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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