I was writing, not for the first time, about Howlin Rain the other week, and admitted that my preoccupation with the band had a certain stalkerish intensity. As I begin yet another blog about James Blackshaw, a London-based guitarist and so on, it strikes me that my prosletyzing on his behalf might be somehow detrimental to his career: a random google of his name would probably bring up this great weight of waffle from me, so hyperbolic that some might suspect we must be related.
We’re not, of course, and I’ve never even met the guy. I have, though, played his CDs at home more than any others over the past year or so, and am beginning to suspect that the latest one, “Litany Of Echoes”, might be the best yet. So here we go again: I’m aware that this man is never going to trouble the mainstream, or anything much near to it, but his music is just wonderful.
To recap: Blackshaw first wandered onto the radar as a British auxiliary member of the New American Primitive school of guitarists, a fellow traveller of Jack Rose, Ben Chasny etc, with just one obvious British kindred spirit in Rick Tomlinson from Voice Of The Seven Woods. Blackshaw’s lavish, expansive 12-string meditations had their closest antecedent in the work of Robbie Basho, I thought, and they had a richness and shape which seemed further removed than most from folk tradition.
As his records have kept coming, Blackshaw seems still further removed from this world. Most of his music remains based on the solitary, concentrated sound of an acoustic guitar (though “Litany Of Echoes” begins with a flurry of piano, and he’s tracked by a cello or violin at times here, too). But the pieces on this, possibly his seventh album, have a classical form that suggests they could be rescored for a romantic symphony, or have buried echoes that hint Blackshaw has been informed by post-rock and – as John Robinson points out in the new issue of Uncut – Sonic Youth.
I’ve seen Blackshaw play live once, at the excellent In The Pines club, where he did this: “He starts with a new, untitled song dedicated to someone called Dusty, and it stretches out for something like 15 minutes of interlocking, recurring, bewitching melodies. It’s quite extraordinary.”
That song is Track Three on the new album, and it’s still extraordinary. I only have a CDR of the album, without track titles, and have lost the email from Tompkins Square which revealed them to me, so you’ll have to excuse the lack of specifics. Hunting round the internet for those titles a minute ago, though, I found this illuminating piece on James Blackshaw by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke. How reassuring to discover that it’s not just me. . .