Modern 12-string guitar master James Blackshaw returns with some old recordings on a limited vinyl release. Apologia marks a time when Blackshaw was still working with a 6-string in less-than salubrious recording environments. The resulting material makes for a raw and charming contrast to the fleshed out soundworld achieved later on. Released on Bladud Flies!
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James Blackshaw might be the patron saint of finger picking by now, but ‘Apologia’ documents a young and ernest experimentalist throwing himself into the unknown. In thrall of guitar primitivism’s revived potentialities -- with thanks to virtuosos Robbie Basho and, no doubt, the legendary John Fahey -- Blackshaw decided to record his first attempts at playing in the genre, bringing together his own ample tunings and attempts at notation on what was then merely a six-string. The result is a beautiful, resoundingly fresh record, one in which the articulations are overdone and emotive, pointed towards the possibilities of the future. The slow picks and intermittent strums of “Soul Sucked Dry” are proof enough of Blackshaw’s talents and motivations: this is an artist who wanted to evoke feelings of the heart with his music, regardless of its experimental nature.
In terms of structure, ‘Apologia’ is a grand canyon of a record, shifting between wicked-fast picking that recalls Fahey on his best days at the Americana race tracks, and the slow, simmering folk Richard Youngs intimated on ‘May’. It’s an erratic record that constantly returns to its starting point before setting off again, replacing old motifs with slightly different ones. It’d be wrong to classify Blackshaw as an ambient artist, considering his melodic force, but his work has the same culminative effect, each song conjoined with the next to create a work that becomes more meditative and immersive the longer you stick with it. For a genre with such aggressive and intensive force, artists such as Blackshaw, Richard Dawson and Nathan Bowles are able to create something hypnotically beautiful that betrays form in chaos, quiet within storm. Even a decade ago, Blackshaw was giving American primitivism a new lease of life.
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