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Scott Tuma - The River 1 2 3 4

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Artist: Scott Tuma

Album: The River 1 2 3 4

Label: Truckstop

Review date: Jul. 30, 2003

Scott Tuma’s second solo album since his amicable departure from Souled American rings softly, and somewhat unsurely, with acquiescence. The River 1 2 3 4, four tracks comprising nine unnamed segments, drifts idly between guitar, harmonica, harmonium and organ under a comforting electric blanket of analog repose. Tuma’s liberal use of reverb and echo gives these slow odes to Appalachia an aggrandized sense of limbo, the notes hanging in the hiss, clinging to the remnants of those that came before, then giving way peacefully to the next. Temporality is accentuated by abrupt endings and silent patches, often the first few seconds of a track, possibly calling into question, or at least consciously blurring, what constitutes a beginning, middle or end.

Tuma has an astounding ear for timing and flow. There are but a few instances of deliberate rhythm on The River; the notes cascade seemingly as they so choose, a reflection of Tuma’s patience and willingness to embrace indeterminacy. His solemn, haphazard finger-plucking on the opening track sounds like a man rapt in self-discovery, determined to follow his muse wherever it beckons. The alternating stereo effect, acoustic notes panning from side to side, adds to the cerebral uncertainty.

The production here is pristine. Tuma plays every instrument on The River and handles the production with strict attention to texture. On the fourth track, Tuma layers thick organ drones to awesome effect, as if he’s conducting his own private Mass amidst the underbrush. The delicate entrance of forlorn harmonica complements the timbre and tone beautifully, contrasting stasis with soliloquy. When Tuma singles out the guitar earlier in the album, background noise rises to fill the cracks. The River’s dense aesthetic seems to be the album’s constant, allowing for Tuma to experiment and still portray a resolute voice.

As The River wanders onward, it becomes apparent that the fortuitous linings of these compositions belie Tuma’s master plan; these songs eventually unravel to reveal a backwoods benediction ensconced in metaphysical solitude. These four introspective pieces capture the moment of clarity when the fear of death is twisted into anticipation and peace overwhelms the body; when the end sheds its façade and reveals a new dawn. Tuma’s The River 1 2 3 4 is the soundtrack of a man slowly cutting his ties to this world and embracing the next. Give into the current and go gentle into that good night.

By Otis Hart

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