In the playlist yesterday, I mentioned that James Blackshaw, one of my favourite contemporary guitarists, has a new album out as part of a duo called Brethren Of The Free Spirit. Actually, Blackshaw has two new things in circulation at the moment, and both are excellent.

In the playlist yesterday, I mentioned that James Blackshaw, one of my favourite contemporary guitarists, has a new album out as part of a duo called Brethren Of The Free Spirit. Actually, Blackshaw has two new things in circulation at the moment, and both are excellent.



Blackshaw, as regular readers will probably know by now, is a British guitarist who’s loosely connected with the New American Primitive scene of musicians thanks to his presence on one of Tompkins Square’s invaluable “Imaginational Anthems” comps. I guess the New American Primitive tag means, ostensibly, a kinship with John Fahey and the Takoma School of guitarists: a deep, meditative style of playing which takes in folk, raga and various other influences, combining them into an elaborate but crystalline, fluid kind of music. I must admit I’m hooked on it, and especially on the records made by Blackshaw.

Blackshaw’s is a Londoner in his twenties with a 12-string, whose meticulous and ecstatic playing has made him one of the stars of this scene: “Sunshrine”, “The Cloud Of Unknowing”, “Waking Into Sleep”, “O True Believers” especially, are worth picking up, but anything you can find is good.

Including, of course, these two new ones. “The Garden Of Forking Paths” only features one track by Blackshaw, but he’s “curated” this lovely collection of solo instrumental pieces, also featuring Chieko Mori (Japanese, on koto), Helena Espvall (the Swedish cellist from Espers) and Jozef Van Wissem (a baroque lute player from Holland). It’s an engrossing comp, and a clever one too, because it discreetly moves Blackshaw a little away from that aforementioned American Primitive scene.

The atmosphere of “Forking Paths” is similar, but there’s a pronounced, delicate austerity to much of this music, which draws affinities between seemingly disparate sounds – ancient and modern, classical and folk, composed and improvised, avant-garde and accessible.

It’s a terrific experiment, and one followed through by the Brethren Of The Free Spirit. Here, on “All Things Are From Him, Through Him And In Him”, Blackshaw teams up with the lutist Van Wissem for a series of intense duets that owe as much to the graceful formalities of modern classical music as they do the patterns of folk and its renaissance antecedents. Like all Blackshaw projects, it has a sort of warm, concentrated intensity to it, an intangible character that makes this music much more approachable than a sketchy description like this might suggest.

A cat joins in at one point. And you can find a copy, along with plenty of other albums by Blackshaw, over at his Myspace. Please, buy lots. Oh, and if you’re in London, please come over to the Borderline on Thursday night, where our first Club Uncut night is headlined by Dawn Landes, whose recent album was an eccentric, countryish and very likeable rethink of Catpower‘s schtick. Should be a good night.