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
I sat down over tea with composer and multi-instrumentalist, Mike Tamburo, near his home in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh. We talked at length about the arc of his musical career from the middle half of last decade to present. Mike will be on tour starting in July, supporting his latest recording as Brother Ong, Mysteries of the Shahi Baaja Volumes 1 & 2.
W&W: It seems like whenever I’m out performing there will inevitably be someone who, after finding out I’m from Pittsburgh, asks: “How’s Mike Tamburo? Make sure you tell him that I said hello.”
W&W: The community that’s loosely formed around guitar music tends to be a small world. You’ve obviously made your way around it and left a positive impression. Can you reminisce for a bit about the years when you were touring extensively: where all did you go and who were some of your touring companions?
First of all, tell them all that I’m fine. (laughs again) In 2005, I decided that I wanted to permanently stay on tour. I’d just been through a traumatic shift in my life… honestly, at that time music was the only thing that I had. I didn’t really know where to start. A lot of people were connecting for the first time through the internet. So I started reaching out to people that way, booking shows during the three week period before I left. Nick Schillace found me and suggested we go out on tour together. I listened to his music, which was incredible, and said “let’s give it a try.” Other than talking to him on the phone I didn’t know anything about him or his life…
W&W: It’s a quick way to get to know someone!
(laughs) … definitely, and we were headed through a part of the country that’s a little bit harder to tour in, making our way from Detroit to Seattle. I remember South Dakota was very difficult. We ended up playing at a Christian Bookstore and I accidentally offended the promoter. It’s one of the memories that is sure to keep Nick and I close (laughs again)… we endured the “red” states together, and parts of the country that neither of us had any experience with. We had beautiful shows in Iowa City, Nebraska, Minneapolis (where I met Paul Metzger) and Seattle. By the end of it, Nick had become one of my closest friends. His older songs feel like the soundtrack to my life during that time. 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
During my most recent solo tour, I had the pleasure of staying with Boston-based luthier Burton LeGeyt and touring his workshop. In addition to being a swell guy, Burton makes gorgeous, distinctive steel string guitars that look and play like a dream. Burton’s guitars seem to walk the line between modern and classical design traditions; when I initially saw his instruments online, the first thing I noticed was the cutaway design: a very organic, bowl-esque shape that offers a unique solution to reaching the uppermost frets. I was also quickly smitten by his logo design and the shape of his headpiece.
As inspiring as Burton’s guitars were his independent spirit, attention to minute details, and his cozy but well designed workshop. I was able to get a few questions together and Burton was kind enough to answer them below. Shop photos by Chuck Johnson and myself, guitar glamour shots courtesy of http://www.legetyguitars.com.
W&W : Please describe your history with guitars before you started building. When did you start playing? What kind of music?
Well, it is kind of funny now that I make acoustic instruments but my introduction to the guitar was through hardcore music. I started taking lessons in junior high and by high school a few friends and I had a band and were either playing or attending shows every weekend. We were a part of a very vibrant scene in Connecticut and my life was all about music and it was a great time for me. I had a Les Paul copy and a nice loud amp and I was really into this deep saturated aggresive sound. Later when I learned more about music and started to appreciate a bit more nuance I was able to look back and laugh a bit but I still like that music and am proud of the work we did. Since then I have played in everything from jam bands to a very brief but fun stint in a speakeasy band. Lately on my own I like to noodle around with more jazz styles but I wouldn’t consider myself seriously playing anything too well anymore.
W&W : Explain what got you started with building acoustics. How and where did you begin? Who were your early inspirations and what did you hope to contribute to the craft?
I had been pursuing painting, I had finished art school and was involved in a great art scene in Boston when I first moved here in 2003. After a year or so the large studio space we were renting and sharing became a real headache to keep together. I was working in a woodshop building picture frames and had always been intrigued by the idea of building instruments so I gave up my art studio for a while and shifted my attention over to instruments. I found that I really loved it and have spent the last 6 years very dedicated to pursuing that craft. My early projects were building strange things with features I had always wanted to try but had never seen. I built a small fretless teardrop instrument with classical strings that I loved playing. I had a sitar that I liked messing around with and built a few gourd instruments as well. Eventually I got around to building a copy of my Dreadnaught and since that first one I have focused pretty exclusively on steel string guitars. I became involved with the New England Luthiers Guild soon after finishing my first few guitars and the members in that group have been a very direct influence on my work, I feel lucky to have met them and been a part of that group. Continue reading
It was our good fortune to catch up with Sean Smith in order to discuss his latest record, Huge Fluid Freedom, out now on Strange Attractors Audio House. The title of the album and its opening composition come from a piece by the thirteenth century Persian poet, Rumi:
Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
why would you refuse to give
this joy to anyone?
Fish dont hold the sacred liquid in cups.
They swim the huge fluid freedom.
Drumsound rises on the air,
its throb, my heart.
A voice inside the beat says,
“I know you’re tired, but come, this is the way.”
W&W: Electric guitar figures prominently on Huge Fluid Freedom, which is a shift from the previous three albums of acoustic guitar solos, or in the case of Eternal, ensemble recordings that revolved around your acoustic guitar parts. I appreciate that you don’t treat the two instruments interchangeably. Your electric guitar playing on the new album has a distinct character… not merely electrified fingerpicking, as one might predict, but ecstatic, celebratory. Can you elaborate a bit on your approach to the electric guitar and how it’s been affecting your solo music?
I appreciate your ability to hear the difference and, as a champion of acoustic fingerstyle, not be turned off by the fact that I’m working with a broader palette. Also, your description of my playing being “ecstatic and celebratory” is a very apt and welcome view. That’s exactly what I’m going for, or rather, what I can’t help but do. Continue reading