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James Blackshaw, "O True Believers"

Blackshaw might well have been outgunned by the more famous style-fusing traditional guitar players (e.g. Fahey, Rose and Chasny) in terms of recognition, but things look likely to be on the turn. After the 12 string sucker punch combination of Celeste and Sunshrine releases, this gatefold Important (and important) release consolidates his position as more than just an up-and-comer.


The combination of hope filled melodies (that avoid the easy path of melancholy) and improvisatory flights of Eastern and Western scales lifts this beyond the mere merging of genres. The intricacy and great flourishing strums of opener “Transient Life in Twilight” sets a closely followed precedent for incredible playing which refuses to dabble in emotive puppetry. The softest sweetest chords are strummed, touched upon and deserted. It’s easy to imagine, and almost hear, the delicate vocal harmony lines behind the harpsichord like guitar. At nearly twelve minutes, it’s nowhere near long enough.

Songs steadily pick up speed like rushes of water breaking over stones, the higher notes glinting in the sunlight. “The Elk with Jade Eyes” is joined by a glistening sitar, fleshing out the track into some kind of shoegazing / traditional hybrid. Blackshaw isn’t afraid to bring the songs back in to their central motif as the minutes fly by in toe tapping reverie. It’s this graceful and dazzling multicoloured push and pull between the obviously crafted compositions and improv that makes the album so refreshing. Other guitarists are happy to daub their lightning fingered chops across tracks in fast but lifeless monochrome, content to either weird out or wow the listener; Blackshaw glitters and sparks.

The closing piece and title track moves away from pointed finger work to a brittle percussive strum. The song’s descending triumph comes from a harmonium, although the sound is reedier and breathier than that. The breezes and trembling tremolo waves of “Spiralling Skeleton Memorial”, the dew covered dawn grass of the cover (and the other rural/nature artwork) brings a slight pastoral slant to Blackshaw. But O True Believers doesn’t do more than dip into this field, the song’s here belong more to Spring skies than they do the earth.


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