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 stumbled upon this short collection whilst browsing Bandcamp recently, and I’m glad I did. Sean Siegfried is a UK-based guitarist who professes an appreciation for the work of Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, John Fahey and Dave Evans. Though I don’t hear much of Evans in Siegfried’s playing (maybe a smidgen during closer “Asphalt”) he does well in evoking the other three… “Sam’s Brewery” and “Passionate Rag” nail Fahey’s American Primitive style, with familiar tempos and boom-chick bass. Siegfried gets into more interesting territory on “Apples In Winter”, which has hints of both classical guitar and contemporary fingerstyle. Though this waltz can become a little static at times, the guitarist does a nice job creating a somber, reflective mood.
“Compelled” is a distinctive, confident piece, and it puts me in mind of Duck Baker’s “Old World” (from Baker’s A Thousand Words album) with just a hint of early Renbourn thrown in.
With its Davy Graham-esque intro and strident second section “Ashill” may be my favorite track on the EP. Though the running time of Backwoods is quite short (6 tracks in about 15 minutes) Siegfried manages to put forward a lot of ideas… I look forward to hearing more from this young fingerpicker.
For avid fans of instrumental acoustic guitar music, there aren’t many real surprises anymore. These days, it’s hard to imagine a new player who could hit the scene and affect a seachange along the lines of, say, Davy Graham’s restless early experiments with Middle Eastern motifs, or John Fahey’s genre-spawning blues distillations. Even two of today’s most head-turning young instrumentalists, James Blackshaw and Kaki King, earned their reputations not by reinventing the wheel, but by designing their breakthrough recordings around the musical templates of Robbie Basho and Michael Hedges, respectively.
…and what’s wrong with that? After all, innovation isn’t everything. Indeed, when it comes to guitarists, it seems that those who decide to eschew tradition entirely tend to lean on gimmicks… more strings, more effects, atonality, more notes and played FASTER! All of those things can be great in small doses, but at the end of the day, when someone sits down behind a six (or twelve) string wooden box, I hope to hear something musical. It doesn’t have to be tricky, it doesn’t have to be fast, and it doesn’t have to be a revelation… give me a little soul, just the right amount of technique and some compositional flare, and you might very well have a fan for life! 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
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!