Tompkins Square has had a few homerun records in the last year… William Tyler’s spellbinding Behold The Spirit, and the Beyond Berkeley Guitar compilation would be indispensable acoustic guitar albums in just about any era, but are definite standouts in today’s fuzzy, post-everything musical landscape. The label’s winning streak quietly continues with Nick Jonah Davis’ proper debut, Of Time And Tides.
Davis, though young, is not a completely new name on the underground acoustic scene. The Nottingham-based guitarist was featured on Imaginational Anthem Volume 4, and also had a digital release called Guitar Music Volume 1, both distributed by Tompkins Square. His playing on those records, though competent, was more or less indistinguishable from any of the other Fahey-channeling pickers of recent years, on either side of the pond. On his new album, though, Davis shows a fast-maturing compositional sense, and a welcome willingness to subtly expand on Fahey’s oft-imitated American Primitive style… and though there are a number of American sounding, boom-chick tunes here (such as the short and sweet title track) I feel that Davis more and more is letting his Englishness shine through… always a good thing!
Moody opener “Twiga” sets the tone quite well, with Davis juxtaposing brooding low-tuned figures against some more buoyant hammer-ons and pull-offs, dabbling in dissonance and minimalism along the way. Second track “Wooden Winds” continues in C, still dark but with a steady alternating bass. Like the playing of the great Richard Crandell, this tune has a story-like melodic arc, and the sections have a nice ebb and flow of tension. “Death and the Monkey” is yet another example of Davis’ commitment to this style, particularly in the boom-chicking “B” section.
Songs like “Mari Christina” and “The Narrow Bridge” border on a contemporary-fingerstyle feel, relying on sensitive pattern picking and not anchored by any strong melodic theme (these are a couple of the album’s less “hummable” tracks). “Cold Wind on the Long Mynd”, with it’s trill-like ornamentations and well timed chord movements, evokes the British Isles pulse of early Pierre Bensusan or mid-period Martin Carthy. After the initial statement of themes, there is a short lull, typical of a lot of these tracks, but Davis ends the piece strong.
There are a few refreshing surprises on this record, such as the sparse piano and guitar duet “Nocturne”, and the stately waltz of closer “Fred and Evelyn”, both of which give Of Time And Tides some welcome texture and variety. Overall, Davis’ clean picking and growing compositional acumen add up to another solid (if not ground breaking) acoustic guitar album in the Tompkins Square catalog.