James Blackshaw: “All Is Falling”

In some circles, it’ll be construed as heretical behaviour: James Blackshaw not touching an acoustic guitar for the duration of an entire album, favouring instead a 12-string electric. For someone who’s been proclaimed, not infrequently here, as some kind of saviour of folk guitar or whatever, it’s something of a shock.

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In some circles, it’ll be construed as heretical behaviour: James Blackshaw not touching an acoustic guitar for the duration of an entire album, favouring instead a 12-string electric. For someone who’s been proclaimed, not infrequently here, as some kind of saviour of folk guitar or whatever, it’s something of a shock.



Truth be told, though, Blackshaw’s latest album hardly measures up as a rock record. Instead, “All Is Falling” continues on the trajectory established by Blackshaw’s last two albums, “Litany Of Echoes” and “The Glass Bead Game”. Here, again, the virtuoso solo pieces that earmarked Blackshaw as a British relative of the New American Primitive movement are more or less subsumed into formal compositions, where Blackshaw’s guitar takes equal space as the violins and cellos. Still, though, it feels very much like a logical progression from his earliest records like “Sunshrine”: the instrumentation may vary and become richer, but the melodic quirks, the balance between sacred minimalism and romantic expressiveness, remain constant.

“All Is Falling” is ostensibly one long piece, divided into eight tracks. “Part One” finds Blackshaw sketching out the themes on overlapping Reichian pianos, before “Part Two” establishes the major thrust of the overall piece; courtly, delicate electric guitar lines threaded through the sort of string arrangements that were showcased at the ensemble show at the Vortex last year. “Cross” from “The Glass Bead Game” is a useful reference point, as perhaps are “Actaeon’s Fall” from the last Six Organs Of Admittance album, “Luminous Night”, and some of Robbie Basho’s “Venus In Cancer”.

It’s around “Part Four” and “Part Five”, however, that Blackshaw really starts flying. I sometimes wonder whether he can be a little self-conscious about his own soloing skills, and consequently organises his music in an increasingly self-effacing and controlled way. But when he lets go, as here, it’s quite wonderful. It seems churlish to criticise an album as crafted and satisfying as “All Is Falling”, but I do hope that at some point in what will undoubtedly be an exploratory future, Blackshaw returns to a solo, at least partially improvising model.

The pleasures of “All Is Formal”, of course, are more formal. But that’s not to say it’s unrelentingly prettified: by the end of “Part Seven” – another expansive exercise in Glass/Reich-style systems – the violins are wailing like sirens. And the closing “Part Eight” is a distinct departure: a lunar drone piece of shaped guitar feedback, which codifies the devotional intensity of Blackshaw’s music in a new form.

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