Daniel Bachman, by Daniel Bachman
(Three Lobed Recordings – out now)
Review by Ian Preece
Late and sweating I walked straight up to the bar in Café Oto. The barman nodded at the sign – ‘No drinks will be served during the performance’. It must have been at least midway through the support, a solo guitar act. I reckoned I’d stay there, stake out my spot, first in line for when the house lights came back on and the rampage hit.
35 minutes, it turns out, is a long time to be making fleeting eye-contact, raising the odd eyebrow with a barman. On stage the longueurs showed no sign of ending. The gaps between the notes seemed to grow even longer; silences filled; there was a bit of shuffling in the audience; the traffic stopped on nearby Kingsland High Road; birds fell silent; the homeless guy who panhandles hipsters for cash in that part of Dalston stopped to listen – we were left in no doubt this was A SERIOUS GUITAR PLAYER. Finally, it was over. The barman congratulated me on my forbearance. That glass of pale ale was the most perfect ever.
I didn’t go home and chuck all my guitar soli LPs in the bin. On the contrary, I began to develop a deeper love for the lightness of touch of so many American primitive-style guitar players: Glenn Jones and his beautifully humble 6-string and banjo paeans to New Jersey, My Garden State and Fleeting; Marisa Anderson’s Mississippi sides, or the subtle steel-stringed evocations of a New Mexico daybreak on Into the Light; James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg’s masterpiece Ambsace, with its unlikely but triumphant cover of ‘Reel Around the Fountain’; Salsburg’s own gritty and windswept tales of frontier life, Hard for to Win and Can’t be Won; the rugged beauty of the International Anthem compilations on Tompkins Square records, especially the multihued gentleness of the latest, Volume 8; Sarah Louise on Vin du Select Qualitite (a record written through the seasons of rural Appalachia ‒ the deep snowy winter, the spring as blue cohosh berries burst through, and summer when Hellbenders, or ‘Water Dogs’, North America’s largest salamanders can be glimpsed brooding in clear streams); James Blackshaw (OK, he’s English); Jack Rose . . . then all the way back to the slightly unhinged but magisterial beauty of Robbie Basho’s Visions of the Country; and the sometimes bruised, sometimes beautiful records of the original fingerpicking don ‒ the troubled, country blues and Russian classical music head John Fahey himself.
The writer David Fricke described Fahey’s music as ‘aggressive in its striving, beautiful in its deep hurt and candour’. I think that fine description also nails a new addition to the canon (well, new to me at least): Daniel Bachman. You wouldn’t describe Bachman’s just released self-titled LP as fingerpicking exactly, but the Fahey‒Rose Takoma school of studiously delayed slight downerism hangs over this record ‒ to a degree. It’s sparse, but it rolls by; it’s an incredibly varied record within the guitar soli palette; and, at 41 minutes, Bachman doesn’t hang about ‒ he’s up and done, coat back on, 6-string back in the case. On the whole it’s a fraction darker than a couple of the 26-year-old Virginian’s recent albums ‒ River, Bachman’s tribute to the Rappahannock in full speight (and all its ducks, cormorants, perch, shad, crab pots and oysters), which flows from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Chesapeake Bay; and the wistful (includes a gorgeous cover of Loren Connors’s ‘Long Nights 1’) and now and again slightly raga-ish Seven Pines (which features Ryley Walker on one track).
Bachman’s got a frenetic, fast, loose, almost funky style at times: not adjectives that always spring to mind when considering solo acoustic guitar records. (I love how he tunes the guitar between the songs in this clip, as if he’s bleeding a radiator or fiddling with spark plugs under the bonnet – he’s nervous, but, still, there’s no time to waste). ‘Honeysuckle Reel’ was a 7” around the time of Seven Pines (the second track in the film), which is quite a brisk LP, probably Bachman’s Kensington Blues (as a teenager him and his sister designed a poster for a Jack Rose show that became the cover of Rose’s posthumous Luck in the Valley). The new album, Daniel Bachman, is perhaps more his Opium Musick. There’s a contemplativeness, and it starts bravely with the metallic screech and drone of ‘Brightleaf Blues’, nearly two and a half minutes of dissonance before a string is thumbed ‒ a lazy curlicue that fades away desolately/magnificently. It’s a terrific way to kick-off ‒ in fact, there are two versions of ‘Brightleaf Blues’ on the LP – the clanging metallic opener must be the ‘radio edit’; the brooding 14-minute heavyweight version manages to feel both even bleaker but somehow warmer, and is no less stunning, especially turned up loud, the drone hovering like a malignant fog over November fields while the guitar gently unfurls in a series of languid, undulating figures before being subsumed back into that ringing, clangourous shimmer – the sound Cormac McCarthy must have had in his head when he wrote The Road. ‘The Flower Tree’ opens in a similar desultory haze before gathering pace and rocking out in its middle passage then slowly descending again – fantastic; play loud. I can imagine the jaunty gait and roll of ‘Wine and Peanuts’ crackling through the airwaves of a star-blanketed Virginia night in the 1950s or ’60s. ‘A Dog Named Pepper’ is long, slow, heavy and pensive, but beautifully mordant in places. As it fades away I love what sounds like a car driving down a gravel path that pans from one speaker to the other. And I think there’s a very faint, distant dog barking in the mix. I hope it’s Pepper ‒ I hope Pepper is OK, still running free in the snowy fields of Virginia.
The blues swagger and sliding guitar of ‘Watermelon Slices on a Blue Bordered Plate’ and the elegiac, mournful ‘Farther Along’ close the album. The latter wouldn’t be out of place on Marisa Anderson’s Traditional and Public Domain Songs ‒ a guitar record of heartbreaking melodies, blue skies, sunny parks and swimming pools, Sunday mornings and beat-up old Cadillacs – tunes from the land of the free that probably never was, and, frankly, at this moment in time (I’m writing this on the bleak, wet morning after the American election) looks like it never will be. Just these last few weeks, I haven’t been able to get Kenny Knight’s 1980 track ‘America’ out of my head, from his LP Crossroads:‘banjo strings, cases and straps/roadways, trains, buses and maps/burning lights/Saturday nights/closed doors all around me/America, with all of your beauty . . .’ One thing, though: unlike my man, the support at Cafe Oto that night, I’ll bet Daniel Bachman lets the bar staff serve during his gigs.