Scott Tuma - "Nobody (River Of Tin)" (Not For Nobody)
You’ve probably heard a few acoustic guitars in your life, had some half-assed troubadour breathing into your ear in a forced mid-Western twang about love gone wrong, and wondered exactly what this Americana thing really means. Is it just some ruse to glisten up a bunch of songs whose ‘roots’ are more related to Palace Brothers records than actual revenant folk-blues forms? I’m more astounded at how the thing’s still alive and kicking, actually; surely someone should have nipped it in the bud years ago, put all of this mindless caterwauling out to pasture.
Never mind that it was all done better two decades ago by sainted blues-country outfit Souled American, one of those groups whose fan-base is small and dedicated, who make ‘real’ cults, like Silver Jews, look like major league players. As an ex-member of Souled American, Scott Tuma knows a few things about unlocking the language of the revenant, and Not For Nothing’s a monograph on doing things right; here’s the record where ‘the space between the notes’ is an actual audible reality, rather than some vague, mystifying rhetoric for artists who try to trade off studio silence as atmosphere.
The whole thing feels weightless, half-lit, phasing in and out, in some liminal space; compositions work through phases, or fold in on themselves, while presences line the magnetic tape, and the air around the microphones is charged, bustling with spirit talk. Tuma’s compositional lexicon generally consists of slow, benignly scrawled melodies for guitars, stranded deep in a well of reverb; elsewhere, on “Loversrock1,” recorded with Jason Ajemian, the most gentle Casio melodies weave underneath scratchily bowed violins, while other songs vari-speed the tape, skating angel-sigh vocals across the six string’s surfaces.
It’s the kind of record where the scratch of a fingernail across the guitar’s nut, or the raspy grain of the instrument’s body sliding through Tuma’s hands, speaks more than any lyric formation could; where the nexus of blues, folk and real-world ambience is all about haunting melancholy, as opposed to the drag-ass maudlin boredom of so much Americana. Indeed, the only people working vaguely comparable language to similar quality would be Steven R Smith, and maybe M Ward in his Transfiguration of Vincent phase, both artists who, like Tuma, work the relationship between history and place into complex webs of pastoral disquiet.