April 28, 2010

Sean Smith - Eternal

Last year Sean Smith was featured in the March issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.  No mean feat when you look at the usual coverage they give the acoustic guitar world.   Smith and his ilk were written up as the “underground” movement in the unsung genre of psyche folk, avant acoustic, call-it-what-you-like music. 

Is a guy that releases a limited edition pressing of 300 Lp’s part of the underground?  I suppose so.  But that August 2007 release on Gnome Life Records is now available on Strange Attractors Audio House.  “Eternal” is Sean Smith’s first foray into collaborative music.

And Smith puts the listeners on notice immediately with the opening tune, “Topinambour” with bongos kicking in after the opening chord.  This song has an Eastern feel full of percussion so despite my concerns about Smith doing a CD with other instruments, I love percussion and the opening song relieved my initial doubt.

Smith shares a lot of the guitar duties on this album with his buddy from Berkley, Adam Snider.  I really enjoyed Snider’s contributions to this effort, I haven’t heard enough from him since the release of Berkeley Guitar.
Snider also contributes some banjo.  
Other musicians on the disc include Spencer Owen – bongos, shakers, claves, sandpaper blocks, electric bass and drums.
Fletcher Tucker – mountain dulcimer, handclaps.
Angela Hsu – violins.
Smith even tempts the purists with a solo piece on the nylon string guitar as well as playing electric guitar, Weissenborn and reed organ.
"Goat Seer" is a great little piece with just Smith on Weissenborn and Snider on guitar.

The real test for me on this disc oddly enough is titled, “The Real.” Once again my doubt is renewed when I see banjo and violin listed for the song. Getting me to appreciate almost anything with banjo or violin is a chore and Smith accomplished this easily with “The Real.” In fact, this currently my favorite song on the CD. It’s a song that seems to ramble about with the various instruments weaving their way in and out of the landscape. It has quite a loose feel to it, as though any one of the musicians may go tumbling out of the ragged tempo any minute and ruin the whole song. Part of what makes it so fun to listen to is the tension created by that ragged feel, the song is barely holding together.

So far so good, but I do have some minor criticisms: the package is a bit light on liner notes, I love to read about the make of guitar and tunings, a little more info about each song is appreciated. But these are minor complaints.

Up next is “Holly,” a piece that starts off with acoustic and quickly accelerates to pounding drums and screaming electric guitar. It just as quickly plummets back to a solo acoustic guitar section. I don’t feel this song fit very well into the release, it rather upset the experience of the album as a whole.



"Goat Seer"
“The Real”


“Prompter or Conscience”

“Greeting, Death, Love. (Excerpts)”

Smith eventually does go solo for the last two pieces, not that they are single instrumental pieces; just that he plays all the instruments himself.

“Prompter or Conscience” features Smith on the reed organ and Weissenborn and has an Eastern feel to it. Smith’s slide work on this piece is typical of his polished technique yet he also manages to make it feel as though he was in a contemplative and improvisational mood when he recorded this. It sounds amazingly free and lacking composition, in a good way!

“Greeting, Death, Love. (Excerpts)” is as close as you are going to get to a solo performance on this effort. Smith leads us down the solo steel string path for a good 7 minutes before transitioning to nylon string guitar. Whoa, as if he hasn’t messed with the genre enough here he’s got to get all classical on me. Actually it’s an excellent transition that allows Smith to begin rebuilding the concept of the song on another level before going on to the final crescendo.

It’s a tremendous way of reminding me that Sean Smith is still "of" guitar soli and yet unafraid to mold it to his liking.

April 22, 2010

Charlie Schmidt - “When The Springtime Comes Again, Again”

I have a nice little surprise for you today. Charlie Schmidt recently sent me a few tracks he wants to share with my readers.

You hard-core Fahey fans probably know of Schmidt's connections to John Fahey. How some of Schmidt's recordings appeared on Takoma/Fantasy Records 2004 release "The Best of John Fahey Vol.2: 1964-1983." Unfortunately Charlie Schmidt is no where to be found in the credits.

There is a good story about it at Chicago Reader.

Graphic Design by Joshua Pfeffer / pfef.com

The recording, Xanthe Terra on Strange Attractors Audio House is the recording mentioned in the article.
I've only recently returned to the world of guitar soli and this was an early find for me. I was still trying to figure out what was out there besides Fahey. Some of my favorites on this disc are Samba de Xanthe Terra, Athabasca Valles Blues, Kanaranzi Waltz, Slavic Mountain and Doggie Blues.

More recently Schmidt also makes an appearance as himself as well as Blind Joe Death himself in the Takoma/Fantasy Records Fahey tribute album "Revenge of Blind Joe Death". One I highly recommend as I found it to be a great jumping off point for discovering a lot of the artists I now follow regularly.

As for what we have here, it's called "When the Springtime Comes Again, Again" a rendering in five movements for steel-string guitar by John A. Fahey, arranged and performed by Charlie Schmidt, recorded December 2008.

Here's what Schmidt has to say about this piece:

“When The Springtime Comes Again” first appeared on John Fahey’s Volume 2: Death Chants, Breakdowns, and Military Waltzes in 1963. It was rerecorded in 1967, then recorded yet again in 1993 by me at Fahey’s invitation. It is a masterpiece of musical economy and composition. Fahey expanded on the basic themes throughout his career, as with “Mark 1:15” on America, and on the Takoma sampler which came out I think in the late 60s. You will find elements in the tracks below from the various sources, plus a measure here and there of my own doing. Although I rearranged the sequences a bit, and took some liberties dividing it into smaller tracks (movements), I deliberately tried to emulate the Fahey sound because I think it sounds best that way. I remember learning it off vinyl in about 1978, and I still find it fresh and remarkable to this day. In any event, I hope you enjoy hearing it again, in its present form, titled “When The Springtime Comes Again, Again”. Tuning is Dropped D.
In addition he's included a bonus track called "Angels Landing." The additional track is a significant variation to "Night Train to Valhalla" he improvised a few weeks ago. Played in dropped D as well.

Folks, this is basically an EP, there's nearly 23 minutes of music here!

Get it HERE

April 10, 2010

Glenn Jones - WZBC studios March 19, 2007

A few videos of Glenn Jones around the time of the Against Which The Sea Continually Beats release, 2007.  Good stuff if you haven't seen these before.  Or if you have, watch them again!

Be sure you swing back around these parts about midweek.  I'll be doing a little piece on the new Jack Rose & Glenn Jones "The Things That We Used to Do" DVD release and I will have a special offer as well.  Don't miss it!

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