After John Fahey and before Ragtime Ralph there was Bob Hadley, finger picker extraordinaire, high school classmate of Leo Kottke and now Vancouver, BC resident.
Hadley was second acoustic guitar instrumentalist to capture the eager ears of Vancouver guitar picker, RC Johnston.
“I first heard Bob’s “Raven” album on a local radio station back in 1973” says Johnston. “Wreck of the Last Steam Engine Train,” an out of control , thrill packed slide ride in open G tuning was my introduction to Hadley’s guitar artistry, and to me, Bob’s album is a classic that stands equally alongside William Ackerman’s first album “In Search of the Turtle’s Navel,” the Takoma guitar catalog and the many Kicking Mule releases.” Bob later joined the Kicking Mule artists’ roster, releasing “Raven” and releasing two other stellar albums over the years.
If you get the chance to hear “Raven” and Bob’s other albums, “Tunes From the Well” and “On the Trail of the Questing Beast,” you will experience another guitar great worthy of your consideration.
Bob Hadley has contributed songs to several guitar compilations in recent years...so I must ask…when will his next full length recording see the light of day?
Aaron Sheppard has rather quietly released a couple of very nice works that I think you should check out! One is very traditionally acoustic and the other is a much more progressive approach to guitar playing. You probably know Sheppard's name from his piece's on Imaginational Anthem 4 : New Possibilities and Beyond Berkeley Guitar, both from the Tompkins Square label.
This rather ambitious sounding album title
provides the first clue as to what you’re in for once you hit the play button
on your CD player, or for you cool cats, release the turntable needle. Through
Huge Fluid Freedom Sean Smith demonstrates that he is clearly a man with little
concern for genre boundaries and refreshingly he seems determined to create the
soundscapes he wants to hear, rather than worrying about album continuity or
our external expectations. The album is also a reflection of where Sean Smith
is in his career. He’s probably best known for his American Primitive acoustic
guitar work, but a quick look at his discography reveals he has, in recent
years, usually had an electric guitar strapped around his neck. This album is
the latest, and perhaps boldest, in a line which has gradually introduced
electric guitar to acoustic guitar and given the pair a free reign over 35
minutes of soon to be disturbed silence.
The album introduces itself with ‘I Know You’re Tired, But Come. This is the
Way’. A slow ambient droning intro is interrupted by a rather ugly and
disjointed riff reminiscent of Shellac at their most abrasive. It feels as
though its role and responsibility is to grab the listener and shake them hard,
dispelling any preconceived idea that Sean Smith will be performing an acoustic
With that out the way the track embarks on
an exploration of the ambience that can be created with several overlays of
electronic feedback and vocals, anchored by simple acoustic riff whose
insistence and attitude becomes a real centrepiece for this darkly cinematic
If track one is the ‘fluid’, then track two
is the ‘huge’. The acoustic takes a step back here as ‘The Real’ opens with an incredible wail of dissonant electric
guitar. Throughout the piece Sean
demonstrates the control he has over a whirl of feedback, reverb and phase as
he slowly reigns in the electric guitars allowing for moments of calm, before
releasing yet another wall of sound.
Just as we’ve forgot about the acoustic
guitar the album turns surprisingly to a solo acoustic track with a lovely
clockwork feel. The undertones of dissonance are still there, but it’s overlaid
by far more sweet melodies than we have been treated to so far, the melodies springing
out of the second movement of the piece being a particular favourite of mine.
At 10 minutes long this track explores several different ideas and is more like
a mini musical suite of its own.
Not to be outdone, the final track is an
example of how an electric guitar (with a few overlays and effects) can hold
its own in a solo setting. Fittingly for the album titled track, the anthem
like riffs found at its center are perhaps the most original on the album and
most likely reveal the style of future Sean Smith albums, unless he finds yet
another corner of music to explore first.
Overall, the album is a surprising, perhaps
hard to get hold of, mix of sounds. Whilst it might not tickle the average
Delta Slider reader in all the right spots, it’s great to
hear an acoustic artist showing what they are capable of in other areas of
music. Perhaps only Glenn Jones, via Cul-De-Sac, has a history of branching out
this far from traditional folk. Huge
Fluid Freedom is certainly going to stay near the top of my music collection as
I find myself wanting to listen again to the grit of ‘I Know You’re Tired, But Come. This is the Way’ and indisputable
size of ‘The Real’ amongst all the
other gems in there.