Thursday, July 21, 2016

While My Guitar Gently Rots

Gavin Prior - All Who Wander
Cambrian Records/Deserted Village CAM005/DV54. CD

David Somló - Movement
No label. CD

My guitar playing days are at a definite end. After years of gathering dust, the guitar I bought as a teenager, bent neck, dints, scratches and all has, as recently as last week, had its strings cut off and was unceremoniously taken down the cellar where come October it will serve as kindling. An unkind act you may think for a guitar that has served me well but the sight of it has pissed me off for years now, a reminder of someone who I used to be and sentimental creature that I am I’ve hung on to it even though I haven’t laid a finger on it in years. I wasn’t much good at it anyway with my piss poor attempts to sound like Neil Young and John Fahey, getting a few notes right here or a chord progression there, happy to get somewhere near without actually having the talent or the nous to go all the way. Its passing is a relief and I shan’t miss it.

Strangely enough Jim O’Rourke was the last guitarist to fire my cylinders. Not someone you’d associate with the guitar but evidence as to just how talented the guy is. It was his 1997 four song acoustic pluck fest ‘Bad Timing’ that did it for me, closely followed by his ‘Eureka’ LP and if you haven’t heard the title track [or Otomo Yoshihide’s 15 minute jazz quintet version featuring Matts Gustaffson] then do yourself a favour. There’s something basic and simple about his style of playing, something he took in big gulps from Fahey, simple but effective and that's something I can relate to. Jazz guitar genius Alan Holdsworth may come from up the road Bradford and be an influence on Zappa, Eddie Van Halen and a never ending list of other guitar twiddlers but after five minutes of his indecipherable frottings I have trouble fighting the urge to kill myself. Give me Jim O’Rourke any day.

All this because I don’t get that much guitar music to review here anymore. And then not one but two guitar based albums to mull over. Both of which include a guitarist recording in the open whilst taking in field recordings to act as counterpoint and ambience. The results couldn’t be further apart with Prior recording catchy fingerpicking tunes in the fields of Ireland while Somló wanders around various desolate places in Hungary, including the ruins of a vinyl factory and a hidden playground under Buda Castle.

I’ve been favoring Prior the more because he reminds me in places of Fahey and O’Rourke and Somló less because he reminds of Derek Bailey [yet another Yorkshire born guitarist with an ability to annoy]. The first few tracks of Prior’s ‘All Who Wander’ are bucolic and blissful with the birds and the bees accompanying the sound of Prior’s gentle strum and pluck. Second track ‘The Old Claddagh Swings’, with the swings themselves no doubt squeaking in the background, is so near to O’Rourke’s ‘Eureka’ that I had to pinch myself, the same simple motif on a descending scale to mounting fuzz noises and a blissful coda. For Prior takes these recordings into the studio and ‘treats’ them, which is I think what they call it these days. A pity the momentum cant be kept for the full eleven tracks as the quality descends into dangerous Bailey territory. Not something I’m sure I can fully endorse.

David Somló’s guitar goes from Bailey ding to African thumb piano twang and lots of things in-between but apart from a passage at its very end his playing never really complements any of the four choices of the crumbling Hungarian environments he chooses to play in. The last three minutes are the best on the disc which says something for my listening stamina and Somló’s ability to go 20 odd minutes without doing anything to stir my aural ardor. Those final few minutes where Somló’s guitar finally slows down and goes quiet enough for you to hear some trees being felled, or a body being dragged down some steps, or someone hurling an acoustic guitar down the stone cellar steps of a Victorian terrace are the best bar none. As ever the indirect nuances provide the brightest moments.   

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