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 →
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! Continue reading →
Many acoustic guitarists probably have some degree of acquaintance with the work of John Renbourn and Stefan Grossman, but for the unfamiliar, allow me to offer up a short history : After cutting his teeth in clubs during the British folk and blues revival of the early 60’s, Renbourn recorded a series of classic solo albums on the Transatlantic label, and also began a fortuitous allience with Bert Jansch, resulting in their classic Bert and John duet album, and the influential folk-jazz group Pentangle. When that group initially dissolved (it would reform in assorted incarnations over the years, centering around singer Jacqui McShee… Renbourn would be an occasional participant), the guitarist delved ever-deeper into folk and blues forms, as well as jazz and ancient Medieval music. On LPs like The Hermit and The Black Balloon, Renbourn developed a sophisticated compositional style that, while complex, also overflowed with beauty and nuance.
Stefan Grossman started as a determined young blues devotee from New York City, studying under the tutelage of Reverend Gary Davis. Grossman himself quickly became something of a guitar guru… having a keen ear, and having learned first-hand from many of the original blues masters, Grossman began authoring instructional books aimed at disseminating classic American acoustic guitar styles, from country blues to ragtime. After a short stint at architecture school, he headed over to Europe, where he lived and worked for twenty years, starting the legendary Kicking Mule record label (alongside Takoma Records cofounder Ed Denson) which was instrumental in launching the careers of world-class guitarists like Duck Baker, Peter Finger, Dave Evans and Ton Van Bergeijk. Continue reading →
Last month, Strange Attractors Audio House reissued Sean Smith’s terrific album, Eternal.¹ Where Sean’s prior recordings: the self-titled LP, Sacred Crag Dance, Corpse Whisperer, and contributions to Berkeley Guitar, established him at the forefront of the underground solo guitar scene, Eternal reveals him to be a gifted arranger as well. Most of the album finds Smith in ensemble with combinations of Adam Snider, Fletcher Tucker and Angela Hsu on stringed instruments (violin, mountain dulcimer, banjo, etc) and Spencer Owen on percussion (claves, sandpaper blocks, drum kit, etc). As with his solo work, Sean takes on a number of different folk styles, and the ensembles allow him to superimpose a variety of textures. The result is an album that is as entertaining as it is challenging, which cannot always be said of offerings from even the most talented instrumentalists. Continue reading →