James Blackshaw – “Litany of Echoes”

Litany of Echoes is the sixth studio album from James Blackshaw. It was released in the United States on June 17, 2008. I purchased this album from the monster, iTunes, having seen it, somewhat puzzlingly, billed as an album of the year on other review sites. However, I was soon to hear what the other critics were raving about. Often considered an inheritor of the Takoma acoustic guitar tradition– think John Fahey, Robbie Basho, and Leo Kottke – James Blackshaw’s opening track is in-fact a piano piece – a mesmeric one at that.

For those that don’t know of Blackshaw – He is a virtuoso of the 12 string guitar, but he’s anything but showy. He lays out patterns and shapes that subtly shift over time and lead you to a deeply satisfying mental state. Recently, laying in bed with headphones on, blasting his music I found myself inexplicably weeping. Why??? The music’s not sad, or even mournful really. It’s just exquisite in an ineffable way, and taps into a place, a dream place, or a pre-thought place, which each of us might recognize was always there inside of us and is suddenly revealed. Like coming home after a painful journey, I suppose …

litany-of-echoesJames says the music he’s working on will employ more orchestration, and possibly even singing. I can’t wait to hear it. Now signed to Young God Records, James has a history of working his twelve string guitar under his earlier releases with Josef Van Wissem as Brethren Of The Free Spirit.

There is an aching beauty in the way that Blackshaw weilds his twelve string – something artists with twice his output find it hard to mimic. Blackshaw is one of the freshest voices on the twelve string guitar – and my gateway in to the instrument. Whilst this reviewer would not be so brash as to spend money on a twelve string (mighty tempting though) Blackshaw makes the listener enamored with his playing – even hearing his fingers squeek over the fretboard adds to the intimacy.

Initially inspired by the guitarists of the 60’s Takoma label to teach himself fingerpicking, James Blackshaw writes long-form pieces primarily for solo 12-string guitar that are heavily influenced by minimalist composers and European classical music and which use drones, overtones and repeating patterns alongside a strong inclination for melody to create instrumental music that is both intelligent, hypnotic and emotionally charged.

Born in 1981, Blackshaw has so far released six solo studio albums, one live recording and has also appeared on numerous compilations in the last five years. “O True Believers” (2006, Important Records/Bo’weavil Recordings), “The Cloud of Unknowing” (2007, Tompkins Square) and “Litany of Echoes” (2008, Tompkins Square) have received huge critical acclaim from printed and online publications including Pitchfork, Billboard, The Wire, The Observer, The Times, Uncut, The New York Times, Rolling Stone Magazine, Magnet and Acoustic Guitar Magazine. “The Cloud of Unknowing” was also listed as one of the 50 best albums of 2007 by The Wire (no. 24) and Pitchfork (no. 34).

 

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