July 26, 2010

We Are All One, In The Sun: A Tribute To Robbie Basho

I often hear people criticize tribute compilations though I’m never sure why, I like them and often seek them out and here’s why. If there is an artist out there that loves Robbie Basho and considers him an important influence and in fact important enough to interpret or re-interpret Basho’s music…I want to know who these people are!

Often these tributes are several artists and it is a great opportunity to find new artists that listen to and value what I listen to and value. What better way to discover like-minded musicians?

We Are All One, In The Sun: A Tribute To Robbie Basho is just such an opportunity.

Buck Curran deserves a lot of credit for assembling a tribute that is much more than just a collection of cover songs. It’s more adventurous and daring than that kind of tribute. And why shouldn’t it be? Isn’t that the spirit of Robbie Basho? These collections serve many a purpose, not the least of which is the obvious, a tribute. But what good is it if it doesn’t bring the fans of Basho to appreciate new artists? And just as importantly are the fans of any of the participating artist’s in this effort: it’s an opportunity to discover the roots of their music. I have found so much good music when I begin to discover my favorite artist’s influences. And a tribute collection puts it right there for all to see and every single artist is an opportunity to head off in a new direction!

So let’s dive in, one of the things I noticed first is that all the vocal covers are by women. And that may be a good thing for the budding Basho fan. Basho’s vocals were…unique…shall we say? The women convey the intensity and passion of a Basho song without raising the eyebrows, a common occurrence when Basho sang.

The covers by Arborea and Meg Baird are both pretty straight forward interpretations of Basho’s compositions while Fern Knight begins to stretch out with multiple instruments on "Song for the Queen."

Arborea, with Buck Curran on guitar and Shanti Curran providing the vocals, slow down Basho’s “Blue Crystal Fire” just a bit.  Buck Curran adds a very tasty slide solo in place of Basho’s fingered break and Shanti Curran’s vocals are delicate and beautiful.

Meg Baird takes on “Moving Up A Ways” keeping it pretty straight, though chooses a 6 string instead of the 12 string that Basho played for this piece.  As is the case with the previous song, Baird’s vocals seem a perfect fit for Basho’s song, strikingly lyrical.

Fern Knight expands on Basho’s “Song for a Queen” with multiple instruments that create a landscape around the lyrics of the song throwing in everything from the harp to the strangled distortion of an electric guitar.

Ultimately, all the vocal pieces take the listener on a journey to a beautiful and mythical land where you are temporarily lost in the music.

Undoubtedly all the artists are to be commended for capturing the spirit and feel of Robbie Basho. Some took the route of loosely interpreting existing Basho works and others went the straight ahead route. Still others took merely an idea or a line from a lyric as a launching point. Case in point is Cian Nugent’s "Odour of Plums." For a guy like me that likes the more straight ahead approach to guitar playing I love this piece by Nugent. He very nicely interjects tension and mystery that captures the spirit of a Basho song.

Curran manages to mix a little of everything into the release with the obvious (and obviously necessary) inclusion of Steffan Basho-Junghans and Glenn Jones as well as the unanticipated. Unanticipated? How about oud player Rahim AlHaj and cellist Helena Espvall?

Rahim AlHaj was included to touch on Basho’s intense love of Persian music. And don’t think for a minute that Espvall’s work is your average cello piece.

Digital version songs include Joseba Irazoki "Bashorentzat," Cameron Deas "Waters of Kvaloya" and an alternate version of Yair Yona’s Skinny Fists.

Deas' work on the 12 string is not to be missed by any fan of intense, raw and powerful solo guitar work.

Yair Yona is one of the new torch-bearers of modern American Primitive.

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