During the past few months, we received three excellent albums of what could be described as “old timey” music. We thought it would be apt to do a quick round-up of these. We borrowed the article’s title from The Howling Kettles (it’s the tagline for their website). 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
The Fantastic Voyagers Festival has become one of my favorite Pittsburgh traditions these last few years. Certified-fantastic organizer Mike Tamburo has now curated three installments of the fest, and each has been a unique experience, always musically expansive and diverse. Though Tamburo has been staying close to home and concentrating on hammer dulcimer compositions for the last couple of years, he has toured extensively for the better part of a decade, and he’s forged enduring friendships with musicians from all over the country. When Mike sent me the early lineup for this years installment, having moved the proceedings to Jeffrey Alexander’s intimate Morning Glory Coffeehouse and declaring it a “return to the quiet”, I knew that it was going to be a great time, and that I would have to make every attempt to document the event for W&W. Continue reading
Though a couple of acts are still being confirmed, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tamburo has announced the lineup for the third installment of his Fantastic Voyagers Festival, to be held this year at Morning Glory Coffeehouse on March 6 and 7. The musicians represent several styles, genres and techniques, and this years fest will see its participants exploring the quieter side of their repertoires.
The confirmed list (not necessarily in order of appearance) :
Keenan Lawler (Louisville)
Nick Schillace (Detroit)
Eric Carbonara (Philly)
Chris Forsyth (Philly)
Aaron Lennox (West Virginia)
Joel Peterson (Detroit)
Mike Tamburo and pals (Pittsburgh)
Sundog Peacehouse (Pittsburgh)
Tusk Lord (Pittsburgh)
Hunted Creatures (Pittsburgh)
Melissa St. Pierre (Pittsburgh)
Dire Wolves (Pittsburgh)
Chris Niels (Pittsburgh)
Great Blue Heron (Pittsburgh)
Darren Myers (Pittsburgh)
Well, the title of the post and the above image pretty much say it all… if you’re in the Detroit area, don’t miss these shows! These three fine players, formerly known as Jennie & The Sure Shots, were in Pittsburgh just a couple of weeks ago, and I was able to get this video of their song “Leave That Country”.
That’s the amazing Nick Schillace back there on the resonator guitar! If you’re a fan of solo acoustic guitar, I can also highly recommend Nick’s two solo albums : Box Canyon and Landscape and People.
When I first encountered last year’s Wayfaring Strangers – Guitar Soli compilation by the excellent Numero Group reissue label, I’ll admit that a lot of it blew right past me. The disc is a collection of music by some lesser-known guitarists who had cropped up in the era between the establishment of the watershed Takoma Records and Windham Hill labels, the recordings dating from the end of the 60’s to the dawn of the 80’s. The tracks, generally speaking, tow the line between highly physical Fahey/Kottke pattern-picking and the more heady, “New Age” atmospherics of the Windham Hill sound, without really charging headlong into either style.
Today, many pickers from Detroit’s Nick Schillace and Philly’s Jack Rose, to Israel’s Yair Yona are finding their audience by keeping the Takoma sound alive and well, boom-chicking their hearts out with the same spartan spirit and intensity as John Fahey in his heyday. In parallel, world-wide interest in atmospheric and impressionistic acoustic and electro-acoustic music has never been stronger, and a healthy lineage of avant-garde-leaning musicians from David Grubbs to Chris Brokaw to James Blackshaw to David Daniell have torn down and rebuilt “New Age” (now “Ambient”) guitar music for a new generation.
The players featured on Guitar Soli, in their day, were operating in a similar, albeit more isolated environment. Without today’s mass communication tools, like the luxury of instantaneous access to virtually any and all recorded music via the web, it would seem natural for these players to drift toward one end of the spectrum or the other, riding the respective tides of enthusiasm for more traditional or more contemporary musical ideas… but we’re talking about guitar players here. Great guitar players do what they want, when they want, regardless of the tastes and trends of their time… and that’s a beautiful thing. The world of music is not black and white, and much of the thrill of discovery, for musician and fan alike, comes from mining the rich territory in between established norms. This “in between” guitar music takes a little extra time, a little bit of attentive listening before it really starts to shine, and then it’s well worth the effort… so it is with many of the players on Guitar Soli, and so it is with Scott Witte.
Scott is a Milwaukee-born guitarist, currently residing in Washington state. Scott remains a relatively unknown quantity in the world of fingerstyle guitar. He’s bound to gain some purchase with “Sailor’s Dream”, his standout track on the aforementioned Numero Group compilation, an animated little tune which owes no small debt to the playing of Leo Kottke. Witte’s debut album, also titled Sailor’s Dream and originally released in 1980, is still pending reissue, but fans of six and twelve-string acoustic guitar music would do well to seek out Sound Shadows, his 2007 collection of originals. Recorded between 2002 and 2007, Scott’s sophomore album sees the guitarist composing and performing with astute passion and creativity, picking up where “Sailor’s Dream” left off, but with an appreciable evolution of technique, harmony and song structure.
The album starts off with “Song of the Crow”, and an eye-roll inducing sample of, you guessed it, a loud crow “KAW!” My first instinct : “How much effort would it take for me to manually edit that out of the MP3 version, so I never have to hear it again?” All is forgiven, though, when Scott launches into the song itself, which is a finger-picking tour-de-force, and a great introduction to the elements of his style. A forlorn, minor-key meditation snowballs into a gorgeous set of guitar patterns, effortlessly moving back and forth between conventional and odd time signatures. It’s quite a trip, and sets the bar very high for the rest of the record.
Scott Witte – “Song of the Crow”
“Time Enough” features some percussive fret-board whacking which segways into a 70’s-rock inspired strumming section. “Bounce” should appeal to fans of uplifting, major key picking motifs. “Sweet Reminisce” and “Land of the Setting Sun” are slow, minor-key dirges, and “Land…” contains some interesting techniques that you don’t hear very often, such as fretting the high string on the side of the neck to create high-pitched hammer-on effects, a la Davy Graham. The interwoven strumming, mournful basslines and unexpected chord changes also put me in mind of Peter Finger’s classic “Wishbone Ash”.
“One Last Time” is all joy and effervescence, the buoyant chord clusters being played in an unusual 7/8 pattern. It’s a real showcase for Mr. Witte’s clean right hand technique, but it also illustrates how he transcends the American Primitive style by thinking about the voice of the entire chord, rather than droning two or three notes and throwing down a simple repeating melody over the top.
Scott Witte – “One Last Time”
At this point in an album, and with so much ground covered, one might start to worry about the well of ideas beginning to run dry… but Scott is just hitting his stride. Sound Shadows reaches it’s creative apex with “Inward Journey”, a composition that cycles through many movements, each more striking than the last. Much like James Blackshaw, one of the better-known modern-day purveyors of the long-form acoustic guitar song, Scott deftly picks his way through some gorgeous groups of chords, alternately accentuating notes in every register. That Mr. Witte is a virtuoso shouldn’t be a mystery to anyone at this point, bouncing back and forth between finger-rolls, time signatures and melodic snippets with the greatest of ease.
The album begins to wind down with “Walking On Air”, which revisits the sad, dirge-y mood of some of the earlier tunes. A short poem, “One Day Came a Crow”, reminds us of the loose concept of the album before closer “Prayer For Peace”, a very pretty pattern-picking invention in 5/8.
Though the few quirky “New Age” devices/trappings (the crow theme, the spoken word, etc.) at times threaten to cheese-up the proceedings (I know, right? Such a literate review and the best I could come up with was “cheese-up”), they prove minor distractions, relatively benign in the greater scheme of things. Sound Shadows is a serious, and seriously accomplished guitar album. The recording quality is very good indeed, the 12-string numbers featuring nice, thick close-micing, while the 6-string compositions benefit from the added sparkle of a little electric pickup mixed in. It is no small accomplishment that this group of songs, recorded intermittently over a five year period, are so of-a-piece… this collection could be sequenced any number of ways and would be no worse for the wear, a testament to Scott’s ability to keep things consistently varied and exciting. Though Scott Witte has been off the radar for some 28 years, with Sound Shadows he proves that he is not only in step with the current acoustic guitar scene, he also has the potential to be one of its leading lights.