• North Country Primitive


Originally published at North Country Primitive in February 2016

I should start by telling you that there are various disparate figures lurking in the ether, some of whom may or may not be submitting witty and erudite full length album reviews for your delight and delectation in the not-to-distant future, but, exhortations to watch-this-space notwithstanding, they aren’t quite here yet. In the meanwhile, loathe as I am to try to use mere words to describe someone’s pride ‘n’ joy - especially given that I have the guitar playing abilities of a man born with ten thumbs and at best an extremely tenuous grasp on music theory and practice – here is my humble attempt at a round-up of a trio of recent releases that should be garnering your attention.

Let’s kick off with Amarillo’s poster boy for the new wave of primitive Americana, Hayden Pedigo. Do You Sing? Vol. 1 is released by the ever-noteworthy Scissor Tail Editions. It would be easy to assume this was an album for the maybe pile, given that it’s essentially a compilation of his home-recorded juvenilia. However, don’t let such trifling matters fool you: it’s actually hard to believe that Hayden was only 16 years old when he recorded some of this stuff - and it adds further fuel to the rumour that he was teleported fully formed from an alien guitar planet. Many of the elements of his more recent work are fully present – the sort of bold-yet-fluid and melodic picking that can be found on the evocative Spearman 1974, along with a nascent understanding of the special place drone has in the heart and the arsenal of the exploratory guitarist – Dobro from the Crypt being a fine example of the latter. To judge from the Vol1 part of the album’s droll title, I’d hazard there are plenty more gems in the Pedigo archives waiting to come to light. Bring ‘em on!

M. Mucci has been quietly releasing a steady stream of quality albums via his own Tall House imprint over the past several years. His latest offering, Don’t Be Afraid, is an ensemble affair, where he stretches the possibilities of fingerstyle guitar with some pretty stellar results. Whilst the album has a coherent unifying aesthetic, it ricochets off in a smorgasbord of directions. Abbiamo La Forza is the closest it comes to the previous offerings I’ve heard from M, where the almost visceral sense of forward motion in his playing is slyly augmented by the sparsely effective keening of Dylan Aycock’s pedal steel. The title track is my favourite, though - a plangent, circular, superficially simple guitar motif that gradually reveals itself as having far more depth and substance than initially apparent, as it unfolds over the course of eleven minutes. I am put in mind of the sense of majesty in the work of fellow Canadians, Godspeed! You Black Emperor. In places, this album appears to channel the spirit of the more ecstatic of the 1970s German hair-bear bands, in this case, grooving on the collected works of Steve Reich – primitive motorik minimalism, anyone?

Finally, let us turn to one of the latest releases from Grass Tops Recording, Californian native Gregory Sagar’s Above Below. Whilst residing at the Bashovian end of the American Primitive spectrum so beloved by the Grass Tops posse, this is an album that also tips its hat at the Spanish and classical guitar traditions. Above Below is progressive, both in scope and intent, and manages to effortlessly combining a stripped down minimalism with deeply dextrous playing, often in the space of a single piece. The longer compositions, such as The Moon and the Sun or Field never stand still, but guide the listener along an intimate and constantly evolving journey: in essence, they are entire suites condensed into a few scant minutes. The very brief Return, meanwhile, has an air of medievalism John Rebourn would have been proud of. Sagar’s upside down, left handed approach to playing has been cited as a clue to his unique sound, but in reality, it’s his emotional intelligence as a player that shines through, and is never overshadowed by his formidable technique. This is an album for listening to indoors when the weather is against you - preferably armed with a contemplative state of mind, a roaring fire and a decent single malt.