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P.G. Six - The Well of Memory

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Artist: P.G. Six

Album: The Well of Memory

Label: Amish

Review date: May. 5, 2004

New folk music. There’s a lot of it about, isn’t there? And with so much out there, it can be hard to navigate your way between the greats and the also-rans, those interested in transfiguration and those stuck in tribute/derivative territory. The great names – Matt Valentine, Charalambides, Jewelled Antler, Hall of Fame, Fursaxa, Double Leopards, Richard Youngs – are all trustworthy, but delve ‘deeper’ and sometimes you feel like you’re diving head-first into thick, heavy mud without an oxygen mask – thick mud sluiced with countless fossilised edition-of-20 titles.

The relative silence of a character like PG Six is cherishable, as each new release feels like an important document. Pat Gubler, a member of the Tower Recordings collective, took three years to record The Well of Memory and make it public. Maybe it helped that his first solo album, Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites, was such a classic document – the pinnacle of outsider folk music, released before the clangor and clamor of media action and the proclamation of ‘a movement.’ You can imagine Gubler asking himself, “How do I follow that?”

On The Well of Memory, Gubler integrates his two major concerns, folk music and instrumentalist/dronological inquest. “Come in / The Winter it is Past” shape-shifts from a naked, banjo-led song snippet to a low-level hum and sigh (drawn, at least in part, from recordings by ‘The Norfolk Street All-Star Harmonica Choir’), before resolving as a traditional tune, bound to the sound of Fairport-gone-4-track. Gubler effortlessly peals off those meandering, reel-like leads in which Richard Thompson and Martin Carthy specialized, sliding roundelays of melodic air around his renditions of simple, unforced songs. “A Little Harp Tune” leads into the vocal denouement of “Evening Comes,” before Helen Rush joins Pat Gubler for the wide-open weft of “Crooked Way.” The resignation in Gubler’s vocal is caught in the cyclical weave of his guitar, the song set free on a humming fog-bank of sound. Other songs seem more decisive about their intent, cleaving to one side of Gubler’s aesthetic, but the run from “Come in” to “Crooked Way” encapsulates The Well of Memory’s modest, rich melancholy.

While listening to The Well of Memory, I was reminded very strongly of two things. One was Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth suggesting that their intention with rock music was that of “bolstering the tradition by freaking with it.” Sonic Youth were arch-traditionalists as much as they were vanguard experimentalists, and PG Six’s relationship to folk music is similar. The Well of Memory is filled with beautifully crafted songs that are part of folk music’s trajectory, but they’re colored in with avant-garde tactics. It makes sense that PG Six’s two experiences of musical study were working on modern classical music in college, and studying under the tutelage of the Incredible String Band founder Robin Williamson.

The second thing was from an interview I conducted with one of PG Six’s collaborators, Tim Barnes. Barnes worked on Parlor Tricks and was a member of Tower Recordings from their Folk Scene album onwards. He had the following to say about the relationship between Pat Gubler and Matt Valentine, the primary players in Tower Recordings: “Matt and Pat are very different as players. Pat has this kind of virtuoso aspect to him. Pat’s the kind of guy who can pick up any instrument and make it sound beautiful; he has this beautiful singing voice. Matt’s a little bit more – much more – on the ‘fringe’, he’s more stretched out over the whole vision, rather than presenting these very concise ideas.” That difference is borne out by Pat and Matt’s solo recordings. Valentine’s brilliant solo music, self-released on his Child of Microtones label, draws ragas and elliptical moon-chants out of solo guitar and ethnic instrumentation; his vision is intensely personal, a deeply individual take on blues, folk and raga forms. Pat Gubler’s solo music is also intensely personal, but it’s ‘crafted,’ honed, caught in the brightest, clearest light.

The Well of Memory is a beautiful and open document, full of gorgeous songs and lamp-lit instrumentals, effortlessly easing proto-minimalist method into a folk music framework. It’s also a cipher appearing from nowhere, another mysterious shot in the arm. Folk music captured alive and breathing, without a trace of dogmatic outsider discourse.

By Jon Dale

Other Reviews of P.G. Six

Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites

Music from the Sherman Box Series and Other Works

Slightly Sorry

Starry Mind

Read More

View all articles by Jon Dale

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