Posts Tagged ‘Fingerpicked Guitar’

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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Alexander

It’s been a fertile year for New Haven, CT. Between releases from Mountain Movers, Headroom, and now David Shapiro’s Alexander, they’re pushing a few of their best and brightest out into the larger world. Alexander differs from the other two in sheer volume alone. Despite having a role in Headroom, Shapiro trades in none of their Earth crumbling riffs or walls of chaos. Instead, Alexander embraces the Takoma catalog for its homespun take on fingerpicked blues. Though, while Shapiro’s clearly a student of the Fahey, Basho, Kotke school, he’s leaning away from any of the jovial, rambling sunshine that might pervade the fingerpicked set. Instead, there’s a somber meditation to his debut LP that gives it weight even where his fingers dance.

He’s scraping away at the new school pickers that have sprung up before him, honing in on the drones and darkness inherit in Ben Chasny, Daniel Bachman, Richard Bishop and James Blackshaw’s contemporary takes on the spirit of strings. The eponymous LP winds slowly through grey-skied hills, still giving a shade of country side blues, but the countryside is more Scottish hills hued in silver than any sunny American delta. There’s a crispness to the record that begs the listener to pull a coat tight around their shoulders and tuck down into a bottle. Admittedly, that darkness is inviting. As proper debuts go (though he’s got plenty of small formats floating around before this), it’s a fair shot and a welcome voice from a verdant New England scene.




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Anna St. Louis

There’s something inviting, cozy even, about Anna St. Louis’ songwriting. She’s exploring a spare form of folk that’s not at all out of place on a sub-label of the Woodsist Family, but she’s lighting a fire that’s a touch warmer than even their catalog usually embraces. Her songs explore a fingerpicked style that’s immediately bringing to mind Jack Rose, James Elkington and James Jackson Toth. She’s got her ramble and knows how to let it ripple through a song, but St. Louis’ strength comes from expanding the atmosphere with that aforementioned heat – a dusty, homey feeling that makes each song feel as lived in and storied as an old family cabin.

The vocals on First Songs hang in the air with no pretension. They’re unadorned but buzzed around by ringing chords like hummingbirds at dawn. St. Louis has found a way to incorporate a timeless country vision into her folk. When those humid, drenched vibes start to drift off into the horizon she tethers the album down with a fireside simplicity that lets the listener into the room, curled on the floor next to her and sleeping out the sickness with the sound of her pepper and woodsmoke delivery. It’s hard not to fall in love with this one on first listen, and repeated plays really only cement the feeling. This album feels like a scratch demo given a larger audience, so one only wonders what she’ll dig into with a bigger budget and more time.




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Gunn-Truscinski Duo

Has it really been since 2012 that Steve Gunn and John Truscinski paired their prowess to purge a temperamental squall from their instruments? Seems that it has, but the pair is back together and despite Gunn’s rather meteoric rise in the interim, it feels like not a day has passed in their symbiotic sonic pact. Bay Head, their new LP, sounds like two artists making music simply for themselves and the cut cord of commercial appeal suits them nicely.

Moving away from Gunn’s recent reliance on pop structure, the record builds its stormfronts on both his fingerpicked runs, threading the album like looped vines of sound, and a more caustic, rusted metal explosion of corroded fuzz. The album is, for the most part, covered in clouds that are grey streaked and threatening at times, but when the duo lets a little light in there’s a peek of delicacy as well (“Shell,” “Some Lunar Day”). Even Gunn’s most enticing moments, however, are not without a bouquet of thorns for listeners who relax into their twined beauty too quickly. This is not a sunshine ramble of folk, but rather a full picture of turmoil and respite.

The real beauty here is in the interplay between the two artists. With guitar and percussion duos the language is the most important thing and Gunn and Truscinski know how to converse, playing off one another in subtle nudges. When the guitars threaten to boil, scratching at their amps like caged animals, Truscinski pulls the chain, tumbling with Gunn but knowing where the boundaries lie. Bay Head is ecstatic and free, but never messy, never threatening to buck its listener. This album is a reminder of just how potent these two musicians can be, and even if its another five years before we get another one, it’ll have been worth it.




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James Elkington

There are certainly more than a few schools of fingerpicked guitar, but in the West, predominantly there’s the Fahey/Basho axis and there’s the English lope of the Jansch/Drake/Jones school. Elkington takes the latter for a turn and rolls his English folk like a stream peppered with stones and winding through eddies of life. The songwriter has found himself a bit of a jackknife of the studio, a sideman’s sideman who’s fleshed out albums from Jeff Tweedy, Wooden Wand, Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn and Tortoise to name a few. He’s a kind of built in textural embellishment that seals a song with a strange magic.

As such, his own solo debut employs more than a bit of that magic, weaving it deep into the fabric of Wintres Woma. Like Drake (uh Nick that is) before him, he knows the value of melancholy as a driving force. Though, unlike his forebear, he also knows how to pump the breaks and enjoy a streak of sunshine on the meadow when it hits him. To that point, this album is going to feel like a constant companion come autumn. Few songs here aren’t built for the brisk inhalation of decaying fauna underpinned with the rustle of breeze acting like natural percussion.

Elkington is an almost preternatural songwriter, plucking songs from the air like they’d always existed. Winteres Woma is the kind of folk record that’s whispered about in collector’s circles and traded on fuzzy tape, uploaded to YouTube clips and hidden in second hand shops to be picked up on payday. At least that seems its fate in another life, were it to be released in the late ’70s and suffering the kind of tax scam release schedule that befell so many before him. While he might not have the fluffed up backstory of a lost classic, he has captured the same feeling here and now. Thankfully this doesn’t have to be dug out of Discogs at a premium or waited out on re-release. Elkington has crafted a time-shifted folk record that’s pristine and present. You’d be a fool to let fate get its hands on this one.




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Bill Orcutt

Traditionally Orcutt has sunk his teeth into acoustic guitar, expressing pain and the purgatory of the soul through the tangled strings of a trusty Kay filled with ghosts. It seems time, though, that he gives his caustic reverberations life through electricity and on his eponymous LP, he does just that. The album approaches and rejects accessibility, throwing interpretations of Ornette Coleman into the same bucket as traditional chum like “When You Wish Upon A Star,” “Over The Rainbow,” and “Ol Man River.” The latter tropes are rendered fairly unrecognizable through Orcutt’s lens, however, and it’s freeing to have him set a few classics on fire with the soul of Loren Connors.

Some of these songs have appeared in one form or another on Orcutt’s acoustic albums, but each is given a new life and new teeth for this record. The tumble of notes that spring from Orcutt’s explosive tangles are only tempered by the ringing spaces that he leaves hanging on the air. Anger and confusion lead to calm exhaustion, like a child all cried out and forgetting what the fight was about. The dissonance, and resonance of this album pushes through the platitudes of the source material to find a new resolve that strips pretty much any care from your body like a full salt scrub performed with power sanders.

It’s tempting to blanch at the chaos and din that Orcutt makes, but the trick is letting go. It’s a Magic Eye of an album, once your consciousness is relaxed and not fighting to find a thread, only then does it untether your lizard brain from the shackles of reasoning and resistance to let the picture form. Then the true magic happens and this chaos lifts to the heavens. Meditation through barrage, perhaps there’s a new movement brewing.




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Six Organs Of Admittance

Following on the heels of Ben Chasny’s experimental Rubik, Hexadic, he returns to the smokey, raw emotion of records like like School of the Flower or The Sun Awakens. The album, for the most part, steers its way shy of the guitar explosions that collided Six Organs with elements of Comets on Fire and instead focuses on the soft touch and texture of Chasny’s songcraft. On those two particular records, he honed the beauty in his work, sanded the raw edges and focused the froth of emotion through the tangle of strings and his own cedar smoke drawl. The next phase would bring fire, and while the fire was satisfying, there’s something inherently interesting about calm laced with the haunt of pain. That element has returned with eperience on Burning The Threshold.

Chasny’s voice is high and present in the mix, putting the focus on the man, rather than any hint of din rising around him. The only noise seeping through on many songs is the light flutter of tape hiss that wraps the songs in a Kodachrome weather of age. Largely, it’s just Ben and his guitar, recorded cavernous and enveloping, as if the listener is observing from inside the instrument itself. As the record builds to a peak, he strides outside of the lone troubadour mode for the standout, “Taken By Ascent,” which acts as a single focal point for the full release of the tensions bubbling throughout the album. Where every other track is building and aching, “Ascent” is the moment when there’s a flash of menace in the eyes, a wounded bristling that turns dangerous but rides the rise into a tense bout of prog-laced psych without exploding into noise.

After the track simmers to a close the album returns to the lonesome and even wistful modes of the closing numbers, picking up some of the same solemnity of that preceded the row on “Ascent.” There are no other glimmers of that tension on the album, but collected as an arc, it plays well as an argument for albums in a renewed age of singles. The songs are all inherently interesting apart, but when stacked into the tableau that Chasny has assembled, they create something bigger than any of the pieces. Six Organs has a deep catalog, but this easily stands out as a high water mark in a lifetime littered with gems.




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Daniel Bachman

Bachman’s been a fixture among the acoustic fingerpicked set that courts both experimental interest and highbrow acclaim. Littering labels like Tompkins Square, Feeding Tube, Bathetic and Three Lobed, the young guitarist rose to acclaim pretty quickly, settling him in as an NPR pick and slotting him alongside names like Jack Rose and Richard Bishop in conversations on American Folk prosperity. All that baggage comes along nicely in tow with his latest, eponymous album, but Bachman lets none of it define him or his music. He’s not a wunderkind, Terry Gross talking point or cassette fetishist secret, Bachman’s got the soul of American folk and Southern slide blues stamped under his skin. Like Rose, he plays with a touch that’s both intense and surprisingly nuanced, and that touch is front and center on the songs that occupy this self-titled LP.

Though Rose may only be a more modern comparison, Bachman has certainly spent his time in the halls of the Fahey school and picked up his penchant for pacing and his bone dry ambience, which lends a definite heft to the album. Elsewhere he’s picked up certain amounts of Robbie Basho’s flourish and Peter Walker’s delicacy. Though unlike either of those, Bachman never strays into straight raga. He’s certainly digested plenty of it, but what sets Bachman apart is that he nips complimentary bits from drone, folk, blues and raga and lets them all hang together into a heatwave baked concoction of low plains blues that finds itself reveling in solitude. He taps into the desolate desperation of Appalachia and the edgy intensity of Southern folk-blues and he crafts an album that fully supports his wave of early plaudits. On Daniel Bachman, he’s established himself as a master of his instrument and as a name that’s welcome to sit solidly alongside those touchstones that likely gave him inspiration.



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Ignatz

Bram Devens slides back home on Kraak for his fourth full length at the label while partnering up with the always venerable Feeding Tube for the US release. He’s come a long way over the years. Gone are the crusted electronics that marked his early works. Gone too are the tin can Americana blues of his 2013 work Can I Go Home Now?. There’s a bump in Devens’ fidelity, but that simply means that its a smoother ride, its by no means a crisp studio setting on The Drain, but then it wouldn’t really be Ignatz if it wasn’t wrapped some manner of midnight hiss. With the clarity comes a directness from Bevens that’s been lacking in his previous works. He’s always felt a bit confessional, but The Drain is a new depth for his songwriting. His guitar work comes through with the weight and gravitas of troubled folk bluesmen. There’s an unmistakable sadness to the record, haunted and hushed; given forth in his mumbled but pained delivery and the tangled fingerpicks that adorn the album.

Devens is indeed circling the drain, or so it would seem from the sounds of The Drain. Its almost impossible to really get into this album in the light of day. Its barely even a twilight record. Its a 1:30 AM, lawn chair in the backyard, single porchlight sporting a halo of fog type of record. If ever there was a record to soundtrack the reassessment of your life choices, this is that record. Its the most bare and honest record of the man’s career and though it sounds like terrible pain went into its creation, its output is beautiful and spare. Its the kind of record from an artist that you can say, “forget the rest of the catalog, for now just start here and sink in.”




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