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Eric Carbonara - Exodus Bulldornadius

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Artist: Eric Carbonara

Album: Exodus Bulldornadius

Label: Locust

Review date: Jun. 26, 2008

Accepted wisdom says there’s a glut of solo acoustic guitar recordings these days, suggesting most players are just pale imitators of––or worse, pretenders to––the Fahey/Takoma tradition. This sort of statement comes from labels pushing their product as well as critics looking to make dramatic assertions. Both are forms of laziness. They are avoiding the tough work of nailing down what is distinct about the guitarist in question. In the case of Eric Carbonara, he deserves your full consideration and deep listening. Sometimes just a well-played, thoughtful set of tunes is enough. Exodus Bulldornadius is such a record.

Carbonara, a recording engineer by day and guitarist as well as electro-acoustic experimentalist by night, doesn’t give off the air of the virtuoso. Sure, his playing is technically solid, but it’s not flashy. Carbonara’s starting point lies outside of the acoustic blues / American finger-picking style; Flamenco, Andalusian and North African styles are more prevalent.

But how many cultures Carbonara can shoehorn into his sound is not the point here. Rather, Exodus… is all about tone, tune, and tale, and recording these in intimate, full-bodied detail. The lows boom, the highs are delicate, every beating tone is captured until it decays. This dedication to tone is apparent from the first notes of album opener “The Apparition”. Carbonara, wielding the sound of his six string like an oud, balances sounds that are dry as well as plangent, making every note sound like a supplication.

But Carbonara has the songwriting and arranging chops to back up his rich, resonant sound. His tunes run from the unabashedly beautiful and mournful to the ecstatic and knotty. He manages the not-so-easy trick sitting modern dissonance alongside a host of references to the music of other cultures without making an issue of it. The fluctuating tempos and ecstatic chording of “Dead Trees in the Life of Speed” could come just as easily come from rembetika or Ostad Elahi as from some psychedelic freak-out. The repetition at the close of “Lullaby for a Setting Sun” could be minimalism or just simple folk forms.

Most importantly, Carbonara holds a listener’s attention throughout by having a fine sense of how to spin a tale. He continually builds drama, transforming each piece in multiple ways but never losing the plot. On “By the Sound of Your Voice, I Will Swim to You” he spins out a series of single notes into a dark, melancholy theme, then shines a bright light through the major-key middle section. It’s at these moments, where he knits the major to the minor, the modern to the ancient, and makes it seem absolutely natural, when Exodus touches a rarefied place of its own.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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