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Steven R. Smith - The Anchorite

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Artist: Steven R. Smith

Album: The Anchorite

Label: Important

Review date: Nov. 26, 2006

Give the people what they want, a rich man once said. While such sentiments are usually used to justify lowest common denominator shit-slinging, they could also be used to describe Steven R. Smith’s more exacting business model. The audience for soundtracks of imaginary tours of never-existent Eastern European civilizations is a small one, so if you’re not going for the mass market, why not personalize your art? The audience for what Smith does is small but passionate, and The Anchorite is exactly what they crave. This colored vinyl-only release comes in an edition of 500, enclosed in a cover with a handmade and numbered linocut signed by Smith himself. Some sucker somewhere is going to pick it up just for the sleeve, but if they do they’re cheating themselves of the best part – the music.

The Anchorite fills in the empty territory between Smith’s other solo recordings and the faux-Hungarian folk music he’s made under the name Hala Strana. While his last couple solo efforts focused on his guitar playing, this one spreads the sounds across a roomful of old and invented acoustic and electric instruments. But while the album was realized (like the similarly handcrafted LP Kohl) in real time, Smith uses loops, tapes, and live playing to achieve an artfully layered sound. With its moody guitar strumming and extravagantly reverberant dulcimer ripples, “Procession” sounds like incidental music for a Balkan restaurant made by Loren Connors in collaboration with mid-’60s Sun Ra. With its scraped strings multiplying in the span of one bow-pull, “Ampulla” could be Alastair Galbraith’s entry in a competition held by the Orthodox Church to come up with some new liturgical music. And “Ascension” could come from some great, lost Popul Vuh album, heard from down a stone hallway. A marvel both to hold and to hear, The Anchorite is an exquisite addition to Smith’s lovingly wrought discography.

By Bill Meyer

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