Friday, August 5, 2011

Acoustic Guitars

I have some unstated rules for Oliver di Place. One is that I don’t post instrumental music, especially not music for a single solo instrument such as, oh say, the acoustic guitar. I enjoy this music when it is done well, by say John Fahey, Stefan Grossman, or Martin Carthy, to name a few. But I feel somewhat at a loss to say why. There is a lot of technical language that other guitar players would know that describes this music, but I don’t speak the language. Maybe you don’t either. All I know is what I hear and what I like.

Having said all that, I heard from a guitar player from Israel at the end of last year, and I enjoyed what I heard. Next thing I knew, I had an album for Oliver di Place that I didn’t know what to do with, so it sat. That was Yair Yona. Then, more recently, a British guitar player named Sean Siegfried got in touch. Again, I didn’t know what I would do with it, but I soon had another album. Finally, I connected the two, and decided I had better find some more guitar players and get it over with. I’m glad I did, because these five players certainly deserve to be heard.

Sean Siegfried: Apples in Winter


Sean Siegfried takes his inspiration from great British and Celtic guitar players, notably Bert Jansch. Siegfried’s tunes are original, but he succeeds in capturing the flavor of traditional songs, and I can hear one of those wonderful British folk baritones in my head as I listen. Siegfried sets up a strong rhythmic foundation on the lower string, and harmonizes his melodies using the middle strings. To my ear, it sounds like he is using a lot of minor keys for his songs, but those could also be open tunings. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it. Just sit back, and let Siegfried take you down the beautiful country lanes of his native land.

Chris Proctor: The Anniversary Waltz


When someone says of an instrumentalist that he is a musical storyteller, I usually roll my eyes. But Chris Proctor really is a storyteller with his music. He plays with a light touch, his fingers gliding across the strings. His melodies take the listener from a definite start to finish, with an interesting plot and wonderful characterization along the way. The melody is in the top string, with countermelodies and harmonies in the rest of the strings. The rhythm comes from the song as a whole. It all falls into place beautifully.

Eric Loy: Catbird Seat


On the cover of Eric Loy’s new album, you can see a variety of guitars, including some electric ones. There is a similar mix on the album. Loy even plugs and rocks out on two songs, with drums and bass accompaniment. But the treat here for me is the solo acoustic material. Ragtime is the basis for this music, with exciting and complex rhythms played on all of the strings at once. Loy plays chords sometimes that threaten to fall apart. These are jazz chords, I think, and some sound strange to a listener who is more used to folk. But get used to that, and you will hear just how thrilling this music is. Catbird Seat is one of the most accessible songs here, so it makes a good introduction to Loy’s artistry.

Patrick Woods: Evening in the Village


The title of Patrick Woods’ album, Vortex of Discovery, as well as the cover art, suggest a new age album, with gentle ripples of notes easing you into a meditative state. So this may be the most misleading album cover ever. Woods has a percussive playing style. He slaps the body of the guitar for drums, and he attacks the bass string like a funk player might. Evening in the Village shows how this works out on a ballad. On the top strings, Woods plays multipart melodies that stay with you. As assertive as Woods is in his playing, he also displays great dynamic range. All of this is secondary to putting over the emotion of the song.

Yair Yona: Pharaoh


Yair Yona is actually the ringer here. He plays guitars of various sorts, including electric. Qn Remember, he also plays some banjo and synthesizer. Yona uses overdubs on many the tracks, and there are even guest musicians helping out on two tracks. So, I think I have chosen a solo guitar track with no overdubs, but I could be wrong. In any case, Yona’s music makes a connection between the blues and the modalities of middle eastern music, with some eastern European influences showing up on some tracks as well. Pharaoh is a perfect example. In the opening slow section, I can see in my head the sun rising, either over the Delta or the desert. The faster section is tremendously exciting. Yona alternates these sections that shouldn’t fit together but do. In the process, he shows himself to be both a fine player and writer.


Geoviki said...

I definitely like that Yair Yona song - it's really intriguing!