Some acoustic meditations form Sir Richard Bishop. Tangier Sessions is the new solo outing from the Arizona native. The story goes that he sourced this old as time itself axe in the depths of Europe and proceeded to north Africa for inspiration. Full of classical, flamenco and middle eastern sounds, this is a journey into the spirit of acoustic guitar. Out on vinyl LP and CD from Drag City.
Vinyl LP £16.99 DC618
LP on Drag City.
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Remember Sun City Girls? That shit really made no sense. A wonderful band, to be sure, but one of the most audacious to have ever existed, swinging by every genre and a bunch of heritages and appropriating them ‘til their hands were sore with free-form nonsense. It’s interesting to think a band so loosely stylised could have such a strong and distinct sound, and while I’d argue they’re due a good re-evaluation -- considering their almost careless way of blasting through cultural influences -- I’m glad they existed -- if only because now the remaining members are making beautiful, respectful and thoughtful folk records.
It’s actually astonishing how different Sir Richard Bishop becomes as a songwriter when left to his own devices; like a quiet guy who just gets swept up in the commotion of groups, his music becomes softer and more complete when he’s the only one contributing to it. Bishop has been making guitar improvisations and compositions for years now, concentrating in on Spanish and middle-eastern musics, but for ‘Tangier Sessions’, there’s a different narrative: he found himself in Geneva trying to convince himself not to spend money on a guitar. He eventually failed to do. He then took the guitar to Tangier and played lots and lots of guitar, and the result is some of Bishop’s most evocative, personalised music. These songs might be the work of a virtuoso, but they pronounce particular melodies that give gravity to melancholy and reflection of a time spent hauled up in an apartment making music for the self.
“Hadija” is perhaps one of Bishop’s best ballads, bringing together romantic riffs with lots of pull-offs and bends with the occasional grounding arpeggio. Despite being a solo performance, it sounds ornamented and full, like Bishop is conducting an orchestra towards his lonesome work. While other tracks, including the frenetically strummed and muted “Safe House”, as well as “Mirage” -- have more of the urgency and impressive pace of the expected maverick, the best moments on ‘Tangier Sessions’ are when Bishop grinds to a halt. “Let It Come Down” seems to free Bishop of his influences completely for a gorgeous instrumental folk ballad that could just as well belong to Alasdair Roberts, Jessica Pratt or Richard Youngs. It’s rare you hear Bishop being completely sincere with you, but it’s testament to how far he’s come from Sun City Girls: he’s not afraid of his heartstrings.
7/10 Tim Smith-Laing 28th October 2016
This is a little gem of an album. The well-known story of the whole thing being inspired by the purchase of a unique nineteenth-century parlour guitar definitely lends it a certain mystique that sits well with Bishop's own transcendental-east-meets-west-outernational-mystique vibe. As a set of songs, though, its about as straightforward and lovely as anything Bishop has ever set to tape, and at its best it's truly glorious. The high point for me is Bound in Marocco: it's a delicate, simple thing picked in E, A and Am, but it never quite goes where you expect it to, always promising to unfurl, and never quite giving up its secrets. At the other end of the spectrum is the speedy Safe House, which gives you eveything you want, all at once. If I've reservations, and I slightly do, it's that one can feel the shadow of what I think of as 'dude flamenco' looming a little too close for comfort ...
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