Unlimited potential, unrivaled opportunity: a thousand colors live inside the guitar. Shady or suntanned. Pale vines or a rose of riveting red. All are conjured, and they all decorate the facade. The guitar can revive lifeless music, can accompany the latest pop single with a lovely chord progression, or take a song by the scruff of its neck, dragging the guitar to the front of the music with a steamy solo.
Her continued relevance, popularity and dominance in the 21st Century is a sight to behold. She’s survived the plague of pop-soaked auto-tune – her sister, the electric guitar, built the foundation of pop back in the 1950’s – as well as the continued rise of electronic music. She has the power and the willingness to evolve. You will hear the guitar in almost every style of music. For the first time since its original release (Windham Hill, 1979), Grass-Tops Recording and Gnome Life Records present an excellent album from guitarist Robbie Basho, Art of the Acoustic Steel String Guitar 6 &12.
Art of the Acoustic Steel String Guitar 6 & 12 breaks out of the box. Basho’s playing is smooth, despite the sharper attack. Every note is a well-rounded note, and executed to perfection. Switching the nylon strings for the steel strings, Basho plays with a beautiful freedom. His music flies, like a soaring semi-quaver that has always wanted to cast aside the rulebook, has always wanted to tear itself away from the sheet music. His fiery playing immediately captivates and it doesn’t let go.
The steel string guitar has frequently been used as a solo instrument, but Basho takes her away from her folk-inspired tonality and history. The classical elements are there for all to see, but Basho has a distinct – truly unique – approach, thanks to the rich timbre and the personality in the strings, the voice-box of the guitar. This reissue ‘preserves and enhances the original analogue qualities’. It’s true that imperfections are desirable, and Grass Tops leave the magic as it is, its original spell intact. The stronger attack of the steel string can still produce an introverted, shy sequence of notes. Natural harmonics and beautifully open tunings help to create unexpected ascents in pitch and in mood. The addition of Basho’s vocals are unexpected, but they’re a soulful addition to an already accomplished album. They never seem out of place when they could easily jar against the repertoire. Basho’s delivery mirrors the pitch of the notes, which constantly rise and fall. This is true art; thoughtful and intelligent music.
Dayspring has long been lost to the world, but that’s all about to change. Dayspring was originally recorded in 1981 and subsequently released in 1983. The first edition of the album sold out almost thirty years ago, but now an upcoming December reissue has brought the music of Dennis Taylor back to life. The guitarist expertly leads the listener through a melodic, highly rhythmic journey of discovery, and while it’s strict in its rhythms, it’s casually optimistic and carefree in its vibe. There are no shady moments; the music is the day. Sure, the minor chords give the music a temporary, cool edge, like February air returning unexpectedly. It passes, and the sunny notes return, climbing up out of the plucked patterns, as sweet as daybreak birdsong.
Taylor transitions from speedy, plucked notes to full-bodied chords without missing a beat. His moving basslines just walk on by, strolling down the busy streets on their way to Stave Boulevard. They weave and turn on the way to their destination, unfurling with every step. The open chords take in a Spanish vibe later on, be it modal playing or experimental improvisation. In the end, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the effect it has on the listener, and it’s undeniably a beautiful piece of music. Taylor’s playing is a joy to listen to.
Remarkably, the rapid delivery of notes can be quite serene on the ears, and Taylor never loses the musicality in the melee. The notes never compete for your attention – they are friendly, despite the odd clashing note. And the golden notes are old, trustworthy friends who are always happy to see you. Notes are alive, just like the wood that they now rest on, permanently placed on the rosewood fretboard, constantly voicing their emotions. The years have long gone, but the guitar is still just as dominant, still just as relevant. She’s stood the test of time, as has the music. She’s journeyed a long way from her cradle; a long way from the sheltered grove. (James Catchpole)
Art of the Acoustic Steel String Guitar 6 & 12 is released October 21, 2014
Dayspring is released December 1, 2014