Posts Tagged ‘Stratocaster’

In the boys’ club of Australian Blues, there is a dearth of stand-out women bandleaders. And the few who rise to the top are almost all singers. Which is great, but in a music that in built on the conversation between a human call and a tart guitar response, surprisingly few play blues guitar on the level of a Shane Pacey, Kirk Lorange or Jan Rynsaardt.

One who does is Christina Crofts. And no one plays guitar like Christina Crofts.

A rising voice in the Australian Blues world, Crofts consistently peels back the ears of audiences with her razor-toothed slide guitar work and very Lucinda Williams vocal and attitude. Her playing, performing and songwriting is imbued with the spirit of her late husband Steve, one of this country’s most underrated guitarists.

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But Croft’s voice is very much her own and on her new EP – Like We Used To – she has realised the strongest expression of it yet.

Opener ‘Breakaway’ rolls in like a howling thunderstorm, shot through with the white lightning of Crofts’ Stratocaster. The rhythm section of Stan Mobbs and Tony Boyd literally thunder under the guitars – Crofts and engineer Russell Pilling have gone for the  over-amped Marshall sound of much contemporary blues here, and it is a force of nature.

The title track, ‘Like We Used To’, which follows is a tasty, upbeat contrast. A spry piece of Tex-Mex rock’n’roll, it has a sweetly nostalgic feel and a warm ear-worm of a guitar lick. It also brings out the country edge to Crofts’ vocal, which is a perfect foil to her six-string work.covers-0001

‘Don’t Cry’ is even more country rock’n’roll with the groove held steady under the sure tiller of Mobbs and Boyd.

Closer ‘Lucy’ is a juicy Little Feet latino-funk groove which tells a story of Bad Woman Blues. Crofts’ slide-guitar here virtually scratches your eyes out from the first note, its tone befitting the morality tale of the home-wrecking protagonist. Crofts’ lyrics throughout deserve a mention: they work on classic blues and roots templates, as you want, but have a wit and originality about them which is a relief in an often cliché-sodden genre.

It’s been a long wait since 2008’s Midnight Train for some new music from Christina, but Like We Used To will convince anyone with ears that she is back and ready to spit sparks. Watch out boys – she’s the hellhound on your trail.

Like We Used To is available from Christina Crofts’ website – https://www.christinacrofts.com/store

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I was surprised when I put on saxophonist/compopser Andy Sugg’s new album. The last Sugg album I heard was when I (glowingly) reviewed the excellent Berlin Session album in early 2013.

That album was free and wild and had the colossal shadow of John Coltrane falling across the wonderful music made with Sugg’s daughter, Kate Kelsey-Sugg and players Jan Leipnitz and Sean Pentland.

The new one, Wednesdays at M’s, could not be more different. The focus is far more on composition, arrangement and timbral texture and has a decidedly fusion edge, complete with electric flavours.

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But then I was surprised that I was surprised – after all, Sugg is a searching, seeking, probing player. Why would he sound now as he did four years ago?

The Group is entirely different, too, apart from Kelsey-Sugg on piano (and vapour-like vocals on closer ‘Rings Around The Moon’). Made up of leading players such as drummer Nate Wood, Ben Eunson on guitar and Australian-abroad Sean Wayland, this is no ordinary Group.

And they need to be extraordinary to navigate Sugg’s remarkable compositions and bring them to vivid life – each tune is completely owned by the ensemble; the ensemble playing and solos leap from the speakers with a rush of blood and fire.sugg-wednes-2

The electric edge doesn’t become apparent until Ben Eunson’s guitar solo on opener ‘Djuna at One’. The groove is buoyant, rolling along on the tough acoustic bass of Matt Clohesy until Eunson’s electric guitar chops into it, right down to the bone. Eunson’s playing across Wednesdays at M’s is a highlight: biting here, fluid there, he plays with a wide range of textures that should be an object lesson to more than a few contemporary jazz guitarists. His tone is metallic but fleshed out with more than enough blues to make it sing beautifully.

The fusion thing is taken up a notch over the three part Suite, ‘Hemispheric’: Part 1 is swathed in Christian Almiron’s Zawinulesque synth washes. Almiron returns for Part 3, soloing and swooping across the brightly choppy rhythm.

A highlight of the album is ‘Mandela’. Built on a criss-crossing set of riffs, this groove pushes Sugg and Eunson to some spiraling highs. Sugg’s playing throughout is revelatory yet always with deep soul and humanity in his delivery. On the Berlin Session album he played only soprano; here he plays only tenor and it fits the tougher ensemble dynamic perfectly (it is particularly thrilling when in unison with Eunson’s Stratocaster).

Prior to recording, these eight pieces were worked up in a weekly workshop environment on NYC’s Lower East Side in a vacant dance studio belonging to ‘Mike’, hence the album title. You can hear the freedom and care that Sugg was allowed to lavish on their forming: nothing is rushed and there was obviously room for tints of other non-jazz genres to colour the music. In essence, the music was allowed to grow and evolve in a hothouse.

At the foot of his liner notes, Andy Sugg simply says ‘Thank you, Mike.’ I, and anyone who listens to Wednesdays at M’s will surely second that emotion.

 

For more information visit: www.andysugg.com

 

Seventies’ evil genius Frank Vincent Zappa is often cited as an influence by bands who work outside the mainstream, those who work down the alleys and canals and sewers of outré and outrage. Some go for Zappa’s anarchic approach to harmony and rhythm, which sorely test the players’ chops while testing the audience’s aesthetic threshold. Some go for Zappa’s sour (and hilariously barbed) misanthropy, which swings between the right-on and the right-off.

Some, like David Sattout‘s 8-piece jazz/rock/noise collective Facemeat, go for both. And yet, this is not slavish ‘tribute’ or fawning hagiography; Sattout very smartly uses the Zappa musical anarchy/discipline approach as a point of departure, a fertile bed in which his own sound-world can grow.

And grow it does, into flowers of evil and flowers of alien-skinned beauty and flowers of… you tell me, which populate the night garden of Facemeat’s debut album, Questions for Men.

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Opener, ‘Compliments to Your Band’ blazes in with electronic vomit, followed by a fuzz orchestral slam, before setting up the sort of demented guitar groove worthy of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. Wise-ass vocal (singer Adam Moses plays every one of Questions for Men’s song’s characters with reptilian relish) over a sarcastic funk line, a Sattout fuzz-Zappa guitar whig out and more horn-fuzz train-wrecks and we are left pummelled (but grinning).

‘My Wife and Children’ see-saws tricksy scalar runs around stabbing horns (Ruth Wells‘ sax and Ellen Kirkwood‘s trumpet seem to pop up on so much good music around Sydney these days). ‘Dude Disco’ is Disco Boy for the new millennium, Moses’ lounge-lizard vocal dripping with enough fear’n’loathing to rust any mirrorball stiff. Bassist Josh Ahearn, drummer Miles Thomas and keys man Byron Mark (yes, Sattout has recruited the best) are all deliciously in on the joke.facemeat 2

‘Your Special Day’ froths with metal guitars and smart time-signature games; title track ‘Questions for Men’ is a beautifully layered misterioso noise-world; ‘Seven Days’ is my-baby-done-me-wrong from the point of view of a twisted mind, the woozy harmony walling us all into a small art-cinema thrilling to this noir movie of necrophilia and revenge.

The startling and unique rarely lets up across Questions for Men. Sattout’s cabinet of curiosities keeps giving up its treasures: some of them are strangely beautiful, some of them you turn over in your hand trying to figure its purpose, while others just slip between your fingers and slither off across the floor to glisten in a dark corner.

‘Hanging From a Line’ levitates a whole-tone vocal line overhead, while ‘In Time’ surprises with a dotty Kate Bush ditty sung by Wells and Kirkwood. ‘I Shouldn’t Have Killed You’ casts Stevie Ray Vaughn‘s silvery Stratocaster as the private dick against the Greek chorus of the drunken horns. ‘Keller’ could be called math-rock, but only if you didn’t have better words (or ears).

Unique and strange beauty abounds. So does sarcasm: Questions for Men‘s closer, ‘Big Noight Blues’ is as viciously satirical of 12-bar blues as you will hear: as mirthless a mastication of an instrumental blues as you can get. And God and Frank knows the modern-day blooz need it.

God and Frank also knows we need music like this – the jazz guys have hijacked the chops but not the fury; the indie guys have hijacked the irony but not the wit; the TV panel comics have hijacked the satire but not the danger.

Facemeat are a refreshing slap in the face for all of the above. Long may they slap.

Published September 2015 on theorangepress.net

Like post-punk has done since the 1980s, Jazz has gradually eschewed and expunged the Blues from its vernacular.

Yes, there are still lipstick traces left from the grand old dame, but many contemporary Jazz artists seem intent on (consciously or sub-consciously) avoiding her patois, perfumes and punch-drunkenness in any overt sense.

Sydney’s Dubious Blues Trio have no such qualms. In fact the Trio drink deep not only of the blues but – horrors! – the blues’ boozy trailer-trash cousin, blues-rock.

Made up of guitarist Cameron Henderson, double-bassist Elsen Price and drummer Tully Ryan, The Trio are one of the current young bands that make me jump for joy. Genre-hopping is admirably rife in the modern jazz world, but done as it is here on their debut – Dubious Blues Trio – so unselfconsciously and with a real blues wildness, is a buzz.

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After a short ‘Intro’ (a bit of cod-blues piano quickly devoured by an electronic belch), Henderson’s ‘Shoemound’ snaps our attention – the unmistakeable tang of Stevie Ray Vaughan salting his Stratocaster. Yet the line he plays winds into some snaky shapes – hhmmmm, dubious blues indeed.

‘Mousterious Moustache’ takes their tough sound into 6/8 and ‘Bigger Than The Mammoth’ has some Zappaesque riffing slding into a very SRV boogie.

Bassist Price’s ‘Fixy and Your Haircut’ flies along in a bluegrass handbasket-to-hell – Price has recently been seen around town playing with bluegrass mavericks The Morrisons. Price’s choppy triple-time bowing opens it up for Henderson’s banjo-like guitar. It’s all over in 1:36 but we are sweating.Dubious Blues1

The funky ‘King Hustle’ goes back past SRV to Jimi Hendrix, who seems to be as much a touchstone for Henderson as Bill Frisell or, maybe even moreso, Wayne Krantz. After a languid, gospel-throated bowed solo from Price the whole piece dissolves beneath a (not-so-)hilarious montage of phone recordings of the guys hustling for gigs – and accepting having to “play for tips”.

Dubious Blues Trio leaves us with Price’s ‘Miscellaneous Whale’ – a 14:15 monolithic jam featuring trumpeter Will Gilbert. Gilbert’s breathy tone, together with the black-hole ambience of the piece, dimly recalls Miles Davis’s electric anti-jazz psychedelia of the 70’s. Whatever their influences, this is entirely original music made by fresh-thinking players – Gilbert’s longing horn, Henderson’s whale-song guitar, Price’s leaden bass moans. Special mention here goes to drummer Ryan – a piece as stretched out as ‘Miscellaneous Whale’ is a true challenge for any drummer and he is always in the right space with the right colour at the right time.

Dubious Blues Trio was recorded live in the studio, which adds a layer of danger and shows the Trio to their best advantage. Henderson, Price and Ryan have a wonderful thing here – a three-way joy of noise and a questing group-mind. There is no leader, and no followers – as it should be, but too rarely is.

Dubious Blues Trio brings the blues back into jazz – not the clichés and the tired down-home trappings (we’ll leave that to the official Blues® scene), but the innovation, the openness and, above all the humanity that the best blues always had. And it is about time.

 

Published February 2104 on australianjazz.net

 

Daniel Algrant’s Greetings from Tim Buckley is a feature of this year’s Sydney Film Festival – a festival humming with music-related films. From portraits of The Warumpi Band’s George Rrurrambu Burarrawanga and a Flemish bluegrass family to a doco on an orphanage in Angola where hardcore punk helps war-shocked kids release their angst, there is music everywhere this year.

In many ways – not least the casting of Gossip Girl heartthrob Penn Badgely in the lead role – Greetings from Tim Buckley is maybe the most conventional of the lot. Centred around the 1991 New York tribute concert to 60s cult-hero Tim Buckley that launched the career of his estranged son, Jeff Buckley, the film often looks almost a little good to be true.

Even though Jeff Buckley was one handsome bohemian, Badgely’s geometric jaw and stratospheric cheekbones are almost too much. The same goes for co-lead Imogen Poots (28 Days Later) as NYC art-chick Allie – in fact, everyone in the movie who isn’t a grizzled old hippie muso is just a liitle bit too clear-skinned and fair-browed.

Penn Badgely as Jeff Buckley

Penn Badgely as Jeff Buckley

Beyond that, Algrant’s screenplay (written with David Brendel and Emma Sheanshang) builds a simple story of a son who missed his father as he was growing up. Asked to perform his father’s songs at the 1991 tribute staged by Hal Willner at NYC’s Church of St Ann, the then-little-known Jeff agrees. As rehearsals grind on, the perpetual comparisons with Tim Buckley wear Jeff down and deep-scarred resentments rise to the surface.

Pop culture rarely lets the facts get in the way of a good story – and so it is with the story of Tim and Jeff Buckley. Jeff only met his father twice in his life – once when he was one and again when he was eight, briefly. Much is made in Rock history of their remarkable (spooky!) similarities: the fact they looked so alike, and sounded so alike etc etc. Rock history, like many convenient histories, seems to ignore the plain facts – in this case the plain facts that they actually looked nothing alike and sounded nothing alike (even though, coincidentally, they were both astonishing vocalists).

Imogen Poots as Allie

Imogen Poots as Allie

The only undeniable similarity between the two is the adventurous nature of their music. Tim Buckley’s late 60s prolific output (nine studio albums prior to his death at 28) ranged from humping and pumping Stones-flavoured barroom rock to the ‘unlistenable’ (and quite brilliant) avant-garde experiments of albums such as Starsailor. Almost thirty tears later Jeff Buckley only put out one album – the era-defining Grace – which was brimming with jaw-dropping originality.

Greetings from Tim Buckley sees Jeff three years before Grace, and is intercut with flashbacks to Tim Buckley’s rise in the 60s. Boho dives such as the Café Wha are beautifully recreated, as is the 1991 tribute concert in St Ann’s.

Small details divert and irk, though. During a scene where Jeff and guitarist Gary Lucas (coolly played by Frank Wood) jam on what would become Grace’s title track, the headstocks of their guitars – a Stratocaster and a Telecaster – have the ‘Fender’ logo taken off, due apparently to brand protection.

In a record store, digging for vinyl with Allie, Jeff hugs and kisses a copy of the Led Zeppelin III LP before falling to the floor and singing garbled almost-lyrics from the album. He tells her everything from the 70s was ‘big big bullshit – except for ONE thing’. That One Thing is obviously Led Zeppelin (Buckley drowned in 1997 after walking into a river at night singing Led Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’) but he can’t say it – the Zep lawyers might be circling.

In this litigation-stupid world, this product un-placement pokes some holes in the veracity of the story. This may be trainspotting but anyone who is moved to go and see a story about a 60s freakout cat and his Boho genius son just eats up details far, far more trivial than this.

The heroic arc of the story culminates in the Tim Buckley Tribute Concert which Algrant nails down on all levels: musically, theatrically, emotionally – watch out for Frank Bello thoroughly enjoying himself as NYC proto-punk Richard Hell.

Ben Rosenfield as Tim Buckley

Ben Rosenfield as Tim Buckley

Penn/Jeff’s rendition of the beautiful Tim Buckley song ‘Once I Was’ is a time-stopping moment in an otherwise slightly too-neat dramatic climax.

In fact, one of the finest features of the film is the heavy use of Tim Buckley’s music – spacey, deep, 60s fragrant and unlike any other singer-songwriter before or since – in favour of Jeff’s more hard-edged 90s mojo. Let’s hope a whole new generation is turned on to his back catalogue – ‘Song to the Siren’, ‘Morning Glory’ and so much more by Greetings from Tim Buckley.

Greetings from Tim Buckley will be screened on Friday June 7, 9:45 pm at Event Cinemas George Street 4 and on Saturday June 15, 4:30pm at Event Cinemas George Street 8.

Published May 2013 on megaphoneoz.com

 

Soaking up the rootsy atmosphere at this year’s Byron Bay Bluesfest (often to saturation point), I began thinking on music and the notion of authenticity. To be honest, I began to get a little irked by the relentless barrage of worn leather, road-dusted denim and sweat-ravaged Strats used in the style-language of this music.

Ben Harper, modern roots superstar

Ben Harper, modern roots superstar

There is a division of Fender Guitars, the iconic US manufacturer of the Stratocaster whose job it is to create a patina of age and wear on factory-new instruments. The ‘Road Worn’ range comes complete with distressed paintwork, rusted hardware and, apparently, built-in ‘history’. It really is a bunch of bullshit in anyone’s language, but of course they sell like hotcakes (or maybe out-of-date cheeseburgers).

The unstoppable Buddy Guy, generation-spanning blues guitar master

The unstoppable Buddy Guy, generation-spanning blues guitar master

And I often wonder if the same can be said of the very notion of ‘realness’ in 21st century Roots music.

Roots music – like World Music, a catch-all term invented by marketing/media to weave a saleable genre out of multiple disparate threads – comprises Blues, the less airbrushed forms of Country and the more earthbound elements of Jazz. A prerequisite seems to be that it appeals to everyday people and usually conjures up either elation or deep emotion – ‘good times’ or ‘blues’. Roots also prides itself on its ‘realness’.

I love Roots music deeply and its innovators and artists – both old and new – I hold in the highest regard. But is Roots music any more real than any other form of music? Is it any more real than Punk, or Hip-Hop, or Black Metal?

If a music’s level of ‘realness’ can be measured by the importance it has in a person’s life then the music of Dance-Rave people is easily as important as Roots – they live their musical culture minute by minute. If the question of history comes up – the longevity and historical development of a music in years – then J. S. Bach is the rootsiest muthafucka on da block.

If the idea of authenticity is where ‘realness’ comes from – music woven like veins or DNA helices into the fabric of a culture, inextricably – then I direct you back to the above para about Fender USA’s factory-made ‘soul’. These days, ‘rawness’ and authenticity can be bolted on, as skilfully and easily as a (factory-)‘rusted’ Strat tailpiece.

And it appears to be something Roots fans are all too ready to believe. Maybe because there is so much plastic fakery about, we imbue the lesser fakes with at least some hope of Truth.

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With these cogitations swirling in my mind, I decided to ask some people, way wiser than I, for their thoughts on Roots, ‘road-worn’ and realness. They are Johnny Cass, blues-guitarist and vocalist extraordinaire, DJ/producer Marc Scully, known to Australian dance-music fans as Omegaman and Jim Woff, man-about-town and bass-player with Sydney band Crow.

Titan of the blues, the larger-than-life Howlin' Wolf

Titan of the blues, the larger-than-life Howlin’ Wolf

Here are their responses:

What does the term ‘roots’ music mean to you?

Johnny Cass: A derivative type of music. Just like the roots of a tree, genres of music grow from a base and then branch out into other genres.

Marc Scully: To me its about tradition – blues, country, reggae etc – some acoustic element, a certain heartfelt rawness, echoing back where it all began… back to basics…. at a grass roots level

Jim Woff:  Someone once asked Thelonious Monk what he thought of folk music, he replied “all music is folk music”.  The rural blues of the twenties and thirties sprout country and jazz, while the blues itself mutated countless ways using the same three or less chords. If we’re talking about how “roots” earnt it’s inverted commas, that seemed a 21st century thing. Good when it was Gillian Welch, not so hot when it was hippies with dreads and acoustic guitars and rich parents. The soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou was significant.

Does ‘roots’ music need to have a historical/traditional element to it?

Cass: Yes. The term roots has been overused and has lost its definition.To understand Roots music you must know its history and the struggles of the people of that time.  To keep true to it meaning ‘roots’ music must have strong similarities to the roots genre it claims to be from. Those elements would be chord progressions, tonal qualities of instruments and melody.

Scully: I think so, an element of nostalgia and instrumentation is required, a nod to the past, you would not be playing a certain style if it weren’t for what came before you, something that inspired you to dig deeper, caught your ear in the first place – something styles don’t need re-inventing.

Woff:  I think so. The historic/traditional aspect doesn’t necessarily have to be old, electronic music has a relatively short history for example. The work of the German bands in the seventies is a “roots” music, it’s been incredibly influential.

Can the idea of ‘roots’ be applied to any form of music?

Cass: No. I don’t really think you can say that roots can be applied to Classical music. Roots music was spawned from the urban areas, city streets and small towns and communities. It was a way for the people to express themselves, Roots music was not born from the Aristocracy it was born from the worker, the farmer, the musicians on the street.

Scully: As long as there’s a traditional element, having said that really I can’t see glitch, dubstep or techno being termed ‘Roots’ music.

Woff:  Cave men blowing flutes, wandering minstrels on lutes, spreading the gossip and news from town to town… it’s all free reign, go nuts. I wish more people were as good as Beethoven but you can’t have everything.

Gillian Welch, folk-country artist whose music resonates with older forms

Gillian Welch, folk-country artist whose music resonates with older forms

Does the ‘roots’-iness of musics such as Country and Blues make them any more ‘real’?

Cass: I think the rawness of those musics keep it real. Acoustic forms are the most real. Those instruments don’t lie. The combination of flesh, wood and emotion really take aim at hearts. As the listener or the musician there is no room to hide. There is no wall of sound to get lost in, the message gets through, its more personal.

Scully: To me, yes… some artists can sound quite contrived, be real = be true. Raw, back to basics music played by real musicians – doesn’t have to be flash.

Woff:  Those early recordings… Louis Armstrong… Hank Williams… the Blind men of the blues, Willie Johnson, Lemon Jefferson, WiIllie McTell… Duke Ellington… all rather real. You could appropriate their sound but it wouldn’t be real. You have to make your own sound to be real.

Does the ‘roots’ factor of music such as Blues hold back its future development and evolution?

Cass: Musically, maybe. Lyrically, no. Roots music evolves into new genres as it branches out. The most pure form of the genre will always be respected. What may end up happening is roots music won’t be performed as much. Without the support of mainstream it becomes harder for roots genres to exist. Only purists will hold onto its legacy.

Scully: Not as long as artists still carry a torch in salute of what came before them, you have to acknowledge the past, the birth of a style – without that, there is no future.

Woff:  I’d argue that jazz hit the wall in the eighties but I’m sure there’d be plenty to take issue with that. Blues has never changed but it’s influence is a musical universe. From a young Jagger and Richards listening to Muddy Waters through Tom Waits reeling in Howlin’ Wolf to Nick Cave obsessing over John Lee Hooker, it’s all pervasive. Country hasn’t changed much.

What are your feelings on current ‘roots’ music in particular and the wider art/product of music in general?

Cass: Reality talent shows concern me. Their lack of integrity make music take the back seat. Those shows are not about the music, and they are not about the performer, they are about getting the most viewers and exploiting people’s dreams, disabilities and personal crisis. I understand that it gets some musicians a chance they would not normally get, but it’s fleeting. Viewers that sit at home and don’t experience the live factor of music. That is the real feeling of music. Watching music being made in real time in front of you, is like having your food cooked to order. It tastes better and feels better. That goes for music too.

The Coen Brothers' 2000 movie, O Brother Where Art Thou? invigorated interest in bluegrass music

The Coen Brothers’ 2000 movie, O Brother Where Art Thou? invigorated interest in bluegrass music

Scully: Some of the modern roots artists can sound a little contrived… that goes for all styles. You are either true to your art or you are following musical trends. Way too many producers out there that know how to use a music software program and call themselves artists… Be yourself, learn how to play an instrument, you don’t have to be the best at it, as long as you are passionate about what you do.

Woff:  “Roots” was a Noughties thing, wasn’t it? The good ones will continue to grow while the imposters are already considering another career path.

Two new releases by modern masters of the acoustic guitar were transmitted to my magic listening box this week. Two very different releases by two very different artists – Australian maestro Bruce Mathiske and edgy NYC star Kaki King – both bound in approach by the warm wood of the acoustic guitar.

Playing any acoustic instrument – guitar, horn, drums – sets up a resonance in the body of the player that creates a feedback loop between emotion and technique – often missing in amplified electric instruments. This loop comes closest to realising that old cliché of ‘becoming one’ with your guitar, allowing a greater range of dynamics and feeling. It just seems more ‘real’.

The trade-off is that, since every sound you make on the guitar is there to be heard, there is nowhere to hide – your technique has to be seamless and perfect. And the trade-off there is that, too often, perfect technique leads to glassy, boring performances.

In both Mathiske and King, we hear players that have come out the other side of perfection into that spiritual area usually reserved for the great jazz or classical virtuosi. Nothing is impossible for their heads, hearts and fingers, so their artistry is about cutting to the heart of the music – exploring the emotional side, the blue-black depths, the sunflower highs.

mathiskeBruce Mathiske’s new release My Life is as coolly measured and mature as Kaki King’s Glow is wild and bursting with anarchic juice. It is his seventeenth album and her sixth (not counting EPs). Mathiske’s songs are called ‘River Stories’ and ‘The Bridge’; King’s titles are as esoteric and literary as her music – ‘No True Masterpiece Will Ever Be Complete’ or ‘Skimming The Fractured Surface To A Place Of Endless Light’. Mathiske plays a masterful blend of flamenco and country fingerstyle on beautiful handmade guitars; King appears to attack anything with strings in any way her hands can get at it.

Enough of the differences, now to the similarities which I find the most interesting in such diverse artists. The first is, quite obviously, the love of the acoustic guitar: in Mathiske’s hands a rounded, pearlescent gut-string flow, as strong and as translucently lovely as a river, whereas King goes at the thing, throwing off metallic spangles of sound. There is also a similar love of rhythm – Spanish, folk jigs and reels, some gypsy-jazz, Celtic. There is My Life’s Djangoesque ‘In Rhythm’ and Glow’s Celtic shred-fest ‘King Pizel’. Both artists really get those strings dancing.

And of course there is the über-virtuosity – yes, even though these artists are beyond that as a means-in-itself, they just can’t help themselves. (Why put all those millions of hours of practice in if you can’t shred a little now and again?). A mesmerising flourish such as Mathiske’s on his gypsified Stones cover ‘Paint It, Black’ or King’s skipping guitar harmonics on ‘Holding The Severed Self’ make one really sit up and take notice. They are dazzling but also serve to stamp Mathiske and King’s authority on their respective albums.

One big difference between both works is the production: but only different, not good, not bad, and in both cases entirely apt (almost) and vernacular to the sound-world each inhabits. Bruce Mathiske’s self-production is lean and focused on the natural sounds of the guitar. Apart from some vocal and midi-strings (and one ill-advised slab of heavy cod-Floyd rock complete with howling Stratocaster on ‘The Close Call’), he has stuck to gut string guitars, some sinewy double bass from Phil Stack and Ben Edwards and percussion and conga from Calvin Welch and Paul Kirtley. And it all works beautifully.

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Glow is a whole different trip. Producer D James Goodwin has wrapped King’s “guitars and things” in almost cinematic clothes on every track. The focus here is less on the guitar and more on atmosphere and mood. And, again, it all works beautifully. Opener ‘Great Round Burn’ chugs with strings from orchestral ensemble ETHEL. ‘Bowen Island’ shimmers over an ocean of violet-turquise drone. ‘Holding The Severed Self’ skips along, whistling through the graveyard of reverbed ghosts in the background.

It is gratifying to hear in Bruce Mathiske’s My Life and Kaki King’s Glow the past, present and future of virtuosic acoustic guitar music. Both have taken the instrument to areas previously unimagined and shown us all the excitement that can still be wrung from a what is pretty much a wooden box stretched with steel.

Bruce Mathiske’s webiste is www.mathiske.com.au

Kaki King’s website is www.kakiking.com

Published March 2013 on theorangepress.net