Tag Archives: British

Review : Nathan Salsburg “Affirmed” LP/CD (No Quarter, 2011)

nathan_salsburg_affirmedSince 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

Bert Jansch Visits Pittsburgh!

Raymond_Bert

Last Friday night was a night that I had been anticipating for a very long time. After two illness-related cancellations in the last two years, legendary Scottish guitarist Bert Jansch finally made it to Pittsburgh, one of only a handful of US performances this fall. The man should need no introduction, but for the unfamiliar, Bert Jansch came to prominence in the British folk and blues revival of the 1960’s, both as a solo artist and a member of the jazz/folk fusion group Pentangle. His playing and songwriting have been enormously influential in the folk world and beyond, and his praises have been sung by everyone from Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page (who pinched Bert’s arrangement of the traditional “Blackwaterside”, and without crediting him) to Neil Young, for whom Bert served as opening act on his last tour.

On this latest trek, Bert was headlining, and his support was Pegi Young (Neil’s wife) and her band, The Survivors, who were all seasoned west coast session musicians. The setting was the First Unitarian Church, which proved a great sounding venue for both Pegi Young’s country rock and Bert’s solo acoustic set. I wasn’t sure how many people would be attending the show, so I purchased tickets well in advance, not wanting to chance a sell-out. As it turns out, there were a fair number of empty pews that night, which I considered mind-boggling… this was Bert Jansch!!! How many times was he going to come back to Pittsburgh?! I didn’t dwell on it for very long… being a friend of the promotor, I knew that Bert would get paid no matter who showed up, and the modest crowd (100-125 people, maybe?) made for a memorable, intimate night. Continue reading

Review : John Renbourn & Stefan Grossman “In Concert” 2xCD/DVD (Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, 2010)

by Raymond Morin

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

Bert Jansch “Acoustic Routes” Documentary (1992)

For a long time, I’d known about “Acoustic Routes”, the legendary documentary about Bert Jansch which aired in the UK in the early 90’s… now, through the magic of YouTube (and thanks to the efforts of user mrcmxoner) this obscure little film is available for all to see! There are so many great moments… Bert and John reunited, Bert playing a blues with Brownie McGhee, one of his first heroes, and commentary from Hamish Imlach, Anne Briggs, Wizz Jones, Archie Fisher… wonderful stuff! The proceedings are affectionately hosted by Billy Connolly (click link to see his nutty Flash site), and I thought I’d embed the entire thing right here, to save everyone the trouble of skipping around on YouTube. Enjoy!

C Joynes “Revenants, Prodigies And The Restless Dead”

New on Immune Recordings, the latest from English guitarist C Joynes… Joynes calls his style “Anglo-Naive and Contemporary Parlour Guitar”, and it’s a clever (yet fitting) description! The album features a wide range of melodic approaches, with influences ranging from minimalism to British folk, from country blues to Indian classical music and more.

Check out this piece about Joynes on Dusted, and buy the limited edition LP from Immune Recordings or the CD from Bo’Weavil.

Review : Alasdair Roberts “The Wyrd Meme” 12″/CD (Drag City, 2009)

Wyrd_Meme_Coverby Raymond Morin

Alasdair Roberts has earned his reputation as a respectful interpreter, having adopted and re-imagined many well-known British Isles ballads (see his excellent “Lord Ronald”, from 2005’s No Earthly Man). The Scottish singer/guitarist has deep roots in traditional music, but in the US, he is equally associated with modern indie-rock. Roberts has toured and recorded with many top performers from both worlds, and his own music is something of a hybrid, a blending of those sensibilities. He usually sings in a taut yet gentle tenor, not unlike that of American contemporary and label-mate Will Oldham (Palace, Bonnie Prince Billy). While Roberts and Oldham share certain undeniable similarities in cadence and timbre, it would be a good idea to end the comparisons there… Roberts is on his own path, and through his long association with the Drag City label, has built one of the most consistently satisfying catalogs in indie-folk. The trend continues with The Wyrd Meme, a mini-album that follows on the heels of this year’s full-length Spoils.

This four song set possesses all the hallmarks of the singer’s unique style: flowery, borderline archaic language, traditional or traditional-derived melodies, varied and refreshing arrangements, and clever turns of phrase never in short supply. On opener “The Hallucinator and the King of the Silver Ship of Time”, Roberts paints a detailed portrait of the curious Hallucinator, and her visit from the King of Time, at the bottom of the ocean. Both the narrator’s point of view and the purpose of the meeting are nebulous, yet the imagery is so vivid that it’s hard not to get drawn in.

While that fantastical setting of “Hallucinator…” sounds something akin to a fable, second track “The Yarn Unraveller” seems to describe an imminent separation of the common human variety, one person leaving on a journey while the other is left behind. The song finds precedent in the Child Ballad “The Trooper and the Maid”, which has a similar premise and melodic arc, but as with many of Roberts’ re-castings, there is an appreciable immediacy and warmth that keeps things from sounding dated.


Alasdair Roberts – “The Yarn Unraveller”

Though the collection has it’s share of achingly sad and beautiful moments, there is also a welcome thread of levity woven into the songs. Closer “Coral and Tar” takes the form of a lullaby, and contains some real gems of wordplay, as Roberts mixes up self-deprecating humor, modern asides and naturalistic themes. Alliteration-rich lines such as “I’m no pine, I’m a man in my prime and I’m pining” and the twisting “…to join with the pine and to join with the oak in their blood oath to choke up the garden” are classic Roberts… seemingly world-weary, but with a wink.

The Wyrd Meme is a short yet worthy addition to Alasdair Roberts’ healthy discography. Existing fans won’t find any real surprises, but they will most certainly not be disappointed, and for the uninitiated, Meme would be a fine starting point.

Buy the 12″ or CD from Drag City
Buy the 12″ or CD from Insound
Alasdair Roberts’ Website
Alasdair Roberts’ on Myspace

Pierre Bensusan, New Box Set and Documentary Film

Pierre Bensusan

Pierre Bensusan

French-Algerian guitarist Pierre Bensusan is a unique and fascinating player. After cutting his teeth in bluegrass bands, he switched from mandolin to acoustic guitar, adopted the DADGAD modal tuning as his “standard” tuning, and began a long musical journey. Along the way, his dizzying technique and boundless musical scope have proven that almost anything that can be imagined can be played on the guitar.

After releasing a handful of albums on Rounder Records and Favored Nations in the late 70’s and into the 80’s, Bensusan set about purchasing back his master tapes, and started his own label, DADGAD Records. Now, to mark the 35th anniversary of his career in music, Bensusan is releasing a box set of his entire recorded output : Complete Works, 1975-2010.

…and what a body of work it is! Bensusan’s first few albums (the classic Pres De Paris, 2 and Musiques) found inspiration in the folk music of the British Isles and France, with the young Pierre steadily expanding on the instrumental innovations of Brit-folk revival giants like Martin Carthy and Davy Graham. Bensusan also proved himself an exceptional interpreter of Irish melodies, as evidenced in one of his most popular pieces, “Merrily Kissed The Quaker”. This track shows Bensusan’s agility on the instrument, effortlessly adding ornament in every voice of the chord, including the bassline.

As time went on, the sound that Bensusan developed drew from many sources… classical, folk, world, new-age and rock ideas were seamlessly fused together and played in his singular, elegant style. The guitarist began restlessly experimenting with both sonics and song structure, adding a variety of tone-altering effects to color the sound of his Lowden acoustic, as well as a phrase sampler so that passages could be looped, layered and improvised over. These techniques can be heard on the atmospheric Intuité and Altiplanos albums, as well as on Spices, which features Pierre bouncing ideas off of a group of world-jazz musicians.

Pierre_Box_Set

Though the box is attractively designed, the price of the collection (99,90 Euros, roughly $150 USD) might be a little prohibitive. There is no new material on offer, and for the most part all of these albums are still available, with the few out-of-print titles coming up regularly on sites like Ebay. (UPDATE — according to DADGAD Records, the discs Wu-Wei and A la Carte both contain bonus tracks. Also worth noting, there will soon be a US manufactured box, which should retail for closer to $120 USD + shipping!) I think this package will appeal mostly to collectors, gift-givers with a guitarist in their lives, and perhaps those hoping to replace original vinyl records. Don’t let me discourage you, though… Pierre Bensusan’s music is an absolute treasure, and I highly recommend it to anybody who is interested in folk music, world music or the acoustic guitar. I’m frankly stunned that so many of the younger guitar players that I talk to these days have yet to discover Bensusan’s work. Hopefully that will start to change with the release of Complete Works and with the upcoming new documentary about Bensusan, entitled Strings Without Borders.

The feature-length film is being directed by Roger Sherman, of Florentine Films. The work is currently in production, and fans and supporters can donate to the project here. Donors who give in excess of $100 will be featured in the film’s closing credits. From the selected preview scenes featured below, it looks like it’s going to be a great documentary!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

When a release date is announced, I’m hoping to talk to both Pierre and Roger Sherman about the film. In the meantime, to learn even more about Pierre Bensusan, I highly recommend this interview, conducted by Todd Ellison. For guitarists, there is also The Guitar Book, Bensusan’s thoughtfully prepared printed collection of (challenging) sheet music, tablature, recipes, poetry and philosophies about life and music.