Last fall, Pittsburgh-based artist David Bernabo released a curious little item called Hexagon. It’s a short musical program on clear, lathe-cut vinyl… not so uncommon these days, but the record itself is hexagonal in shape and packaged in a machine-stitched vellum sleeve. Business as usual for David, as any who’ve followed his still young artistic career can attest. David draws from a seemingly endless pool of energy and ideas, routinely recasting his role: in visual arts as photographer, painter, videographer, and sculptor; in music as avant-rock band leader, symphonic composer, producer, ceremonial pianist and, on Hexagon, classical guitarist. In 2011, he founded the “Host Skull” brand for his new projects in collaboration with fellow musician, Will Dyar. Hexagon, which features David only, is the second item in their Host Skull Ongoing Box. Continue reading
Well, I’ve had myself a very busy year thus far… lots of travelling, playing, recording etc and it has resulted in a shortage of new material here on Work & Worry. I’ve amassed quite a backlog of very worthy discs for review consideration, and now that I’m determined to get back on that journalistic horse, one release in particular looms larger than most: a triple-disc set of previously unheard recordings from one of the most important fingerstyle guitarists of all time, Davy Graham. Many consider Graham to be “ground zero” for the guitar-centric British folk and blues revival of the early sixties, and indeed it is hard to imagine that landscape without his influence. Legendary guitarists like Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Wizz Jones, and a host of others have expressed a debt of gratitude to the man who is widely considered to be the first known practitioner of DADGAD tuning, an innovation that has had a massive affect on not only solo acoustic guitar playing, but also the continuing evolution of traditional Irish and Scottish music… but Graham’s reputation is based on so much more, like his introduction of Baroque-inspired counterpoint on the folk guitar (“Anji” to this day is still considered a total game changer) and his expansive use of musical motifs from every possible source, from traditional British Isles tunes to American folk, blues and jazz, to mysterious modal compositions from the orient and beyond. Continue reading
I became acquainted with the work of Richard Osborn when his piece, “A Dream Of Distant Summer,” appeared on Beyond Berkeley Guitar.¹ Work & Worry had the good fortune of interviewing each guitarist associated with that collection prior to its release in 2010. Richard’s interview from the series, as well as the liner notes from his latest album, Giving Voice: Guitar Explorations, portrays a very open sort of person, eager to discuss the details of his life and their effect on his music. I feel this is worth mentioning. For one, it’s refreshing to encounter someone who is straightforward; that makes no attempt to surround their endeavors in mystique. More importantly, Richard’s guitar playing sounds like an extension of his personality: not flashy or technique driven, but honest, and self aware. Continue reading
Pino Forastiere’s new album, From 1 to 8, presents seven studies for solo acoustic guitar with one overdubbed trio piece. Being issued on Candyrat Records ensures that the listener will be treated to a fair amount of technical prowess, a few tricks, possibly tapping, and a heightened compositional approach. This record does not disappoint. If anything, it raises certain expectations for other artists. Forastiere’s compositions are full of gnarled progressions that venture away from the theme, double back unexpectedly, and take the listener on a welcomed journey. Set in a modern guitar style, a classical background hides behind all of these compositions. The playing is exquisitely clean and the recording is reasonably true – not too crisp and not too much reverb. While technique abounds, there is a strong human feel to the playing. Continue reading
World Behind Curtains is the second album by Israeli guitarist and composer Yair Yona. His debut effort, Remember, was a charming nod to the work of American pickers like Glenn Jones and the late Jack Rose, with Yona building on those guitarists’ post-Takoma palette with a few indie rock touches and some ensemble playing to fill out the sound. Well if Remember sounded full, World Behind Curtains is bursting at the seams! Throughout the disc, Yona’s fiery acoustic fingerpicking is augmented by lush orchestration and carefully arranged instrumental interplay, ranging from the tender, to the sinister, to the ambitiously cinematic.
The tender: First single “It’s Not The Heat, It’s The Humidity” finds Yona in Bert Jansch mode, and the guitarist says that the track was inspired by Jansch’s 1979 masterpiece Avocet. It’s not hard to make that comparison, especially at the beginning of the track where Yona dances around the chord roots, sprinkling in some modal ornamentation and basically nailing Bert’s thumb-picked sound. When Yona is accompanied by Shira Shaked on piano, though, the piece really begins to soar… and when the two players are joined by a chorus of strings, “It’s Not The Heat…” sounds like nothing less than a full-on, big-budget Joe Boyd production. It’s a striking step forward for Yona.
The sinister: There is a foreboding quality to opener “Expatriates”, one that seems to echo the tension that is ever-building in Yona’s part of the world. As the track goes on, the twelve-string acoustic is swallowed up by caterwauling electric guitar noise, and this howling, haunted atmosphere reminds me of Japanese psych-rock heroes Ghost. Later in the disc, “Mad About You” comes out of the gate with tightly wound, energetic strumming before retreating to it’s moody main body, which gradually builds in intensity, picking up speed and eventually unfurling into an insane courting dance. The orchestral players are the stars in this song, and though Yona’s guitar ties the whole thing together, it’s their instrumental filigree that propels the track. Erek Kariel contributed the ambitious arrangements on this tune. Continue reading
Since I already told the story of my friendly history with Nathan Salsburg in my review of his Avos duet LP earlier this year, I’ll cut right to the chase in talking about the compelling music on Affirmed, which is the Louisville-based guitarist’s debut full-length as a soloist. Salsburg’s picking is clean, confident, and sometimes even a bit flashy. These eight upbeat and melodic tracks clearly indicate that Salsburg is a fingerpicker with little to no interest in the down-tuned, borderline new age exotica being explored by so many of his peers… and Affirmed sounds all the better for it.
Opener “Sought & Hidden” sets the tone: bouncy and upbeat, Salsburg throws down a strong alternating bass with nimble melodic figures in the middle and upper registers. Like most of the tracks on the album, “Sought & Hidden” is highly composed with a strong narrative quality in the way the song unfolds. The primary theme is probably the most “minor” sounding of the entire record, though the mood here is anything but dark. “New Bold Ruler’s Joys” picks up the pace a bit. This jaunty rag-blues originally appeared on one of Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthem collections, and this newer recording is more or less faithful to the original rendering. This track has a pleasing sophistication to it, with some very cosmopolitan jazz chords and cadences. Continue reading
I first became aware of Dubliner Cian Nugent when his solo guitar contributions to Imaginational Anthem Volume Three and We Are All One, in the Sun: Tribute to Robbie Basho appeared in back-to-back years.¹ Both recordings evidence clean, confident playing and command of the freeform, open-tuned style that continues to prevail in today’s acoustic guitar underground. Cian’s debut album, Doubles, was released earlier this year by VHF Records, joining a recent string of excellent guitar-oriented albums issued by the label, including Jesse Sparhawk & Eric Carbonara’s Sixty Strings and Alexander Turnquist’s Hallway of Mirrors.
One cannot help but ponder the meaning of the album’s title, “doubles.” Simply stated, it is a symmetrical work, in that it pairs together two side-long pieces that mirror one another structurally and musically. On both sides, series of improvised passages comprise two primary movements that repeat, resulting in a loose, “ABAB” form. Additionally, for each work Nugent establishes a vocabulary of intervals and melodic phrases built from adjacent tones and half-tones. The resulting “duplicitous” voicings provide the album’s primary musical themes as well as the constant sensation of push and pull. I could go on! Let’s just say the “doubles” motif gives the work a dimension beyond pure emotion, which I found somewhat unique for a freeform guitar album. Continue reading