The anti-American Primitive Guitar backlash is well under way, at least amongst certain writers who have had their fill of solo acoustic guitar records with an ancestral link to John Fahey’s oeuvre. School and Rivers should sooth the more reluctant haters out there; despite being the work of an acoustic guitarist and the product of a label with known Takoma sympathies, there’s not a whiff of Fahey worship about it. On the other hand, if you hold a strong allegiance to the works of Jack Rose, Glenn Jones, and their forbears, you might find this record a bit too light on your tongue.
Tom James Scott is an Englishman, but his work is also quite distant from the folk traditions furthered by Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, or the late Davy Graham. He pulls more from certain varieties of modern classical music, particularly minimalism. “Seabird” opens with bright, sustained tones that sound more like they come from bowed metal than strings, then blooms into harp-like picking ballasted by a lonely, lowing tuba. The title tune sounds like a less obsessive Jozef Van Wissem, progressing in brief bursts centered on a bright harmonic note; once more, the welcome tuba balances twinkling brightness with dark earth. Scott’s compositions have a pensive quality that is enhanced by the occasional halts and moments of near-emptiness that give his music shape; it turns and tarries where, say, Jack Rose hurtles or ambles.
Scott’s meditative qualities are even more prominent on his one display of exoticism. “Two Moons Behind The Horizon Sun” seems to be steeped in traditional Japanese music with Scott wielding his bowed guitar with a pacing and texture more suited to a koto recital. Fortunately, he sustains enough reserve to keep the music’s static moments from drifting into fey airiness. Turns out there’s still more to tuneful acoustic guitar music than rustic blues.