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
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
This interview originally appeared on Pitchfork. Reprinted with permission.
As best as he can remember, Glenn Jones has been playing guitar since 1967, when he was 14 years old. Despite four decades spent behind six strings, though, he still talks about the instrument like an infinite terrain– not only for himself but also for the current crop of new, young guitarists following the sounds of his calloused fingertips. He discovers and sometimes discards new tunings almost constantly, and his best tunes sport the sense that they were considered and carved with the diligence and patience of some elaborate wooden trinket.
“It was a gradual process that came from a lot of time and hours and weeks and months and years playing guitar alone and being alone,” says Jones. “Eventually, it’s to say this is mine.”
The Wanting, Jones’ first full-length album for Thrill Jockey, is a collection of tunes for banjo and guitar that explores dozens of different ideas within its hour run-time. From the redolent moan of the title track to the withdrawn sigh of “Even to Win is to Fail” and from the gentle climb of the opener to the elliptical expanse of the 17-minute closer, Jones has made a record that twists and turns through both feelings and techniques, impressing even as it empathizes.
Pitchfork: Even more so than with your previous records, I was immediately taken by The Wanting. I kept needing to hear it. For you, what’s different on this record than your other LPs?
Glenn Jones: I’m not sure if it felt that different going into it. I’m not a fast writer. It takes me about two years to write enough material for an album. Generally, that two-year period is just a reflection of where I’ve been during that time, new tunings I’ve uncovered, and how I’ve navigated the twain of those particular tunings. The only thing that feels different about this one is that I spent more time with the banjo in the past two years than I had going into Barbecue Bob in Fishtown, which had a couple of banjo pieces. Also, the duet I recorded with Chris Corsano is a little bit of a departure, at least for my solo guitar records. It’s not so unusual maybe to Cul de Sac fans. That may be the extent of what I think is different. People tend to look for new directions, and I’m not sure if there is a marked new direction rather than a further exploration of what I’ve always been interested in. Continue reading
I first became aware of Dubliner Cian Nugent when his solo guitar contributions to Imaginational Anthem Volume Three and We Are All One, in the Sun: Tribute to Robbie Basho appeared in back-to-back years.¹ Both recordings evidence clean, confident playing and command of the freeform, open-tuned style that continues to prevail in today’s acoustic guitar underground. Cian’s debut album, Doubles, was released earlier this year by VHF Records, joining a recent string of excellent guitar-oriented albums issued by the label, including Jesse Sparhawk & Eric Carbonara’s Sixty Strings and Alexander Turnquist’s Hallway of Mirrors.
One cannot help but ponder the meaning of the album’s title, “doubles.” Simply stated, it is a symmetrical work, in that it pairs together two side-long pieces that mirror one another structurally and musically. On both sides, series of improvised passages comprise two primary movements that repeat, resulting in a loose, “ABAB” form. Additionally, for each work Nugent establishes a vocabulary of intervals and melodic phrases built from adjacent tones and half-tones. The resulting “duplicitous” voicings provide the album’s primary musical themes as well as the constant sensation of push and pull. I could go on! Let’s just say the “doubles” motif gives the work a dimension beyond pure emotion, which I found somewhat unique for a freeform guitar album. Continue reading
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