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V/A - Wooden Guitar

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Artist: V/A

Album: Wooden Guitar

Label: Locust

Review date: Aug. 25, 2003

Simplicity At Its Best

Wooden Guitar, the latest offering from the exquisite Locust Music label, comes bearing the following statement on its cover: “Being an inspired excursion into the creases and folds of modern day deltadelica and a loosely worn blues by four unaccompanied guitarists doing their thing and going it alone for a really long time.” But more than that, it’s an excellent view into the many ways John Fahey, Robbie Basho and the like have twisted themselves into timeless metaphors for the vital free-thinkers of today’s experimental music circles. Far from being restricted to simple constraints of time or place, the music contained herein flows as a testament to ragas, bluesmen, and twelve- and six-string slingers too numerous to mention, united by the basic concept of a single acoustic guitar and an inspiring artistic autonomy.

Jack Rose (of the outstanding trio Pelt) leads off the comp with “Red Horse II”, a reworking of a piece that appeared on his solo record Red Horse, White Mule. This piece continues the trend away from the hillbilly drone and into the far more lyrical territory hinted at by portions of Ayahuasca and the aforementioned solo LP. Here, he wanders in and out of various blues-derived ragas to excellent effect, alternating between frenetic finger-picking and hushed melodicism, basking in the warmth of his richly beautiful guitar to excellent effect. Despite the walls of cascading notes that amble forth, the overall tone is one of contemplative brilliance. Similarly, Steffen Basho-Junghans’ “A North Thuringian Raga” eschews his earlier pursuits of pure sound in favor of an unabashedly straightforward beauty. This too contains more than trace elements of forefathers like his adopted namesake Basho, but ultimately succeeds not because of the styles that it references, but by illustrating the ways in which those can be used to create an infinite variety of beautiful, personal landscapes.

The two remaining contributors deliver on the first half’s promise. Tetuzi Akiyama’s appropriately named “Time Between” focuses more on space than anyone else. Bearing an obvious influence from his surroundings and performances at Off Site (and also a more than passing resemblance to some of Derek Bailey’s lighter moments), this track focuses as much on the moments between as it does on each individual melodic figure. Rough around the edges and yet poignant when it needs to be, this is 20 minutes of hushed magnificence. Sir Richard Bishop sets aside the oft-bizarre ethnographical improvised experiments of the Sun City Girls, using “Corpuscle” as an excuse to take the listener through the farthest reaches of his mind’s eye, calling to mind the ridiculously great Salvador Kali disc he released on the Revenant label back in 1998. Here, his ragas mix effortlessly with the blues, taking his music on a trip through the Mississippi Delta by way of the Latin influenced great American Southwest.

Aside from being a brilliant compilation, Wooden Guitar is a nifty glimpse into the more melodic, plaintive, and flat-out beautiful side of these folk- and psyche-derived free improvisers, living up to all that’s implied in a word like “deltadelica”. Far from just being torch-bearers to the legacy Fahey left behind, the four musicians on display here show an amazing ability to create worlds of their own, hinting at collisions of cultures, sounds, and styles that roll forth effortlessly – and all using only a simple wooden guitar.

By Michael Crumsho

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