the sound with a full band feeling, adding keys and percussion to the pair’s guitar divinations. Taken on their own (or even with his other duo in Valentine’s case) these are two mighty pillars of post echo-location soup to deal with, both riding high on damp and dank guitar licks that burrow psychedelic smolder from the ground. Together, though, they’re definitely working on an alechimical level to mind-meld their way to new levels of endorphin-chompin’ brain float.

The band isn’t messin’ around out of the gate, filling the first side of this platter with the twenty-minute scorcher “New York Street,” making a case for high-mountain firelight blues chug as a state perfect being. The album grabs hold of the ghost, lights the fuse and never brings the listener down below the horizon line. Even when the guitars cool the strings to the touch, as on the shorter bits here, there’s still a buoyant calm that keeps Livin’ The Die sublimated and gaseous, beaming in on a transistor beacon from deepest space while leaving behind an aroma that’s straight from the soil. That’s the beauty that Valentine and Gubler have wrought, the woven riffs are mossy and humid, their vocals float in a memory haze of stuffed-cotton caverns, and when the coils glow an incandescent amber, the album takes flight with a solid-state shot of sulfur and smoke that lingers on the tongue. It’s a high point in both artist’s catalog, which for two such prolific beings, speaks high of Wet Tuna’s legacy.



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Itasca

Following on her 2016 album for Paradise of Bachelors Kayla Cohen resumes her guise as Itasca for a hushed tape of intricate, fingerpicked folk for micro label Dove Cove. The tape is presented in collaboration with poet and visual artist Gunnar Tchida, who provides the album’s titles and accompanying artwork as inspiration. Cohen’s folk has a twilight quality to it, rambling through deft string work that recalls Daniel Bachman and Alexander among a few others from the current Fahey school of blues ramblers. Skewing from her contemporaries though, she injects a fragile peacefulness into her pieces that sends the knotted tumbles scattering in the wind, consumed by the hiss of tape, the howl of the wind and the ozone fry of an amplifier. On tracks like “Snow Melt,” she’s working closer to the shadow of Ben Chasney to channel the restrained smolder of angry fuzz that’s burning up the strings like a fuse. Elsewhere she dampens the ramble to a hush and works in weaves of straightforward folk with a verdant lope of guitar that pushes the meditative qualities to the fore.

If this is just a stopgap, then it’s a rather well landing one, divining meditative tangles from the ideas laid out in Tchida’s titles. It’s a departure from her more glossy work for PoB, but one that makes up for fidelity with intimacy. The work of Itasca communes with nature so well it’s almost a shame that this is released in the damp of winter’s chill. It begs to be walked around outside. While I’d imagine this is less of a burden in her current surroundings in California, those of us stuck back near her native Hudson Valley feel the cabin fever only grow tighter while this plays on the speakers. Still, the melt is soon to come and by then the wood and sinew grooves of Morning Flower will have wrapped the brain tightly with their knotted embrace.




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Dean McPhee

UK guitarist Dean McPhee culls three tracks from a previous Folklore Editions tape and adds in an additional two new cuts for an album of haunting, atmospheric doom-folk that drips with forlorn sadness. Built around a bedrock of quavering drones, the record erects caverns of sound that are flecked with the stone-skip ripples of McPhee’s sparse finger work. The effect brings to mind Loren Connors or Evan Caminiti, though there’s something of a traditional feel to McPhee’s compositions as well, as if old English folk songs were being remembered through a veil of pain and distance.

Though the two sets of songs work well together, there is some marked difference between the sessions. “Danse Macabre” brings in some heartstrung slide, giving McPhee’s work a high plains twilight appeal. This works to the album’s advantage, standing in contrast to the more stoic opening pieces and retaining some of that spectral sigh while giving the track some more room to move. Though it doesn’t have that mellifluous slide, the closing title track also trades in ambiance for some more movement, stretching out over 14+ minutes of foggy, moody tangles of guitar underpinned by the soft pump of a kick pedal that works as the track’s beating heart. All in all, a superb outing from McPhee that stitches together new and old into an album that leaves its fingerprints on the listener before it groans to a close.



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Sarah Louise

So, this comes in pretty recent on the ol’ reissue calendar. The record was issued as a small run cassette in 2015 on Scissor Tail and didn’t snag enough attention at the time. The label is now giving the record a more expansive issue as an LP three years later. Perhaps this comes on the tail of Louise’s duo House and Land receiving a bit more acclaim with their record on Thrill Jockey, perhaps not. In either case we’re all luckier to have this one in a more solid format. Sarah Louise is a consummate purveyor of fingerpicked guitar. As might befit her inclusion in VDSQ’s acoustic series and, well, her surfacing on Scissor Tail in general.

Field Guide diverges from House and Land’s somber, wooded folk for more of a traditional take on the 12-string approach. Louise more than proves her chops here, tackling runs that bring to mind Basho, Jansch, Kotke and even a bit of Peter Walker. She’s not all flash and technique though, there’s plenty of beauty sparkling melody present in her rambles. The record, as the cover might suggest, brings to mind natural wonders, evoking streams and the endless spread of rolling hills. It’s a great intro to a contemporary string slinger that, if she’s not already, should be on your list to keep tabs on. Scissor Tail was right to give this one another go ‘round and a wider audience.




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