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Paul Metzger - Canticle of Ignat / All Glass

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Artist: Paul Metzger

Album: Canticle of Ignat / All Glass

Label: Archive Recordings

Review date: Jul. 30, 2008

On Deliverance, the outstanding album that likely served as an introduction to the ways of Paul Metzger, the instrument of choice was a banjo. Not just any, of course – a 21-string mutant modified by Metzger himself. Anyone, however, who has delved further into the Minnesotan's discography knows that Metzger's arsenal isn't restricted solely to the banjo, and that an equally altered acoustic guitar is another trusted musical companion. On the 2007 tour undertaken to support Deliverance, Metzger split his set between the two instruments, and Canticle of Ignat / All Glass documents a pair of improvisations from a performance at BigJar in Philadelphia. The same aesthetic might inform Metzger's approach on the two instruments, but their natural differences, as well as those engineered by Metzger, translate into two different dialects within the same language. But, regardless of the strings that Metzger's plucking, his sounds certainly constitute a vernacular all his own.

That "Canticle of Ignat" opens with the splash of a cymbal is an unambiguous sign that this won't be like most other solo guitar performances. The rather large cymbal on the tail of Metzger's acoustic axe isn't its only unexpected appendage; the innards of a few music boxes cling to the instrument, a few extra strings run the length of the guitar, and various small holes and additions pepper its painted body. Metzger slides liberally up and down the instrument's fretless neck, marking much of the track with a thin twang not unlike that of the sitar. Accompaniment via the buzzing resonance of the guitar's lower strings is peppered with percussive striking of the instrument's body, and the track often moves in two parallel, though distinct paths. After an opening of solitary strings struck and bent, Metzger moves toward a one-man duet, combining folk finger-picking with deeper drones from the long strings. Even on his most furious runs, which tend to be relatively brief, Metzger's guitar work exhibits a spare quality, its tone rarely as rich as that of his banjo, the notes thin and metallic. Towards the track's end, the music boxes twinkly solemnly, calming the music before the track ends with perhaps its busiest burst of activity. When Metzger plays the guitar, the actual notes struck are only part of the sound, equally important are the buzzing resonance of the strings and the clatter of the instrument as it's played.

"All Glass," performed on banjo, is lush in comparison. The instrument's tone is fuller and warmer, and while Metzger's technique is often similar to what he uses on guitar, it's on banjo that he truly shines. Metzger begins by bowing the banjo, first in long tones, then interspersing a more rapid sawing with a slow succession of strummed chords. As the track progresses, Metzger segues into the raga-inspired playing that often marks his work, working from small clusters of notes into larger runs and back again. Near the track's halfway point, Metzger hones in on a melodic theme, accented by rhythmic tapping of the instrument's body, that coalesces into one of the album's most linear passage before giving way to a series of stabbing chords. Metzger seems more apt to explore melody and repetition on the banjo than on the guitar, providing "All Glass" with segments of momentum that aren't present in its predecessor. But, as ever, Metzger moves quickly, and any segment of the piece, whether spare and placid or more intense, isn't likely to last long. "All Glass" lacks some of the jagged edges of "Canticle of Ignat," but it's certainly not monotonous in tone or style.

It's hard to argue with the banjo-centric concentration on Deliverance, but Metzger's mix of instrumentation on this and other albums is a welcome one. The banjo may be the instrument on which Metzger has made his name, and his work on guitar may seem less exotic to those well versed in experimental sounds, but he's certainly no slouch on the six(ish)-string, either. Canticle of Ignat / All Glass is another in a line of excellent releases by a musician who seems unlikely to disappoint.

By Adam Strohm

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