JAMES BLACKSHAW/THE GLASS BEAD GAME/Review...anything by James Blackshaw is unique and a delight, whether youÂ’re into brilliant, rich guitar work, complex yet meditational atmospheres or modern composition, and this could be the album that sees him breaking through to wider acclaim. HeÂ’s that good.
fRoots Magazine (UK)
6 / 15 / 2009
The Glass Bead Game Young God YG40
By Ian Kearey
Let’s get one thing straight before we start: yes, John Fahey and Robbie Basho have influenced James Blackshaw’s 12-string playing, but in an emotional sense – he sounds nothing like either technically (though there are faint echoes of Basho at his most frenetic/exciting). In fact he sounds like no other player around, with a breadth and expertise that is deservedly causing ripples in many fields.
For example, on the opening track, Cross, Blackshaw sets up a typical (for him) ripping, pulsing metre in an impossible custom tuning on his Guild, that is driving but not pushy, then adding sly treble pull-off notes. Played solo in concert, this is hypnotic and thrilling enough, but here is joined by violin and clarinet and the wordless vocals of Lavinia Blackwall – if anything, reminiscent of Katz-Chernin’s compositions – and the result is a joyous blast of melodies and countermelodies. By contrast, the 10-minute-plus Bled that follows employs measured, short flurries of tune against their own echoes and harmonies and silent pauses: it’s like a minimalist pavanne in some imaginary court that then becomes a flamenco/rasquedo whirl. The sound is so beguiling that it’s easy to overlook the astonishing technique needed to produce it.
On previous albums Blackshaw has ventured onto piano, and here the first of two pieces, Fix, is a mournful duet between John Contreras on cello and Michael Nyman-style piano, where straight, undeviating four-in-a-bar playing creates quietly epic music just begging for a film to be constructed around it. Back with the 12-string, Key returns to the trademark pulsation for a neo-classical structure that one feels Bach would have approved of – the mood is, if anything, devotional throughout. And so to the final piano track, Arc, in which, after some grand Copland-meets-Shaker flourishes to set the scene, Blackshaw shows he can play the piano exactly as he plays the guitar – that is, quite beautifully and alarmingly strongly. The sustain pedal is on for fully 15 minutes as the ripples of notes cascade around the violin and cello’s long held notes and harmonics: by the end, one can hear wind ensembles, harmoniums and Lord knows what else, all suggested by the build-up of sheer sound.
Trust me, anything by James Blackshaw is unique and a delight, whether you’re into brilliant, rich guitar work, complex yet meditational atmospheres or modern composition, and this could be the album that sees him breaking through to wider acclaim. He’s that good.