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V/A - Imaginational Anthem Vol. 2

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Artist: V/A

Album: Imaginational Anthem Vol. 2

Label: Tompkins Square

Review date: Jun. 10, 2006

Tompkins Square takes a few steps away from the Takoma Records template established on the first volume of Imaginational Anthem, and while the intention is highly estimable, the results are mixed. By mixing up icons and unknowns, the first volume established the continuum of artists playing American Primitive guitar. This new collection is neither American nor consistent; it can’t even claim that it’s contents are 100 percent acoustic guitar. But sometimes you have to accept that getting lost every now and then is the price you pay for putting aside the map in order to go someplace you haven’t been before.

Englishman James Blackshaw opens the record with a 12-string performance so stirring and pretty that one feels churlish pointing out that it doesn’t really develop over its not-quite-six minute length. Sometimes a good sound is enough, and that’s certainly the case here, especially when compared with the other British contribution. Michael Chapman’s “Leaving the Apple” is marred by his dubious taste in effects, which are as early-’80s as a gated Phil Collins drumbeat.

And so it goes, a bit of good, a bit of not-as-good. Argentine-Swedish singer-songwriter sensation Jose Gonzalez shows off his trés-Nick Drake floating bass-line to fine effect; Jesse Sparhawk’s contribution is done in by intrusive string-squeak. Fred Gerlach’s 30-year-old recording of “Devil’s Brew” is galvanic; banjo vet Billy Faier’s propulsive picking sags whenever his rather prosaic singing comes to the fore. Englishwoman Sharon Krauss also spanks the flat plank, with less flash but considerable substance. This is the first I’ve heard of her, and it’ll be swell to hear more.

Overall there are more hits and misses on Imaginational Anthem Vol 2, and some of the former hit quite hard. Jack Rose’s “Cross The North Fork II” flat-out rocks. Unlike its predecessor on “Kensington Blues,” here it is played on six-string, but there’s no diminution of force or spirit. The change of instrument allows the bones of the piece to stand out in sharper relief; all the better to appreciate Rose’s singular alloy of existential fortitude, instrumental facility and compositional skill.

Even more striking, the collection ends with a marvelous (if somewhat roughly recorded) previously unreleased live track by the late Robbie Basho, who died in cruel obscurity 20 years ago. The harmonics he plays near the start of “Kowaka D’Amour” ring like God’s trumpet, then the piece winds slowly through a rapturous and increasingly kinetic journey. Basho understood that he was playing music, not just the guitar, and that music could be a window into other worlds of emotion and sensation. The pane’s wide open here, and the view is gorgeous.

By Bill Meyer

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